As I continued therapy through this journey, I continually said, “this should be a book.” I know that I can’t be their only victim, and writing a book could help another caseworker in my situation.
Kristin I. Morris – 7 September 2017
The Back Flap
Jamarr’s Promise is the shocking personal memoir of social worker Kristin I. Morris’ fight to protect a nine-year-old child, Jamarr Cruz, that ended in his tragic murder and New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)’s denial of its responsibility in the case.
As a caseworker for DYFS, Kristin helped many children and families; it was her life’s passion. Nine-year-old Jamarr was living with his grandparents after his mother’s boyfriend, Vincent Williams, beat him repeatedly. Jamarr told Kristin it was not safe for him to return home. Kristin urgently tried to keep Jamarr safe with his grandparents, but was told by superiors that Latino children are kept in the home at all costs. This time, the cost was Jamarr Cruz’s life. In 2009 after Jamaar’s return to Omayra Cruz and Vincent Williams, Vincent beat Jamarr to death. Not only did Kristin’s superiors at the DYFS block her efforts to help Jamarr, but when he was killed, they blamed Kristin for his death.
Jamarr’s Promise is a call to end corrupt loyalties in New Jersey’s DYFS. It is a call to protect children from Jamarr’s fate and promote child welfare. It is a call for justice for Kristin Morris, who did the right thing and was punished unjustly for it.
About the book
What is the book about?
Kristin: This book is about my journey as a worker in child protective services of NJ. The first journey in the book tells about trying to save Jamarr from his step-father’s abuse, as the DYFS upper management fought to keep him in his home. The book continues after Jamarr’s brutal murder to document my journey to fight for justice for Jamarr and myself.
Joe: The logline goes like this: A beleaguered child protection worker, maliciously and deliberately blamed for a child’s death, risks everything to prove her innocence. The final part of the logline is hopefully, and “exposes the corrupt state government”.
However, after the writing, we realized that we had memorialized the life and death of Jamarr Cruz, through the title and cover with his likeness upon it. The book is also about Kristin inviting me into her journey of pain, courage, and selflessness. I also wanted Kristin to have a platform to tell her story, as those in government in charge were not only refusing to listen, they were corruptly covering the events up.
When did you start writing the book?
Kristin: The book has been writing itself since I took the job at DCPP. Starting the actual process of writing was about 4 years ago.
Joe: When Kristin asked me to help her write it. At first, as her psychologist, I was reluctant. But then, I realized that the story needed to be told and I was in a position to do it. Maybe I was the only one in the immediate position to do it. I felt a silent, seething fury that needed a release and a forum.
How long did it take you to write it?
Kristin: Because it’s a memoir, it took many years. It truly is a journal of my experiences through many years. From the start of the writing process to publication, though, it was about four years.
Joe: It was originally a screenplay, which took a year. We didn’t get traction with professionals because they said it “wasn’t big enough, not cinematic enough, no one would believe all of this would happen over the death of one child”. So, I took Kristin’s original idea to write a book and adapted what we had written. It took several months for the first draft, but a year after that to bring it to print. It took a year through several edits and the development of all of the facets of a complete book.
Where did you get the idea from?
Kristin: As I continued therapy through this journey, I continually said, “this should be a book.” I know that I can’t be their only victim, and writing a book could help another caseworker in my situation. After expressing my disbelief many times in therapy at the continued corruption of the state, Dr. Z finally agreed to help me write this book.
Joe: We always aimed for the book to tell Kristin’s real-life events.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Kristin: There were, and are, many parts of the book I struggle with. Since this is a true story, I had to relive the details of it over and over again. I know that the content is not easy to hear, but it was also not easy to put myself out there. To have been there, to have seen a child in danger, to know that he counted on, and to retell his horrible death is not easy to deal with as is. Then, when you put yourself out there, everyone can critique you and give their own opinion.
Joe: For me, the hardest part was being unable to have a happy ending.
What came easily?
Kristin: The memories are still very clear to me. The writing also came easier because I was writing for a purpose: Justice for Jamarr.
Joe: Everything was true and factual, so we just went with the facts.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Kristin: They are all real.
Joe: We entered a few fictitious names to protect DCPP client confidentiality and a few worker names to protect them from retaliation.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Kristin: My story is more about trying to save this child, then save my self through the corrupt system, so it not really authors that influenced me but the children that are abused or neglected, Jamarr, in particular, foster parents who are amazing, workers who stood up to do the right thing at all costs. They were my influences.
Joe: No, I must say that I do not have any known influences. This is my first book and I was moved by emotional passion to write it.
Do you have a target reader?
Kristin: I really think this story moves any reader, but I would say the target reader is any one who can effect change in institutional policy.
Joe: We want to reach the average New Jersey citizen and any other reader who can help us spread the story.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
Kristin: My co-author, Dr. Z, did most of the actual writing; I provided the details of the story.
Joe: When Kristin first walked into my office, I had no idea of the journey upon which we had embarked. The mission that we undertook captured my soul and I thought about the events in some fashion every day of my life since. This was my process. As ideas and phrasing came to me, wherever I was, I remembered them and wrote them into the book. At times, I came to feel that Jamarr was blessing and guiding us from heaven. “Kristin, keep trying. Don’t give up. Dr. Z, keep pushing. Keep coming up with ideas. Our story will breakthrough”. This is the thinking that drives my writing process.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Kristin: I found the emotion of the story was best preserved without pre-struturing the story. As Dr. Z, myself, and the editors looked back through our initial drafts, we did restructure slightly.
Joe: No, I did not outline for this book. Given the facts, we just wrote as they unraveled once the process had been started. There was occasional reordering, but the story told itself. Also, as the government personnel continued to act so poorly, they helped us write it.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Kristin: My co-author could answer that better. I know as the process was getting to the printing stages, we edited numerous times.
Did you hire a professional editor?
Kristin: Yes, we were happy that Wisdom House Books provided that service.
Joe: Wisdom House provided us with excellent editing.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
Kristin: No! I like total silence and quiet to concentrate.
Joe: No, no music… emotional excitement.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Joe: Initially we tried, but after trying, we realized we would only be wasting time. Agents want to work with writers who will write multiple books in their career. We are not, at his time, poised to do so.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
Kristin: It was a gradual process – since we are new to writing and publishing, it was a natural response to how our initial efforts were received.
Joe: Since this is our first book and there is no plan to write others, we realized that an agent would not want to represent us. Self-publishing seemed like the only way to progress before the story became too old.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
Kristin: Yes, it was professionally done by Wisdom House Books. We were allowed a lot of input in finalizing the cover, though.
Joe: Wisdom House did this for us.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Kristin: Wisdom House has been great in helping us with pr and marketing. Also, social media – Facebook – has been great for me to use!
Joe: Wisdom House is directing this for us with our participation.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Kristin: It’s a long, hard process. Never give up. You my get several negative reviews and such but if you have a story, don’t give up on it. It’s worth being told!!!
Joe: Write about what moves you.
Where did you grow up?
Kristin: South Jersey.
Joe: Philadelphia, PA, Tacony section in the northeast.
Where do you live now?
Joe: Marlton, NJ in southern NJ.
Kristin: Still South Jersey!
What would you like readers to know about you?
Kristin: This book was a journey for, and an opportunity to make a difference in a broken, corrupt system. I gave up everything when I left my career – but I never gave up my integrity. It only takes one snowflake to make an avalanche.
Joe: I am a dedicated psychologist.
What are you working on now?
Joe: If our book could instigate change, we have the workings of a screenplay.
Kristin: I’m still concentrating on getting the word out about Jamarr, and hopefully inspiring change!
End of Interview.