Alex Kotlowitz explains that most of the material for the book derives from the time he spent sharing Pharoah and Lafeyette’s ordinary life. He also interviewed over a hundred people, whose thoughts and life stories are included in the narrative. He witnessed about half of the episodes in the book, and describes the other ones based on interviews with direct witnesses. He has always striven to respect people’s privacy and, in particular, Pharoah and Lafeyette’s wishes, such as their occasional desire for their thoughts not to be recorded. He has relied on numerous reports and interviews to discuss events such as Craig Davis’s shooting, Jimmie Lee’s life, and the history of Horner and Chicago.
Kotlowitz’s attitude toward his own work and the lives of other people is marked by a desire for fairness and transparency. He demonstrates the kind of empathy and understanding toward his subjects that the justice system so sorely lacks—but that he, through his storytelling, might be able to counteract at least minimally. His commitment to precision and accuracy highlights that no sense of justice or fairness can emerge from drawing hasty conclusions about certain actions or individuals.
On a few occasions, Kotlowitz helped the family financially in small ways, for example buying one of the children a new item of clothing. He intends to set up a trust fund for the children, which they will be able to access upon graduation from high school. In general, he is committed to assisting these children as much as he can, in order to honor their friendship.
Kotlowitz’s occasional financial intervention into the Rivers family’s life might infringe on his role as an external observer, but proves that his primary commitments are, first and foremost, justice and the possibility of social change.