Amanda Knox had a strange year.
The Seattle-born writer and podcaster found herself in the unique position of having a story based on her life made into a Matt Damon movie, Stillwater. You’ve likely already forgotten about the film save for the fact that writer-director Tom McCarthy said it was directly inspired by the Amanda Knox saga.
The film was a riff on Knox's own life as Italian police accused her of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007. Knox and those who knew her vociferously defended her innocence, arguing that there is no way she could have committed the crime. She would later be released and eventually exonerated.
When she spoke to me in the final days of 2021, over a lengthy Zoom call with an ongoing pandemic, she said she still hasn’t heard from anyone involved with the film.
“The way that I talked about the issue of being turned into content for someone else's entertainment product was very much not meant to condemn them but to say, ‘Hey, maybe there’s an unintended consequence to what you’ve done here,’” Knox said. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a human-to-human connection moment to discuss that real human consequence? They didn’t decide to take part in that.”
In many of these conversations, the focus was on what had happened instead of what Knox is doing now. I had reached out to her and entered my place in the long line of interview requests, curious to ask her some deeper questions about what she thinks about the platform she has and what she is hoping to do next in her work.
Foremost amongst her work is her podcast “Labyrinths” that she does with her husband and co-host Christopher Robinson. In an Atlantic piece, Knox said it was this podcast as well as her writing that she considers being her way of “upholding the ethical principles I so often found lacking in the media that covered and consumed me.”
Knox told me the steps she has taken with her podcast were a standout in a chaotic year.
“It’s been a crazy year for a lot of people,” Knox said. “For me personally, a lot of things happened this past year that were big deals for me. One of them was my husband and I went independent with our podcast.”
That meant producing the podcast as a “two-person operation” where they talked with a long list of guests such as Andrew Yang, Tarra Simmons, Malcolm Gladwell, Samantha Geimer, and LeVar Burton. One episode consisted of Knox talking with Obie Anthony, the founder and director of Exonerated Nation, who was incarcerated for 17 years. He was exonerated on the same day as Knox, making them “exoneree twins.”
That wasn’t all Knox was up to this year, however.
“The other thing was that we gave birth to our first kid,” Knox said, before going to get said child who had begun crying during our conversation and needed to sit in her lap for comfort while we talked.
Knox said she decided to discuss her experience of having a child publicly, on her podcast, as well as a previous miscarriage in a way she was comfortable with.
“I knew that if the world had found that I was pregnant and it wasn’t on my own terms, and I didn’t think about how that story was going to be told, then it would be taken away from me. Someone else would get to author my very personal experience,” Knox said. “I went out of my way to document my journey to stay very isolated so that not very many people knew about it and to use my own experiences of infertility to help other women tell their stories.”
Many view Knox being given a platform with skepticism, including here in The Stranger. I asked Knox about what she thinks of the platform she has been given and what responsibility she thinks that carries.
“In some way, I’m really fortunate that when I started out having a platform I was writing anonymously for a local newspaper, and then eventually that turned into journalism gigs for the women’s only section of Vice, and that turned into, well, someone was looking for a podcast about true crime,” Knox said. “The fact that my case is really well known played a big role in me being able to have a platform.”
Knox also responded to those she said question her presence in justice movements.
“I have had moments where people have said to me, ‘Well, why are you here standing up for justice and not this other person?’” Knox said. “Well, because I’m here. I can’t control other people; I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve been given. I think a lot of people deserve to be given more, absolutely. I think when you have the chance, you should reach out and give other people opportunities in the way that I have been offered opportunities.”
She pointed to her podcast as being one way that she tries to express herself and provide opportunities for others to do so as well.
“On my podcast, I try to show and celebrate the people who want to be talked about and want to have a platform,” Knox said. “The other thing is, not everybody wants to have a platform, or not everyone has the gift of gab. Not everyone’s gift is to articulate their experience. Some people are just really good at doing things, way better than I am. Some people are way better at investigating or solving problems than I am. I just happen to be trained to be a storyteller.”
Something else that Knox is involved in as part of her work is The Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, a deeper cut that she seemed surprised by when I mentioned it to her.
“Oh hey, good job for you! You did your homework,” Knox said, laughing.
A member of the board of directors for the project, Knox said that she is “really proud” of the work the group does.
“All it is, if you get right down to it, is putting people who would never be in a room together in a room together. People who, because they would never be in a room together, should and need to be in a room together,” Knox said. “In the same way that I was put into a room with people who had committed crimes, and I spent four years of my life living alongside them. It gave me a new perspective about why people commit crimes? What are the circumstances of most people who do commit crimes? How is society implicated in the bad decisions that people make? Are people in society making bad decisions that set other people up to make bad decisions?”
Knox says these questions are the ones we must ask ourselves when talking about incarceration.
“If you really are concerned about harm, and ultimately I feel like that’s the whole point of the criminal justice system is to deter and prevent harm, then you have to acknowledge what harm the criminal justice system is perpetrating,” Knox said. “My work with them is a lot of trying to spread the word, to invite people to take part, to meet some of the people that I’ve met in prison since coming back here, and to really think more deeply about how we are all a part of this system. It’s not just a system that’s meant for other people and we don’t have to think about it.”
Something else that came up in our conversation was a recent Wall Street Journal editorial written by the project’s president Marc Howard. In it, he argued that “prison reform should be a bipartisan issue” while also speaking directly to “those on the left—including those who already favor prison reform but view it primarily through a racial-justice lens.”
I had wanted to zoom in on what Howard had said about viewing reform “through a racial-justice lens,” so I asked Knox about her own views.
“I think this is a really important question. One of the things that I have noticed, occasionally, is this almost weird sort of racial hierarchy thing happening in terms of who matters as a victim of injustice more than another,” Knox said. “I think that what Marc Howard is suggesting is that anyone can be a victim of injustice, and when it happens, it’s a tragedy. There are obviously issues of systemic racism that impact it, especially in terms of the kinds of resources that are made available to disenfranchised groups and populations. I think that one of the biggest factors of wrongful conviction is the economic factor. If you are poor, whatever race you may be, you are at way higher risk of being wrongly convicted than of even someone of modest means.”
Knox acknowledged that she herself is not the typical person who will be wrongfully convicted.
“I’m one of the outliers when it comes to wrongful convictions. The vast majority of people who are wrongly convicted are people of color. They’re disproportionately impacted by wrongful conviction and even just by the criminal justice system in general,” Knox said. “That said, I know a lot of people who are white guys who are just poor and picked out and were wrongfully convicted and, in some ways, have felt a little bit overlooked by the movement. They have felt like people wanted to use the stories of wrongfully convicted Black men and make it an issue of wrongfully convicted Black men and not wrongfully convicted people, which I think is isolating.”
A key perspective for Knox is looking at how class leads to incarceration, a root cause she argues needs to be talked about more.
“You want to address the reality head-on, and the reality is that it disproportionately impacts people of color. Almost everyone I know who has been wrongfully convicted were all poor and didn’t have the means to defend themselves against the state, which had a lot more resources and power than them,” Knox said. “That is the bigger truth that I don’t think gets talked about quite as much, the economic reality and how do we address that economic reality when people are focused on the racial reality which is still important, but how do all find common ground on what’s really happening?”
Knox said that finding common ground is something she hopes to achieve in 2022. She said she wants to, pandemic permitting, begin making connections with those who are incarcerated and those who are not in order to “build solutions together.”
Above all else, Knox said she wants to make sure she can spend time being a parent.
“I just want to be a good mom. I love being a mom,” Knox said. “I want to focus as much inward towards my little circle as I do outwards at the world.”