Hello to everyone. I hope you are well.
This morning when I woke, it was just another day in prison. I put on the news and plugged in my hot pot to heat water for coffee. A national news station was profiling two men who were wrongfully convicted and spent a combined 40 years in prison fighting to prove their innocence. Finally, after decades behind bars, they were freed and returned to their families.
Over the years I’ve seen many of these stories. I’ve seen them featured on Dateline and 20/20. Sometimes they were convicted because of corrupt police. Sometimes it was misidentification by witnesses. And of course, many were because of faulty science. In fact, nationwide there have been thousands of men and women exonerated after spending decades in prisons for crimes they did not commit.
As a wrongfully convicted man fighting to prove his innocence, I don’t know how to feel about this. I guess on one hand it should make me feel hopeful and grateful that so many people were freed after so long. It should make me feel optimistic and appreciative that these people were finally vindicated. But quite honestly, today, what I feel is anger.
It makes me angry that our criminal justice system failed these people. It makes me angry that our criminal justice system failed me. A system that allows so many people to be convicted on crimes they did not commit, and then forces them to fight against the very system to right the wrong is broken. Our criminal justice system is supposed to be based on protecting the innocent. How then do so many people get convicted of crimes they are innocent of? And then, our appeals system is designed to ensure that innocent people are not wrongly convicted. Why then does it take decades (if they are one of the lucky ones) for an innocent person to be exonerated? What makes me most angry is when after one of these people is finally freed, people say, “See, the system works.” Wrong! If the system worked, innocent people would not be yanked from their families and forced to spend a single day behind bars for a crime they did not commit. Our system is broken and it makes me angry.
Brian and baby Amber
Fearing Pond, Plymouth 1991
Some days more than others I feel the anger. As the investigation into my own conviction continues, we’re learning of just how badly the system failed me and my family. In fact, it was more than just a system that failed; it was the police detectives, prosecutors, attorneys, medical experts, and judges that failed us. Some of the failures were worse than others. Some of the failures were malicious and intentional. Others were mere incompetence. It makes me angry to think of all that has been taken from me; all that has been taken from my daughter. My family has lost so much, and it makes me angry.
Our criminal justice system needs to be fixed. Our legislators need to change laws. Conviction Integrity Units need to be created. Federal funding needs to be given to Innocence Programs. Prosecutors need to be held criminally liable for wrongdoing. The AEDPA needs to be repealed. Time limits and other hurdles for appeals need to be dismantled. And, the death penalty needs to be abolished. We need to demand real criminal justice reform in order to prevent these injustices.
These days while so many people are angry and protesting about election results, Executive Orders, and Cabinet nominees, my hope is that there is some anger left for our criminal justice system. A system that is destroying American families and citizens, right now, in prison for crimes they did not commit; children growing up with the pain and loss of a wrongly incarcerated parent; mothers, fathers, children and siblings suffering because they have a loved one in prison as an innocent person. Lives are being destroyed and time is lost forever-all as a result of a failed criminal justice system. It makes me angry.
I want to end by stating that not all anger is bad. Sometimes anger is good. When it is channeled into action, it can be righteous. When it is used as motivation, it can be powerful. When it is used to right a wrong, it can open prison doors.
One Day Closer…