It’s that time of year once again that my thoughts are filled with reflection of the year past and dreams for a better future.
This month marks 22 years since young Christopher’s senseless death. It is always difficult to think of this heartbreaking loss and its effect on so many lives. It is a tragedy that must never be overshadowed. It is impossible; however, to consider that loss without acknowledging my wrongful imprisonment and being taken from my daughter and family. That tragic day, so many years ago, continues to cause so much pain and sorrow for so many.
On a much brighter note, during this time of year we like to take time to celebrate what we like to call our Jenniversary. It was three years ago this month that my lawyer, Jennifer Fitzgerald, came to us. Since then Jen has tirelessly worked on my case, with passion and tenacity, leaving no stone unturned. And every day Jen continues to bring us one day closer to the day I am exonerated and set free. Thank you, Jen.
While reflecting on this past year, I am struck by some of the overwhelming extremes between times of excitement and thankfulness and the difficult times filled with pain. It’s those extremes that often cause me and my family to struggle with being grateful over greedy, patient over frustrated, and anxious without feeling discouraged. Some of the most difficult times of this past year have been my own personal struggle-my ability to accept my circumstances without being in a constant state of resentment and anger. At times it can be crushing; and I know those feelings are often shared by my family as well. I know my family worries about me and they are often times overcome with concern over my safety and emotional stability. Even though we are confident that one day we will be successful and I will return to them, it doesn’t always make the difficult, every day journey any easier. There is still an empty hole in their hearts and in their lives. The loss is always present. There is always an empty seat at the table. Don’t be mistaken, there were many amazing and wonderful moments and developments this past year, and we have a tremendous amount to be thankful for; but, there were also some very trying times that sometimes overshadow the good…
For example, we were all very happy that after a long, difficult battle I was reinstated in the NEADS Dog Program. I was allowed once again to train service dogs for disabled people, something that gave purpose and joy to my days. However, that happiness was short lived. Within two months DOC administrators put me in a no-win situation that would have put my safety at risk. I was forced to choose between my well-being and my continued participation in the NEADS program. With great agony, I was forced to leave the program.
This year in particular, I struggled with some difficult battles of depression (battles I did not always win.) As you can imagine, prison is a dark place filled with anguish, bitterness and pain. Being incarcerated, your thoughts are overtaken with depression, which then becomes intertwined with day to day life in prison. Isolation from family and loved ones becomes compounded with the added stresses of being immersed in a culture of violence, drug use and just plain hopelessness. You are surrounded by desperation, anger and despair. It’s a constant emotional and psychological battle.
Unfortunately, the DOC has recently compounded the feelings of isolation and pain by creating a new regulation that will prevent some of my loved ones from visiting me. The new regulation will restrict the number of family members and friends who will be allowed to visit, thus prohibiting my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who have been visiting me for over two decades from seeing me. Imagine how it felt when we learned that as long as I remain in prison, I will never see those loved ones again. We were heartbroken.
I also struggled this year with the news of my daughter’s pregnancy. Don’t misunderstand. I was overjoyed at the news; however, I had a difficult time reconciling the incredible happiness at the gift of a grandson, with the anger and pain of what I would miss. Thoughts of my grandchild growing up in a prison visiting room, as my daughter did, were unbearable. Add to that my daughter’s very difficult pregnancy, with numerous trips to the ER and hospital stays; we were in a constant state of worry and under a tremendous amount of stress.
In addition to my daughter, the year ended with a terrible health scare for my mother. Over Christmas my mom was rushed to the ER and hospitalized for several days. I can’t describe the helplessness and fear I felt. I could not be there with my daughter or mother when they needed me. You become so much more aware of the tall fences, concrete walls and barbed wire that imprison you when you are urgently needed by the ones you love.
This past year we saw three men I know overturn their wrongful convictions and go home: Freddy Weichel, Darryl “Diamond” Williams, and Angel Hernandez. While my family and I are so very happy for these men and their families, it is extremely difficult and bittersweet to watch people you know win their freedom. I was forced to reconcile between my feelings of happiness for them as I once again returned to my prison cell and the large steel door slammed closed behind me.
On the other side of the extremes is the tremendous amount we have to be thankful for. I always remind my family, “We must choose to concentrate on what we have and not on what we don’t.” We have so much to be thankful for. In many ways, much more than others…
As I stated earlier, we still have Jen, my amazing attorney, with all of her persistence and passion. She continues to volunteer her time and work on my case without compensation. Her dedication to proving my innocence is never forgotten. It is because of her and her persistence that this year we have made amazing advances in medical research and diagnosis. Although we had hoped to file with the courts this past year, we just could never have anticipated the copious amounts of new, exculpatory medical evidence that would be discovered and require tedious review and expert examination. Most importantly, we continue to move forward and make remarkable progress.
This past year we have also added to the medical experts who, after reviewing the new medical evidence have volunteered their time and medical opinions in order to right a wrong and uncover the truth. This has been incredible and we are very thankful for all who continue to volunteer their time.
We also received some assistance from attorneys Lisa Kavanaugh and Ira Gant from the CPCS Innocence Program. They continue to offer support and remain dedicated to helping us any way they can. In addition, Attorney David Hirsch has joined our legal team and is now assisting with my case. In recent years, Mr. Hirsch was successful in overturning two wrongful convictions in cases very similar to mine. We are thankful to have him as part of our team.
Most definitely what we have to be most thankful for this past year was the birth of my grandson, Anthony Brian. He is perfect. I was incredibly blessed to be able to hold him in my arms and just experience his warmth and charm. I fed him his bottle and he contently fell asleep in my arms. His perfectly formed, tiny hand firmly grasped my finger in a moment I will forever cherish. He captured my heart. I watched both his mother –my daughter, and his father look at this little person with such love and pride. No words can describe my feelings. I was so proud of them both.
It’s the extremes. It’s the jumps from joy to pain. It’s the struggles between happiness and anger. It’s the distance between patience and anxiousness. It’s grateful over greedy. At times we can’t help but to ask, what about me and my family? How much longer will we be forced to suffer because of this injustice? Lisa recently wrote, “How do you reconcile grateful and greedy when there are people working so diligently on your behalf?” The answer is you don’t. We are grateful. Grateful for all that we have; grateful for Jen and the amazing people who give so much to fight to prove my innocence. But, is it wrong for us to also be a little greedy? Are we ungrateful because we want the wait to be over? Is it greedy because after suffering for 22 years we want it to be our turn? Does it have to be grateful over greedy, or can’t we be both?
It must be understood, every day in prison as an innocent man is a very long day. Every day without a loved one because of a wrongful conviction is a day too many. We are tired. We are frustrated. We are impatient. Do you blame us?
Above all, we remain grateful and constantly remind ourselves that we have so much to be thankful for. Through the ups and downs, we continue to lean on each other as a family, with love and understanding, and anxiously wait for our turn.
One thing is for certain, each day that passes ultimately brings us one day closer…