More tales of injustice- enough to make your skin crawl.
Today the Columbia Missourian posted this story about Johnny Briscoe, a St. Louis man who was wrongly convicted of rape and paid for it with 23 years of his life behind bars. DNA evidence finally freed him in 2006, and he’s now suing for damages. By state law, he could collect “up to $36,500 in compensation for each year he was wrongly incarcerated, but he must agree not to file suit.” The compensation doesn’t cut the mustard for the loss of his prime years. But because of the wording of the law, if he loses his lawsuit it seems he will also lose this right to state compensation. And in the end, what amount of money could give back what was taken from him?
Yesterday I read The Wronged Man, a story by Andrew Corsello that ran in GQ in 2004. I encourage everyone to read it. The story is long, but it’s compelling from start to finish. Not only did Calvin Willis spend twenty-two years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, he lost his wife and part of himself in the process. It’s a true story of tragedy, eloquently written.
I’m having trouble getting my thoughts together about what I want to say. The above two seem to be about racism. I didn’t vote for Obama, but I believe in looking for the good in every situation, and I hope that his presidency symbolizes a huge step away from the insanity and atrocity of racism that plagues our country even to this day. And I think people are wrongly convicted for other reasons, too. (Read my October 28 posting on Ryan Ferguson.)
There’s no litmus test for innocence or guilt. There are procedures, but in the end the jury has to decide if they’re convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Which means there might be some doubt, some little inkling, some small nagging uncertainty in the back of the jurors’ minds. And sometimes, that stifled little doubt is truth denied.
These stories break my heart and fill me with a kind of helpless, indignant rage coupled with a desperate yearning to do something. Sometimes it seems all I can do is scream out in frustration, or weep in empathy. But there must be more. Something productive. If nothing else, we need to get people talking.