Lately I’ve been watching videos about the exoneration of Derrick Wheat, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson, three young men recently released after serving 20 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Their release has piqued my curiosity and I found myself watching countless other videos and reading articles about other individuals, such as Ricky Johnson, who were wrongly convicted.
Ricky Johnson, an Ohio man, was convicted in1975 and spent 39 years in prison. His pain and emotional stress must be beyond overwhelming. Doing time is difficult enough, but to be wrongfully convicted–that’s a horse of another color. In one interview, when he was asked what his experience in prison was like, Mr. Ricky Johnson stated, “It was constantly a battle trying to stay positive, and some days you get the point when you don’t think you’re gonna make it.”
How do individuals convicted of crimes that they did not commit convince themselves to accept their fates? Once they are released, as victims of the criminal justice system, how do they cope with reentry in the face of anger, resentment and sorrow?
I know those feelings all too well, but when I was incarcerated I told myself early on, ‘You did the crime and you have to do the time.’ I held myself accountable. I still do. Knowing that I did something so horribly immoral and tremendously grave never made doing time easier, but it helped me to accept my fate.
Mr. Ricky Johnson spoke about the fact that he had illusions about what things would be like when he was released, but they were far from the reality. He talked about the changes in technology and how impersonal relationships are today vs. how things were in the world he had once known. He said in one article that he didn’t even know what the sky looked like once he was released. To imagine what his community looked like was unrealistic.
The fact is Mr. Johnson was mentally, socially and culturally deprived when he was robbed of his freedom for almost four decades. I’m certain he had to learn to live again, learn to forgive and accept society as we know it today. I can only imagine.
I looked at one last video clip knowing that I had seen and heard enough about these unjust atrocities, and I saw one of the three young men, maybe Derrick or Laurease or Eugene, walk out of the prison upon release, holding the few possessions he owned in a large manila envelope. He looked up at the sky. It must have looked immense. After serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit I know he often wondered if the sky looked different as a free man than it does for a man in bondage. Looking up at the sky at that moment, I know he had a response of disbelief and gratitude. It was a stunning sight to see.