Advocate For The Innocent

by Joy Johane 27 days ago in innocence
Third Place in Beyond the Vote ChallengeThird Place in Beyond the Vote Challenge

It is estimated that more than 120,000 people may presently be wrongfully incarcerated. 1 is too many.

Advocate For The Innocent
innocenceproject.org

The United States has the worlds highest wrongful conviction rate. What is worse is that there are far more false convictions than there are exonerations, creating a justice system that is not only flawed but one that is untrustworthy and unreliable.

In 2019, almost 2000 individuals were exonerated; the highest annual number since the late 80's. This is an indicator that more and more people find themselves charged with crimes they did not commit. The questions to ask are why does this continue to happen? What is being done to help victims of such an injustice and truly, what more can be done to prevent it? Prisoners are often disregarded once a sentence is handed down. It is a common misconception that everyone in prison claims to be innocent, hence it's no surprise why such claims are easy to ignore. However, many more don't make that claim at all and simply accept their fate, even if they are innocent.

There is a non-profit organization that is not only powerful but remarkable in its efforts and fight for those that are victims of such a flawed system. For the last 28 years, it has brought to light some of the worst and heartbreaking atrocities that have been carried out by a system meant to be fair and just. This organization has fought for the freedom of many and diligently continues to do so, contributing to changes in forensic science and law. They are known as the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project

Founders of the Innocence Project. Peter J. Neufeld (left) and Berry Scheck (right) Source.

The Innocence Project can be described as a legal organization that is dedicated to the exoneration of those that have been wrongfully convicted. The organization is made up of a legal team that volunteer, without charge and look into potential cases of wrongful convictions. Their work has not only changed lives by proving many innocent, but it has shaped many areas of the judicial system in America.

To date, the Innocence Project has aided in the freedom of 2,500 innocent individuals since its inception in 1992. To reach a stage where an innocent person can freely leave the confines of a prison involves a lot of steps and a lot of time. Some would deem it near impossible. On average, each case can take up to five years from the moment it is brought to their attention, to the point where one is granted their freedom. It's a tedious and time-consuming process that requires a true passion and a dedication that is unfathomable.

To fully grasp the impact of this organization and their work, here are just a few examples.

The Exonerees

Malcolm Alexander was sentenced to life in prison in 1980. Source

The Innocence Project helped free their longest serving client, Malcolm Alexander, who served almost 38 long, painful years until DNA evidence proved his innocence. He was only 20 years old at the time of his arrest, a young man with his life ahead of him and a father to a 2 year old boy. All that was ripped away due to improper procedures and a neglectful trail lawyer. When Malcolm finally walked out as a free man in January of 2018, he was a grandfather and the 2 year old boy he had left behind was now a 40 year old man.

With the work put in by the organization, they were able to find major cracks that led to his wrongful conviction. They brought to light the errors that influenced the only eyewitness who was the victim of the crime. They highlighted the ways in which Alexanders' lawyer mishandled and misrepresented his case and above all, they were able to test the DNA evidence from the original crime and compare it with Alexanders, only to find that there was no match.

Malcolm Alexander on the day of his release. Source.

Malcolm Alexander (middle), with his son, Malcolm II (left) and grandson, Malcom III (right) Source

Malcom Alexander pictured with his family members and his legal team from the Innocence Project. Source.

At just 22, Archie Williams was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he maintained he did not commit. It would take 36 years for him to regain his freedom after DNA evidence would prove what he had been saying for almost 4 decades. Whilst in prison, Williams would sing - the only freedom he had and he exercised it, going as far as starting a band. His love for singing never faded and he longed to be on a stage, in front of many. When he was released in March of 2019, his desire to perform was still as alive as ever.

Archie Williams. Source

Archie Williams on the day he was finally released, leaving with his legal team from the Innocence Project. Source.

The Innocence Project came across his case in 1995 and they fought for him for 24 years. Their hard work and relentless efforts saw to it that Williams was given a fair trial, his DNA being his key to exoneration. This, like many like it, was a great miscarriage of justice but despite the years lost, Williams has remained positive and the beauty of it all is he got to perform on a stage just like he had always wished to.

A little over a year after his exoneration, Williams had the opportunity to audition on America's Got Talent, where he shared his story and moved millions. His audition not only went viral, but he found himself in the finale, touching hearts and flourishing. It's not hard to think of what more he could have achieved if more than half of his life was not spent serving another person's sentence. But being able to witness his achievements and seeing him able to experience his freedom has been mesmerizing.

Statistics have shown that almost 70 percent of women are subject to gender- based violence. They also find themselves victims of the very same system meant to protect them. So far, since the late 80's, over 200 women have been exonerated within the United States after being wrongfully convicted

Kirstin Blaise Lobato. Source

At just the tender age of 18, Lobato found herself facing a murder charge with a sentence of 40 to 100 years. She went from being a victim to a murderer after the man she fought off as he attempted to harm her was killed two months after he attacked her. She would serve 16 years in prison until the Innocence Project would stand in for her in 2016, working earnestly to prove that when the crime was committed, she was almost 200 miles away. Had her first two trials been done justly and diligently, Lobato would not have had to go into her adulthood in prison.

Exoneration is only the beginning

The beautiful thing about the organization is the humanity they portray and inspire. Their work doesn't stop after one is exonerated, it goes beyond as they offer the necessary resources that are meant to support and restore. It's important to take into account the impact of such a traumatic and horrendous event. The time and the people that one loses that can never be replaced. Some experience a decline in their mental health, coming out traumatized and scarred, having seen and experienced terrible things. Many will have nowhere to go, with no idea where or how to begin. The Innocence Project supports exonerees by organizing workshops and events, giving the exonerees room to share their stories. They arrange any medical and psychological treatment that is necessary, assist in finding family members and housing and offer guidance in creating some form of normalcy for them.

Taking into account the new lessons learned from each exoneration, they utilize their findings to bring reform through the courts. They work with Congress, local leaders and state legislators to pass policies and laws that help prevent these wrongful convictions. They promote laws that allow access to post-conviction DNA testing and they advocate for laws that compensate victims of these injustices.

The Innocence Project contributes to the further education of wrongful convictions, with endless efforts to improve the reliability of forensic science. They offer resources that aid in research and training for lawyers and others that wish to learn. Their mission is evident but their impact is a true testament of what they represent. They form bonds with their clients, after spending years learning about them and their stories.

Innocence Project founders awarded New York State Bar Association Medal. Source.

WE can make a difference

Angela Radulescu/Flickr⁠

I share cases that are currently being worked on or that I believe deserve to be looked into. I sign petitions and pass them onto others, in hopes that I can add to the many that support the freedom and the rights of those that have had theirs taken away. I educate myself by reading research articles and engage in the content that is found through documentaries and podcasts. Donating to either the organization or purchasing their merchandise in order to raise awareness of the work they do. I continue to look into cases and I ask my own questions, starting conversations that need to happen.

These efforts, no matter how small they may seem - make a world of difference. That donation could aid in saving a life as many that have been wrongfully incarcerated have served a sentence on death row and heartbreakingly, many have been executed only to be exonerated after. The actions we take matter in preventing such. The donations are used to pay for DNA testing or adds on to support new exonerees as they begin their lives outside prison.

We have access to some of the biggest platforms to bring attention to the miscarriage of justice that happens each and everyday. We have the power to be the voice for those that go unheard as they proclaim their innocence. It is our actions that can create progress and change. It's important to remember those that are incarcerated as we have more rights than them and above all, we have our freedom. I share this because that innocent person who is wrongfully convicted could be you. It could be me or a family member or friend and if it was me, I would want to know that there were people fighting for me.

Find your local organization. Source.

The Innocence Network is affiliated with the Innocence Project, with the same objective, the reach is only much wider. Spreading outside the U.S and touching corners such as New Zealand, United Kingdom, Israel, Argentina and Canada. This is the perfect example of the influence that this organization has had - it has inspired millions and it has led to significant lessons that have helped other nations in their roles within the justice system.

This is an organization you can support from anywhere in the world. Its impact is felt through the stories of those that have fallen victim to a broken system. It's hard not to lose faith in humanity when you learn the suffering and cruelty some have had to endure, but hope is restored when the Innocence Project fights hard for those that deserve it the most. There are success stories and it's truly possible for change to happen, we just need to keep doing our part.

Cover Photo of The Innocence Files.

Watch the Innocence Files on Netflix for an in-depth view into the work done by the Innocence Project, the flaws within the U.S justice system and forensic science that lead to wrongful convictions. The documentary offers insight into the organizations mission and the real lives of the those affected by such gross errors.

Helpful Links

More information on the Exonerees discussed : Malcolm Alexander, Archie Williams and Kirsten Blaise Lobato

Things to read: Making Up For The Lost Time: WHAT THE WRONGFULLY CONVICTED ENDURE AND HOW TO PROVIDE FAIR COMPENSATION

A few things to watch, related to the Innocence Project and their cause: The Innocence Files, Long Shot, Time: The Kalief Browder Story and Exhibit A

Join the movement to prevent wrongful convictions in 2021

Websites: Facebook, Instagram, Official Innocence Project Website and YouTube

Any tips received will be donated to this organization. Please visit the official website and learn more.

- Joy Johane

innocence
Joy Johane
Joy Johane
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
Joy Johane

I write and stuff.

Thank you to anyone that has graciously given a tip toward my story, Advocate For The Innocent. All tips for that story have and will continue to be donated to the Innocence Project.

Thank you for the support.

See all posts by Joy Johane