A few months ago, I linked to an editorial by an idiot college student named Emily Cassell who wrote a piece, the subject of which was that it was better for men to be falsely accused of rape than rape go unprosecuted (a false choice, but whatever). Feminists repeat as an article of faith that “only 2% to 8% of rape accusations are false (how they know this, who can say?)
Jarrett Adams, a law clerk for the federal district court of the Southern District of New York, and a man exonerated for a rape he didn’t commit, gives us a little insight into the life of a man falsely accused and convicted and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
The recent and tragic suicide of my friend and fellow exoneree Darryl Hunt is a stark reminder that no monetary compensation can make up for the psychological toll of wrongful conviction. When a wrongfully convicted person is released from prison, it’s often to a throng of reporters clamoring to capture images of an emotional reunion with his smiling family and friends, and lawyers. These images instill a sense of vindication and a happy ending. But what is too often unseen is how difficult it is to re-enter society after years or decades of confinement — especially if you are innocent. These are the unseen scars, and too many states pay them inadequate attention, or none at all.
In 1984, when he was 19, Darryl, an African-American man, was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, the rape and murder of a young white woman in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on the basis of a tentative eyewitness identification and the pressured testimony of a girlfriend who later recanted. It was a racially charged trial. Darryl consistently professed his innocence, even refusing a plea that would have set him free years before his 2004 exoneration. After DNA evidence exonerated him, Darryl had to file a lawsuit to win compensation; he was awarded a settlement of $1.7 million in 2007. North Carolina has since updated its compensation statute to provide job-training and college tuition for exonerated inmates, but compensation is now capped at $750,000, an inadequate amount for someone who paid for another man’s crime with 20 years of his life.
Lucky or not, we all find ourselves mentally battered from fighting to get out, to re-enter society and win compensation. Before prison, I was a 17-year-old who enjoyed cookouts and holidays with aunts and uncles. When I came home, many of those aunts and uncles were near death, and new family members had been born who knew me only as a face in a picture or a voice on the other end of a prison phone call.
In the months following my exoneration, I suffered from depression, anger and confusion. How could a system that reversed my conviction leave me with nothing – not even a mental or physical evaluation? I was released with no secondary education, no job training, no credit, no savings, no health insurance and no way to explain to future employers the 10-year-gap in my resume. My struggle was difficult at my age, but I can only imagine how disheartening it must be to win exoneration and come home at the age of retirement with absolutely nothing. Yet 20 states have no statute assuring that people wrongfully deprived of their freedom are helped back into society and compensated for the stolen years.
Let’s see: Years of your life? Gone. Wealth? None. Skills? Minimal. Reputation? Ruined. Job Prospects? Hope you like washing dishes. Resources to reintegrate you into society? Nonexistent.
But please, continue to trivialize the men in that “2% – 8% of all rape accusations are false.” It’s not like a false accusation or conviction is harmful to a man at all.