"The battle for freedom and justice
is never hopeless,
but it is never finally won.
Every morning, we must wake up
ready to fight it again."
I did more today to fight for my eventual exoneration than I have over the past 7 months combined in the time that I've been free. I had a rare weekday off from work, so I wanted to make today count by executing several actions to procure documents, make phone calls, make connections and receive professional legal advice.
I'm more than grateful and excited each day that I get to wake up as a free man (making parole is like hitting the lottery in prison); however, the pain of my 23 years of wrongful imprisonment still tortures me daily (mentally). As much as I want to, I cannot forget what they (the crooked system) took from me and what they put me through when they kidnapped me as a 17-year-old, wrongfully convicted me, sentenced me to 40 years, and caged me up like an animal with another man (cellie) in a tiny, inhumane 6' by 11' foot cell for 23 years.
When I was living in a prison cell, I was extremely limited on what I could do from my tiny cell to fight back against my injustice, but I still did what little I could within my limitations. I had hundreds of copies of my innocence story that I typed personally on a computer that I was using for one of my clerical prison jobs. I wasn't suppose to do it, but I did. I was working as a prison type of slave for free, so I took a chance in using their computer for my benefit. One of the Correctional Officers, who respected me for fighting for what I believed in, used one of the copiers to run me off about 50 copies of innocence story.
On the days that my wrongful imprisonment was getting the best of me, I would fill up envelopes with copies of my story and a letter and mail them to different organizations, innocence projects, civil liberty groups, celebrities, basically to anyone (smile). Even if I wasn't getting anywhere, it made me feel better inside to do something to try fight back. If nothing else, I know each copy-of-my-story/letter was making another connection and raising the awareness about my injustice to at least one more person. In my mind, and with my faith, I kept telling myself "you never know who might read this" and I believed that eventually the right person was going to read my story and help me. I thought of each envelope that I mailed off as a seed I was planting into someone's heart and the sky was the limit to what my seed might grow into.
While I was in prison, Anthony Graves, an exoneree who spent 17 years on Texas Death Row, gave me some sound advice on fighting to be exonerated. He advised me to do
one-new-thing-each-day to fight. Even if it was just a prayer, a letter to someone, revisiting my case files, writing down note and ideas, expressing my pain in a poem/song, he said just do one-new-thing-each-day. On my darker days of doubt and disbelief when I chose to do nothing about my injustice, I felt far worse inside about my wrongful imprisonment than on the days that I did one-new-thing-each-day. Doing something---anything--- to fight back and channel my pain made me feel better about my hopeless existence in prison and Anthony Graves advice proved to be effective. Doing something, or one-new-thing-each-day, motivated me to do something else, and another something, and so on. My chain-link actions, and the positive energy that emanated from my actions, created a contagious momentum of me wanting to do SEVERAL-new-things-each-day.
I woke up today feeling a greater amount of pain and sadness about all the years I spent in prison for something that I didn't do. I've been so busy with trying to build my new life, going to work, attending my parole classes, reintegrating into society, and not to mention enjoying my freedom (smile), that I haven't been focusing on what's in my past (wrongful imprisonment). I shouldn't focus on the past. I'm living in the present for the best days of my life that I believe are in my future. Although I'm not going to focus on my past, I'm sure as hell not going to forget it and still fighting for my exoneration is something I will do in both my present and my future.
The reason I woke up today with my wrongful imprisonment heavy on my mind and emotionally disturbed was due to the phone conversation I had yesterday with Ms. Kate Germond, who is the Executive Director at Centurion Ministries, which is located in New Jersey and the oldest innocence project in the nation. Centurion Ministries was one of the few innocence you did a preliminary investigation/review into my case, but in the end they didn't take my case due to limited funding and people with more severe sentences (Death Row and Life Sentences) who needed there limited funding and services more than I did.
The reason I contacted Ms. Kate Germond was based on the suggestion of my friend in New Zealand, Ingrid Arvidson, who has been in touch with Ms. Germond about my case. Ingrid stays on me about typing new blogs and taking steps---now that I'm free---to continue the fight for my exoneration, and I thank her for that.
Ms. Germond told me that they wouldn't be able to take my case (I knew that; I'm a free man), but she did give me some of her seasoned, professional advice about getting a copy of my court docket, the full police report, contacting my trial lawyer, working to hire a Private Investigator and encouraged me to contact her again if and when I have any questions during different stages of my fight.
So, this morning, as I was laying in my comfortable bed and feeling down about the two-plus decades that I wrongfully spent in prison and the fact that I'm still treated like a second class citizen by some because I'm branded as an EX-FELON!, the voice inside of my head said, "Get your ass out of bed and do something about it. Be the solution to your problem." Based on all of the time I spent in prison and what I use to do to cope emotionally, I knew the best antidote to alleviate my current pain was to fight back by doing that one-new-thing-TODAY. Now that I'm free, I have more mobility (car), freedom, resources, finances, technology, and instant communication than I did when I was in a cell, and today I was determined to use them to take some steps forward in the fight for my exoneration.
Today, I did more than one-new-thing-each-day to fight back; I did more like 6 or 7 things:
- I drove downtown (Houston) to the Criminal Justice building to get a copy of my court docket and any other documents on my case that I could find that I don't already have. One of the clerks entered my cause number into the system and located y file in the warehouse on 5900 Canal Street, where they store the bulk of case file.
- I drove 12 minutes away to the warehouse on Canal Street and they did have my file. I didn't find the court docket, but I did find my original indictments, motions that were filed, the jury selection, questions the jury asked during their deliberations, and a few other documents. I took iphone pictures of some of the documents and I put a paper clip on 15 pages, as they instructed me to, to have a copy made by them for $1 per page. Turns out their debit/credit card machine was down, so they gave the copies to me for free. How sweet (smile).
- Next, I ventured in my car 5 minutes to the nearby Harris County Sheriffs Office to obtain a detailed copy of the Police Report in my case. I have a 7 page, watered-down version of my Police Report that my cousin was able to obtain while I was in prison, but I want the full police report with everything in it. They clerk there told me that there procedures didn't allow them to give me my full Police Report, but she did give me a form with the website with step by step instructions on how to request (online) for a copy of my full police report.
- Seeing my trial lawyers name in my file and recalling what Ms. Germond told me, I Googled by trial lawyer and found his current phone number. I called his number and left him a voice mail message. I shared the great news that I was free, that I was still fighting to clear my name, and anything that he could do to help me would be appreciated, especially if he still had his file on my case.
- My next stop was a 12 minute drive back to the heart of downtown Houston to the District Attorney's office. There is a special division within the DA's office that I had heard about called the Conviction Integrity Division. The Integrity Division looks into cases where there is a claim of actual innocence. I spoke to one of the paralegals and advised me on how to file a claim with their division, which is detailed letter summarizing my case and listing all of the points to support why I was wrongfully convicted. Letter writing and writing in general is something I know all to well from my time in prison. I may not even use that division (after all they are paid by the state and are on the DA's side) but I wanted to look into it.
- My last stop was to the University of Houston Innocence Project at the main campus. I submitted my case to them when I was first released 7 months ago and I haven't been in touch with them since, so I wanted to check the status on my case. I spoke with the assistant director Cassandra Jeu and she told me my case was still active and open. No decision has yet been made on whether they are going to take my case or not. I was able to update her on what I'm trying to do for myself and she was happy about that. I know the more I can help myself, the more I can help them. Most innocence projects have limited funding, so they are real selective about whose case they atke on. Case in point is Anthony Graves who I mentioned earlier. All of the innocence projects originally turned him down. It was only when a group of journalism students from the University Of St. Thomas compiled a treasure trove of new evidence over 3 years that the same University of Houston Innocence Project decided to take his case. They were handed a pile of new evidence on a silver platter and won his exoneration after DA Kelly Seigler dismissed the charges.
- Also, my trial lawyer did call me back and we had a great conversation. Yes, he was a court appointed attorney, and yes, I know he could have done a lot more for me to have prevented my wrongful conviction, but he was genuinely happy for me that I'm free and we had a fruitful 30 minute talk. He agreed to look in his office and storage for any files he had on my case and will help me in any way he can moving forward.
As you can see, I used my day off and freedom to get several things done on my case that came from advice that I was given by others and from ideas in my head that I've been thinking about. Even though I don't see any major results for my actions today, I did something, I fought back, I planted some seeds, I channeled my pain into some proactive actions, I made some positive connections, I sent out some positive signals into the Universe, I typed this blog and there's no telling who might read it and how it may effect you (hopefully positively), and I feel better now than when I woke up this morning. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I made today count for something that I strongly believe in (my innocence and exoneration). I have in front of me what will be a hard war to win---it's like I'm David fighting Goliath with a sling-shot---but all I can do is keep fighting and doing one-new-thing-each-day until I'm exonerated. I'm still here. Still Believing. Still Fighting.