A blog from a freed wrongly convicted prisoner.
As someone who spent 29 years in prison for a crime that I did not commit, I would be the first to admit that I benefited from media coverage during my efforts to prove my innocence. While I don’t want to sound overly critical of the media with respect to their election coverage, I do think it’s very important to point out that the media had done a major disservice to the American people during the presidential election. It can be argued that President-elect Donald Trump benefited extensively from television networks that covered his entire campaign in a way that no other presidential candidate had ever been covered. Now, I’m not surprised that the media is on the defensive and has become irritated and extremely sensitive about the criticism it is receiving. Members of the media is quick to point out that they were only doing their job, covering the presidential election. But further analysis of the coverage shows that Trump received a significant advantage over Secretary Clinton when it came to the kind of coverage presidential candidates often receive. Shouldn’t there have been equal access to each candidate? Not necessarily in the traditional sense, but in the spirit of fairness.
There have been several members of the media whining about the criticisms – one member I recall saying that her conscience is clear in terms of the criticisms her particular network is receiving in the wake of the election results. Here goes my one weird analogy: the media is akin to prostitution. It sales itself to the highest bidder – in this particular instance, that bidder was Trump. The highest bidder Trump came in the form of bigotry, racism, homophobia, etc. The media essentially chose Trump/ratings over real conversations about how to make poor and working people lives better, basically going against the norms of fairness. If we could give truth serum to even the most loyal Trump supporters they would agree that the media, despite Trump’s complaints of media bias, or him playing the system being rigged card near the end of the election, were two major factors in getting his message to his base of supporters and those are the fringe. I want to be clear that I’m no Secretary Clinton apologist, although I voted for her. It wasn’t a question of the lesser of the two evils – I believed and still do, that she is the better candidate. I could provide several reasons why I thought Secretary Clinton should have ran a different campaign from an electoral college standpoint – not populism. In my opinion, she was going to win the popular vote regardless. As we are learning, these two components are vastly different. Many believe that Secretary Clinton did not say or do enough to energize poor and working class voters in rural areas, and especially in the middle of the country. With all due respect to the entertainment world, I don’t believe Jay Z, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen to name a few moved the political needle enough to fancy the media, in my opinion. It is common knowledge that mainstream media cuts its teeth by covering sensationalism. Trump took it to new and dangerous levels. Now, as a result, we have kids walking the hallways of our schools chanting “white power.” Can you imagine if those same white kids were chanting that in the hallway of a Brooklyn school full of African-Americans and Latinos? It would be a tragedy waiting to happen. Now, we are left to explain to our children why swastikas are being left on the properties of Muslim and Jewish Americans and why people are being harassed across the country. Although Trump has an obligation to speak out against this kind of hate – he won’t because he knows his supporters will not allow that. Did anyone catch his comments when he met with President Obama? Remember when he said “I respect?” He could not bring himself to say that he respect President Obama. I used the word “genuinely” because the nation saw and heard him on 60 Minutes Sunday, stating what can best be described as hollow words to those spewing hate. “stop it” was all he could muster. There was nothing compassionate or sincere about those words. It sounded coded for “keep it up.” I believe he is going to learn that the slogan “Make America Great Again” is going to mean something far more different than he will realize.
While some Americans are still trying to make sense of what happened on election day, and what could be learned from it, I think the media could learn some valuable lessons from this election as well (but it won’t), because they too will be reminded of Trump’s temperament. He has already provided a glimpse into the future by his treatment of the media – the very entity that helped him. My prediction is that Trump will be the most non-transparent president we have seen in some time. I’m already finding that the media will not press Trump on much. For example, I’m wondering whether the media will pressure him into admitting that it would be breaking the law if his children were given cabinet positions, or something remotely close to it. Is it possible that nepotism could mean something entirely different than what it means today? Is it possible for Trump to ignore the nepotism? There is no way the media should allow him to get away with that. Securing both the Senate and the House is even more dangerous than the bully pulpit itself. Imagine, at least for the next four years, Trump putting his putting his money into the hands of non-family members to manage. I can’t quite wrap my head around this narcissistic billionaire allowing someone, other than himself or family to manage his fortune. The law is clear that he cannot profit from his previous businesses or be involved in any financial transactions. Remember, he was the “law and order” candidate. But what he didn’t say was whether that slogan would apply to him and his family, or his cronies. I’m betting on the Christie/New Jersey bridge-gate issue validating this point. I’m concerned that media will continue to be fascinated by the reality television aspect of this guy and not press him as hard as it should. Remember, Trump has no more use for the media in the way he once did, now that he has won the election. But the media was Trump’s biggest and most dangerous cheerleader. Please, don’t pity the media. This is the game the media likes to play – a game Donald Trump understood very well.
For those of you have read my previous blog postings will know that I have never voted before. Tuesday was my first time voting and I have to say that it turned into an absolute nightmare. Like many Americans not named Donald Trump supporters are waking up this morning feeling like they have been hit over the head with a sledgehammer. I must admit that I was not shocked but surprised by the results given the way a certain population of the country had reacted to the presidency of Barak Obama. Many political pundits and cable networks have tried to couch this election under the premise that people in America are angry and dissatisfied with that is going on Washington. I’m tired of hearing that same old argument. I don’t believe that premise at all, particularly when it comes to this guy. I will not give this guy the benefit of the doubt. The phrase “benefit of the doubt” is earned, not giving to. I believe many people voting for Trump saw a long awaited opportunity to reignite some old terrible scars that prevented this country from growing into a nation that could disagree with one another, but one that could also respect one another. Let me be clear in what I’m referring to. Unless I totally misread the entire election, I believe the sixties are back in play in this country as a result of this election. I also believe Jim Crow will be will be back in play as well, although some would argue that Jim Crow never really went away, and that it just been laying dormant. While many Americans are probably still in shock, angry, disappointed, and frustrated to day, I think there is a glimmer of hope down the road, meaning that we must really start to mobilize and turn our attention to the mid term elections in 2018, and even get more involved on a local level.
As a Bernie Sanders supporter I believe Senator Sanders stood a much better chance of defeating Trump. I’m not speaking in hindsight here because I believed from the time I saw Senator Sanders turn out huge crowds of supporters, particularly young people who appeared to be energized and was ready to give democracy another chance, despite the broken promises made by President Obama. If nothing else, this election reminded those who believe that we are in a post-racial times are just plain folly. I’m not exactly optimistic about the next four years. What should alarm some Americans, aside from Trump himself (although one could argue that he alone should be more than enough to be concerned about) is the potential names being mentioned for his administration, is even more scarier. When you consider the names Rudolph Guliani, as the next possible Attorney General or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who I’m sure will play a prominent role in the Trump administration, if he wants it, there is no doubt in my mind that America is in for a rude awakening. Given his troubles governing, he may want out of New Jersey politics before the hammer come down on him. Some of us in New York know all too well who this Guliani guy is and what he presents, and what he is capable of, particularly people of color and his heavy handed criminal justice policies. Some political pundits as early as yesterday morning were predicting that Trump would tone down his campaign rhetoric and not act on most of what he was spewing during his campaign. While that may be true for some, I don’t believe that only because there is a huge population of people who will demand that he deliver on those promises. Of course, he will try and sound presidential in public, but it’s the back door deals that should concern the American people. This will be a classic action speaks louder the words moment. In my opinion, some of the Trump supporters are expecting a return to white nationalism, white privilege, and the ku klux klan. I think we got a glimpse of the latter during the Republican primary. These groups will become embolden and more visible now that they have the most powerful source in the world as its number one ally.
I will be the first to mention that I benefited immensely from mainstream media. I also understand that mainstream media can be a blessing or a curse. For me, however, mainstream media turned out to be a blessing because it brought needed attention to my terrible plight of being in prison for a crime that I did not commit. For someone like Trump, who benefited from non-stop mainstream media coverage the minute he was shown coming down the escalator at Trump Tower, the mainstream media proved to be a perfect ally to launch his campaign in a way that was new to the political landscape of the United States. I find it funny that mainstream media is now upset because of the widespread criticisms it is receiving for basically helping this man become the next president of the United States. The truth is, however lost this election was going to blame someone or something. Trump had already laid the foundation for his excuse when it started crowing about the system being rigged. Hillary could blame the mainstream media. In the end, the mainstream media picks and chooses who and what to cover. They chose to get in bed with Trump. The mainstream media chose Trump/ratings over voice/fairness. It all added up to a Trump triumph. I will not give the media a free pass no matter how they try and spin their contribution to the election. I recall members of the mainstream media sounding giddy and laughing at the mention of Trump, not including the outrageous things he said.
Those of us who care about our national security should be concerned. Can we safely say that as a country we can believe that Trump will find it within himself to refrain from causing more harm than good in terms of alienating our allies, upsetting factions, and neutralizing allies who are committed to easing tensions in the world? I say no because he has not giving me a reason to think otherwise. While I think that I have some idea of what is happening in the middle east, I will now turn my full attention to North Korea – our next war opponent. With a seemingly reckless hothead in Trump, in addition to a seemingly provocative president in Kim Jong-un, I’m betting that his days in power are numbered because he will become a target of Trump, aside from the middle east, of course. With Jong-un, I’m not exactly going out on the limb with my prediction because this is the ideal opponent in which to make a global statement – something that President Obama was reluctant to do, or was advise not to do. To my friends in Canada, can you really say that you went to bed after the election results feeling good about your partnership with the United States both financially and militarily? Who is to say that Trump won’t complain about your borders if you guys don’t comply with his wishes. Who is to say that Trump won’t complain that Canada needs to do more in combating terrorism or that Canada needs to be more pro-active and forceful in world events.
New York City is known for many things from its diversity of people, to its tall buildings, to its unique skyline, despite the falling twin towers, to its financial district, and to its crowded subway transportation, this morning was the quietest subway ride I have witnessed. No doubt there are many happy people today, but my train ride to work reminded me that there are many sad people who looked scared, dazed and confused about what happened on Tuesday. I believe fascism will rear its ugly head in America again and it was evident throughout this campaign, and to think that Americans, at least those of us who believe in democracy can feel good about this country for the next fours years, will be a challenge of a lifetime. God bless America for we will need every blessing that comes our way.
This is such a rare example of a political person leaving the scene with no regrets. I will always honor Ken Thompson’s memory.
Read David McCallum’s account on this website of speaking at Thompson’s funeral.
When it was first brought to my attention that the family of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson invited me to his funeral, I accepted no doubt and thought that it was an honor and a privilege. What made the extremely kind gesture special to me was that I could think of no better way to pay tribute to Mr. Thompson for giving me something no other human being could give me. With all due respect to the many dignitaries at the funeral and those opn stage with me from Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the first lady of New York City, I wasn’t in awe of their presence. I was really focused on making sure that I remember why I was there. Although I was last to speak, and was not given much time to speak due to time constraints, it was good that I didn’t have a prepared speech. What I had to say about Mr. Thompson and to his family would come from my heart. Prior to being called to speak, I cried every time it was mentioned what Mr. Thompson did for those claiming innocence. One would have to appreciate the fact that I had spent a total of 29 years in prison, and on some levels, was literally at the end of my fight, when all of sudden, this man is elected district attorney of Brooklyn. I told the pack-filled audience how not only did Mr. Thompson give me back my life, he also gave me my five-month old daughter Quinn. I displayed emotion throughout the service, particularly when I would glance at Mr. Thompson’s two young children, his wife, and his mom and dad sitting in the front row. Much like I promised Dr. Rubin Hurricane Carter after he agreed to help me, I promised the Thompson family that I will never let them down and that I will continue to live a clean and productive life.
I had never attended a funeral before but it didn’t matter to me because once the service began, it felt more like a celebration of Mr. Thompson’s life. I believe the spirits were alive and well and drew me to Mr. Thompson. I talked about how I would stay up all hours of the night listening to campaign news after learning that Mr. Thompson was running for Brooklyn District Attorney. I talked about how I would often wake up the next morning feeling very tired but also feeling like it was all worth it. There were many promises made during the service by many people but the most significant promise made was by Acting District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez who promised that he would continue the work initiated by Mr. Thompson with respect to wrongful convictions. While it was obviously a very sad day, no doubt, I would hope that every person who attended the funeral service appreciated not only who we lost, but what we lost as well. Rest in peace Kenneth P. Thompson for you have earned your place among god’s greatest gifts to humanity.
In light of the recent and untimely passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson on October 9, 2016, I wanted and needed to write this particular blog and title it after DA Thompson and Dr. Rubin Hurricane Carter. I thought it would be appropriate to express my most profound and deepest appreciation for these two men who will forever be linked with me because of what they had the courage to do. These two men played a significant role in my exoneration on October 15, 2014 after serving 29 years for a crime that I did not commit. In 2013, when I first learned that DA Thompson was going to run for Brooklyn District Attorney, I could not contain my excitement over the possibility that there could be change coming in Brooklyn. I listened closely and followed as much campaign news as the prison lore would allow me, so when DA Thompson made the promise that he would be starting the Conviction Review Unit and that he and his office would be investigating wrongful convictions in a different way than his predecessor Charles Hynes, my legal team, and of course, my family were extremely excited and hopeful that we would at least be given a fair opportunity to have my case heard.
In 2014 when Mr. Thompson was elected district attorney, he immediately begin assembling the unit to investigate wrongful conviction claims. My attorney Oscar Michelen and I were appreciative of the transparency of the new office in terms of sharing information with us. We were also impressed that DA Thompson hired Harvard Law School Professor Ronald Sullivan to construct the new unit. Prior to DA Thompson getting into office Dr. Carter and Innocence International had been representing me for over 10 years. One could imagine how difficult it was for us to gain any meaningful traction in the case. We were literally denied at every turn, including the Hynes office. But, in 2014, something very momentous was happening. Although there was no guarantee that DA Thompson would eventually exonerate me, I did feel that we were going to be given a fighting chance – something we wanted for a very long time. After a nearly 10 months of investigation, I was about to discover if my final chance at freedom would happen. At this point, my state and federal appeals had been exhausted so this was it, and I knew it.
On October 15, 2014, I was told to report to the prison receiving room at the Otisville Correctional Facility, where I would be issued clothing for court. What usually happens in that situation is that inmates are taken from the prison to Rikers Island when he or she would stay until the court date. I was immediately taken to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office where I would meet the DA Thompson and his wife. I will never forget DA Thompson telling me to “hold my head up high” as I walked out of his building down the block to the courthouse. At that moment, it wasn’t about the criminal justice system or the judicial system that had wronged me for so many years, it was about humanity. Here was the chief law enforcement office in Brooklyn treating me like a human being – something that rarely happened to me in prison. I will forever be grateful to DA Thompson. DA Thompson had personally called the mother of my co-accused Willie Stuckey and had her come to court and sit at the table with me as the judge dismissed our case. The meeting in his office would not be my last meeting with DA Thompson. Last year, DA Thompson invited my attorney and I to a church in Brooklyn where he was the keynote speaker. Prior to the event, DA Thompson introduced me to his two young children and also had them take a picture with me. It was a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As Dr. Carter lay on his death bed dying of cancer, he wrote a letter to DA Thompson published in the NY Daily News asking DA Thompson to look at my case. It would turn out that DA Thompson himself would succumb to a similar fate not long after answering that plea. Among many other things in my journey, this reminded me that our lives are connected whether we believe it or not. I believe the spirits brought these two men together to help me when no one else would. Let me be clear, this isn’t just about me, it is about Ken Thompson and Rubin Hurricane Carter. In my mind, it will always be about these two men.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a dad some day. The idea of being a dad appealed to me in a big way. If, or when it did happen, it would no doubt be one of the biggest highlights of my life. For those who have been reading my blog entries you know that I spent nearly 29 years in prison for a crime that I did not commit. You would also know that I was incarcerated at the age of sixteen, an age in which I knew nothing about serious relationships, let alone being a father. In prison, dreams can quickly turn into nightmares but my dream of becoming a dad never died because I would not let it. Believe it or not, there are many examples that I drew from during my incarceration. For example, conversations with inmates who were parenting children from inside prison. Some would think that attempting to raise a child from prison is far different than raising a child in the real world. People would be surprised to learn that some inmates are actually raising their children from prison. My only point in mentioning this was to say that even in the most unusual of places, there is no excuse not to ever be in your child’s life. I learned from conversations with inmates what it was like raising children from prison, before prison, and after prison. It sounds crazy to think that raising children from prison is possible but I saw it. Let me be clear that I wanted to be a dad for far more important reasons than watching inmates interact with their children in a prison visiting room.
When I first met Valerie nearly a year ago, I never thought that she and I would have a child together. I will never forget the moment when she first broke the wonderful news to me. I mean, my reaction to the news was normal as far as I was concerned but Valerie did not quite see it that way. She was hurt and disappointed because she expected a more animated response from me. Sensing that she was hurt, I attempted to assure her that I was fine and that I was happy with the news of having a baby. Honestly, I was stunned by the news that I would be a dad, even though this is something that I wanted to be. Aside from her initial reaction, Valerie was amazing in terms of the way she dealt with my reaction. She does not mention it anymore, but that does not nothing to quell my guilt. I felt guilty but I did not intend to hurt her nor was I unhappy about becoming a father. Here is what I know – Valerie is an amazing mom and I have every confidence that she will be an amazing mom to our daughter.
I am determined not to be one of those dads who pretends to be a dad when I’m around family and friends, while not living up to the responsibilities and expectations that I have set for myself. I will be there for my little lady no matter what. I have seen all too often growing up in Brooklyn NY, where fathers were missing from the children’s lives, for one reason, or another. The fact is that there were not enough role models in my neighborhood that kids could latch on to. I have seen from my own dad how not to treat the mother of your children. Regardless of the differences Valerie and I will have, I will not shirk my responsibility with my daughter. It’s funny, I have spent more than half my life in prison, never having the opportunity to experience what true freedom and liberty feels like; now I will never get that opportunity to experience that because this little girl will demand certain things from me that I will have to provide, most notably my time and attention.
I would be lying if I did admit there is some fear involved with my impending fatherhood, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Many have said to me that it is normal to have this feeling. I said to Valerie and my mom that I would have to be sitting down when I hold her for the first time. A part of me is nervous that Valerie’s two other children would be uncomfortable with the attention she gives to the baby. That said, knowing Valerie the way that I do, I think she will figure out a way to manage her time between the children.
Valerie and I recently went to a parenting class, which for me was amazing. When I first mentioned the parenting class to my mom, her typical old fashioned response was that I didn’t need a class and the best experience that I could ever get would be hands-on. In her way of timing, there is no better teacher than experience itself. Nevertheless, I liked the class and what it offered. Valerie was familiar with most of the teaching methods and examples used by the instructor, but even Valerie learned quite a few things. I think about the first time I feed her. The first time I burp her. The first time I wash her. The first time I change her diapers, probably with nervous hands. A lot of firsts. Perhaps, I am a bit paranoid, even though Valerie and my mom assures me that I will be fine, but only time will tell.
Yes. This is certainly an exciting time for me and I am very much looking forward to this wonderful blessing. My mom is like the oracle. She’s predicting that the baby will come before the due date of May 26. Whether my mom is right or not really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that our daughter is healthy and that I be the best father that I can be.
Finding my way through the New York State Prison System, I would think about what life was like living in Texas. Most of my thoughts of Texas I admit were stereotypical in nature, but other thoughts were based on my research of wrongful convictions in the United States. I noticed the State of Texas was the leading the country in exonerations; of course, that was because the state falsely convicted (and some would argue) wrongly executed innocent people. I was surprised by the large number of exonerees from the state because for a very long time I thought of Texas a state that simply locked up folks and threw away the key, and of course one that also took great pride in their executions. While my opinion of Texas might not change, I certainly believe it is a place that can compares to the legal system in New York. While Texas is known for it’s high number of executions, New York exonerees should feel extremely fortunate that New York does not have the death penalty.
I’m not sure if my entire opinion of Texas will ever change. I traveled to San Antonio for the annual Innocence Network Conference and I must say that it was totally different than last year’s conference in Orlando. Perhaps, location had something to do with it. The hotel is located in downtown San Antonio in a very vibrant area. The hotel is located steps from the Alamo. I have been to some wonderful places since my release from prison in 2014; the Alamo would have to rank high up there. The one regret that I have is that I did not go inside the Alamo. Not surprisingly, people seemed to flock to the Alamo. I was surprised to learn that the Alamo closed its doors at 5pm, but the area remained a haven for tourists. The Alamo is beautiful at night with the lights illuminating the front of the building. While it is not New York City, which has more than a few landmarks itself, San Antonio was nice. San Antonio reinforced that each place is different; and of course, has its own history.
I would hope that anyone who visits San Antonio for the first time would find their way to the River Walk. What a place, especially at night. Obviously I heard about the river Walk, but to be there in person blew me away. It’s definitely a place that I would some day like to bring my girlfriend Valerie. I know she would love it! I spent the majority my time at the Alamo and the River Walk; they are literally steps from one another. In some ways, I’m glad that I did not explore other parts of the city. For instance, had I made my way to a mall or something, I would have probably spent money that I didn’t have. I was told that one has to be very careful about travel. I had the opportunity to meet the San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Poppovich but I didn’t take it. He was surrounded by so many people. Living in New York it’s nothing to see a celebrity walking down the street, even in lower Manhattan were I work. He seemed to be a very nice man. He was patient with all the people who approach him took pictures with some exonerees.
One of the things that I love about the Innocence Conference is that they offer workshops in public speaking, re-entry, social services, support groups, etc. Last year I participated in a public speaking workshop sponsored by the Moth that appears on National Public Radio (NPR). This year I participated in two workshops, most notably was the workshop discussing finances. It is important for me to learn as much as I can about finances. Participating in this workshop was very helpful because I learned in nearly three hours how to get a credit card and how to establish credit. The workshop is also necessary because the Innocence Conference is aware that most exonerees are in a position to receive compensation. That said, I was surprised by the small attendance.
At the conclusion of each conference, exonerees and attendees at the closing ceremony are given a preview of what to expect the next year. San Diego is the place next year which had many people buzzing. For me it was way too early to think about San Diego as I must address some very important businessl before the conference next year.
Tune into my next entry to hear about this important business.
As I usually do on the morning of a work day, I arose some time around 5am to get ready for work. My preparation for work is pretty standard and routine. I get up make my bed and then hit the shower. After showering I jump on my computer to check for emails and read the newspapers, while of course making myself a cup of tea. Of course, I never leave the apartment without checking on everyone to make sure things are okay.
February 2nd was no different after I got off the J Train on my typical route to work. This particular morning, I stopped at food stand to by breakfast before continuing my route to work. The wind was really howling; much so, that it literally took apart my umbrella which I quickly disposed to the garbage on the corner of Church Street and Worth Street in the Tribeca section of lower Manhattan. As I entered the building at Worth Street I glanced at the huge swaying crane at the corner of Worth Street and West Broadway. Like most pedestrians in that area I didn’t give it much thought other than to acknowledge its enormous size nor did I envisioned that it would come tumbling down 10 minutes after I sat at my work station.
The building on Worth Street was immediately evacuated due to the possibility of gas leaks, water main breaks, possible gas explosions, etc. Law enforcement and fireman quickly directed everyone blocks away, as they said for safety reasons. I was not surprised by so many people on the streets of lower Manhattan. I think initially people were walking around concerned about the possibility of explosions and the possibility of fatalities. Sadly, one person was confirmed dead and several others were injured.
The Manhattan Legal Aid Society works out of three offices in lower Manhattan. It was great to learn that our borough supervisor was calling around attempting to get confirmation that everyone at the Worth Street office was accounted for and fine. Although it was probably standard operation and procedure, I appreciated the concern. Since my release from prison, this was my first crisis and it could not have been more frightening. The fact that I had just walked on the block where the crane fell, and actually glanced at it before entering the building, was enough to shake me up.
As the old adage goes, live everyday as if it is your last. Of course, people don’t necessarily adhere to that concept. Human nature suggests that people will go about their everyday lives once the novelty and the magnitude of this tragedy subside. I’m expected back at work Monday morning not knowing what to expect, or see for that matter.
This experience is another life lesson and a reminder that it is important not to take anything for granted; not even the possibility that a life can be taken on your way to work very quickly, including on a snowy and windy day in lower Manhattan.
Prior to my release from prison on October 14, 2014, I have preconceived notions that my transition back into society would be a smooth one. My logic was mostly based on the notion that I prepared myself for for my eventual release. I had a very supportive family and friends who I believed would never turned their backs on me. It is safe to say that I totally underestimated what society would look like. As I talk at schools and detention centers, I often mentioned how difficult life can be after spending so much time in prison. I can go into a bevy of things that I am finding to be huge challenges, but I refuse to complain or feel sorry for myself. To put my struggles in perspective, I could still be in prison. But I’m not, so I have an opportunity to address my struggles. My number one struggle is complacency. After spending so much time and energy getting out of prison, and knowing how difficult it was, I should be the last person struggling with complacency.
My problems are mostly psychological. I am often down on myself because I feel like it is taking me too long to address my problems, knowing that I went through some very difficult stuff during my incarceration. I think one of psychological effects that traveled home with me was the death of my father during my incarceration. I would think 16 years is not a lot of time to spend with your father. In prison, inmates are conditioned to think a certain way; to protect our feelings; not show a softer more humane side of ourselves. The problem with that thought process is that it can get entrenched into your soul. And before you know it, you bring it home with you which often creates a whole new set of problems.
I can certainly tell you that there are a number of things that I am extremely happy about. Please forgive me if it appears like I am complaining. I’m not! I feel like I will overcome the feeling of being on the outside and not being able to find myself. Life is complicated but I’m not sure I’m in a position to complain. Besides, who would care if I did. My struggles with freedom are good problems to have. I remember many times, when I thought my life would end in prison. But that thought process got me to thinking about my childhood friend, Willie Stuckey. Willie lost his life in prison after spending 16 years for a crime that he did not commit. Whenever I think about the fact that Willie could not walk out the door with me, it leaves me with unspeakable sadness. Some would call it a burden, but I tend to think it is a phase that I struggle with constantly. I was talking to a friend of men, who suggested that it could be survivor’s guilt. The fact that I’m here and Willie is not. I will not rule out the notion that I’m sad because I survived what is akin to being hell. Knowing that I did nothing wrong to feel this way, does nothing to overcome my sadness.
While some believe freedom is a state of mind, I believe that freedom can’t be defined with one word, or one meaning. While I will always be eternally grateful for the opportunity to walk down the street and enjoy all the things life has to offer, I would not be telling the truth if I lied about what I go through sometimes. I’m struggling yes, but like most of my time in prison, I will find a way to get through my struggles. That said, society is a much different animal. Unlike prison, where there are not many distractions, and where everything is structured, there are so many distractions on the outside that I sometimes become overwhelmed. I struggle with issues that may seem small to others, are unimportant. I struggle on crowded trains. In prison, space is arguably the most important thing to have. On the outside, it seems like I am sharing space with millions of people.
In the end, it is up to me to figure things out. Much like in prison, when I desperately needed help, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help nor am I afraid now. I will admit there is some trepidation at times because I am sensitive about imposing on other people’s lives now that I am out of prison. After all, my family and friends have lives, so I don’t want to appear selfish. The help that I need has less to do with finances, although important, but more to do with addressing my struggles. I continue to learn that it is very important that I embrace my problems which will hopefully make it easier to address them. I know that I’ve come along way and that this journey is still in motion. I’m going to be find but I must take those steps necessary to deal with my struggles. While I hope I’m not painting a picture of doom and gloom, I am fortunate to be in a position to write about this. Besides, I have met more than a few people who would love to struggle on the outside rather than sitting in a prison cell, so perspective is very important.
MY WEST COAST TRIP
During many of my talks around the country as well as in Canada, I make it a point to inform the audience that my life changed in 2004 when I met Ken Klonsky. This life-changing encounter with Ken was especially gratifying because it was the first time I had ever met someone who lived in Canada. Growing up in Brooklyn New York, I was fascinated with other parts of the world, but never thought that I would meet anyone living in Canada. The more Ken and I talked, the more we talked about traveling.
Early in my blog, I talked about my experience in Toronto and what that experience was like. While Toronto was a wonderful and exciting experience, my recent visit to Vancouver was equally wonderful and exciting. Before I talk about my visit to Vancouver, I must talk about my visit to Ferndale Washington to see my good friend Gary Dolin and his wonderful wife Martha and daughter Sarah. My time there was enjoyable and refreshing. Gary and I use to spend a lot of time talking about visiting him and his family. Even though one night was not nearly enough time to spend together, we made the most of it. I flew into Seattle-Tacoma Airport, also known as Sea-Tac. Flying over the stadium where the NFL Seahawks play their home games was surreal, because a couple of years ago I watched that team win a super bowl. I saw the space needle in downtown Seattle that I saw so many times on television. Because I did not spend much time in Seattle, I plan to go back at some point to experience what the emerald city has to offer. Now that I have a job I don’t have the time or the flexibility to travel.
Gary’s wife Martha is a really good cook. Tasting her food for the first time was amazing! Gary live in a modest home in a nice out-of-the-way area about three hours from Seattle, and about an hour from the Canadian border. I remember Gary and I talked regularly about his farm so I was not surprised when I finally saw the farm. I stayed in a house next to Gary. I enjoyed visiting Gary and his family.
Gary lives about an hour and a half from Vancouver , where Ken and his wife Mary Ellen lives. It was an interesting ride which included a lot of sight-seeing on my part. The ride was scenic . I enjoyed the view of the mountains. Those visions reminded me of my thoughts and aspirations while I was incarcerated in terms of what it would be like riding from Gary’s home to Vancouver . I was surprised by my encounter with a border agent who asked me several probing-like questions. I initially thought it was standard operating procedure, until I thought about my criminal background. Although I was exonerated, my criminal record has not been expunged. Nevertheless, I did not allow the encounter to discourage me. I was heading to Vancouver British Columbia and nothing was going to steal my joy. Besides, I experienced much worse in my life.
Vancouver is absolutely beautiful. I had never seen so many huge mountains, seemingly everywhere I looked. The downtown area had a scenic view of its own. Much like other cities I had visited, like Toronto, San Francisco, and Montreal I really felt the energy of the people. I especially loved being downtown with Ken and Mary Ellen, and spending time with their friends Joanne and Neil, who were very pleasant and easy to talk to. I enjoyed the aquarium and the museum . They were small venues compared to New York, but everything is smaller when compared to New York. Nevertheless, I the two places had their own unique beauty.
Not long after I arrived at Ken and Mary Ellen’s home, they took me to the water a few blocks away. A place we talked about many times. Watching the boats and yachts docked at the nearby port was great. It was quite a scene to see that, especially with the sun beaming on the water as boats sailed and ships traveled nearby . Although I was amazed, I was not overwhelmed by the moment. Ken and Mary Ellen prepared me for this. They said I would enjoy that part of Vancouver. Ken and Mary Ellen chose this particular area to live because it was near the water. I had never seen so many people jogging and cycling. People jogged along the beach; some pushed baby strollers , while others ran with dogs. Health and fitness seemed to be a top priority . It was really fascinating to watch on a daily basis. Mary Ellen is a fabulous cook and I was not surprised by the way Ken and Mary Ellen prepared their dishes nor was I surprised by how healthy they ate. I was very impressed with all the meals.
Ken, Mary Ellen, Martha, Gary and I took a boat ride to a small town in British Columbia called Gibsons. The ride was interesting for many reasons, mainly because I took a boat ride for the first time in my life. Gibsons looked to be a retirement destination or some place for people to get away from the more populated Vancouver. We had lunch at a restaurant near the water. Ken said that I was fortunate to visiting Vancouver at the time because the weather was cooperating . I reasoned that nature owed me a favor given my problems of the past 29 years.
I had the honor of speaking to law students at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The students had initially invited me to speak at UBC when we met at the Annual Exoneration Conference in Orlando Florida last April. Ken warned me about the campus. The view atop the campus was something that I won’t soon forget. Ken could not have been more accurate in his description of the campus. I talked to the students for about thirty minutes which was later followed by some very insightful questions.
On the morning of my trip back to New York, I thought Ken and Mary Ellen sensed that I was sad and somehow knew that I was not quite ready to go home. I am sure it is not unusual for someone visiting Vancouver for the first time to feel the way I did. The places I visited in both Washington and Vancouver were truly beautiful in every sense of the word and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
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