The authors who share their stories in this first book of a new series designed to speak on human rights issues: Voice of Witness begun by the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, at the University of California, Berkeley, are plain spoken, thoughtful, and poignant. Despite the authors' attempts to hide their pain and anger, it haunts every portion of their tale.
The eleven men and one woman in Surviving Justice who relate their stories of being wrongfully convicted are a rare breed of exonerated innocents; freed from America’s penal system and as survivors of this cruelty, they have become heroes by default. They have chosen to take a stand and speak out on the often criminal errors that have befallen them with the hope that others do not need to come into the penal system innocent like them - citizens who never dreamed they would be labeled a heinous criminal and who never asked to champion a cause such as this one. Yet, after being behind bars for years or decades, they not only continue to speak of their nightmare behind bars, they continue to relive the years that were lost to them. This is indeed a heroic act.
The wrongfully convicted are men and women who are simply in the wrong place at the right time for the police, prosecutor and jury. They are average citizens who believe that the justice system does its job of proving guilt or innocence. These are people with faith in our system of jurisprudence. They tell stories ranging from being taken from their homes hours after seeing their brutally murdered parents for questioning, or of being awakened in the middle of the night and taken in for interrogation for multiple acts of child molestation presumably done to multiple children, including their own, all the time assuming they will be proven innocent.
The authors are put into an interrogation room, often for days, until they finally agree to confess, to become guilty. Even then, the confession they tell may not have all the correct details, so until the officers coach them into writing the “correct” confession, one that fits the crime with the right times, colors, objects and weapon used, they must continue to confess until the confession is airtight. Exhausted and just wanting it all to be over, confession signed, these men and women await what they believe will be the often-promised transportation home. Instead they are sent to a county jail on charges ranging from rape to murder. Bewildered, starving, often grieving, they are left alone to ponder what happened. Unfortunately to these innocently convicted citizens of the United States of America, the answers about what went wrong often don’t come until they have incurred a life sentence. The few who have the energy left over to fight their conviction and the luck of finding an attorney who will help them, usually for little or no money, have little hope of attaining the walk to freedom that these authors got.
Dispersed throughout these stories are the editor’s sidelines along with news articles containing relevant information about the legal aspects of the individual cases. The editors also add to the stories information that is more general in nature yet still statistically important, or helpful legal facts about being wrongfully convicted. In this first in the sure to be heralded series Voice of Witness, the Journalism School Graduates have tapped into a vein long awaiting a venue to the public. This book will be read by many - the interested public, the wrongfully imprisoned, the people in the judicial system and student or working sociologists – with its informative, simple English that reaches deep into our minds, encouraging awareness of a particularly vicious injustice.
For the authors and all the others inside the walls of our prisons who are also innocent, I believe this book may an important stepping stone to not only the physical freedom that is their right but a beginning to ending the imprisonment of their minds that lasts long, long after being released. The University of Berkeley California’s Graduate School of Journalism has discovered an important missing link in our libraries and I, for one, thank them for finding it.