Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The best thing about working with the innocent...

by Laura Caldwell

At the Life After Innocence clinic at Loyola Law School, we work with exonerees—people who were wrongfully convicted—in order to help them start their lives over. Being arrested for something you didn’t do is incredibly difficult, but being convicted when you are entirely innocent is a horror. You would think that exonerees would be the most bitter of people. They certainly have earned the right to be bitter if they chose to do so. And yet, the men and women we work with are incredibly positive, just wanting to live life to the fullest, starting right now. When I think about the emotional tenacity that’s needed to survive such a nightmare, I am so incredibly inspired. It makes me think that if they can survive that, then anything is possible. Anything.

I know my law students are inspired by the exonerees too, but I wondered if it was for the same reasons that I am. I decided to ask some of them, ‘What’s the best thing about working with exonerees?’ Here are their responses:

The best thing is being able hear firsthand about the experience of being wrongfully convicted, and then helping these folks re-establish their lives, find their purpose, and move forward.
-Rebecca Blabolil

I think the best thing is being inspired to fight for all the people who are still in - working with exonerees exposes you to people who have had everything taken away from them, yet the only thing they want is to make sure it doesn't happen to someone else - that gives me a purpose and a desire to keep working for the cause.
-Adjunct Professor Emily DeYoe

Many attorneys try to minimize these emotional connections in an attempt to leave their work at work, but working with exonerees I have found the opposite to be desirable. The connections that we are able to build with individuals who are often slipping through the cracks of the legal justice system are part of the benefit to our work, rather than the burden.
-Chris Reed

Exonerees are down to earth and really help keep problems, and what's important, in perspective. You might even call it wisdom.
-Sara Stretch

The best part is helping to use my law education to help those who were so wronged by the law - essentially trying to make amends for this injustice in some small way.
-Kate Tresley

23 comments:

Leslie said...

What a great post as Thanksgiving approaches! You and your students are an inspiration as much as the exonerees!

Libby Hellmann said...

Couldnt say it better, Leslie. And thank you Laura.

Dana King said...

Laura,
You've mentioned the lack of bitterness before, and I've wondered why this is. As you note, it seems counterintuitive. Could it be these people are uniquely qualified to appreciate their freedom, having lost it unfairly? Now that it's back, the joy they can take in what the rest of us take for granted overwhelms any sense of resentment they might feel.

Just a thought.

Laura Caldwell said...

I've wondered that myself, Dana. I really dislike the expression that God doesn't give you anything you can't handle, but sometimes I wonder if that's operating here. But I think what you've pointed out might be more accurate--that having suffered what they have, they delight in the small and day-to-day, having had none of it for so long. It's not that they don't get really angry or frustrated sometimes, but they quickly come back to the positive. I was talking to an exoneree who had a series of let-downs involving getting laid off, etc. and when I said, "I'm so sorry that happened to you," he said, "Yeah. But I'm free." You could hear his smile at the end.

Ricky Bush said...

Just recently, and after serving 18 years for murdering an entire family, a man from our small Texas community was exonerated and released from prison. So, this will be his first Thanksgiving with his family since his conviction. The prosecuting DA still insists that a guilty man was freed, so he still has to face doubts in this small Texas town, filled with people who know both families.

Pascal Marco said...

I think the comment by Chris Reed was the most enlightening for me to help understand how to put an uplifting perspective on such a difficult and almost always horrible situation.

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