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