For Father’s Day we interviewed some of our exonerated clients who spent years–sometimes decades–in prison, separated from their children. We are thrilled that they are finally free and reunited with their loved ones. We also take this time to think about the countless number of fathers in prison who are still fighting for justice.
Name: Dion Harrell
Exoneration Day: August 3, 2016
Representation: Innocence Project Director of Post-Conviction Litigation Vanessa Potkin
How many kids do you have?
I have two daughters and three grandkids.
For so many years, even though you had been released from prison on parole, you had a wrongful conviction still hanging over your head and were forced to register as a sex offender. How did that affect you as a father?
It was terrible. For four years after I was released, I was on parole. During those years, I couldn’t be around my children without a chaperone present. A lot of years have passed since then, but it’s still hard for me to get over that.
How have your relationships with your daughters been over the years?
For a long time, it wasn’t good. I’ve tried to be the best dad that I could be, but because of the wrongful conviction, I’ve been in and out of their lives. It hasn’t been a straight line for me as a dad. I went through a whole lot, but I kept my head up through it all.
Have things changed since you were exonerated last year?
Truthfully, I still haven’t had the time with my daughters that I’ve wanted to have. My life hasn’t really changed the way I wanted it to.
My youngest daughter and I don’t really talk. But my older daughter and I are getting closer. We’re talking more.
She and I spend time together. I catch the bus or ride my bike to her house. I also get to spend time with her son—my grandson, Jayden. He’s 9 years old. Sometimes he’ll come spend weekends at my house. I really enjoy spending time with him.
Video: Bearing Witness to Dion Harrell’s Day in Court
Related: Learn more about Dion Harrell’s case.
I cannot begin to imagine all you have endured, but your words touch my heart because I know they are born out of pain. My hope and prayers for you and your daughters is for the stolen years to be restored better than you could hope for. Many blessings to you. you are remarkable.
Spiritually, nothing is put before you that you cannot bear or overcome. Mr. Harrell, you display the characteristics of an excellent father, as you exercise patients and commitment. Things don’t happen overnight and time heals all wounds. Give those relationships that are rocky, time and love, and they too will grow. I’m inspired because it’s easier to walk away but you are positively choosing to be the best dad you can be. I commend you and much success.