Dispatch from the Field: An Exoneree Finds His Way in Colorado
By Karen Wolff
I’m writing from Grand Junction, Colorado, where I have traveled with Staff Attorney Jason Kreag to assist our recently exonerated client, Robert Dewey, and his family. At a moving hearing on Monday, a Mesa County Judge declared Robert innocent and freed him after 16 years in prison, saying “This is a historic day for everyone in Colorado…Mr. Dewey is an innocent man.”
During his 16 years of wrongful imprisonment, Robert dreamed of freedom. Visualizing himself on a motorcycle on the open road helped him get through the toughest times. Now, the state has restored his freedom but has offered no other support. He may be on the road, but he has no road map. As a social worker at the Innocence Project, my job is to provide directions because the state does not.
Yesterday, I helped Robert take care of some of his basic needs. Our first stop was to the doctor for a medical exam. Then we went shopping for clothing, shoes, eyeglasses, a shaver and a cell phone. We copied all the legal documents he will need to prove his identity, and to obtain official identification.
As he moves forward with his transition from prison, the Innocence Project will continue to help with basic necessities, which might include rent, utilities, medical expenses, transportation and more during the first year of his life after exoneration. This assistance wouldn’t be possible without the generous contributions of our supporters and the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund. Together, we can give him a real chance to create some stability after his traumatic ordeal.
Anyone released from prison needs time and support to transition successfully, but in most states there is absolutely no provision for any reentry support for exonerees upon release. Many states, but not Colorado, have compensation statutes for the exonerated that provide a base amount per year of wrongful imprisonment, but exonerees wait an average of three years to receive it. Texas’ package generously provides $80,000 per year, plus an annuity of an equal amount. Other states, like Connecticut, provide social services such as employment training and counseling and education tuition waivers. Colorado provides nothing.
The next stop in Robert’s journey is North Carolina, where he plans to build a new life as a vindicated man. Despite all the obstacles he faces , he is resolutely thankful, polite, humble, spiritual and cognizant that he has left other innocent prisoners behind. He wants to help make changes in the law so that what happened to him doesn’t keep happening. Colorado did the right thing by exonerating him, but the state now needs to take the next step and pass a compensation statute to help him reclaim all that he has lost. Robert wants to help with that effort. Then he wants to get on a motorcycle and ride.
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