By Matt Kelley, Innocence Project Communications Associate
Hundreds of people all corners of from the innocence movement are in Santa Clara, California, today for the Innocence Network's eigth annual conference. The conference is a highlight of the year for those of us working in the movement, and already in the first few hours we've seen the beginnings of exciting collaborations: between exonerees from across the country, policy point people of several innocence organizations, attorneys working together on wrongful conviction cases, and law students seeking careers in the innocence movement.
This afternoon, nearly 50 exonerees gathered for a panel discussion called "Exoneree Leadership in the Innocence Movement." Men and women who together served hundreds of years in prison for crimes they didn't commit shared their stories and began the process of collaborating to strengthen the community of exonerees nationwide. It was an inspiring discussion.
I had the honor this morning of accompanying Rickey Williams, an Innocence Project client exonerated in Louisiana in January, as he traveled to the San Jose airport to reunite with an old friend, Calvin Willis. Rickey and Calvin were together in Louisiana's notorious Angola State Prison, and Rickey credits Calvin as the man who handed him the address for the Innocence Project. Calvin was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003, but the two hadn't seen each for years before that. This morning, they finally met again.
“I never even told him about my charges, because I didn’t like talking about that," Rickey told me this morning. "I just told him I was innocent, and he told me I’d be getting out right behind him. Here I am, and here he is.”
The two hugged and fell back into talking about old times and how they got through each day together in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. These reunions are the reason for the Innocence Network conference, and I felt lucky to witness it.
Check back on the Innocence Blog as we’ll be posting updates throughout the weekend.