Kirk Bloodsworth was the first person to be exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States. Bloodsworth was wrongfully convicted of rape and first-degree murder in March 1985, was sentenced to death and spent two years on death row and almost nine years in prison. Kirk is now the owner of Blood Stones, an artisan jewelry company. His mission is to make all 351 DNA exonerees a handcrafted exoneree ring at no cost to them. This is Kirk’s journey and the story behind the exoneree ring.
It was about 30 years ago when Kirk Bloodsworth had a dream while he was serving on death row in Maryland, the sentence he was serving for his wrongful conviction of a sexual assault and first-degree murder in 1985. The dream, as described by Kirk, was a moment between himself and the then football commissioner whose name escapes him today. The football commissioner was handing Kirk a Super Bowl ring. Why or how was unbeknownst to him, but it was always there, fixed in the back of his mind through the eight years he served in prison, and the years following his exoneration after he became the first person sentenced to death to be exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States. A passionate death penalty abolitionist, Kirk played an important role in the Innocence Protection Act of 2003 establishing the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, which provided funding for DNA testing.
“People gave huge portions of their life in captivity for nothing. We owe them this as a society.” Kirk Bloodsworth
It has been decades since his prophetic dream, which somehow foreshadowed Kirk’s passion today–creating one of a kind, handmade jewelry and becoming the founder of his own company Blood Stones. It began three years ago, his girlfriend was beading jewelry and he decided to help. The beading was cathartic; it calmed him and made him feel good. He came to really enjoy the creative process, and became particularly interested in the design of sterling silver jewelry. He searched online for how to make a silver ring. Based on the YouTube videos, he could see it took skill to create this type of jewelry. Luckily, he was a fisherman and a machinist and was skillful with his hands by trade. He taught himself to hammer rings by watching video after video by Soham Harrison, a prominent jeweler from Australia. He then sought out formal training by a master educator and renowned, award-winning jewelry designer, Alan Revere. Kirk took one of Revere’s last two-month courses in San Francisco before Revere retired.
Since his training, Kirk has created a wide array of fine metal and stone handcrafted jewelry. Two years ago, he began sketching a specific design for a ring and decided he would take his new found love for this art form and create a piece of significant meaning for those who suffered like he did. He began to make a sterling silver ring for the innocent people exonerated by DNA. It was large–28 grams of silver–and, not surprisingly, the size of a Super Bowl ring.
Every detail of the ring was meticulously thought out, from the door on the front that would be engraved with the term “exoneree” or “death row exoneree” depending on the sentence, to the teardrop on the side representing the wrongful conviction and the three drops of blood, signifying each exoneree’s past, present and future. On the bottom, the letters BS were stamped for Blood Stones. Even more similar to a championship ring, the rings can be embellished with stones.
This ring, Kirk believes, is a badge of honor and symbol of survival for the group of over 350 people exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. It’s also meant to bring people together, to inspire conversation regarding the challenges and failures of our criminal justice system and how to change them.
Kirk wants this ring to be a gift to the other exonerees and not something they have to purchase, since they have already paid such a high price in life.
“People gave huge portions of their life in captivity for nothing. We owe them this as a society. They are helping change the future with the suffering they endured. This is my contribution to them,” said Kirk. Since Kirk wants these rings to be gratis, he is focusing on raising funds to supplement the cost. The Innocence Project is helping him meet his goal of $30,000 with a Razoo page, where just over $9,000 has been raised so far and 100% of the contributions go towards the rings.
One seemingly insignificant dream in the darkest time of Kirk Bloodsworth’s life, now fortuitously speaks volumes to his purpose today. He is using his horrific experience and making something beautiful out of it with his own hands–honoring the innocent and the fight they fought, while providing hope and justice for the future.
— Innocence Project (@innocence) September 30, 2017