Dallas man picks up the pieces of a lost life


Charles Chatman spent 27 years in Texas prison before DNA proved that he did not commit 1981 rape for which he was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was released on January 3 and will be officially exonerated when Texas’ highest criminal court grants his writ of habeas corpus. An in-depth story in yesterday’s Dallas Observer touches base with Chatman as he works to rebuild a life stolen by wrongful conviction.

Walking out of prison in January, after decades of being told what to do and when to do it, Chatman, at 47, finds himself facing a new challenge. Imagine being frozen in time, while outside everything changed—cars, clothes, culture. But he stayed the same, trapped in a 1981 version of himself while anger and resentment ate away at him. He kept a form letter describing his plight, sending it to lawyers and judges, reporters and politicians and talk show hosts. But for the most part, no one believed him. Until one day, they did.

And suddenly, like an astronaut returning to earth, he re-enters this changed world, which seems to be spinning faster. There is so much to learn—cell phones, ATM machines and computers, new highways, new buildings and new family members. There is a local network of social service agencies—nonprofits and faith-based institutions—that can help ease Chatman's transition back into the community. And the state of Texas has a compensation system that can provide Chatman with $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned. But what amount of money can fairly compensate him for the years he has lost and the damage he has endured by living behind bars for 27 years as an innocent man?

Read the full story here

. (Dallas Observer, 02/07/08)

Last year, Texas lawmakers doubled the amount of compensation people can receive after they are exonerated.  The state now meets the national standard of $50,000 per year served (and $100,000 per year on death row).

Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive reform map


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