Helping those who come after me
By Herman Atkins, California Exoneree
In 1986, I was arrested for a rape I didn’t commit when a victim more than 60 miles from my house misidentified me as the perpetrator. I was just 20 years old, and I went to trial, believing the truth would come out in a court of law. It didn’t; I was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison. I served more than 11 years in a California prison before DNA tests obtained by my lawyers at the Innocence Project finally cleared my name.
When I was released from prison in 2000, I was on my own. There wasn’t then – and there still isn’t today – any system to automatically provide services to people when they are exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The system institutionalizes people and then releases them into a society they may not even recognize anymore. It’s an uphill battle. I’m doing what I can to improve this situation for the recently exonerated.
In January, my wife, Machara, and I founded Life Intervention for Exonerees (LIFE). Through this new organization, we are reaching out to recently exonerated individuals across the country to offer them help to start a new life, through gift cards and donated services. Most importantly, we are offering them a helping hand and connecting them to the growing community of exonerees in the United States. Many exonerees have found this community to be the key to rebuilding their lives after decades stolen by a criminal justice system that immediately forgets you.
We also hope that by providing these goods and services we can highlight a critical social need. This should not be a task carried out by small non-profit organizations. The government that sent a person to prison for a crime they didn’t commit should be responsible for helping that person adjust to life once they have been exonerated. And while 23 states have some sort of law compensating the exonerated, many fall dreadfully short and none take effect on the day of exoneration.
Until the states learn to support those that they have wronged, LIFE will be here to help the exonerated begin to rebuild. If you would like to support our work or contact us to set up a partnership or local program, please write to us at the addresses below.
PO Box 9623
Fresno, CA 93793
exonereelife [at] att.net (replace [at] with @ before sending)
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