Struggling to Be Free
A story on the front page of today’s USA Today examines the lives of exonerees after release, when not even conclusive proof of innocence can completely wash away the stigma of being in prison for decades.
Charles Chatman, 48, a Dallas-area man freed last year after 26 years in prison, tells of his "shame" in dealing with family members, many of them women, after his wrongful conviction — and even his exoneration — for aggravated rape.
Other exonerees, such as Jerry Miller, 50, of suburban Chicago, carry court papers as commonly as driver's licenses to prove to potential employers and others that their convictions were overturned. Miller was convicted in the 1981 rape and kidnapping of a Chicago woman and spent 24 years in prison. He finished his sentence before being exonerated. In 2007, a year after his parole, he was cleared by DNA testing of the victim's clothes.
Illinois officials required him to register as a sex offender and attend counseling after his release but before his exoneration.
"My picture was on the Internet," he says of the required photo on the public sex offender registry. "I thought prison was bad. But (outside) I was like the scum of the earth." Illinois officials have since removed him from the state's database.
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