Watch: A Run For Freedom: Orlando Boquete’s Story
Orlando Boquete was wrongly convicted and escaped prison twice. Watch how he ran his way to freedom.
01.19.22 By Alicia Maule
“I am living on a boat and selling coconuts in Miami,” Orlando Boquete told me in December 2021. Mr. Boquete spent 23 years wrongly convicted, and since being freed and exonerated by DNA evidence in 2006 has been working hard to rebuild his life.
“Estoy bien, no te preocupes (I am good, don’t worry).”
In one way or another, Mr. Boquete, who came to the U.S. as a Cuban refugee in 1980 has always been on the move. He calls himself a survivor, and makes friends easily, everywhere he goes.
Since we first met at the Innocence Project Network Conference in San Antonio in 2016, we became fast friends and Mr. Boquete and I have kept in touch. Months later, he asked me to get him a last-minute slot in the Brooklyn half marathon, without having trained for it, to commemorate 10 years of his freedom. I was moved to tears to see him, along with fellow exoneree Jeff Deskovic, cross the finish line in Coney Island as he threw boxing jabs and danced around like Muhammad Ali.
— The Innocence Project (@innocence) May 21, 2016
In the time that I’ve known him, he’s lived a nomadic life, frequently calling from a new cell phone number, but always with the same message: “Life is great because I’m free.” Even when he calls from the bed where he sleeps in his truck, a temporary motel room, or the gym where he bathes.
In the summer of 2020, I spent several weeks with Mr. Boquete in Chicago and teamed up with VeryTaste to produce a short film about Mr. Boquete’s extraordinary path to freedom and his life today.
At the time of his trial, he only spoke Spanish, was unable to navigate the complicated legal system, and was let down by his legal team. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison and the day he arrived at the maximum security prison, he had one goal and that was to leave.
Mr. Boquete was wrongly convicted of burglary and attempted sexual battery in Florida in 1983. Two years later, he escaped Florida’s Glades Correctional Institution — a place he never should have been — and lived on the run as a fugitive from injustice for 11 years before he was caught and reincarcerated. The Innocence Project then took up his case, and he was freed by the courts — with an apology from the State Attorney’s Office — in 2006.
Because of Mr. Boquete’s non-violent criminal record from the years he was a prison escapee, Florida will not compensate Mr. Boquete for any of the time he spent wrongly imprisoned. It is the only state in the country with a so-called “clean hands ban” in its compensation statute — one that prevents people with unrelated convictions from being compensated altogether.
Mr. Boquete lives on a disability subsidy of $783 per month.
Since his exoneration in 2006, Mr. Boquete has frequently been homeless. Due to his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, he is unable to work full-time and lives on a disability subsidy of $783 per month.
Mr. Boquete, along with Robert DuBoise, Clemente Aguirre, Nathan Meyers, and other exonerees, the Innocence Project and the Florida Innocence Project have lobbied the Florida legislature to remove the “clean hands” clause as well as a prohibitively short 90-day filing deadline that prevents many exonerees from actually being compensated. This year, two bills — S.B. 526 and H.B. 241 — could bring justice to Mr. Boquete, Mr. DuBoise, and many others exonerated people who are struggling to make ends meet after spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Mr. Boquete maintains a high spirit and wants people to know that while he is homeless and urges the state of Florida to fix the law, he holds onto joy through boating, fishing, and his love for children. He returned to Cuba for the first time in 2018, raising money and supplies to give back to his hometown, where many live below the poverty line. He dreams of opening a gym, Real Innocent Fugitive, to give children whose families are experiencing poverty a chance to become boxers and athletes in Miami.
“I want to get the youth on a positive path. I want to use my story to do beautiful things,” Mr. Boquete said.
A Run for Freedom: Orlando Boquete’s Story
Presented by Innocence Project
A verytaste Co-Production
Director: Alicia Maule
Producers: Alicia Maule, Daniele Selby
Translation: Isabel Vasquez
Cinematography: Johnny Castle, Nick Castle, VeryTaste
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