Ohio exonerees Robert McClendon, Joseph Fears and Raymond Towler spent a combined 72 years behind bars for rapes they didn’t commit before DNA proved their innocence decades later.
A story in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch
checked in with the three men and found them enjoying life outside prison but struggling to regain their freedom in a modern society.
No support group teaches them how to establish credit, use a cell phone, discipline grandchildren, retake the state’s driver’s test, read the fine print on mortgage documents, ask a woman for a date, manage money accounts, apply for a job, sign up for health insurance or even order coffee at Starbucks.
McClendon found himself frustrated with the process of buying a house, Fears found himself surrounded by teenagers when he went to take his driver’s test, and Towler found himself lucky to have a job delivering mail in an office building and relieved not to be sitting in a cubicle.
“You can’t take the attitude that society owes us something because of what happened,” McClendon said. “We owe it to ourselves to make the right choices. The trick is knowing which ones are the right ones.”
Towler’s story captured the attention of the CEO of Medical Mutual, who contacted the Ohio Innocence Project to see if he needed employment. After going through the standard hiring process, Towler now works for the company, and his colleagues say he has had a positive impact.
Last week, Towler’s attorney reached a tentative agreement with the Ohio attorney general’s office for $2.57 million, which if approved by the Court of Claims, would be the largest wrongful conviction settlement in state history.
But exonerees aren’t given a manual about how to save and spend when they receive a settlement, and only 27 states plus D.C. having compensation statutes in the first place.