The Exonerated Deserve Justice, Not the Supreme Court's Indifference

Written with Lara Naughton

I spent 27 ½ years in Angola prison as an innocent person. When I walked out of prison, to be honest, compensation was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just happy to be free.

But seven years after proving my innocence, I haven't received an apology or a dime.

I've had no financial support, no medical help, no mental help. To this day I haven't received from the State so much as an aspirin for a headache. I was thrown back into society without receiving job training, housing, or education.

Louisiana's compensation law limits State compensation to $15,000 a year, not to exceed ten years, meaning after 27 ½ years in Angola State Prison for something I didn't do the most I could get is $150,000. But my claim for even that money has been dragged through the criminal court for years, with the State fighting it on procedural grounds. And if I ever do get it, I will still go uncompensated for 17 ½ years of wrongful incarceration. Those years don't count, according to State law. It's a slap in the face. It's like saying "I messed you over and put you in prison. Now that you're out, I'll mess over you again."

And now getting compensation in civil court just got harder. With the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against John Thompson, the laws are in place to protect District Attorneys who put innocent men and women in prison. The Court determined that the D.A.'s office is protected from lawsuits, even when there's evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. Justice Clarence Thomas and the other judges who ruled with him let the prosecutors off the hook. I have a lawsuit in civil court against the D.A.'s office still pending, but the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling makes it clear there's going to be a long, drawn out fight when someone like me tries to get any justice.

The people who were responsible for my arrest and conviction went on to enjoy other things -- careers, family, fortune. But for me it's been a living hell, a nightmare both inside and out of prison. When innocent citizens can be sent to prison and nothing happens to the people responsible, we have a serious problem. We have a very serious problem.

I didn't know it'd be so difficult to create a solid foundation in life when I got out. I didn't know I'd have to depend on family members. I didn't know I'd have to pull my own tooth because I couldn't afford a dentist, and hobble around on feet mangled by a prison surgery because I can't afford health insurance. I didn't know there'd be nights I'd sleep in my vehicle. I didn't know I'd go days without eating.

If it comes down to being free and uncompensated or back in Angola, I'll take free. And that's what the state of Louisiana wants me to do -- be grateful I survived prison and quietly find a way to survive out here. But I went into prison at 20 years old, an innocent, illiterate man with no criminal record. I educated myself and fought for 27 ½ years to get the state of Louisiana to correct its wrong and set me free. Money doesn't equal justice, but the 27 ½ years I spent in prison blew a hole through my life. Now I'm trying to establish a new life, and the state of Louisiana should stop fighting me in court and help right the wrong that's been dogging me for more than 30 years.