Life isn’t too bad now. I get to see my youngest son quite often. He’s working in Pennsylvania. I get along with him and his wife and his daughter. Even his in-laws have been there for me. I’m proud of the family he picked.
My wife and I have a strained relationship. When I was in prison, she’d write me once every few months or once a year. There were about 15 years when I didn’t hear from her. We’ve spent some time together to see if it can work. But I think there’s too much resentment on both sides. I just can’t forget it. When those feelings come back up, it ruins the occasion. She said that if we do split up, she wants to split up as friends because we have two kids.
The food is much better out here than in prison. In prison, you had to eat one product, sometimes twice a day. I still can’t eat chicken. I got so sick of it.
I’m trying to get my life back together, but until I get compensation, there’s no way I can. Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that doesn’t offer any compensation to people who were wrongly convicted. There has got to be some kind of assistance to people who did time for something they didn’t do and then are released.
If you do as much time as I did, the whole damn world has changed. Everything that you were used to no longer exists. It's like being dropped on another planet.
They stick you out here and you have no one; you have nothing. You have no income. No way to actually survive out here. So I live on a day-to-day basis, sometimes minute-to-minute.
I’ve been trying to find a job, but at 64 years old, no one wants to hire me. At some places, what I was accused of makes people not want to hire me. Also, I don’t know how to use computers, which blocks me from a lot of jobs.
Even at places where you order sandwiches, they use computers! About a week ago, my phone shut off on me. I had to wait for my daughter-in-law to get home and ask her what to do. She just told me to turn my phone back on.
Right now, the Innocence Project is paying my rent. They help me with everything I need for my house. If I buy something, I get reimbursed for it.
If I need to go somewhere, I walk. Often I walk on the highway. Sometimes I get a ride if somebody isn’t working that day.
Another thing that’s really different is the cars. I hate how cars are made now. They’re all run on computers. I used to work on my own car and be pretty good at it. Now I have no idea what cars do.
Painting is something I’ll always do. That’s one way I've kept myself from going crazy. And I’m still fighting for justice. I’m so deep into it that after 34 years of fighting I can’t stop.
I’m doing everything I can to help the Innocence Project and have conversations with people who have been wrongfully convicted. Some of the people I meet with went through the same thing, or their families did. I’m relieved by that.
I have an appointment soon to meet with Sen. Donald Right in Indiana, Pennsylvania, to discuss creating a statute in Pennsylvania for reimbursement.
We need to get a statute passed so people who were wrongfully convicted can get money for a certain amount of time to rebuild their lives.
Most people who get out of prison after a long period of time end up back in prison. They have no income, no way of getting income, and no support. They turn to crime to survive. They should have some opportunities to try to rebuild their lives.
The best advice I can give anyone who’s going through a really difficult or unfair situation is to keep true to yourself and don’t give up. As long as you keep fighting, there’s still hope.
As told to Kerry Shaw
Photo courtesy of the author