It seemed to have many reasons why we should turn down a plea for help. A claim of wrongful conviction (all prisoners say they are innocent!); the accused was a gay man (we prefer not to talk about the gay and lesbian community!); and sex between gay men (makes us gag to think about it!). Yet, Gary’s case was one that our fledgling little organization, then called INNOCENT, gladly took on in 2005.
I’m reminded of it because I received this message a few days ago: I felt the need to inform you - on what would have been Gary’s 55th birthday - that he died due to cancer on May 12. He had been falsely imprisoned since April 2003. Thank you for your past efforts on his behalf. At least he is free from prison and pain now.
Those were the days when we were still starry eyed and filled with boundless enthusiasm, thinking we could help to reverse wrongful convictions anywhere in the country. Gary was in California.
At that time we had a working relationship with a professional polygraph examiner with international credentials and arguably one of the finest in the nation. He lives and practices in California, and so we arranged a polygraph exam for Gary. He passed with flying colors! It made no difference. He remained behind bars, serving a 50-year sentence on a forcible rape conviction.
Years passed and realism set in. Our organization became re-badged with the new name HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, our team eventually understood that our work had to be confined to the State of Michigan, and we learned that even those who were in prison for the right reasons deserved humane treatment and care.
We never lost touch with Gary, but we had to explain that there was little more that we could do on his behalf, other than pray.
Facebook notified me this morning that I had written a blog about wrongful convictions on this date last year. Today I’m back at it. I continue to return to this subject because it gets so little attention. Some people in the know believe as many as 4-5,000 innocent people are in prison right here in Michigan! And as I have pointed out in the past, all are not poor and black (although many are!). Some are rich and white. Some are professional people. Some are the kind of people sitting next to you in church.
God bless those agencies and individuals helping the wrongly convicted. God bless those agencies and individuals clamoring for judicial reform, protesting prosecutorial misconduct, condemning evidence based on junk science, and opposing the use of jailhouse snitches.
I’m praying that innocent people behinds bars discover that Jesus cares. As long as it doesn’t affect us, many of the rest of us aren’t all that concerned.