Prison Commentary: Exonerees, Community & Identity - Week 10

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: March 24, 2014 

Published: March 5, 2017
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Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

 

Week 10: Life After Death Row: Exonerees Search for Community and Identity (Pts. I and II)


Takeaways

  • Exonerees face political, social, emotional, and economical hardships both during their time in prison and after release
  • The authors analyze life after exoneration from a social scientific viewpoint, rather than a journalistic one (pg. 1)
  • Relative to the number of wrongfully convicted exonerees, there are minimal non-profits organizations that meet the demand to help (pg. 3)
  • Exonerees face severe trauma and emotional heartache two-fold: from their current death row sentence and the external events that shape their family life (pg. 4)
  • Even after released from prison, former inmates are deemed and treated as “condemned” (pg. 5, 10)
  • The authors aim to tell the story of life after exoneration from a primary source view (the exonerees themselves) rather than a secondary or third-party viewpoint (pg. 7)
  • Hurricane Katrina survivors and parolees may cope or describe trauma in ways similar to exonerees  (pg. 9)
  • Although a person/exoneree has been wrongfully convicted of a crime, he or she is still denied citizen rights and treated as a convicted felon (i.e. convicted felons can’t vote after release)
  • It’s difficult for exonerees to elevate themselves into society’s social strata due to “common barriers to reintegration” (pg. 10)
  • The authors bridged qualitative and feminist methods in an effort to foster trust and effective personal communication with exonerees

Commentary

This commentary highlights implications of exoneration within 5 contexts: historical, economical, political, cultural, and social implications of exoneration. Understanding exonerations within these five contexts stood out to me because the topics discussed in "Life After Death" dovetail either broadly or definitively into one of the five contexts.


Historical

From a historical context, it's important to note that the number of non-profit organizations tailored to helping exonerees is slim. This is the same case for the lack of states (zero) that assist exonerees with finding employment, housing, and education (pg. 3).  Yet, it's commonplace for inmates to spend close to 9-13 years awaiting exoneration. So historically, our justice system entails lengthy exoneration waiting times, along with scarce rehabilitation resources/programs for exonerees. In relation to the causes of wrongful conviction, it's been too many times in our history where prosecutorial misconduct and lack of jury diversity play a role in devastating impacts and injustice (pg. 35, 53).


Economical

From economical contexts, the book mentioned that 27 states provide monetary compensation for exonerees(pg. 3). On a deeper analysis, I think it's pertinent to know the average amount that exonerees are given. Is the amount of compensation sufficient enough to improve or advance their economic progression? Perhaps not. It's also worthwhile to mention that exonerees have been deprived of building any sort of economic wealth due to their incarceration.


Political

Although wrongfully convicted, exonerees are not allowed to vote once released. Once again, this places social and economical barriers of entry into society and citizen life as a whole. At the same time, they are treated like convicted felons because they are denied the privilege to vote. In relation to an economic standpoint, exonerees are unable to apply for college loans. This depowers their economic and educational progress, rather than empower it. Politically, we would have to further analyze the voting decisions and laws enforced by political gatekeepers. I believe both voting and educational rights of exonerees should be reconsidered, especially since an exonerated individual was wrongfully convicted.


Social

Exonerees face social hardships. Whether it's in prison, from their family, or after being released, it is ubiquitous. There's often a social stigma that exonerees face. Although they were wrongfully convicted, they still feel this stigma. And this places strain on both family and social interactions. Even in the case of Scott Taylor with choosing to remain anonymous, he has relocated and changed his name (pg. 52). This sheds light on the level of social stigma that an exoneree faces in an effort to reintegrate into society. At the same time, exonerees have been socially deprived, so reintegrating into society poses challenges on both a micro and macro level: finding jobs, using technology, finding housing, sleeping at night, and lack of family support (pgs. 57, 58, 62).


Cultural

The cultural and social contexts have similarities. Within American culture (though not limited to others) prisoners are labeled as condemned--wrongfully convicted or not. Now, this level of stigma may be reduced if a famous or wealthy person is convicted of a crime because public perception of the person may focus more on his or her perceived reputation rather than their actual character. At the same time, a famous or wealthy person may decrease the number of erroneous causes of wrongful conviction due to higher economic status.


Quotations

 

  • “They numbers alone cannot convey the losses they have suffered”-pg. 4
  • “...trauma is at the core of the experience of a wrongful conviction.” (pg. 9)
  • "What I didn't realize is I had forgotten what it was like to be free." pg. 58

 


Question(s)


  • Even if one is exonerated(convicted but then proven innocent), is it fair for them to be denied citizen rights like voting and access to college loans?

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