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Resurrection after Exoneration
Transcript of Resurrection after Exoneration
I spent eighteen years in prison, fourteen of them on Angola's death row, for a crime I did not commit. I want to reverse the rate of exonerees like me returning to prison by transforming our experiences of freedom. I want to empower productive, skilled workers to be leaders for social change in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment. To enable us to break this cycle, I will create for us a positive understanding of life's potential and for society an understanding that recidivism (even by exonerees) is caused by lack of opportunity. If returning prisoners succeed, the whole community benefits.
Returning prisoners are people stripped of self-sufficiency, control and autonomy. In response, I came up with the idea of an exoneree-run re-entry program: Resurrection After Exoneration. The program has been designed to empower us to regain these attributes by creating an opportunity to rise up as individuals and say "I can do this", rather than having someone else tell us "You must do this".
Through a supportive residential program we give exonerees and returning long-term prisoners a place to live and learn, and plan to run a business that sustains the home and provides us with leadership and entrepreneurial skills. We use group counseling, education and training opportunities to help with life skills. We are the first of our kind; instead of working for free for the prison, we work together to build solidarity, build our confidence, and rebuild our city.
When I was released from death row and was among my exonerated brothers in New Orleans, we sat together and dreamt of ways to create opportunities that were not available to us when we came home. We realized we needed a transitional house and work environment in which we could slowly and successfully embrace our new environment. The idea for RAE was born.
I hope you will learn more about us, stand with us, and support us as we try and change our corner of the world. The RAE Transitional Housing and Resource Center has been purchased and renovated; it is the result of many months of labor from exonerees and volunteers working together. That is the type of team work it will take to get to the next level of transition. Come be a part of helping these men stay focused, and stay free.
Founder and Director, RAE RAE is working to transform the experience of exonerated men and returning long-term prisoners, creating social leaders where there is currently a cycle of recidivism, desperation and poverty. We have completed renovations on a transitional housing facility that can house up to 3 exonerees. Run by exonerees for exonerees, this home is the first of its kind. As well, we are formulating plans for a screen-printing business, Beacon Industries, that will sustain the home and provide us with leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
RAE's exonerees can now access individual counseling, educational opportunities, and financial and computer literacy training. Instead of working for free for the prison system, we are working together to help each other, building our solidarity. Above all, we are positioning ourselves as advocates for criminal justice reform, speaking about our experiences at events and venues nationwide. by Andrea, Mara, and Lauryn This increase in exoneration is due in large part to forensic DNA testing, which was first introduced into a U.S. court in 1986 and has since been refined greatly, so that results can be obtained in cases where earlier testing was inconclusive. DNA exonerations have proven to the public that innocent people do get convicted, frequently because of false eyewitness statements, incompetent defense attorneys, false confessions, snitch testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct. For nearly twenty years, Louisiana has had one of the highest per capita exoneration rates. This state's justice system has compromised over two dozen lives, taking away some exonerees' freedom for as many as 37 years. Since 1990, at least 29 innocent men have been released from prison after their convictions were thrown out. Their releases entail the following: • Exonerated inmates typically roll out of Louisiana prisons like everyone else; they get a bag of possessions and $10 from the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
• Often, despite the time they've served, their skills have not improved because unlike inmates with preset release dates, inmates facing death or serving life without parole often aren't allowed job training, literacy classes, or GED preparation.
• Until exonerees complete the state's lengthy pardon process, their convictions show up when potential employers, landlords, or creditors do criminal background checks.
• Most exonerees have no health insurance, which allows them no way to remedy the psychological and physical toll of Louisiana's prison system.
• Some exonerees, if they get a bus fare on their release, take a bus to what once was home. But when they get there, no one is waiting. Often, exonerees have lost all of their possessions, their housing, and their loved ones. Their children have been raised without them; their parents have often died.
• Putting lives back together is slow, and exonerees are on their own.
A study by the Berkeley, California-based Life After Exoneration Program found that after their release:
• Half of exonerees are living with family
• 2 in 3 are not financially independent
• 1 in 3 lose custody of their children
• 1 out of 4 suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
All formerly incarcerated people face similar barriers. Most of the world treats exonerees like anyone else with a criminal record:
•Both groups are chronically underemployed.
•Both groups have difficulty accessing routine government services.
•Both groups are routinely denied the right to vote, live in public housing, get food stamps, or access college loans.
After struggling to survive in prison, exonerees must struggle to live on the outside. They are routinely harassed by law enforcement officials; they are regularly denied employment; they are stigmatized as formerly incarcerated individuals; many have lost parents and partners, and most are deprived of seeing their children grow up. Back on the outside, they are denied the ability to work to survive, live a law-abiding life, and successfully care for their families.
RAE only exists because individuals and foundations make financial donations and interns, volunteers and pro bono attorneys donate their time. Please consider donating now to the group of men that the United States wrongfully imprisoned and who are now trying to help each other along the long march to recovery.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
1. Make a monetary donation. Your donation is tax deductible.
Here are some examples of what your money can help us do:
$25 -- One doctor's visit for an exoneree
$50 -- Transportation for one out-of-state exoneree to perform in Voices of Innocence
$100 -- One month internet and phone for RAE's Community Resource Center
$250 -- Five prison trips to visit future clients
$500 -- Exoneree stipends for one free Voices of Innocence performance
$1,000 -- One computer workstation and technical support to train exonerees in computer literacy
$2,000 -- Sponsor one exoneree's 6-month stay in RAE's Transitional Housing
$5,000 -- Renovation costs of one room in the RAE Resource Center
$10,000 -- One Avodah Volunteer Corps stipend for one year
2. Donate your expertise. RAE's programs for exonerees aim to include psychiatric and psychological counseling, interview and job training, literacy and computer literacy, mentorship training, community outreach, and more. We need trained professional to offer sessions in these and other subjects; please call (504) 943-1902 if you are available to lead a session. 3. Donate your time. While we have the most use for law students, we welcome applications from students and professionals with various skill levels and experience. If you are interested in volunteering with RAE, call (504) 943-1902. To apply for an internship with RAE, submit an application with a resume (including 2-3 references), a non-legal writing sample and a cover letter. Applications may be submitted by mail or emailed. RAE currently offers the following direct services to exonerees:
Subsidizing primary medical health care
A resource center for community criminal justice meetings
Referrals of exonerees for free individual psychological and psychiatric counseling
Transitional housing for recently released exonerees, supplemented by a commitment to group counseling, de-briefing, and sober living
Job skills and resume building training
Support with Innocence Compensation claims
RAE will promote reform-minded leadership among those who have been imprisoned by assisting them during their transition process to ensure a successful reentry, and by empowering exonerees to confront and reform the system that victimized them. Our Vision
RAE is ambitious; we are a new organization with high goals. We are approaching the challenges of life after exoneration with a comprehensive plan for reentry and renewal.
First; we will provide direct services and opportunities to exonerees to re-establish ourselves as functioning members of our communities. Second, we will facilitate opportunities for exonerees to deal with the physical, psychological and emotional effects of life in prison. Third; we will create a sustainable business that will provide job training to exonerees and other formerly incarcerated, ensuring the longevity of RAE. Fourth; we will use our voices to educate and inform the public about wrongful convictions. Fifth; we will use our experiences for good; we will serve as mentors to future generations and ensure that their voices are heard, just as ours were silenced.