Boy has it been a busy year for us thus far! In January we officially announced the charitable arm for YANA, Beeyond Their Walls, and now we are able to accept tax deductible donations as Beeyond Their Walls is a nonprofit 501c3. With Beeyond Their Walls, we are looking forward to hosting many community events in partnership with YANA and other community organizations.
Speaking of community events, we will host our first Super Saturday workshop of 2020 for children of incarcerated parents. The topic of our first workshop is “Why Me”. See details in the flyer below or you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713.588.0490 for more details.
Here at YANA we are excited to celebrate Black History Month and the many contributions that Black Americans have made to this country. Its important to honor those that were able to rise above their circumstances of slavery, discrimination, racism, and even incarceration. This month I would like to highlight Black Americans that were wrongfully convicted and sent to prison. While this group is not necessarily famous for inventions, Nobel Peace Prizes, or breaking racial barriers; we commend and respect them for being able to triumph over being unjustly accused of crimes that they did not commit.
Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter
Rubin Carter was wrongfully convicted of triple murder at the height of his boxing career in 1966. While in prison he continued to proclaim his innocence and in 1974 he published his autobiography, The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472. After serving almost 20 years in prison he was released in 1985 and upon his release, he along with Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton published the book, Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in 1991. After his release Rubin was also given an honorary championship title belt in 1993 by the World Boxing Council, he served as director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted, and he also served as a member of the board of directors of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and the Alliance for Prison Justice in Boston. In 2004, Carter founded the advocacy group Innocence International, and often lectured about seeking justice for the wrongly convicted. Widespread interest in Rubin’s story was the basis for the movie “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington as Rubin Carter.
The Central Park Five: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise
In 1989 four teenagers, Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, 14; and Korey Wise, 16 were arrested; and through inconsistent confessions, DNA evidence exclusion and lack of evidence connecting them to the crime scene, they were all wrongfully convicted of brutally assaulting and raping a woman who was jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Each of the young men served over 6 years in prison with Korey Wise serving 12 years at the notorious Rikers Island prison. On December 19, 2002 the convictions of the five men were overturned. They later sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress and settled with the city for $41 million. In 2014 all five defendants filed a $52 million claim with the New York Court of Claims. Post exoneration the men have become passionate advocates for legal reform to prevent wrongful conviction, mandatory recording of interrogations and eyewitness identification reforms, and are motivational speakers. In 2015 Raymond Santana tweeted a suggestion to Ava DuVernay that she should tell the Central Park Five story and in 2019 “When They See Us” debuted on Netflix, written and directed by Ava DuVernay.
Jabbar Collins was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and in March 1995 he was sentenced to 35 years to, life for a crime that he did not commit. Upon his sentencing Jabbar immediately began working on his case while in prison. Through his research he learned that prosecutors hid crucial evidence, there were inconsistent witness testimonies- with witnesses indicating that they were offered a perk by the district attorney’s office in return for testimony and had been threatened by lawyers for the DA’s office. In 2010 after hearing about potential prosecutorial misconduct in his trial, the district attorney’s office agreed to vacate the murder conviction and to not retry Jabaar. He served 16 years of his prison sentence before his conviction was vacated. He sued and settled with the state for 3 million dollars, under the Unjust Conviction Act.
These are just a few cases of the wrongfully convicted here in the United States. According to the Innocence Project to be a black exoneree in America means:
- You are 222 of the 362 people proved innocent by DNA
- You are 84 of the 164 survivors of death row (Death Penalty Information Center)
- You spent an average of 10.7 years behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit vs. 7.4 for whites exonerees (National Registry of Exonerations)
These statistics are appalling considering the lives and families ruined as a result of wrongful convictions. I cannot imagine the devastation those with children faced, to know that their mother/father is in prison for something that they did not do.
In closing I would like to leave you with a quote from Leroy Harris, exoneree that sums up black history for me –
“Being black in America is an honor that few people realize. An honor that signifies greatness throughout all these atrocious conditions we faced. We’re still here survivors standing strong. Being black in America.”