Life after exoneration can be incredibly difficult. Technology has changed so much it is unrecognizable; connections with friends and loved ones are lost; a sense of belonging to popular culture has vanished. To add insult to injury, any money in the bank has likely been spent on legal fees and, in some states, more post-jail services are available to parolees than to exonerees.
Immediately after exoneration, there are issues: finding housing, finding a job, and making sure that day-to-day necessities are in order. Will I have clothes to wear? What about a toothbrush? Transportation? What about a phone so that potential employers can actually reach me?
Unfortunately, exonerees are not entitled to the job they had before the were wrongfully imprisoned and because of the intense prejudices society bestows upon people who have spent time in prison, innocent or not, finding and securing a job can be very difficult. What’s more, many exonerees struggle with the conviction on their record for years before they are officially cleared.
Some exonerees are given compensation for their loss of freedom, yet that is hardly enough. Recently, when Anthony Graves learned that he will receive $1.4 million in set allowances over a period of many years, he said: “It’s not the lottery that I won. I lost 18 years of my life and if I had a choice between the money and the 18 years, I would take the 18 years.”
That’s a sentiment that all exonerees share: they are thankful for whatever support and financial assistance that they are given but they are aware that such help will never make up for the fact that they lost days, months and years from their lives – time they will never get back.
We need more programs and laws that assist exonerees in adjusting to life outside of the prison cell. In addition, we need the few practices that are already in place to reach more exonerees and help them as much as possible. Yes, Richard Miles will never get the time he lost behind bars back, but the money that he will receive will help him to get on his feet and rebuild his life. But what about Richard Miles? He has received no compensation. And what about Eugene, Keith, and Entre? They received very little compensation.
Eventually we are going to have to wake up to the fact that freeing a person from wrongful conviction is not enough – we also have to help them readjust to society and to the lives that the so rightly deserve.