By Obie Anthony:
In 1995 I was convicted of murder. I was innocent. Neglectful legal defense, perjury, and prosecutorial misconduct landed me being in prison, where I would live for the next 17 years of my life. In 2011, the Northern California Innocence Project
and the Loyola Project for the Innocent won my exoneration, and I was released.
But coming home wasn’t easy. I had to reestablish my life in a world that had changed drastically while I was wrongfully imprisoned. I didn’t know how to use a computer or a smartphone. I didn’t know how to find a job. I didn’t know how to deal with my trauma. Even the seemingly mundane task of securing identification seemed impossible. I learned there was no program in California to help me transition home after release, and that exonerees don’t have access to the programs available to individuals on parole. Even after years of wrongful incarceration, there was no help.
I understand first-hand the impact that wrongful incarceration has on a person. My own experience of suffering through imprisonment and reentry motivated me to prevent other exonerees from experiencing the same suffering.
That’s why I founded Exonerated Nation. Exonerated Nation is on a mission to meet the immediate needs of exonerees in California, including access to trauma healing.
204 people have been exonerated from California prisons since 1989. After years of wrongful imprisonment, there is no established state program to help them to secure housing, access health and mental health services and transition home from incarceration.
Exonerated Nation’s programs include employment services, emergency housing, healing, leadership development, and community building. Through exoneree leadership, we aim to fill the gap in services that exonerees face. We also aim to build a community of exonerees that can access healing and develop strategies to transform our justice system.
I speak with exonerees all the time, and they sustain my inspiration. Some have just been released, and others have been home for a while. We all have common struggles – finding housing, stable employment, reconnecting with family, and facing our trauma. Fundamentally, I am motivated to create and be a part of a community of exonerees who are able to heal, experience justice, and transform the systems which cause wrongful conviction.
Now is a critical time to support the leadership of exonerees, who must be at the forefront of the movement to prevent wrongful conviction. While the strides made in broader criminal justice reform are threatened by the current administration, there is also more organizing by formerly incarcerated individuals than ever before. The number of exonerees continues to increase, and we’ve had an outpouring of interest, energy, and support from wrongfully convicted individuals and allies. Organizing and activating a network of exonerees will add a new capacity, expertise, and perspective to California’s field of civil rights defenders. I also believe that exonerees are positioned to humanize and raise the bar for all formerly incarcerated individuals.
Exonerated Nation is a new and growing organization. We are looking for partners, allies, volunteers, and interns. For more information, click here (here link to the place where there are non-financial ways to help).
Exonerees, we want to hear from you. What are the main challenges you are facing now that you’re home? What changes would you like to see in the California? To share your ideas or your story, please contact Caitlin Dunklee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Experiencing wrongful conviction showed me that this level of injustice can happen to me, or anyone. My experience with the failed justice system motivates me to stand against wrongful conviction and to fight for the rights and welfare of others who have been exonerated.
It is my honor to welcome you to Exonerated Nation.