Lifestyle

Imprisoned but Innocent: Talking With an Exoneree

Finley MacDonald is a Third Year Criminology with Psychology student. Image created by Finley MacDonald.  

We live in a world that, mostly, respects and trusts the criminal justice system. We condescend those who are imprisoned without understanding their story. I have total respect for the criminal justice institutions and the work that they undertake to keep our world a safer place. However, we rarely speak about those who are wrongly convicted, losing valuable time in their lives for something that they did not do. It is important to share their stories to help change the stigma around imprisonment.

Why Did I Want To Do This?

We all want to live a fulfilling life and without fair treatment, that is extremely difficult. Studying Criminology at UWE has enabled me to gain a perspective on the criminal justice process; how it works, and the effect imprisonment has on an individual. When I realised the vast number of worldwide individuals who have been wrongly convicted, I understood that a change needed to be implemented for fair justice to all individuals; the best way to make a change is through education. I am due to study MSc Forensic Science commencing September 2021 at UWE, and from this I hope to lead a career in DNA analysis, particularly providing evidence to prove the innocence of individuals. If this article helps one person understand the effects of those wrongly convicted, my aim will be complete.

The “Interview”

On Monday 8th February, I was fortunate enough to informally talk (via video call) with an exoneree from New Jersey. 

Rodney Roberts is seven years free from serving eighteen years for kidnap and sexual assault, crimes that he did not commit; the full story is linked below. Hearing the hardship and pain he endured throughout his life really made me understand that this can happen to anyone, we must not be ignorant, and we must improve our efforts to understand exonerees. 

Rodney had been coerced to plead guilty, he was told that this way he would serve less time as opposed to pleading innocent. However, this was not true, and Rodney served the full seven-year sentence plus ten years in a treatment facility. As a result of this, Rodney had suffered from his mental health during his imprisonment, he expressed the hopelessness that he felt and how he dealt with it. We spoke about the mental health facilities offered in prisons and how the neglect of prisoners’ wellbeing must change; Rodney agreed that the best way to make a change is through education. 

The positivity and optimism that Mr Roberts have are incredible, although his opinion on the justice system is understandably tainted, he is an individual that I felt inspired by. One of the key things that Rodney said that really stuck with me was: 

“You can overcome anything if you have hope.” 

Since his exoneration, Rodney has set up a foundation to help others who have experienced similar injustice and he has assisted the lives of many. He is also a qualified lawyer and motivational speaker, his passion and enthusiasm to educate others really inspired me. Mr Roberts now lives a fulfilling and happy life surrounded by family and friends; however, we must not forget the suffering that he endured.

The media are so quick to publish articles on crime, without realising the effect that this has if it is proven false information. Unfortunately, Rodney is not the only victim of prosecutorial misconduct and injustice; globally, thousands of women and men are forced to take guilty pleas despite their innocence. Please find below Rodney Roberts’ story, this link also shows other exonerees. Something as simple as sharing an article around wrongful convictions or reaching out to those who suffered because of stigmatised views in our society will make a difference. There are many foundations you can join to support individuals similar to Rodney, if you wish to speak more about this please email me at finley2.macdonald@live.uwe.ac.uk.   

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4402

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