Saturday, January 5, 2008

the system "works" after 27 years

i've been thinking about this story from the dallas morning news for a couple of days. after serving 27 years in prison for aggravated rape, charles allen chatman was exonerated and set free. chatman always proclaimed his innocence, and recent genetic tests showed that he could not have committed the crime.

in some ways, this case is extraordinary. the judge and the current district attorney seemed to take a special interest in chatman and went beyond official duties to try to help. the article explains:

Judge Creuzot pushed for the specialized DNA test that cleared Mr. Chatman after becoming concerned that he might be innocent. At the hearing, the judge introduced Mr. Chatman to a dentist who has agreed to repair his teeth and to prisoner advocate Joyce Ann Brown, who herself was wrongly imprisoned for almost a decade. 'I'll do anything and everything I can to help you,' the judge said...

District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has made DNA-based exonerations a hallmark of his first year in office, apologized to Mr. Chatman, shook his hand and praised his long effort to clear himself. 'You are an example of how justice is supposed to work,' Mr. Watkins told him.

i think this case shows the potential good of individuals working in the system, but it seems to me a long way from being how justice is supposed to work. chatman spent 27 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. 27 years. he was 20 when he was first incarcerated in 1981. he is 47 now and is going to have to try to adjust to a whole new world and culture full of technological wonders he couldn't possibly have imagined as a young, free man. his only specific plan at his release was to "get something good to eat."

it's hard to imagine what it would be like to be wrongly imprisoned for 27 years and to finally be given a second chance. i hope the world is kind to mr. chatman and others like him in their remaining years.

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