Human Issues, On Writing

Innocence Project

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I last posted. With everything going on in the world right now, I’ve been a bit hesitant to blog for fear of being too emotional or political – and publishing something on grammar rules or UX design felt a bit shallow. Every day… every single freaking day… I see news of monsters driving trucks into crowds, knife attacks, mass shootings, suicide bombers. All over the world. Sick, twisted monsters who are so obviously sick and twisted that no one could conceive of questioning their guilt or innocence. Sure, they might be not guilty by reason of insanity, but there’s no question in anyone’s mind that they committed the foul act.

In the face of all that, I happened to see an article that has stayed in my mind nonstop.

I would like to say the story is unusual, but it’s really not. It struck me how many people we have in America right now sitting in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, while the world is full of horrible monsters doing undeniable actual harm to people. Thank God for The Innocence Project, an organization I think deserves everyone’s attention, support, and respect.

I first learned about The Innocence Project in grad school. During a seminar studying playwriting, I took a theater trip to New York. I believe we saw around 10 plays that trip and while I enjoyed most of them (let’s be honest, I could have lived a full life without ever having seen Waiting for Godot), one play in particular actually had the power to enlighten and even change me.

The Exonerated, premiered at Culture Project in October 2002, dramatized six real-life stories of people sentenced to death and later freed amidst overwhelming evidence of their innocence. Part of the power of this play was its simplicity. The six actors sat on metal folding chairs, intimately just a few feet away from the audience in matching metal folding chairs, in the tiny 45 Bleecker Theater. This was not some production – this was a story that needed telling.

As a writer, I took note of the power of these stories and of these words. In January of 2003, after seeing a special presentation of The Exonerated, then-governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of every single person on death row. That’s some seriously powerful stuff. I started following the work of The Innocence Project and went from half-hearted support of the death penalty to vocal anti-death penalty.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe everyone in prison is innocent, by any stretch. What I do believe is humans are fallible, like “eyewitnesses” believing perception over reality, and some can be downright wicked, like crooked cops and DAs stacking evidence to improve their close records.

I’d hope in taking a look at The Innocence Project people will better understand the true nature of our judicial system and lend their support. For my writer friends, consider also reading The Exonerated and its pure simplicity.