*editorial note: Normally I would not post another blog entry so soon after my previous one, however I feel the need to get this out there for anyone who may benefit from it. I just hung up the phone with my friend, about whom I wrote this post. He sounded in good spirits, hopeful for a positive outcome on February 16th. If any of you knows someone who is fighting the battle of their lives against injustice, please tell them to keep fighting and don't ever give up.*
I have a friend in a tough situation. We've been friends for about two and a half years and for two of those years he's been in prison. We became acquainted with one another after I called his talk radio show on a couple of occasions to argue with him. He's a republican and I'm a democrat, so naturally we rarely saw eye to eye on anything political. However, even when we were disagreeing we always maintained our senses of humor, laughing with each other because of a mutual respect between us. He made me crazy at times, but he also made me laugh and I became quite fond of him.
One day his radio station made some cuts and my friend was one of a group of people let go. His show was canceled and he was suddenly out of work along with several of his colleagues. The recession was in its early days and layoffs were starting to happen all across the country. That was shocking not only to my friend but also to his many listeners. I hoped that he would find a new home for his show on another station without too much delay. I received an email from him saying he was ok, just in shock, and that he had some irons in the fire and was working on some leads. He asked me about the internet radio station I had at the time and how I'd gotten that started. We emailed back and forth several times over the next week, brainstorming and chatting. Then one night as I was watching the evening news, I saw my friend being led away in handcuffs, having been arrested on a fugitive from justice charge. Fugitive? Wouldn't that have meant he was hiding out somewhere, avoiding the law? How do you have a daily radio talk show for over a year if you're a fugitive? He was accused of a crime that allegedly took place over four years ago. FOUR YEARS and they were just getting around to arresting him now? Did they have trouble finding him, though he was on public radio every weekday morning, and active and quite visible in his community? I found out later that his accuser had just gotten around to telling this tale, which was the reason for the time-lapse. Four years...no evidence, no eyewitnesses, just one person's word against another's. I figured he'd be in and out within a week with such a flimsy case against him. After all, we have a great justice system here in the good old USA right? Lack of evidence and the four-year time-lapse surely would be enough to have the whole thing thrown out of court right?
That was two years ago, and my friend is still in prison, awaiting trial. He had to rely on weak public defenders (more than one) and bail hearing after bail hearing. My friend does not have the financial resources to pay his ridiculously disproportionate bail or hire an attorney who specializes in his type of case. Only recently, after a friend who happened to be an attorney stepped in, has he received a court date for a day this month. NOTE: My friend could have accepted a deal and been released a long time ago, but that would have meant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. He would not do that. He maintains his innocence, and will not say otherwise just to be released from prison. My friend refuses to cave in and admit to a crime that he swears he did not commit, no matter how long he has to sit in prison. I have great respect for him because of that. He is standing up for himself, his integrity, and for every other person who has been wrongly accused and imprisoned. Because of this he has lost everything: his home, his reputation, and even some of his friends and family. But still he perseveres. I write him letters of encouragement, reminding him that he is not alone. He needs to know that someone believes in him, and I am not the only one. I know he gets letters from other friends as well, giving support and encouragement. I don't know what he'll do once he gets out. I just hope he can rebuild his life and not be bitter about what happened to him.
I know some of you are reading this thinking "how can you be so sure he's innocent?" or "how can you be so trusting?" and I don't blame you. But think of it this way: what if it was me? What if it was you or one of your family members? People are wrongly imprisoned every day in this country, don't kid yourself. Our system is broken and until something is done to fix it, this will continue to happen every day. Since the advancement of DNA research, hundreds of people, wrongly imprisoned, have been released but more needs to be done. These people shouldn't have been incarcerated in the first place, but because of glitches in the system, reliance on faulty eye witnesses, or circumstantial evidence they were sent to prison, some for years. Lives are ruined, lost, and forgotten.
The other reason I continue to give my friend the benefit of the doubt can be found in my last blog post. I cannot turn my back on someone who would refuse to take a deal in order stand up for what's right. If he is willing to remain in prison for two years rather than plead guilty to something he did not do, how can I shut the door on him? At the end of my last post I said that the lesson I'd learned from being ignored or having the door slammed in my face was to give people the benefit of the doubt and listen to them. Acknowledge them and really hear them, as a fellow human being. I'm not stupid or naive. I am fully aware that there are some people out there who are dishonest and take advantage of others' good hearts. I know, everyone in prison is "innocent". I have been fooled before by people I believed in and it's not a great feeling. If I'm wrong about my friend and he's not the person I believe him to be, then that's on him, not me. If that is the case, he'll have to live with that karma. I have faith in him, though, and I truly believe he is innocent.
We all need someone to believe in us, especially in our darkest hours. How would it feel if everyone turned their backs on you when you needed them the most?
I'll be thinking of my friend on the date of his trial, hoping for justice.