This week we had the opportunity to visit the Juvenile Detention Center of Cook County, IL. Although I have to admit I was uncomfortable with the idea at first, I was eager to see what prison is really like. Given that a juvenile detention center is far from a maximum security prison, it was still interesting to see the living conditions.
Although I’m relatively against locking up children for extended periods of times (causing them to miss out on social development, family time, etc.), for some of these violent crimes, there is nowhere else to turn. That being said, I found the school at the Juvenile Detention Center to be positively surprising. Not only is it an accredited Chicago Public School, the school also has one teacher and one special education teacher in each classroom. It was great to hear that the students were required to attend school, something they might not do in their normal lives. I believe the ability to go to school will allow many of these kids to reevaluate their goals and dreams.
Overall the experience at the Juvenile Detention Center was interesting, but I certainly still don’t support locking up juveniles for lesser crimes– drug charges, etc.
This week we’ve been working with very heavy subject matter. In addition to our normal files, we watched a documentary about a woman who was wrongfully convicted of arson in the case of a house fire which killed her three children. She spent years in prison for a fire she did not start, while mourning the loss of her children. Many years later, new evidence and testimony came to light and she was released. It was hard to hear this story; I can’t imagine how difficult it was for this woman to sit in prison for a crime she did not commit, meanwhile mourning the death of her children. She will be coming to talk to us tomorrow afternoon. I’m excited to hear her story, yet find it hard to listen to such a heart-breaking experience.
The past two weeks we’ve been working tirelessly to put together the database of exonerations. Through my research I’ve learned about the horrible injustices that plague our justice system. Learning about these injustices makes me want to proactively prevent them.
We’ve also heard from a handful of speakers the last week. Yesterday we heard from Rob Warden, head of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. He shared his personal experiences working in the field as well as stories. I felt honored that he took the time to speak with us and encouraged us to continue researching and being active in the changes that are currently happening, especially regarding the death penalty.
I’ve been getting more comfortable here at the CWC. We’ve been working on researching, analyzing, and summarizing wrongful convictions from before 1987. I’ve learned about many different interesting cases. Reading about these innocent men and women who spent years, if not decades, in prison is heart-breaking.
Yesterday we had a lecture about sentencing times. It was great to hear from judges, lawyers, and professors. It felt great to understand some of the terms they were using as well.
This Monday we heard from an incredible speaker, Jeanne Bishop, Cook County Public Defender. She spoke passionately about her past experiences with loss and forgiveness. In the early 90’s her sister and brother-in-law were brutally murdered in their home in the Chicago suburbs. The detailed description of the murder and aftermath were heart-wrenching. She told us how after over ten years of completely cutting the event out of her memory, she decided to forgive the killer, a teenage boy at the time. She now visits him regularly and hopes to inspire him to become a better person. Her act of forgiveness was incredible and I found it difficult to imagine myself being in such a position.
After spending last week learning more about exonerations and the general injustices of the system, we’re ready to begin working on the database of exonerations. Today we are beginning to analyze, research, and enter information about exoneration cases prior to 1989 into the database that the Center started.
I’ve currently been researching a case from the 1930’s dealing with a murder charge against an innocent man. After spending over 10 years in prison, evidence of prosecution misconduct was discovered and he was exonerated. By the time this man was released from prison, he had missed over a decade of memories and time with loved ones. Another case involved a man sentenced to death after the shooting of a delivery man. He was later exonerated after the prosecution’s main witness admitted to lying. Hearing cases like these makes me want to help prevent such tragedies from occurring.
Throughout the next few weeks, we will continue researching cases like these. The database will hopefully bring attention to the thousands of exonerations from before and after 1989.
Today was my first day at the Center on Wrongful Convictions. After finding my way around the L subway system, I finally made it to the beautiful campus. I joined the other twenty interns in a conference room where we spoke about the book we read, “Simeon’s Story”. The book discussed the kidnapping and murder of Simeon’s cousin, Emmett Till.
The intern director showed us a documentary about Emmett Till. It was a great way to start off the internship because it really got me interested in how flawed the legal system can be. Moreover, we discussed how racial injustices play such a large role in the inequality seen in the justice system. After the documentary, Simeon came to speak with us. We were able to hear his first-hand account of the kidnapping, funeral, and trial. It was heart-wrenching, but made me want to help others in the future to avoid this history from ever happening again. We were then able to ask questions and learned much more about Simeon’s overall views of injustices in the legal system.
Later in the day we had an unexpected visit from a man who was recently exonerated. He was wrongly convicted of a rape and murder when he was only 17-years old. It was shocking to hear his account of the story as well as hearing about his problems with re-entry. We then watched the 60-minutes coverage of his case after the exoneration.
I really enjoyed my first day and hearing these stories gave me a passion to continue fighting against these injustices.
I’ll post about my experiences this summer on this blog!