I have spent the last few years stripping away the layers of a wrongful conviction and all that comes with it. The ridicule, the namecalling, the financial, emotional, mental and physical abuse that was determined to destroy my spirit.
It has been difficult at times to separate who I really am from who they told me I was. There were many days the door to the solitary confinement cell would open followed by kicking screaming and yelling. Every word that I spoke was under surveillance and twisted so much I became mute to survive.
I remember the day I let myself stoop to their level and screamed,”Go home and beat your wife instead, but leave me alone!” A few days later I had adapted. I looked him in the eyes the next time he abused his power and said, “I forgive you.”
Today I am healing, but I am not whole. If this had been a lover, a restraining order would have been granted the first incident. Instead, I learned to survive in a way I never dreamed was necessary.
As I learn to distance myself from the ridicule, I also gain acceptance. Acceptance that American Justice has been turned over to thugs, that our movement is the modern day Underground Railroad, and that I would not want their conscience, nor their place in history.
I am not ashamed anymore. I never did everything right and I underestimated the evil they were capable of, but I truly do forgive and pity them. I feel sorry for the day when their glass house shatters as the things they believed were in secret are revealed to the world.
The judicial system that I have come to know is a large game of chicken. Those who are intimidated by it become lost in it. I advocate now for others just as I did for myself and I realize that whenever I stand up to this bully, it falls over.
I have to be willing to say the word, “No!” No, I am not who you say I am. No, I will not accept the plea that you offered me. No, I will not keep this secret for you. Teaching others to be so bold is not easy. As I advocate in my local community, many of the therapists, health care providers, probation officers and elected officials have become become too willing to accept the status quo.
When, who and how this culture of toxic shame changes is up to those of us willing to be brave, to heal, to forgive, and to say “No.”