LANSING, Mich. — Imagine being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and sent to prison for decades then getting out only to find more hurdles and barriers.
That’s the reality for many exonerees in the state.
Many people in the innocence community say people who’ve been wrongly convicted often don't get the help they need finding housing, employment and education after they get out.
Marla Mitchell-Cichon is with the Cooley Law Center Innocence Project which has helped free seven people in the last 20 years. She says this support gap will widen as more people in the state are exonerated,
“This is a new social phenomenon. Not convicting innocent people, that’s old news, but we’re more aware of it now," said Mitchell-Cichon.
Sharon Windfrey leads group therapy sessions for people who’ve fallen victim to a wrongful conviction. She says her clients face many challenges on the outside that most people wouldn’t even think of.
“He said that the technology was different. The streets driving. Everything was different for him because he had been incarcerated to 27 years.” Windfrey said.
Darrell Siggers went to prison for murder back in 1984. He served 34 years before he was set free.
“There weren’t cell phones when I went to prison. And computers went far beyond what they were in 1984," said Siggers. He calls it overwhelming.
Siggers says part of the reason why his transition was tough is that the programming in place for parolees wasn’t available to him.
“They have what is called the reentry program for parolees. They don’t have a reentry program for exonerees, and so it's a lot more difficult for us to adjust," he said.
Mitchell-Cichon says the Department of Corrections will help but many of the wrongfully convicted don’t know to ask.
“So the Michigan Department of Corrections Re-Entry Success program they will work with exonerees. And they are willing to do that,” she said.
Attorney Wolf Mueller has represented about 20 people who were wrongfully convicted. So far he’s won $20 million on their behalf.
He says many of his clients have faced these hurdles and, despite knowing they could ask the Department of Corrections for help, they would rather not.
“They didn’t want to be part of the MDOC in the first place so when they come out they don’t want to have to sit in a probation officer’s office and try to explain the problems they are having," Mueller said.
Ramon Ward was freed after spending nearly 30 years in prison for a double murder he had nothing to do with. Ward now has an organization dedicated to helping people tap into the resources available to them.
“For a lot of people, they don’t got nothing and it's sad," he said. "That’s why I help them out and try to get housing and placement. I’m trying to start up a house for exonerees and help get them established."
Since the late '80s, more than 130 people have been exonerated in Michigan.
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