Last weekend, I flew to Michigan to deliver the keynote address at the first Women and Innocence Conference. I expected to have an informative learning experience but found I was moved far more than I expected.
It started on my flight. The thirty-year-old woman who sat next to me had moved to this country from Albania when she was fourteen years old. She talked to me about the deprivation in her native lands–of the days on end when she went to the grocery store and there was nothing to purchase but spinach and leeks. She spoke of the overwhelming sensory overload of her first time at a grocery store at this country. It was too different and there were too many choices.
I did not know it as I spoke with her but her words would be echoed by the women exonorees at the conference. After the deprivation of an incarcerated life, many of them experience a similar overload when they are finally released from prison for the crimes they did not commit.
There were many terrific presentations and I wouldn’t have missed a single one but the most powerful speaker was Joyce Ann Brown. Joyce (left) is a woman of great dignity and poise. She was wrongfully convicted of an armed robbery and murder she did not commit. With the help of Centurian Ministries, she was exonerated after serving nine years, five months and twenty-four days of hardship in prison.
Her electrifying ability as a speaker brought my Baptist upbringing to the forefront. It was all I could do to stay in my seat and not jump up and shout “Amen, sister!” every time she made a new point. I haven’t read her book, Justice Denied, yet but I am certainly looking forward to it.
There was so much about the weekend that I enjoyed. I got the chance to visit with three professionals I got to know as I provided assistance in Julie Rea Harper’s case: Bill Clutter, investigator with the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project and Karen Daniels and Judith Royal, attorneys with the Center for Wrongful Convictions. I got to see Jim and Jane Rea, Julie’s parents, once again.
It was a weekend, I will never forget.
Photos by Audrey Dotson