I was wrongfully accused of sexual assault and spent nearly 10 years in prison. Here's how I proved my innocence and became a criminal defense lawyer.
Jarrett Adamswas wrongfully accused of rape and spent 10 years in prison.
- Adams started studying
lawin the prison library and eventually overturned his sentence.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Jarrett Adams, a criminal defense lawyer, cofounder of the nonprofit Life After Justice, and author of the memoir, 'Redeeming Justice.' The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I don't have a story of being on the streets selling drugs and coming from a bad family. I have a grandmother, family, and friends, and often we'd get in the car and go to different places outside of our neighborhood. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a rough neighborhood, so we'd go hang out in other places because we didn't want to get shot by the cops or by gang members.
In the summer of 1998, my friends and I go to a party after graduating high school. There's everything you can think of: kids partying, there's drinking. It's a mostly white school, and we're some of the only Black students there.
We start talking to this young white lady, and she invites us to her room upstairs. We start making out on her bed when her roommate walks in. She starts yelling at the girl we were with: "You're having sex on my bed? You're a slut!"
From there, the reigns of racism took over. The young lady accused us of raping her. Going to court, facing an all-white jury, all I remember is how terrified my mom was. She said, "Baby, you don't understand. This ain't about the truth. This is about the reality of the America we live in."
I was sentenced to 28 years in prison based off an accusation, and nothing more. My stomach is in knots just thinking about how easy it was for one accusation to be enough to turn my life upside down. I was 18 turning 19. I lost my innocence and youth that day.
Rewriting his story
Prison was a dark time for me, but I found strength from my mom. She couldn't afford to hire a lawyer for me, so she felt like it was her fault I was found guilty.
I wanted to rewrite what had been written about me. I started studying case law in the prison's library, and also helped other people with their cases — that was my crash course on law school. I wrote to people, and the Innocence Project answered.
We took the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and it was unanimously reversed. The case unraveled because we discovered that police withheld a statement from a college student, who said he saw us hanging out with our accuser before and after we went up to her room.
I came home with my record expunged, but the damage had been done. I lost my entire youth, from 17 to 26. Some things you can't just replicate — like what it's like to go to college, or swap your 18-year-old license for the 21-year-old one. I didn't know what smartphones were, and entire neighborhoods were different. Nieces and nephews are born, and in photo albums everyone else's photos continue but yours.
Fighting for justice and equity
I became a lawyer because I realized my place on Earth was helping people avoid my fate. The criminal justice system is a rigged one, where justice is for sale.
A more equitable criminal justice system looks like the diverse picture of America that we have. You can't have benches made up of 90% white former prosecutors. When I was standing in that courtroom with the all-white jury looking at me — we did not get the presumption of innocence. We went in with the historical stereotype of aggressive, ravaging, savaging Black boys.
One of the most significant cases I'm working on is US v. Claiborne. Two men, Ferrone Claiborne and Terence Richardson, were wrongfully charged with the murder of a police officer and sentenced to life — even though the jury found them not guilty.
The court had the opportunity to protect the Constitution or the police. And the court decided to protect the police. Protecting bad police erodes our faith in the entire police force. This country has grappled with qualified immunity, like with Breonna Taylor. We too often have judges and decisions that protect their positions and their party, but not the Constitution.
They call the prison system the Department of Corrections, but it really should be called the Department of Warehousing. Millions of Black men are incarcerated. Neighborhoods are suffering — it's like a leg missing from a chair, when you have that many men missing. If it really were a place for corrections, there would be change. But we're not providing mental healthcare or education to make sure people coming in and out of prison have the resources they need. We're warehousing them.
Holding on to faith
Faith is something you can't hold, can't grab. You just have to have it. We've seen this country face a pandemic, and, just for a second, there were no shootings, no political banter — we were all just trying to survive as a humanity.
I think we need to treat things that ail our society as the pandemics they are: We have a pandemic of civil rights of Black folks in this world. We have a pandemic of women's rights, a pandemic when it comes to the justice system. We all need to stop and mobilize together and figure out how we get out of these pandemics together.
- After JP Morgan, Indian bonds set to enter other global bond indices; capital raising for infra push to get a boost
- 10 calcium-rich foods to ward Off calcium deficiency
- Amazon introduces next-gen of Echo smart devices with new-age AI
- 7 amazing benefits you'll experience after switching to a no-sugar diet
- LG TONE Free Fit TF7 Buds review: Expensive and for a good reason