When I was in the eighth grade, our English class spent several weeks studying Greek and Roman mythology. At the end of the project, we each had to create a myth of our own. As a self-proclaimed “creative writer”, I was delighted with the assignment. I spent several days considering options, and finally settled on a story about a family of giants who used to live in New York State. The details have been erased from my memory, and I destroyed the paper soon after writing it – for reasons that will become apparent – but the highlights involve the death of the giant baby, the parents dying from grief, and the fall of their bodies creating what we now call the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. The water feeding these rivers came from the parents’ tears. I spent a lot of time on this assignment, and I was proud of the final product as I turned it in.
When the teacher returned our graded papers, I was stunned – not only because she had given me an “F”, which would have been enough shock for an “A” student who loved English, but because of the note she had written on it. She said that the previous year a student had submitted a myth very similar to mine – therefore I must have cheated and she graded me accordingly. No questions. No benefit of the doubt for previous work. No investigation. Just her summary dismissal.
I remember how devastated I was by the false accusation. The humiliation. The sense of betrayal. The lack of opportunity to defend myself. The injustice.
My feelings from this small event – that changed my attitude toward this teacher, but not my whole life – all came rushing back today, forty-plus years later, as I watched the following video.
It’s from a celebration, of sorts, for nineteen people who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit, but through The Innocence Project and DNA testing, have finally been exonerated.
As you watch it, I hope you’ll feel compassion for these individuals whose lives were derailed. And I hope you’ll understand that, in many cases, innocent people are tried and convicted with false or flimsy evidence simply because we clamor to put someone – anyone – in jail when a heinous crime is committed.
We are all responsible.