by Travis Smith, CFRE
—Director of Development & Gift Planning
Imagine being 22-years-old and spending the next 24 years in prison for crimes you did not commit. Then, finally, the state recognizes that they locked up the wrong guy, and you are exonerated and released into a fast-paced, technology-crazed society that resembles very little of the life you once had. Now, imagine that while trying to reintegrate into an almost unrecognizable society, you have to also figure out how to survive with no money, no driver’s license, no car, no health care, and no job prospects. This is the reality that Willie T. Donald has lived since his exoneration in 2016.
“Exonerees are innocent victims. They were plucked out of society and punished for someone else’s crime(s). They have no social security, no benefits, no access to health care or mental health providers, financial insecurity, lack of skills, etc.”
Shortly after his release, Mr. Donald met Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson, an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Purdue University Northwest, passionate about inspiring change in the criminal justice system. Through the partnership, the two worked together to ensure others facing the same situation will have the resources and support they need by starting the Willie T. Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition.
“Exonerees are innocent victims, says Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson, president of the Willie T. Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition. “They were plucked out of society and punished for someone else’s crime. They have no social security, no benefits, no access to health care or mental health providers, financial insecurity, lack of skills, etc. One day they are set “free,” but they soon learn freedom is never free. They face many hurdles and no one is there to help them. Guilty inmates have parole officers helping them with re-entry issues, but the reality for innocent inmates is there are no reintegration programs to assist them. This is why I created this coalition. The state “kicks them in the pants on their way out the door.” Adding insult to this injury is that they don’t even get an “I’m sorry we locked up the wrong person!” We are better than this. Together, we can make a difference.”
The coalition’s mission is to support those who have been–or will be— wrongfully convicted. To learn more about Dr. Jackson’s work and Willie T. Donald’s story, please visit The Willie T. Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition.