I live in the state that imprisons a greater portion of its Black population than any other. One in 36 Black people are in prison. 42% of the prison population is Black, vs 6% of the population. Louisiana imprisons a greater portion of its overall population. 20% of all prisoners in the world are imprisoned in the US, while the US has 4% of the world’s population ([CNN].
Why am I telling you this in (ostensibly) a bicycling blog? Jarrett Adams was just featured in the Wisconsin Book Festival. Adams went to a party in a University of Wisconsin dorm during the summer after high school graduation. He had driven up from Chicago with two friends. At the party he smoked weed and had sex. A month later he was arrested for rape. He was convicted and sentenced to 28 years. One of his co-defendants was able to afford a lawyer. It was clear that no rape had occurred. The judge declared a mistrial. His charges were dropped. Adams and the third defendant were retried on lesser charges and convicted. Their defense was a “non-defense”. The public defenders thought the prosecution story was so full of holes that the jury would dismiss it out of hand; that, or they were too lazy or busy to do their jobs. They presented no witnesses, no defense, no summation. His co-defendant got 20 years. Jarrett got more because the judge overheard a conversation he had with his mother and aunt after his conviction. The judge didn’t think he showed the proper remorse.
Adams became known as a jailhouse lawyer. The other inmates called him “Li’l Johnnie Cochran-looking Mofo with the Glasses”. He helped other prisoners during disciplinary actions. As a result of his success rate, he was charged with inciting to riot and sentenced to 360 days in segregation. He was sent to the infamous Supermax prison in Boscobel WI. [The Supermax was built for the “worst of the worst”. All cells were segregation cells. The prisoners remained in their cells for 23+ hours/day with no human contact. Lights were never turned off. Heating, cooling, and ventilation were minimal. This is where they sent the guy who killed Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous mass murderer/cannibal of Milwaukee.] That was only one of his two stays there. The other was for allegedly conspiring to smuggle drugs into the prison. Both were trumped-up charges relying on “confidential informants”. No evidence was ever provided. The second stint was while his appeal was in the US District 7 Court of Appeals. He was actually in the Supermax when he learned that he’d won his appeal and would be released, exonerated of all charges. He was freed with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a project of the University of Wisconsin Law School. While they primarily take cases based on DNA evidence, his case was compelling enough that they made an exception. He served ten years for a crime he did not commit.
After release, Adams tried to build a life. He entered a program for ex-cons to help them get back on their feet. He was dismissed from the program because he wasn’t an ex-con. While he served ten years, the record showed he had been convicted of no crime. If he were guilty, he could get help. Innocent, he was on his own. Catch-22.
Adams did put his life together. He entered community college, then a university, and eventually graduated from law school. He served in a clerkship in the US 7th District Court of Appeals, the same court that freed him. He studied abroad in Italy, China, and Great Britain. He is now licensed to practice before the bar in Wisconsin as well as other states. He works to free others who have been imprisoned unjustly.
I will admit I cried while I read this book. I was angry. I felt things I didn’t want to feel. I highly recommend “Redeeming Justice“, by Jarrett Adams (2021, Convergent Books).
I started the week with a ride in shorts. I suspect it was the last warm day of the year. I ended the week in below freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, and 15-20 mph winds.