Friday, January 12, 2007

Darryl Hunt Free!

Tonight I had the opportunity to see an excellent film which tells a tragic but ultimately triumphant tale: The Trials of Darryl Hunt. It is the true story of a man wrongly accused, convicted, and sentenced for the murder and rape of a woman in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The woman was white, Darryl Hunt is black.

The incident took place in 1984, and it wasn't until 2003 that Darryl Hunt was finally released from prison, after numerous trials, appeals, and hearings.

In 2004, even the U.S. Supreme Court denied Darryl Hunt a last chance to have a new trial. But where the legal system failed, faith and science working together brought Darryl's freedom. Faith, of course, because of the firm and unwavering belief of Darryl and his supporters that he was innocent and he was right, and that the truth would prevail. Science because it was the emergence of DNA testing technology which was able to finally exonerate Darryl.

Darryl's faith and commitment was so strong that after serving five years, in 1989, he was offered a plea deal before the start of his second trial that he would be released on time served if he pled to a lesser murder charge. Despite the fact that Darryl could walk out free, the fact that he would have to admit commiting a crime which he did not do was against his conscience and self-integrity.

There are so many stories of wrongfully convicted or imprisoned persons finding and gaining their freedom: Ruben Carter, Nelson Mandela, and so many others that we hear about. There are fictional tales too such as Shawshank Redemption or The Count of Monte Cristo.

It may appear that after a while, you may feel that you have heard this story many times, and the tale of the wrongfully imprisoned would not affect you.

But I can tell you that this story, as I am sure all of these similar stories, will leave you heartbroken and thrilled no matter how many times you have heard a story such as this.

The combination of racism, corruption, negligence, and criminal conduct by the police and District Attorney's office created a personal hell for Darryl which through his faith he was able to survive.

There seems to be something about someone who is wrongfully imprisoned and seeks his freedom which seems to talk to me, and many folks I would think. Maybe because such a person evokes sympathy and is an example of injustice clearly defined. Maybe it is because we see an innocent person suffer unnecessarily, and we identify with him especially if he is also good and decent. Or maybe it is because we ourselves find ourselves in circumstances that we cannot necessarily control or change, circumstances that we think may be limiting, restricting, or even imprisoning, and we don't see how we will emerge from it. And we see the story of someone like Darryl Hunt, and how he maintained his faith while acting to win his freedom, and we are inspired and humbled that we too should persevere and have faith.

In the film, Darryl's strongest advocate, Larry Little, who had organized the Black Panther Party in North Carolina in his earlier days, says the struggle is akin to man trying to move a mountain with a shovel. It is an impossible task, but to not make the effort in light of the circumstances would drive you crazy. So you fight, not knowing if you will win, but so you can have your sanity, your dignity, your sense of meaning in this world. That is all.

I remember reading the Alice Walker book, Possessing the Secret of Joy, many years ago after I got out of college. It is a book dealing with genital mutilation in Africa, and at the end of the book, when the protagonist faces the firing squad, the message is laid out before her in a banner unfurled which reads, RESISTANCE IS THE SECRET OF JOY!.

Well, I think I have spoiled enough plots and endings for one post. I want to encourage people to learn about different organizations fighting for wrongfully convicted persons. Some of them are listed at the film's website. These include:

North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence
The Innocence Project
Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama
Truth in Justice
The Center on Wrongful Convictions
The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice
Southern Center for Human Rights


Another dimension to the issues surrounding prisons deal with how certain counties and districts use prison populations in their census to qualify for funding, social services, political representation via redistricting, and many other resources while the prisoners themselves see no fruits from this practice. In fact, prisoners cannot even vote. One cannot think of the Constitution's original sin of acceding to slavery in exchange of counting slaves as 3/5ths of a person for census enumeration, thus allowing slaveholding states to benefit from the slave population both in their labor and their physical presence, while providing them no rights or liberties.

An excellent website and group addressing this is Prisoners of the Census.

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