Today is National Superhero Day. It’s also the opening weekend of Avengers: Infinity War, a movie filled with comic book superheroes. Don’t get me wrong. I love Marvel movies. I own most of them so I can watch them whenever I want. And while it’s fun to watch fictional superheroes and wish Wakanda was a real place, I believe real superheroes live and work among us.
More than 2,200 people have been exonerated from U.S. prisons for crimes they didn’t commit. Most of them get no support from the state that wrongfully convicted them. Even after such injustice, they show us the grace of forgiveness. Against tremendous odds, they pick up the broken threads of their lives and weave a new life for themselves and their loved ones.
Obie Anthony, one of the few exonerees to win civil cases with large compensation awards, founded Exonerated Nation. His organization helps California exonerees with essentials like temporary housing, clothing, and healthcare. With a part of his compensation award, Jeffrey Deskovic set up a foundation in his name to help exonerate innocent people still imprisoned and advocate for changes in our criminal justice system. Gloria Killian’s Action Committee for Women in Prison provides care packages for women in California prisons and advocates for change in the treatment of women in prisons throughout the country. Ginny Lefever, after nearly 22 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, returned to her Ohio home and completed her advanced nursing degree. She is currently conducting research on post-traumatic distress disorder among exonerees. Christopher Scott joined forces with other Texas exonerees to found House of Renewed Hope, which investigates wrongful conviction cases. Sabrina Butler-Smith shares the harrowing story of her wrongful conviction and death sentence with young women in high school who are at risk of making regretful and potentially irreversible life choices. As the first female death row exoneree, Sabrina also speaks out against the death penalty.
There are many exoneree superheroes and John Thompson will be remembered as one of the most effective and beloved. He founded Life After Exoneration after his exoneration and release from Louisiana’s infamous Angola state penitentiary. He was on death row for over 14 years after being set up by a corrupt prosecutor in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office who withheld exculpatory DNA evidence in John’s case. A jury of John’s peers awarded him $14 million, one million dollars for every year he spent on death row. An appellate court upheld the verdict and the award, but the DA couldn’t allow John even this small victory after such great injustice and appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of the Court that overturned the verdict and the award is a short and unbelievable opinion written by Justice Thomas. I predict history will look upon it as the Dred Scott decision of our generation. In the face of this additional and unnecessary injustice, John continued to work tirelessly to help other exonerees and advocate for reform of the criminal justice system, until his untimely death.
So, while we munch popcorn and guzzle sodas watching superhero movies, I hope we remember and thank the real-life superheroes who live and work among us, whoever they may be.
Nikki Pope, President
The Pruno Fund