TABLE OF CONTENTS
FREEING THE INNOCENT
How We Did It
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................................... 9
ON THE OUTSIDE
FAMILY COMMITMENT ...........................................................................................................................11
HOW AND WHERE WE STARTED ...........................................................................................................11
GATHERING EVIDENCE ...........................................................................................................................12
BOARD OF HEALTH ..................................................................................................................................15
FORENSIC LABS AND ARCHIVES ..........................................................................................................15
LAW LIBRARIES ........................................................................................................................................16
PRO-BONO HELP ........................................................................................................................................18
BEWARE OF SHYSTERS ...........................................................................................................................19
EXPERTS FOR ANALYSIS OF EVIDENCE AND TRIAL TESTIMONY ...............................................20
WRITING A CASE STUDY ........................................................................................................................24
LETTERS TO JUDGES, DA‘S, GOVERNOR, AG…E-MAILS, PHONE CALLS AND FAXES .............25
FACE TO FACE WITH THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY ..............................................................................26
DEVELOPING MAILING LISTS OF SUPPORTERS ................................................................................27
PREPARING FOR LETTER CAMPAIGNS ................................................................................................27
EMOTIONAL, SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL SUPPORT.........................................................................30
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF/TAKING CARE OF THEM ..................................................................31
VICTIM‘S FAMILY .....................................................................................................................................32
GRACE UNDER FIRE .................................................................................................................................33
ON THE INSIDE
ENTERING PRISON ....................................................................................................................................35
TO PROCLAIM INNOCENCE OR NOT ....................................................................................................35
HOW TO DEAL WITH THREATS BY GUARDS AND FELLOW PRISONERS ....................................36
SEX, MASTURBATION, HOMOSEXUALITY AND RAPE .....................................................................37
MAKING FRIENDS OR NOT .....................................................................................................................39
LIVING WITHOUT VIOLENCE .................................................................................................................42
UNAVOIDABLE VIOLENCE .....................................................................................................................44
GAMBLING, SPORTS AND TELEVISION ...............................................................................................44
WEIGHTLIFTING AND EXERCISE ..........................................................................................................45
PROTECTING YOUR BELONGINGS........................................................................................................46
WHAT JOBS TO SEEK AND WHY ...........................................................................................................47
HEALTH CARE ...........................................................................................................................................47
RELIGION AND OUTSIDE PROGRAMS ..................................................................................................48
READING MATERIAL ...............................................................................................................................49
TREATMENT AND EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS .................................................................................50
MONEY AND THE CANTEEN ..................................................................................................................52
THE TELEPHONE .......................................................................................................................................54
CELLS, CELLBLOCKS AND DORMS ......................................................................................................56
STRIP SEARCHES .......................................................................................................................................59
PUNITIVE SEGREGATION ........................................................................................................................60
RULES, THE CHANGING RULES .............................................................................................................61
GETTING COMFORTABLE--DON‘T DO IT! ...........................................................................................62
FIGHTING THE SYSTEM AND WINNING
LEGAL RESEARCH AND PROCESS ........................................................................................................64
JAILHOUSE LAWYERS .............................................................................................................................65
DNA EVIDENCE .........................................................................................................................................66
BEYOND DNA: HELPING THE INNOCENT ............................................................................................67
ADMITTING WHEN TO STOP AND REGROUP .....................................................................................68
OPTIONS WHEN THE SYSTEM FAILS ....................................................................................................69
AMENDING SENTENCING LAWS ...........................................................................................................73
WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN ................................................................................................................74
ESCAPE...A VIABLE OPTION? .................................................................................................................74
GETTING DOWN TO THE WIRE ..............................................................................................................76
CHOOSING YOUR NEGOTIATOR ...........................................................................................................77
NEGOTIATING YOUR RELEASE .............................................................................................................77
COMING HOME ..........................................................................................................................................78
LEGAL RESEARCH ....................................................................................................................................81
FREEING THE INNOCENT
How We Did It
by Donald Connery
Author and leading authority on ―wrong man‖ cases.
This book is a first. Nothing like it has ever been written before. And it is desperately
For the wrongfully convicted men and women in America‘s prisons, this is a guide for
survival and a road map to freedom. Their numbers--in the many thousands--are far, far
greater than the law admits or the public knows or the media reports.
This is also a how-to book for family members, friends and supporters who face the
monumental task of rescuing the innocent. They need to know what to do. Above all, like
their loved ones behind bars, they need hope. This book offers hope.
Freeing the Innocent adds something new and different to the literature on "wrong man"
calamities: a sensible, step-by-step manual for turning tragedy into triumph. The very
existence of this work may speed the day when only the guilty and never the innocent are
put behind prison walls in America. The triumph of the human spirit shining in these
pages will inspire the activists, academics, writers and principled legal professionals who
are dedicated to reforming our nation‘s criminally unjust criminal justice system.
This book is unique because it flows from the extraordinary experience and
accomplishments of Michael and Becky Pardue. In the mid-1980s, they took on their own
Mission Impossible. No other married couple--one inside, the other outside--has ever
worked so long, so intelligently and so untiringly to undermine an erroneous conviction
and expose the state‘s misconduct.
The unjust imprisonment of Michael Pardue--lasting more than a quarter century, more
than 10,000 days--was particularly grotesque and unconscionable. Except for the racial
issues that so visibly infest law enforcement, the 1973-2001 Pardue case incorporated
virtually every element of wrongful conviction horror stories: everything from police
perjury and concealed or manufactured evidence to the lies of jailhouse snitches and the
refusal of police, prosecutors and judges to acknowledge the existence of proof of
At age 17, Mike Pardue was a lost soul. He was a school dropout living on scraps. His
family had been destroyed when his father killed his mother the year before and was sent
to prison. Though he had a gentle nature to go with his slight physique, the boy‘s
occasional delinquent behavior had brought him to the attention of police. Thus he
became a convenient suspect in the separate shotgun slayings of two filling station
attendants in the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama on May 22, 1973. Yes, that long ago: the
time of Nixon, Watergate, Patty Hearst and the Vietnam War.
In their rush to solve the highly publicized crimes that had alarmed the community, the
police ignored strong leads to the two actual killers. Though not a speck of valid
corroborating evidence or reliable eyewitness testimony connected the teenager to the
crimes, he was subjected to a four-day interrogation. Locked in a police station, deprived
of legal counsel, he finally succumbed to the marathon of physical and psychological
intimidation. He confessed to the killings—never mind that his admissions were contrary
to the forensic facts. When the cops found a decomposed body in the nearby woods,
possibly but not certainly a homicide victim, he was forced into a third false confession to
help them close the case.
Mike‘s quick farce of a trial lasted less than two hours. He had an attorney, only recently
a prosecutor, ―whose representation was worse than no representation at all‖ according to
a court ruling decades later. Sped off to prison as a confessed and convicted serial killer,
he seemed doomed to die behind bars, perhaps sooner than later. Alabama‘s lockups in
the 1970s were notoriously violent and he was the youngest inmate in the worst
penitentiary of all.
He survived. To ward off predators, he pretended to be the crazed and dangerous triple
murderer of the headlines. In his early years as a convict he twice briefly and
nonviolently escaped. Then, as if taking the very advice he offers here, Michael Pardue
settled down to become a model inmate. He worked and studied. He kept to himself. He
avoided trouble. As the years rolled by, he read a mountain of books. He was the quiet
man in a caged world of noise and menace. Like the innocent hero of The Shawshank
Rebellion, he used his wits to keep himself sane and whole as he clung to a faint hope
that somehow, some day, the truth would set him free.
Then Becky entered his life in 1983. She liked the sketches he mailed for her T-shirt
business in Mobile. They corresponded, met and fell in love. They had a small window of
opportunity for parole. When a cruel bureaucratic decree slammed that window shut in
1987, Mike‘s frustration led him to make ―the biggest mistake of my life.‖ He escaped
for a third time, again briefly and nonviolently, by driving away from a prison ranch.
That rash act earned him a draconian life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence
under Alabama‘s ―three strikes‖ habitual offender act.
Mike and Becky were trapped in a nightmare. Short of execution, his penalty for fleeing
the prisons where he did not belong was as severe as it could be. Proving his actual
innocence of the original crimes would demonstrate the breathtaking unfairness of it all,
but that seemed a hopeless task. What they could try to do, despite their scant knowledge
and meager resources, was to use the legal system to challenge the shady and illegal
means employed by the state to win its prosecutions back in 1973. If they could find a
path through the maze of Alabama‘s lower and higher courts and finally overturn all three
murder convictions, the way would be clear to challenge the die-in-prison punishment for
escapes. Mike and Becky sealed their commitment to each other and their cause by
marrying in 1988.
Remarkably, they managed in just six years to erase all the murder convictions, one by
one. But then the authorities in 1995 chose to validate the mistakes of their predecessors
by going to trial on one of the old homicides. Relying again on the bogus confessions,
this time misleading the jury with a long-hidden partial tape of the interrogation, the
prosecutors won a new guilty verdict. That too had to be struck down by a higher court
before the Pardues could begin their campaign against the escape convictions.
More time went by but they prevailed. This book tells how they did it and how the
lessons they learned can help others. Their own struggle over 18 years might have led to
liberty much earlier if they had known then what they know now about the law, how to
use it, how to research and investigate, how to interest the media, and how to recruit a
small army of supporters.
Becky tells here of that heart-pounding February day in 2001 when she finally was able
to bring Mike back into the sunshine of the free world. Actually, the sun was setting
when they arrived for the press conference and party at a motel near the last prison he
will ever know. What I remember best is the way they clung to each other, as if defying
the devil himself to pull them apart. Becky was aflame with joy while Michael,
remarkably poised, told the media that you never stop fighting for a righteous cause.
―Persistence, persistence, persistence,‖ he said, is the key to victory.
I find it hard to imagine another couple anywhere more deserving of peace and quiet and
the greatest possible distance from the dark heart of the criminal justice system. Alabama
owes them the stolen years when they were kept apart. But their battle gave them a
university course about miscarriages of justice. They came to know of other men and
women enduring the living hell of wrongful incarceration. Even before winning their own
freedom, Becky spoke up for the falsely convicted on radio and television shows and at
conferences of experts--once sharing a platform with top authorities on false confessions,
another time joining such luminaries as Arthur Miller, William Styron and Mike Wallace
for a forum at the New York Academy of Sciences.
Their decision to write this book was prompted by the appeals for help that have come to
them even as they enjoy a honeymoon that will never stop. I learned long ago, after
producing such books as Guilty Until Proven Innocent and Convicting the Innocent, that
no one can be identified as an advocate for justice and not be swamped with letters and
calls asking for assistance in long-standing or brand-new cases of wrongful
Because a single case can tax the resources of even the few organizations that exist to
help the system‘s victims, the Pardues, morally incapable of averting their eyes from
tragedy, made the wise decision to respond to appeals with a handbook of practical
knowledge. This is it, and its appearance could not be more timely.
Why? Because a revolution of awareness about the nature and extent of miscarriages of
justice has been underway since 1987, the very year of the third failed escape that set
Mike and Becky on their long march to justice. Professors Hugo Adam Bedau and
Michael Radelet published their landmark Stanford Law Review study documenting the
ordeal of hundreds of Americans ―wrongly convicted of crimes punishable by death,‖ just
the tip of the iceberg of erroneous imprisonments nationwide.
(If there are some two million annual convictions for the most serious crimes, it only
takes a two percent or five percent error rate to incarcerate 40,000 or 100,000 people for
things they did not do. I once believed that such figures could not be so. Not in America.
After more than a quarter century studying the vast imperfections of the justice system, I
now think they are too conservative.)
The Bedau/Radelet book on their findings, In Spite of Innocence, paved the way for such
works as Presumed Guilty, Convicted But Innocent, A Promise of Justice and Actual
Innocence. Like many law journal studies, they highlight and dissect the reasons for
unjust convictions. Now, in the new century, even within law enforcement, there is
finally a widespread recognition of junk science, eyewitness mistakes, interrogation-room
abuses, sloppy police work, overzealous or corrupt prosecutors, and lazy or incompetent
defense attorneys. The advent of DNA testing, with a hundred innocents already
exonerated, has made it impossible for anyone to deny the realities of a system rife with
In this book, the Pardues have much to say about the quality of Alabama justice but I can
testify that it is just as bad in Illinois, Virginia, Texas, Florida, Connecticut and elsewhere
in the land. Everywhere, the daily and often dangerous work of dealing with the guilty
has hardened lawmen to the plight of those who may be falsely accused.
In every state there are people in power, their youthful idealism long gone, who simply
do not care about truth and justice. (In a famous Alabama case the prosecutor agreed that
the man on death row was innocent but said his duty was to uphold the integrity of the
jury‘s guilty verdict.) A few in the law are evil; they will knowingly put a blameless
person behind prison walls or try to keep him there to avoid embarrassment or further
But then there are the honorable few who are outraged by injustice.
As Mike and Becky tell us in these pages, their struggle was largely a search for the truly
honest and fair-minded professionals in law enforcement. They found some, and that
made all the difference. Because there are indeed good people in the system who will do
the right thing, readers who act on the advice offered in this book will find that their own
quest for justice, if they persist despite all setbacks, will not be in vain.
―May God have mercy on your soul.‖ These were the judge‘s words as he sentenced me
to spend the rest of my life in prison. I was 32 years old, had been incarcerated for the
last 15 years and was now facing a long and slow death behind bars. This was bad
enough, but the worst was that I was wholly innocent of the crimes for which I had been
convicted in 1973. I was standing before the judge for having briefly escaped from a
place where I should have never been. My punishment was a living death sentence, life
without the possibility of parole. I would live only to die in prison.
My name is Michael Pardue. I am free today because my wife Becky and I refused to
accept what was unacceptable. We dared to fight the State of Alabama‘s actions in my
wrongful prosecution. We fought the ambitions of the politically driven prosecutors. We
fought the indifference of a tormenting and slow judicial system. We fought and we won.
It was long and it was hard. Having little knowledge and paltry financial resources, we
drew our strength and determination from knowing we were right and clinging to the
American premise that truth and justice prevail in this country. There was nothing easy
about rendering the state‘s numerous convictions--three false capital murders and various
valid escape charges, null and void. We struggled year after year through sheer will and
refusal to give up. We learned as we went and made more than our share of mistakes. But
in the end, we prevailed.
Our successful battle was fought on many fronts, inside and outside of prison. We fought
in courtrooms. We fought on TV, radio, newspapers, and on the streets. We won because
we worked as a unit, refusing to consider the possibility of losing. Together, we took on
district attorneys from across the state, the attorney general and judges who were
convinced of my guilt. In the beginning, we floundered; we made plenty of mistakes,
mistakes that cost us years of our life. But we learned as we went. We became smarter
and stronger as the years progressed. In the end, it was no longer Michael and Becky
Pardue against the world. We had learned how to muster every possible resource and we
did so effectively. We learned to act smart, to always do the right thing and to keep our
spirit true to our mission. We are proudly free today as a result.
Since our ―liberation day‖ on February 15, 2001 we have been inundated with pleas for
help on behalf of victims of miscarriages of justice. Your sons, daughters, fathers,
mothers, relatives and friends are imprisoned unjustly. You are in the same position we
were in when we had no idea where to begin or where to turn. We understand the nature
of your desperation. We have been there. And we fought our way out. We know what it
took to free us from an incomprehensible perversion of our criminal justice system. It is
our most sincere desire to help others caught up in similar tragedies. Because our time
and resources are limited, we cannot accept individual cases, although each one cries out
for someone to take on the arduous task of correcting a terrible wrong. After much
thought and discussion, we realized what you need to know is much the same as what we
learned and did. So, why not tell you How We Did It.
We‘re going to tell you. This book is a collaboration between us, Michael and Becky
Pardue, each describing in our own words what it took, what we‘ve learned and how we
mustered the resources and maintained our strength and heart through it all.
We want you to avoid our mistakes and save yourself added years of incarceration. We
talk as honestly about our errors and wrong turns as we do our successes. In some cases,
our failures are more important than our victories. We speak openly about them all.
As a 17-year-old thrust into Alabama‘s worst prisons, I quickly learned that survival was
based on how you conduct yourself and with whom you associate. Living in an
atmosphere where irrationality and extreme violence are the norm, you do what you must
to make it. Some make it far easier than others. As candidly as possible, I explain how I
made it and offer advice to the new or seasoned inmate trying to survive a place where no
rational human should be forced to exist.
I speak at length about the appeals process, how to study case law, what to look for, and
how to (and how NOT to) address the courts. I lay out specific, step-by-step guidelines to
follow when you are ready to proceed with your appeal.
I, Becky, tell how I gathered case evidence, found witnesses, brought Michael‘s case to
the attention of the national and foreign media, and recruited an army of supporters. I
speak of my own emotional and financial survival, learning whom to trust and the
importance of maintaining a satisfactory quality of life on the outside while engaged in a
battle of such intensity. I talk about my struggle to find a balance with daily survival and
tell how to insure that you as the outside family member maintain your strength and
It is our intention to lay out, as clearly and honestly as possible, a precise course of
action. Our methods may not be the most conventional and they may not work for
everyone. But they worked for us and because there is a cry for help which we cannot
ignore, we have written this ―How We Did It‖ handbook.
When you read this book you will never think about the criminal justice system in the
same way again. If you have never fought ―the system,‖ what you will learn in this book
will shock you. For example, in order to secure a conviction, prosecutors will conceal
evidence that could prove your innocence; prosecutors will allow jailhouse informants to
lie; police investigators will beat defendants into a false confession; police will lie at trial;
police will manufacture evidence against you; and prosecutors will twist the truth until it
is not the truth at all. You can be convicted on false evidence and judges will allow it and
cooperate with prosecutors to insure a conviction. It happens in courtrooms and police
stations all over this country on a daily basis. We all read about it in the newspapers, but
do we give it a second thought? We do if it happens to us. Well, it did happen to us and
we will explain how the state officers knowingly convicted an innocent teenager, kept
him imprisoned for more than a quarter century, and how we overcame them.
ON THE OUTSIDE
I have been asked many times how I was able to fight for 18 years and not give up. I can
only say this: second to my unwavering love for Michael was my absolute certainty of his
innocence. And I have a firm trust in the power of the truth. Had our battle not been a
righteous one, if I had had any nagging doubts about the case, I could not have kept it up.
But I did not have a trace of a misgiving about Michael‘s innocence. The truth was on our
side. When you believe in them, love and truth are a powerful combination.
Given that I was heart and soul deep in the most critical episode of my life, I would
never let the notion of giving up enter my mind. It was as if the very idea was the
plague. It occurred to me that even a casual thought of giving up might open a tear in my
confidence and become so devastating that I might actually give up. I could not afford the
risk, so I never gave the possibility of giving up a life of its own. Again and again, I
reminded myself that we lived in America, and this nightmare was contrary to everything
our country stood for. It sounds naïve and overly idealistic, but it is my truth. It worked
for me. I could not, would not give up. I was prepared to die fighting if that‘s what it took
and that was that.
HOW AND WHERE WE STARTED
You have to start somewhere. In the beginning, we had no hope of overturning Michael‘s
three wrongful murder convictions; that would be mission impossible. We were,
however, naïve enough to believe that parole was a possibility for us. Despite our best
efforts, one event after another proved that Michael would never be paroled. It was the
spring of 1987 after he and I had been together for almost 4 years, when we lost all heart
and hope for release. This loss of hope was destroying us. Michael escaped. I was
drowning in fear and anxiety. Our own attorney told me that police were threatening to
kill Michael rather than bringing him in alive.
A reprieve came when Michael‘s Aunt Joyce called and told me she had ―things‖ that I
needed to see. I was in such a state that even a small distraction was welcomed. At his
grandmother‘s home we began pulling out old newspaper articles from 1973. I needed no
persuasion of Michael‘s innocence. I knew he was no murderer. But when I left
―Granny‘s‖ place I was armed not only with a few tattered newspapers but also with a
new sense of direction. Michael had to be vindicated from these illegal convictions. Dan
Rather was describing my husband on the national news as a vicious triple killer, armed,
dangerous and on the run. Something had to be done. If Michael survived, our future was
clear: we would fight and fight like hell for the truth. Truth and justice mattered and we
would prove it.
We adopted two clichés that could not have been more appropriate. Leave no stone
unturned and fear nothing. We had to get our hands on everything pertaining to the
case. Our position was simple: the truth was on our side; anything we found would
support Michael‘s innocence. We were afraid of nothing. Even when we were faced with
what many called an extremely incriminating ―confession‖ tape, we were solid in our
attitude toward it. Bring it on! As it turns out, this tape is the single most exculpatory
piece of evidence in the case. It clearly illustrates Michael‘s lack of knowledge of the
crimes, his state of confusion during the 78+ hour interrogation period, and the tactics the
police employed to pin these crimes on the most convenient suspect. Every piece of
evidence we found helped us piece together this incredible story. We went after evidence
like a starving dog after a bone. If it was out there, we had to have it.
We searched for years. Like us, you will not get everything in a day or a week. Again like
us, you may never get everything. Police destroy things. They admit it. It may take years
to get a specific piece of evidence. Do not give up. If you believe something exists, stay
after it until it is yours.
I searched for a single document for over three years. Michael had an alibi proving he
was not at the murder scene of Ronald Rider; police had suppressed it in 1973. But
because he knew it existed, it had to be found. Yes, Michael had been out making
mischief the night of the murders, but he was not a murderer. What he had done was steal
two used tires out of the back of a pickup truck, then take the truck. He was trying his
adolescent best to impress and win the favors of a girl who was known for her
promiscuity. She was also a police informant who would be pivotal in Michael‘s being
convicted. He got the pickup stuck in a sand bed, abandoned the truck and stole a red
Volkswagen Beetle to get back home. The theft of the red VW occurred at precisely the
time that Ronald Rider was murdered. It was no coincidence that the police did not
charge Michael with the theft of the VW but did charge him with two separate counts of
felony theft for two used tires. The report of the theft of a VW had ―inexplicably‖
vanished from all records because it was the alibi that would destroy the state‘s case. I
was fortunate enough to find an old high school friend who worked for the city. He was
in a position to call for a search of old records and he did. The report of the stolen VW
was underneath piles of dusty boxes in a storage warehouse. The report and alibi were
As I compiled more and more documents, the truth became apparent. Once the police had
wrung a confession out of Michael in 1973, they set about creating a case that would fit
it. Because this ―confession‖ contradicted so many of the facts in the case, they had to
withhold critical documents such as death certificates and autopsy and forensic reports.
They had to concoct a cause of death that would match the weapon Michael came up
with. They cleaned a rusty shotgun and presented it in court as the recently fired murder
weapon. It is as outrageous as it sounds. They were able to get away with it because
Michael‘s appointed attorney, at the very least, did not care.
So while evidence gathering is slow and difficult, it is absolutely imperative. It is a
tedious process, but as you collect information and the pieces of the puzzle start fitting
together, as unknowns suddenly become apparent, there is a wondrous feeling in seeing
the truth illuminated. While you are in the process of gathering information, spend your
time studying and making notes from the documents you have already gotten. Take time
to study and think about what you have, what it means and what you need. A simple
piece of paper may seem irrelevant today, but tomorrow, when matched up with another
piece of information, it could be the very thing that makes your case. Be a fearless, smart
and relentless hunter.
A last word about your initial search for evidence. Do not form an opinion early in your
investigation. What you find may not be what it appears. Stay open minded.
So where in the world do you start? Well, you have to start somewhere and I suggest you
begin with the local newspaper. Newspapers carry an enormous amount of information.
Most cities have an archive for their old newspapers. In Mobile, it is controlled by the
public library. Call the newspaper where the crimes were committed and/or where the
trial was held and find out where their papers are archived. In the Mobile library archives
I began with the papers published immediately after the crimes were committed and
painstakingly read every paper from that date through the days after the trial. I copied
every article that mentioned the case.
Here it is worth mentioning the importance of organizing your evidence from the very
beginning. It will save you a great deal of grief later. Buy notebooks, binders, folders and
labels. Make a place for every single piece of paper, label it and keep it there. Organize!
Whatever you find, label it, copy it and file it. Get organized and stay organized.
In the newspapers covering the 1973 case, we found more evidence of prosecutorial
misconduct than we had ever imagined. Among other things, we learned that an
eyewitness existed who had seen the actual murderers of Ronald Rider flee the scene.
The paper reported that an APB was issued on the two men fleeing in a white compact
car bearing Baldwin County plates. Here was an eyewitness! My excitement soared when
I first read this. There he is, a man whose testimony conceivably could vindicate Michael
once and for all. Then the reality that the police knew this all along and had withheld this
critical witness poured over me.
This was the moment when I realized there had been an intentional effort on the part of
police and prosecutors to convict an innocent teenager. For the first time, I felt fear. The
police had effectively concealed this critical information, either by hiding it or destroying
it. To this day, we have been unable to get the name of this eyewitness. Learning this, my
anger followed fear and my personal battle was kicked up several notches. The
prosecution and conviction of Michael Pardue was more than a wrongful conviction. It
was knowingly treacherous and illegal.
Later, as we gathered more and more evidence the truth slowly came to light. Knowledge
is power. We had to know everything and so will you. Dig for it and do not take no for an
After my trips to the local newspapers and archives, I went to the county courthouses.
Most records of official actions are public. We have every right to them. There will be
copying fees. Be sure to get a receipt. One of our receipts turned out be one of those
―inconsequential‖ pieces of paper I spoke about earlier. I had gotten a copy of the 1973
trial transcript in 1988. I got the receipt from the clerk and filed it away. Some years later
when all records were subpoenaed, the state claimed that all records pertaining to the
Michael Pardue case from 1973 had been destroyed in 1979 by Hurricane Frederick. The
receipt I saved proved that I had gotten these records in 1988, nine years after they
claimed they were destroyed.
At the courthouse, copy the entire record, every shred of paper. The documents you
should look for include:
Warrants for arrest
Crime scene photos
Note all officers involved and all references to other officers.
Get all similar records for any co-defendants.
Get all similar records for anyone turning state‘s evidence, jailhouse informants, etc.
You will find clerks in the various courthouses who are very helpful and other clerks who
will look at you as if you were Satan‘s sister. Don‘t give the latter a second thought. You
are there to collect information; what they think about you is of no consequence. If you
find a clerk who is uncooperative, ask for her supervisor. In circuit court, the Clerk of the
Circuit Court will be the boss. She is an elected officer of the court and will generally be
as politically correct as possible. Ask for her assistance. Chances are you will get what
you need if they have it.
In other cases, you may be talking with clerks of the Court of Criminal Appeals or your
state‘s Supreme Court. I came to be on a friendly first name basis with a number of
higher court clerks.
It is incumbent upon you to be polite and professional at all times. You are in a high
stress situation but you must never lose your temper. Remember, every time you
represent yourself in your case, you are representing the one who is imprisoned. You
MUST build credibility and respect at every turn. If you are short tempered and hot
headed, your attitude will be a serious deterrent to getting what you want. If you are less
than professional in your actions, you will lose credibility that is critical to your success.
No matter what is said to you, at all times carry yourself with the utmost dignity.
BOARD OF HEALTH
If a death was involved in your case, visit the Board of Health in the county where the
death occurred for the death certificate. Death certificates contain Cause of Death
information, date of death, the name of the doctor who performed the autopsy, and other
valuable information. If police and prosecutors have been less than honest in your case,
death certificates are sometimes concealed. Get your hands on them and study them word
for word. In one of our cases, a death certificate showed a different cause of death than
the police claimed. In another, the cause of death, which was supposed to have been
homicide, was ―Unknown.‖ This is critical information to say the least.
If you are in a different county than where the death occurred, call them. You may be
able to get the certificates through the mail. There is generally a small fee. Make sure
your copy is certified.
FORENSIC LABS AND ARCHIVES
Call your county coroner‘s office. Ask where older autopsy and forensic reports for the
state are stored. They will give you a telephone number if the records are not stored at
their facility. Call and ask what is necessary to obtain all records concerning a particular
case. Generally the case information is filed under the victim‘s name, date of death (if a
death was involved) and/or a case number. Ask for certified copies. There is usually a
small fee involved.
Again, be organized with your data. Once you receive certified copies, always make
copies with which to work and refer. Store the originals.
You may need to spend time in a law library. It is not the familiar public library. It might
seem intimidating at first; don‘t worry about it. It‘s just a room full of books, so get
comfortable. Most courthouses have a law library that is open to the public. Any college
campus with a law school and many without a law school will have a law library. Some
libraries will have a helpful clerk; if you are lucky they‘ll assist and guide you. Usually
you are on your own. Go. Hang out pulling and perusing books. At first, nothing makes
much sense, but then you will find something of interest and read about it. It will
reference another volume or case law. You will learn how to follow up on the same issue
in different books. You will learn how to use the indexes published in separate volumes
that will direct you to various citations. Before you know it, you are in the midst of law
research. It is a fascinating process. Learn to do it; if you are lucky, you will learn to like
it. No hired hand will ever have the interest and tenacity that you will when it comes to
your own life and liberty.
Again, you will need as much help as you can get. There are more organizations and
groups committed to recognizing, publicizing and rectifying false convictions than you
may realize. Finding one or more that will help you is the challenge. In the beginning, it
seemed as if Michael and I were alone against the world. We did not know a single
resource for assisting us in solving our problems. In general, we found that we had two
major barriers to getting assistance: Michael was not on death row and Michael was not
in a racial minority. There are a number of agencies specifically working against the
death penalty and for minorities. NAACP is a start if you are an African-American.
Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL will generally talk with you if you are
a minority and/or on death row.
If you are facing neither an execution nor are you a minority, there is still an abundance
of resources. Years ago, the Internet was not the giant it is today. Now it is full of help,
information and support. If you are not already, GET ONLINE. Listed below are sites
that can be helpful in varying ways and degrees. Each has a short description from our
own experience, but check them all out personally. You never know when you may be
introduced to the one link that may turn out to be your liberator.
The Internet is also a source for gaining attention and gathering support for your own
campaign. You will become part of a network of ―champions,‖ all with similar problems
and goals. The understanding and support you can get from others in like situations is
invaluable. You are not alone in your plight. Many will share their stories, resources and
an all-important sympathetic ―ear‖ if you need.
CONSTRUCT A WEBSITE. Most Internet services provide space for a home page.
Home page construction has become almost second hand now. You should have no
trouble finding someone to build a site for you. Your own Internet provider can direct
you to someone who can construct a site or you may want to do it yourself. The ―…… for
Dummies‖ books has one on website construction. There are hundreds of folks out there
willing to construct a site for pay or for free. The truth is that it is not as hard as you
might think. You may be able to do it on your own and it is critical to get your story in
this public arena.
Here are only some of the many Online Resource sites dealing with justice issues.
Death Row Sites:
http://ethics.acusd.edu/death_penalty.html – Death Penalty Opponents
http://www.smu.edu/~deathpen/ - Death Penalty News and Updates
http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish/dpus.html – Amnesty International
http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/factsheets/index.html – Campaign To End The Death Penalty Fact Sheets
http://www.aclu.org/death-penalty/banner.html – ACLU and Death Penalty
http://www.supremecourtus.gov/ - Supreme Court of the United States
http://www.fbi.gov/ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
http://ad.doubleclick.net/clk;1688415;4669019;t – Alabama Legal Court Forms
http://home.earthlink.net/~bigcarl1/help.htm – Basic Legal Information For The Public
http://agencies.state.al.us/pardons/rules.html – Rules, Regulations and Procedures of Parole
Other helpful Sites:
http://hometown.aol.com/marielong/ibf.html – International Bannister Foundation
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/14/politics/14COMM.html – New York Times Online
http://www.prisonactivists.org/pc/links.html – Prison Information and Links
http://www.hrw.org/prisons/ - Human Rights Watch: Prisons
http://www.crosswinds.net/~informapauperis/hammes.html – Trails: Why Plea Bargains are Forced
http://www.curenational.org/ - Organization for Families of Prisoners
http://laws.lp.findlaw.com/us/000/00-492.html – Case Law Research on Detainer
http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/fairtrial/fairtria.htm – Amnesty International: Fair Trials Manual
http://www.access-to-justice.org/ - Access to Justice
http://www.november.org/wall.html – Women Imprisoned for Drug Convictions: A Growing Epidemic
http://www.nolo.com/category/crim_home.html?t=0030LFNAV03202000 – Legal Information and Forms
http://www.adfs.state.al.us/index.htm – Alabama Dept. of Forensic Sciences
http://www.wrongfuldeathinstitute.com/ - Institute For Forensic Sciences
http://www.justicedenied.org/innocent.htm - Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted
http://www.splcenter.org – Southern Poverty Law Center
http://www.nacdl.org – National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
http://www.truthinjustice.org – Truth in Justice
http://www.innocenceproject.org – Innocence Project
http://www.law.northwestern.edu/depts/clinic/wrongful – Center on Wrongful Convictions
If you visit no other, you must see the site for the Center on Wrongful Convictions. There
is abundance of information there and numerous links to sites that might be invaluable to
There are many others sites. Just get out in the web and search. It worked miracles for us.
Whether it is forensic and autopsy studies, ballistic tests, tape analysis, or other
investigative work, you may be fortunate enough to locate someone willing to work pro
bono (for no money). Again, the Internet is a wonderful resource for information and
resources. Get out in cyberspace and seek, study and learn. Post questions and requests
for specific help on bulletin boards. Do not be general; ask specific questions. Talk over
your case in chat rooms. The Yellow Pages is a great source as well. Find listings of folks
you think may be able to help; call them. Tell them what you need. If they are not the
one, maybe they can recommend someone. Just make time and do it.
Michael talks at length about court appointed and pro bono legal assistance. I will not go
much into it here, but believe me, you will have to have help. When you receive a letter
that you have court appointed counsel, call them at once. Make an appointment, arm
yourself with your case information and go see them. Do not let an uninformed attorney
blow your case to hell and back. It happens. Make sure they know you, know your issues
and know that you are actively involved in the case and are available to help in any way
necessary. Insist that any attorney (appointed or hired) must do what you need and what
you ask of them. Never forget that they work for you, not the state! If they refuse to
do as you ask, go to the judge and the State Bar Association and report them!
You will come to a point when only a good private investigator can get a specific job
done. Our time came when the 1973 co-defendant who turned state‘s evidence to free
herself and help convict Michael had to be found. She had been in and out of prisons
across the country but we did not have a clue where she might be at that time. I hired a
P.I. who thought he could find her for us. He was perfectly clear about his charges and
how he would proceed. He worked three days and came back with good and bad news.
He had sound information on our informant: she was in Utah or Oregon. He wanted to go
find her. It was a long shot and it could have been a waste of the several thousand dollars
it took to run her down. As it turned out, he never saw her face to face but found where
she was living, currently abscond from a parole violation from Oregon. He delivered her
address and telephone number to us.
I wrote and asked her to call me. She did. The first conversation caught me off guard; my
tape recorder was not in place. I feigned being sick and asked if she could call back the
next night. She agreed and the tape recorder was set up when the telephone rang. We
talked at length and she admitted that she had committed perjury in 1973. She told me
what had happened on the night in question. She admitted lying to save herself. Later,
this tape was invaluable in discrediting her when the police sought to use her again.
In this case, paying a detective to locate this woman paid off. In general, I suggest that
you be cautious when hiring a P.I. They can be extremely expensive and too often
produce few or no results. Do not pay an investigator who will not give you a detailed
documentation of what was done on your behalf; that is, where he went, with whom he
spoke, how long it took, etc. I will talk more about this later.
About tape recording conversations: In the wake of Linda Tripp, there has been a rush to
tighten laws on recording telephone conversations. Be mindful of the laws in your area. I
learned that I could record my conversations with ease and without legal complications. I
recorded many of my conversations and some of this information turned out to be
invaluable as the case progressed. These tapes may not be legal as a court exhibit, and
that is okay. Their value may be found in another area beside the courtroom.
Buy a small tape recorder with a microphone slot. Radio Shack sells an inexpensive
gadget that plugs into the recorder and attaches to the telephone. Tape your
conversations, label with a name and date, and file the tapes in a safe place. If certain
tapes might prove critical to your case, make copies and put them away.
BEWARE OF SHYSTERS
Because you are in a vulnerable state, you are the perfect prey for those with less than
honorable intentions. Beware of anyone who claims he can free your loved one for such
and such amount of money. Run from anyone guaranteeing you results.
In our case, I was naïve, hoping for a miracle and twice became a victim of deceit. The
first time, I simply gave and gave money for no services at all. I was desperate and
honestly did not know better at the time. We were in the midst of a trial and I was told
that for another $2,500 a critical new witness could be located and delivered to testify. I
made the mistake of telling an investigator that I had just mortgaged my home. He
jumped on this faster than I could figure out my monthly payments. Needless to say,
there was no new witness. Moreover, there is never a refund.
A second time we were scammed when an investigator told me that that he had been the
driving force behind the release of the wrongly incarcerated Walter McMillian.
McMillian had spent eight years on Alabama‘s death row before being exonerated and
freed. After paying this detective a sum of money with no results, we learned that he had
nothing to do with McMillian‘s freedom.
If anyone claiming to be a professional, including policemen, prosecutors and
investigators, tells you that he can help you free someone from prison or has freed
someone from prison, demand names and telephone numbers of references and call
them. Ask very specific questions and do not be afraid to talk about the amount of money
being required from you. Get verification of the claims this person is making, get a clear
understanding of what he is planning to do, and get a timetable under which he will do it.
Be aware! Be actively involved. Do not be so desperate that you become a victim
EXPERTS FOR ANALYSIS OF EVIDENCE AND TRIAL TESTIMONY
There may come a time when you will need serious professional help. There are certain
things you know but the courts will only hear an expert on the issue. Expert witnesses are
usually expensive. Sometimes in capital cases, if you are indigent the court will pay for
expert witnesses. Don‘t count on it.
Your own county coroner can be an ally. But remember, your county coroner is a state
employee. He works for the very entity you are challenging. If he is willing to look at
your case, whatever he discovers, he is bound to turn it over to the prosecution. In our
case, we had no fear because we were so sure of our facts. If you are completely
confident in your facts, make an appointment and present a concise and compelling case
to him. You never know, he may be one of the good guys.
Again, the Internet is a treasure trove of information. We needed a forensic tape expert. I
searched on ―forensics‖ on the Internet, wandered across a bulletin board and posted a
―Help‖ message. In the simplest terms, I explained that we had a confession tape that had
to be analyzed. Within hours, I had a response from an expert in the field of tape analysis.
We were able to work together to a positive end. It took getting a court order to force the
state to turn over the original tape, but we did it and it was well worth the effort. Our tape
analyst is James Griffin who lives in Jackson, Mississippi. His work is top notch.
Another time, we had an autopsy report detailing the fatal wound of one of the victims. It
was clear that the wound was not created with the type weapon and ammunition that the
police had said. On another forensic bulletin board, I posted the autopsy details and
police theory. In only a couple of days I received one of the most telling pieces of
information we have yet to uncover in our case. Not only did this unknown forensic
pathologist point us to the explanation of the unique wound-pattern--that is, the type of
ammunition that could produce such a pattern--but his explanation verified our theory as
to the actual murderers of this victim. These men did, in fact, have access to this unique
ammunition in 1973 and they were armed and dangerous.
There is no faster way to spread information about your case than though the media.
However, it can be your greatest ally or worst enemy, and you have no control over
which they will turn out to be. In our case, the media began with portraying Michael as
the police and prosecutors wished, as a cold-blooded killer. In 1973, the press was much
as it is today. They write and print what they know. If the police have their ear, they write
what the police say. If you have their ear, your position will have a place in the story.
Otherwise, it does not. You cannot afford pro-prosecution stories time after time.
The main problem is breaking beyond that media wall that is one day impenetrable and
the next day knocking at your door. As we desperately vied for media attention, we were
consistently told that our story ―wasn‘t news.‖ They were not interested in another
―wrong man‖ story and we simply could get no attention. I spoke earlier of the
importance of expanding your circle of friends and influence. Our ―media break‖ came
when a friend and supporter contacted an acquaintance of his at People magazine. It was
not an easy sell, but after some months of repeated requests, they agreed to do a story. By
this time the murder convictions had been dropped, Michael was imprisoned for escaping
from an illegal incarceration, and this gave them a unique angle. People wrote a very
strong story in our favor and it opened the floodgates. We were invited to do the Leeza
Show and Catherine Crier Live. One story and appearance led to another. I was returning
from speaking at a conference in New York when I glanced at a copy of The New York
Times in the Atlanta airport. Michael‘s picture was on the front page. Again, the story
was harshly critical of Alabama‘s position and strongly in our favor.
When I got home our answer machine was full. We had requests from every major TV
news show including 60 Minutes, 20/20 and Dateline. We decided to give the story to
Dateline when they agreed to give us a full hour. Stone Phillips himself came to Alabama
and talked with Michael in prison and me at home. His staff was down here nearly a
month. We were extremely encouraged. Here is the final word about the media: you have
no control over how your story will be portrayed. We had given Dateline enough
ammunition against the State of Alabama to slam them to hell and back for criminal
misconduct in the course of Michael‘s prosecution. Dateline did not have the guts to air
it. They took a straight middle-of-the-road approach. It didn‘t hurt, but it didn‘t help.
Given another chance, we would not do it. At least, not with Dateline. It was not worth it.
As you can see, we know from experience (and familiarity with other injustices) that the
nation‘s biggest newspapers and top television newsmagazines are all too likely to ―wimp
out‖ when reporting miscarriages of justice. Admittedly, there are some cases that are too
ambiguous for reporters, editors and producers to be certain in their own minds that a
wrongful conviction has occurred. There may be a persuasive eyewitness or a history of
criminal behavior to offset the very strong arguments for an inmate‘s innocence.
However, in situations when it is overwhelmingly clear that the accused had nothing
whatsoever to do with the crime, and when official wrongdoing is blatant, we believe it is
the responsibility of journalists to stand up for justice.
Specifically, we believe that the most influential media organizations, if they decide to
investigate an apparent injustice in the first place because of its fascinating story
elements, should dig deeply into any case that smells of official wrongdoing and screams
for correction. They should not succumb to the state‘s usual excuse that ―the jury had all
the facts and made a just decision‖ when they know how often jurors are denied all the
facts or are hoodwinked by fraudulent evidence and arguments.
Journalists should be outraged by injustice--outraged enough to really go to work. They
should be brave enough to thoroughly expose a wrong-man case for all the world to see.
As we write these words, CBS has just broadcast a powerful 60 Minutes report by Mike
Wallace about how the FBI, from J. Edgar Hoover at headquarters in Washington right
down to his agents in Boston, knowingly imprisoned an innocent man, Joseph Salvati, and
deliberately kept him in prison for 30 years--all to protect a violent criminal who had
turned informant, and to avoid exposure of their own corrupt actions.
Sadly, this kind of fearless reporting is the exception. All too often, as with the Dateline,
American Justice and New York Times stories on our own case, the media will focus on
dramatic elements (such as Mike‘s escapes), do some superficial digging for fresh
information, conduct a variety of interviews, and then be satisfied with a ―balanced‖ story
that presents ―both sides‖--defense and prosecution. They leave it to the reader or the
viewer to decide whether the main character is guilty or innocent.
This is cowardly because every journalist with experience in crime reporting knows that
law enforcement not only makes mistakes but will go far to cover up mistakes. The
public does not have the resources that major media have to carry out in-depth
investigations. People rely on journalists to get to the bottom-line truth about things.
Superficial reporting of an innocent prisoner‘s predicament is a kind of betrayal.
So what can you do? First, recognize that your chance of getting the attention of major
media is slim, and that even attracting such attention may not lead to a strong assertion of
your innocence. Second, understand that you have greater opportunities with your local
or statewide newspapers and radio and TV outlets. You may get better coverage that can
translate into valuable public support. These journalists are always looking for a good
story. Write or call them. Run down your story, send them a case study and see if they are
interested. Follow it up; you have nothing to lose except a telephone call and if you do
get a story, you will have hundreds of thousands more people knowing about another
I recommend rag sheets because the folks that read these get extremely irate over
injustice issues. If you do get a story, ask the writer to put an opinion poll in the article
asking readers to write to the magazine expressing their opinion. If you have done your
job and the story is a heavy injustice tale, people will write by the hundreds. The
magazine will likely give you the letters. Add them to your mailing lists. Later you will
write each one of these good people asking them to sign petitions and write more letters.
Below, I‘ll explain how to get the most out of a letter writing campaign. This level of
media coverage paid off more than all the others combined because we got hundreds of
people personally involved in our cause.
Every major city has radio talk shows. David Underhill is our man in Mobile. I sent him a
case study. He was more than happy to have me at the station talking about the case or
calling in from home. Never underestimate the power of local coverage. Every little bit
helps and you never know who might be listening.
At very least, get to know your local reporters. Call them, take them to lunch, give them a
case study, tell them what‘s going on in your case and let them know that you will keep
them posted of any developments. At least your side of the story will have a chance.
It was nearly ten years into our battle. We were winning but the sluggishness of the
process was killing us. We were tired and wondering if this would ever come to a
successful end. Our cases were before the Alabama Supreme Court. The wait seemed
endless as I drove the 602-mile round trip to see My Mike each week at St. Clair prison.
The drive took me through Montgomery. I knew our appeals sat on the desks of the
clerks and judges only miles away. I ached to run to them, shake them and yell in their
faces about justice and the insanity of Michael‘s continuing incarceration. It went without
saying that I could not get in the faces of the Supreme Court--or could I?
I had the billboard erected over the busiest highway in town. Tens of thousands of people
viewed it daily. Response was almost immediate. Letters and telephones calls from
Montgomery began to pour in. People called out of curiosity; people called because they
knew someone wrongfully convicted; people called who knew Michael and wanted to
help. When The Associated Press sent the story nationwide, the entire impact was kicked
up many notches. Folks from around the country called with questions and support.
The cost was around $2,000 in all. The billboard remained up slightly over a month and
touched many, many people. Up until this point, we had little general support. This
seemed to blow up the floodgates of attention. It was another charge to the credit card,
but it was effective and well worth every penny.
WRITING A CASE STUDY
Once you have collected as much evidence as you can for the moment (it is an ongoing
process), and you have a strong feel and understanding of the case, write it all down in a
presentable format. Whether it is 5 pages or 50 pages long (or 200 as ours was), you will
need to write a case study. You can talk yourself blue in the face about the righteousness
of your case and you will do that time and again, but there will be important people with
whom you cannot talk directly. This is when you need to present your case in a form as
concise and compelling as possible.
If you have collected the pertinent case evidence that we‘ve discussed earlier, forensic
reports, trial transcripts, defendant statements, and you‘ve read and studied them, then
you probably know more about the case at this point than anyone else. When I set about
writing our case study, I quit my job and worked full time until it was complete. Our case
was so complicated that it took this level of concentration and uninterrupted time to do it
right. This sort of intense work is rarely necessary and the financial repercussions on our
end are still being felt. You do not have to strive for a Pulitzer-winning story, just write
what you know. Make it truthful and as unemotional as possible. It is imperative that you
be truthful at all times. Resist any temptation to exaggerate. You have a loved one who is
wrongly imprisoned. That‘s bad enough and you cannot afford to put your credibility in
Lay out what actually happened in the course of the crimes, insofar as you know it.
Explain how your loved one got involved and why the police focused their attention on
him. If you know how police and prosecutors went about winning this wrongful
conviction, lay it out. Prosecutorial misconduct is a common ingredient in bad
convictions. If you know it, write it. Your story does not have to be long but it should
answer any question a newcomer to the case might have. Include a picture or two of the
incarcerated. Present it in a binder of some sort and make sure your personal information,
name, address, telephone number, e-mail and website are included.
You decide who needs a copy. Certainly, key supporters, serious journalists and legal
professionals who might offer assistance. If I had to do it again, I would give fewer out
and be more selective to whom they went. I gave copies to the governor‘s legal advisor,
attorney general, his assistant, to the head of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, FBI,
to three separate district attorneys, and on and on. We were naïve enough to think that
―officials‖ learning the truth would come rushing to our aid. Not a chance. But there will
be many who are genuinely interested in the truth. You will generate a list of good guys
as you go.
LETTERS TO JUDGES, DA’S, GOVERNOR, AG…E-MAILS, PHONE CALLS
Public pressure. It is more powerful than you might think. The day Michael was released
the district attorney made this public statement: ―It is not in the interest of the State of
Alabama to appear to be persecuting a man for crimes which he cannot be convicted
of.‖ This was the state‘s official position. They have yet to admit that Michael was
wrongfully convicted and illegally imprisoned for most of his life, but they did make the
decision to let him go home. And in the end, there is no doubt about it: the decision to
release Michael after fighting us for so many years was the result of public disapproval of
the state‘s actions against Michael and tremendous pressure to end it.
After our release, we ran across the State of Alabama‘s statistical information web page.
Of particular interest was this: the Attorney General‘s office receives more than 15,000
letters each year. The office received letters concerning many different issues. The topics
that elicited the most letters were:
1. Former Governor Guy Hunt‘s Pardon
2. Tobacco Litigation
3. Michael Pardue’s Imprisonment
4. Judge Ira DeMent‘s School Prayer Ruling
5. Tort Reform
6. Barnes and Noble Indictment
We were thrilled with the #3 spot in this category!
Garnering enough support to generate thousands of letters, faxes, and telephone calls is a
tough thing. It takes time and perseverance. I will tell you how I did it.
FACE TO FACE WITH THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Facing your foes is one of those things we were compelled to do, but never expected any
real result, so we were not disappointed when there was none. You will feel compelled as
well. The district attorney prosecuting you may not even see you. If you are granted an
appointment, do not expect him to change his mind about anything. In the course of our
battle, I sat down with several prosecutors. In one instance, I merely wanted the DA to
withdraw his protest of Michael being transferred to a less restrictive institution. He met
with me and was fairly reasonable (we were not debating the merits of the convictions,
only the transfer) and although he made us jump through a series of unnecessary hoops,
he did not protest our transfer request when it next came up. Incidentally, the DOC
denied the transfer although their original denial was because of the DA‘s protest. After
we overcame that protest, they came up with another reason.
A side note about the prison institution: The Department of Corrections is as corrupt as
the rest. They will set up goals and make promises based on your performance. When it is
time for them to live up to a promise, they will change the rules or simply refuse without
explanation. You as a family member of the incarcerated will be treated with absolute
disregard and indignation. They have the power and they use it to their sadistic
advantage. Dr. Marian Shinbaum, Head of Classification for Alabama‘s DOC, once told
me, ―The Department of Corrections exists solely to confine and punish. Why do you
expect more?‖ To confine and punish….and that is exactly what they do. You will learn
as we did not to expect anything else.
Before the Leeza Show appearance, District Attorney David Whetstone would have no
part of meeting with us. During the taping of the show, an audience member blasted
Whetstone for refusing to meet with me to review our evidence. On national TV, he
promised to do so. Once we were back in Alabama, I found myself in his office along
with three of his associates. He introduced them quickly. I believe they were in
investigations and maybe forensics; it was a nerve-racking moment and I just do not
remember. I was armed to the hilt with evidence that should have convinced anyone of
Michael‘s innocence. After presenting some of our strongest points and having him
respond to each with a completely inane and indifferent explanation, I knew it was
pointless. He later wrote a letter saying he and I simply did not see the evidence through
the same eyes. He was right about that. He is blind.
A third meeting occurred between me and our attorney, Barry Johnson, and then-
Governor Guy Hunt‘s top legal advisors. We presented our case as clearly as we knew
how and it was obvious that our story had an impact on the governor‘s staff. We left the
meeting extremely encouraged. Several weeks later we received a letter from his legal
department saying that because our cause was under current litigation (appeal); the
governor had no grounds to intervene. That was that.
You may feel compelled to meet your adversaries, as we were. If they will see you, meet
with them. Do not expect any change in their attitude. Remember, this is all about politics
and politicians never admit a mistake. Our only benefit from these meetings was in
knowing our enemy better. You might find this helpful too.
DEVELOPING MAILING LISTS OF SUPPORTERS
I designed and printed petition forms that looked something like this:
WE THE UNDERSIGNED PROTEST THE CONTINUING IMPRISONMENT OF MICHAEL PARDUE
Signature Printed Name Address City, State Zip
As time went by and our story became known, there were more invitations to speak at
wrongful imprisonment and anti-capital punishment forums. These are the best
opportunities to collect signatures on petitions because the people attending are already
on your side. You do not have to sell; just put a petition down and it fills up. When I
spoke in Connecticut, then later in Chicago, I brought hundreds of pre-printed petitions.
At the bottom of each petition it said, ―Please Return to Becky Pardue, P.O. Box 5457,
Mobile, AL 36605.‖ I asked everyone I talked with to take petitions with them and
collect as many signatures as possible.
Over the months, thousands of names and addresses poured in. We collected signatures
from work (with some repercussions, so be careful here), from neighbors, friends and
from friends of friends. We set up a stand at the flea market and outside grocery stores.
When talking to people who do not know about your case, have your short informational
flyer in hand. In our case we showed the People magazine article. Some folks will take
the information and petition. A few petitions may get back to you. Every signature is
important. Each signature had a printed name and address for legibility. I collected boxes
and boxes of petitions. As time permitted, I put every name in a mailing list program on
the computer. As more signatures came in, they were added to the list in alphabetical
order to avoid multiple mailings.
PREPARING FOR LETTER CAMPAIGNS
A serious letter campaign is an expensive project but it is well worth the effort, time and
expense. I learned the importance of setting a goal. Otherwise, you are simply mailing as
many letters as you can. That is not good enough. You want to be as efficient and as
effective as possible. You cannot afford to waste either time or money. Let me tell you
what I did wrong and what I did right.
In the beginning, I simply wrote letters myself. Letters to the governor, to the attorney
general, to Pardons and Parole, to judges, to everyone I could think of. They were sincere
and passionate letters and they were ignored. Then I got a small group of a dozen or so
friends and family to write; their letters were largely ignored. After that, I began to
collect signatures. The small group turned into several hundred. The National Examiner
published a story about our case. Following this well-written and strongly supportive
article, they asked for letters from their readers expressing their opinion as to whether or
not Michael Pardue should be released. The Examiner was going to forward these letters
to Alabama‘s governor. I knew the article and poll was about to be published. I wrote a
letter to each of the several hundred people on our mailing list, including close friends
and family. I asked them to respond to the article so the governor would receive plenty of
letters. Instead of sending all the letters to the governor, the Examiner sent the letters they
received to me. There were several hundred letters from strangers who were outraged
over Michael‘s continuing imprisonment. They blasted the governor and the Mobile
district attorney for everything they were worth. They were a treat to read and gave me a
real boost. Every name and address was added to our supporter‘s list.
However, I was deeply disappointed to find only four people from all my personal
requests had bothered to write to the Examiner. I had to give a good amount of thought to
this before this lesson was learned: you have to make it easy. Do not ask for too much
time and effort, even from friends and family.
The next time I wanted to do a full-fledged effective mailing campaign, this is what I did:
I set a goal of getting one thousand letters on each desk of the attorney general, governor,
the DA in question and the judge. I had over two thousand names and addresses on our
supporters‘ list and I figured we could count on at least 50% of them, considering the
way I would present it. That would give us our 1,000. I went to the local office supply
store and bought packages of Avery mailing labels for 10,000 envelopes, and 8,000 white
legal size envelopes and 2,000 manila envelopes. I bought several cases of paper and
10,000 stamps. (Thank God for MasterCard.)
At home, I wrote two different letters each to the governor, to the AG, to the judge and
DA. One letter started, ―Dear Attorney General, I am a citizen of Alabama and active
voter.‖ The other letter began, ―Dear Attorney General, I am a voting citizen and active in
local politics.‖ Each letter then explained how disturbed they were over the continuing
imprisonment of Michael Pardue. Each letter demanded Michael‘s release. The letter
ended with a ___________________________ for the writer‘s signature and address.
In short, I sent every supporter a manila envelope containing separate letters to the four
politicians, addressed and stamped envelopes, and with letter of explanation. All they had
to do was sign the letters and drop them in the mail. They did. As far as I can tell, we
exceeded our goal of 1,000 letters of protests on each desk. In addition, I made copies of
the petitions and copies of the letters received from The Examiner and sent them in
separate envelopes to all four. I spread out the mailings over a several month period.
After months of this intense letter campaign the DA in question told one of our attorneys,
―The letters, the letters, can you do anything to stop the Goddamned letters!‖
It was expensive and time consuming, but there is no doubt that our mission was
There are two different types of demonstrations: one where no one shows up and one
where plenty of folks show up. We‘ve had both. Preparation and help are the keys. It was
the anniversary of Michael‘s 25th year of wrongful imprisonment and I was determined to
make a passionate statement to try to draw attention to our plight. I was strongly advised
against handcuffing myself to the capitol steps. Pitching a tent across the street from the
governor‘s mansion and fasting until Michael was released was also a bad idea. We could
not rally people to drive 180 miles to carry signs at the state capitol, so we ended up
having a press conference on the capitol steps. One of our attorneys spoke, a friend and
advocate for justice spoke and I spoke. We had a large poster of Michael behind the
speakers. No one was there but the media (who we had called) and that was enough. It
was televised and many thousands of people became more acquainted with our name and
battle. No viewer knew no one was there but us.
Our second demonstration was in the midst of the final negotiations to free us. By this
time we had our army in place and had planned an assault on the establishment from
several fronts. The district attorney in Mobile County had just defied the Alabama
Supreme Court by refusing to drop one of the escape charges that had been ruled illegal.
It would cost us several more months behind bars. This DA‘s arrogance and obstinance
caused him and his staff a good amount of distress that September day. We had arranged
for people from across this country and from France and Germany to call and fax the
DA‘s office non-stop all day. Faxes and calls were coordinated to tie up their telephones
and faxes completely. At mid-day demonstrators gathered at the government plaza, which
houses the DA‘s office, the courthouse and most all county business. We had large signs
and leaflets, which we handed to the hundreds of curious passersby who were out during
their lunch break. We had called every TV station in town and cameras were everywhere.
Our demonstration was the top news on the evening and the following morning news on
every station in town. We got several large full color photos in the press the following
day. The AP picked up the story and it appeared in major papers across the country.
Supporters who were calling and faxing reported that the machines were indeed tied up
and when they did get someone on the telephone their exasperation was wonderfully
apparent. One friend called the DA‘s office and was told that their entire staff was
sneaking out the back doors to avoid the demonstrators out front. Our point was to show
one arrogant DA that he was not above the law. We have no doubt that our message was
heard loud and clear.
You have to have money and your own salary can be quickly consumed if you are not
careful. I mortgaged our home twice and exhausted every credit card. Today we are over
$90,000 in debt. It was late in battle when I thought of fund raising. Near irreparable
financial damage had already occurred. Do not be too proud to ask for money. There are
a number of ways to raise funds. Create a legal defense fund, set up a bank account and
keep legal money separate from your personal finances. On your website include a plea
for funds. On your informational leaflets include a request for legal funds. Only when
absolutely necessary send a letter to everyone on your supporter‘s list explaining why
funds are critically needed. Use this money carefully and keep all receipts.
It is more complicated to set up a non-profit organization so that donations are tax-
deductible. We never did this, but it is worth looking into if you are going to be
aggressive about fund raising.
EMOTIONAL, SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL SUPPORT
In the beginning, I kept our struggle to myself. I shared my situation and problems with
only a select few friends. I kept everything from my family, co-workers and friends. I
was afraid of disapproval and ridicule. I lived in a vacuum and it was terrible. I could not
believe that anyone would understand my situation or much less be supportive. When our
story came out in a two-part series in the local paper and our picture blazed in full color
on the front page, there was no more hiding the fact that I was embroiled with The State
of Alabama and I was on the side of a convicted murderer. The unexpected happened. I
received a flood of telephone calls from friends. The general conversation went, ―Why
didn‘t you tell me before now. I want to help. What can I do?‖ Family came to my side
with praise and encouragement that I never imagined was possible but always desperately
needed. I was no longer alone and everything changed. My whole perspective about what
I was doing was transformed. Within days, I felt as if we were part of an army and a
winnable fight was now on!
I suggest that you be completely open about your relationship with the convicted and
know in your heart of hearts that you are doing what is right. The people in your life who
love you and those who trust your judgment will rally around you.
Be warned that there will be a few who think you have lost your mind. They will either
withdraw from you or may be bold enough to say what I heard once: ―Michael is never
getting out. You are wasting your life.‖ This was my last contact with this old friend. I
found that coming out with our battle over Michael‘s wrongful imprisonment was the
best measuring stick I had to learn who were my true friends. I learned that I had many
strong and wonderful friends. I gladly culled the ones who could not see that our fight
You will need all the emotional support you can get. Sometimes you will need to simply
cry and your friends will cry along with you, help wipe your tears and get you back in the
saddle. Cherish your allies. If ―friends‖ tend to sway, drain, or distract you, get away
from them. You do not need them.
You have to expand your circle. One day our friend and attorney Barry Johnson was
reading an article in a legal magazine about Dr. Richard Ofshe, the country‘s leading
expert in the false confession phenomena. She wrote Dr. Ofshe explaining our situation
and asked for suggestions. He wrote back referring us to Donald Connery, a Connecticut
author and expert on wrongful convictions resulting from false confessions. She called
Mr. Connery who was in the midst of organizing a conference in Hartford on these very
issues. He invited Barry and me not only to the conference but to speak about our case.
Vacation from work had to be arranged and a variety of problems had to be resolved
before we could go. It was well worth the effort. I stood before an auditorium of people
and told our story. There was not a single disbelieving eye in the crowd, neither was there
a dry one. Our army grew with every teardrop.
If you are a member of a church family, confide in them and seek their help. If you find
yourself sitting alone in a pew, you are in the wrong church. If your pastor does not have
the integrity or wisdom to recognize that you are in a ―David v. Goliath‖ life struggle and
he does not offer you whatever spiritual support he possibly can, find another church.
Join civic groups. Become involved in a wider range of activities. You never know who
is a member. Make time. I am a member of the City Pops Band. Among active members
are several attorneys, a former city attorney and a former district attorney and now a
sitting judge, all of whom are my friends.
Once you have a few hard and fast friends who are completely in your corner, ask them
to meet with you once a month (or more when things begin to escalate) to brainstorm,
discuss strategy, write letters, stuff envelopes, discuss holding a fund-raiser. This is a
campaign, you can do it yourself, but not nearly as effectively and the strain of doing it
alone can all but kill you.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF/TAKING CARE OF THEM
(Financial, Emotional and Physical Limitations)
Michael talks a good deal to the inmate about consideration of those on the outside. His
big message is: ―Be considerate. Do not take advantage. Never manipulate.‖ If you have
a loved one living in a cage where life and death are tenuous at best, you want to do
everything possible for him. You want to see him every week; you want to talk with him
every day, send him money, packages and anything else that you can. This is admirable
and I understand completely. I also learned this: you can give too much. You can put
your own interests and life in jeopardy. You must monitor yourself. Are you exhausted,
bankrupt and depressed? There will come a time when you must put yourself first. Back
off and reevaluate. You cannot be a champion if you are weak, tired or dead. I know this
from experience. I knew when I found myself praying to die that I had given too much. I
was no longer functioning at all for myself. I had not had a laugh in months. I was not
going anywhere. I was desperately lonely and there was no hint of real joy or pleasure in
my world. I had it in my head that to have fun was somehow to be against Michael. Since
he could not have fun, neither would I. That was a huge mistake. It could have been fatal.
Make sure you balance your life outside with the battle to free your loved one. You do
not need to be a martyr. It will not help you or the imprisoned. Make time for yourself.
Keep enough money for yourself. Keep friends and interact with them. You must. Both
your lives depend on it.
One of the most powerful allies you can acquire is the crime victim or the victim‘s
family. This one is tough. In our case, three families lost loved ones. I wrote family
members the most sincere and sensitive letter I ever wrote. I expressed our sympathy for
their loss and made it very clear that it was not our intention to aggravate their grief. I
apologized for any pain my letter might cause. The letter did not go into details of the
crimes or the evidence proving Michael‘s innocence. I simply told them that the police
were wrong; Michael was wrongfully convicted and I had more than enough evidence to
prove it. I said that they, above everyone else, deserved to know the truth. I offered to
meet with them and show them everything we had. I told them it was our intention to find
the real perpetrators who caused the loss of their loved one, and maybe with their own
knowledge of the murders we could work together to do so. I gave them my address and
telephone number although I doubted I would receive a sympathetic response; family
members usually accept the official version of a criminal case.
Much to my surprise, the sister of one of the victims called. We arranged a meeting place
and I was excited and scared senseless. It occurred to me that this might be a setup. After
all, I am the wife of the man she believes killed her brother. If revenge was in her heart,
what better way to get back at Michael than to harm me?
It turned out she was as scared as I was. We swallowed our fears and agreed to meet at a
public place convenient to us both. She came into the meeting with the belief that
Michael was completely guilty of the murder of her brother. We progressed very slowly
and went about reviewing the evidence in a calm and methodical way. She began to see
the inconsistencies in the state‘s case. I answered her every question. She began to share
what she knew of her brother‘s killing and her knowledge supported Michael‘s
innocence. As the realization of the truth sank in, tears poured down her face and mine.
After a six-hour meeting, we stood in the parking lot of a Shoney‘s restaurant crying and
embracing. She gave us documents and information that were extremely beneficial to our
case. Later she became one of our most ardent supporters, writing letters and making
appearances supporting Michael‘s release. I came to see her as one of the most
courageous women I have ever known.
This is a long shot and one that can cause turmoil and pain. Be kind and considerate of
their tremendous burden if you choose to contact the victim or their family. It could
easily backfire. In our case, two letters were simply ignored. The third letter brought
more evidence of Michael‘s innocence and a fine friend and champion.
GRACE UNDER FIRE
Earlier I spoke of the importance of establishing credibility and maintaining your
professionalism at all times. This is so important that we are going to talk about it again.
Once Michael was free, there was a common thread of opinion about my role in his
liberation. Friends and foes alike gave me more credit than I deserve. But I do know this;
throughout it all, I never lost my sense of being honest and ethical. At all times, I kept our
credibility in mind and heart. I knew how significant it was. Never forget your pivotal
place in a battle to save a loved one‘s life from a wrongful imprisonment. What you do
and what you say will be closely scrutinized. Do not make a bad name for yourself. Even
if you feel you have the right, never be arrogant, indignant or hard to get along with. Do
not yell or curse those who may deserve it. Your loved one will be judged and treated in
accord with your behavior. Never forget this.
In all honesty, I admit that I have not always maintained control of my emotions. I am not
made of steel; but when I did lose control, it came out in a flurry of tears, and oddly, my
tears evoked sympathy. Sympathy you can live with; indifference or contempt you
Along the same lines, if your husband, son or friend is imprisoned, you will do him no
favor by giving prison officials a hard time. Believe me, you can do your loved one more
harm than you realize. Dept. of Corrections officials have all the power. Without the
slightest notice, your husband can be locked in a solitary cage where he cannot see you or
call you. You and he will be completely out of contact. The fear factor at this point is
enormous. If you have aggravated DOC officials by letters, telephone calls or actions
which lead to punitive isolation for your imprisoned love, what have you accomplished?
You can be your own worst enemy. Do not be. It‘s just not worth it.
I am not a big churchgoer. We sometimes say grace at the table and that is usually on
special occasions. But I will tell you that I prayed a lot in the solitude of my room in the
years of our separation. I talked with God and asked for strength. I asked God to soften
the hearts and open the minds of those we were battling. I asked for wisdom and
guidance. I asked for calm and tolerance. I prayed for grace and lightness of heart. At
times, through a torrent of tears, I asked why we had been abandoned. Even in my
weakest moments, I drew strength from prayer.
When we began to draw support, hundreds prayed as well. They prayed as I did, for
Michael‘s release, for my continuing strength and for those who were opposed to our
freedom. I cannot say for sure why the attorney general changed his mind and supported
Michael‘s release. I do not know why others who were our staunch adversaries wished us
well in our moment of victory. I know that our cause was righteous and if God were just,
He would listen.
I am convinced of the power in prayer. I strongly recommend it.
ON THE INSIDE
Both men and women find themselves victims of false convictions and wrongful
imprisonment. My prison experience is from the male perspective. This does not imply
that women suffer any less than men do from the hands of injustice. These suggestions
are from my firsthand experience. Via the prison grapevine, I have heard that imprisoned
women suffer the same or greater horrors and indignities as men. For the woman who is
innocent and incarcerated the previous section and the legal research sections may assist
you, and some of my advice here might be helpful.
You have been tried, convicted and are waiting to be transferred away from the county
jail. If you are new to the prison scene, then you have a dozen questions racing in your
head. Your emotions run the gamut from anger to fear. Fear is likely to override all other
emotions. Fear is the common thread among all prisoners. Some cover it better than
others do, but everyone facing prison lives with it. Learn to live with it; it could save your
What happens next? More than likely you will be sent to a central classification facility.
Here you will be examined, evaluated and classified. Medical staff will check you for
communicable diseases and other health problems. Psychologically evaluations will be
conducted. From these evaluations recommendations will be made as to which prison you
will initially be sent. Do not expect to be treated like a good boy in this institution or the
next. Expect arrogance and disrespect and do not react to it. Reacting only brings on
more of it.
TO PROCLAIM INNOCENCE OR NOT
This is something you must face now. Prison officials and inmates alike will scoff at your
claims of innocence. In the beginning, your denial of guilt may cause you harassment
from other prisoners and a classification of ―liar‖ from administration. You may be
denied benefits because prison officials want a compliant and remorseful inmate. But
listen carefully. Every time you deny your innocence for convenience sake, it will come
back to haunt you. Your innocence is your truth; cling to it. Judges, prosecutors and the
parole board will review your prison record over and over again. One claim of being
guilty could negate 100 pleas of innocence. For a particularly outrageous example of how
a false statement of guilt can backfire on an innocent prisoner, just look at the snapshot of
New York State‘s John Duval and Betty Tyson cases described in the PAROLE section
of our Part III.
Before I learned better I took the easy way out. Playing the triple killer might have
cloaked me with a measure of safety for a while but, in the end, it cost me dearly. Save
yourself these additional problems and never deny the truth of your innocence.
The food you must eat will be nothing like home. You have now lost all right to decide
what you eat, how it is prepared, portion sizes and how long you have to eat your meal.
For the most part it is edible but that is about all that can be said for prison food. You
must and will learn to eat it; it will keep you alive. In Alabama, most menus are the same,
no fresh vegetables or fruit, no real juices, no real cheese, no dairy products. Mystery
meat is a daily fare. From what I could tell, it is a soybean product that is a meat
substitute. Get used to it. Chicken parts, wings and drumsticks are served on Sundays.
You will find almost everything canned and none it worth speaking of except that it will
keep you alive.
You will also find that there is now a devastating time limit on how long you have to eat.
This actually has an advantage; the faster you learn to eat the less you have to tolerate the
taste or rather the tasteless mess called food. One last note: If you are unfortunate enough
to be assigned a kitchen job, you‘ll see slop cans being used to mix breakfast drinks;
you‘ll see an inmate spit in a pot of food just because he can; you‘ll watch a man scratch
his crotch then mix your beans with the same hand. Hand washing is unheard of. These
are a few of the unsanitary prison kitchen habits you will sadly observe.
HOW TO DEAL WITH THREATS BY GUARDS AND FELLOW PRISONERS
During these three to 12 weeks, your hair will be cut to the scalp. You will live as much
like cattle as humans can be forced to live. The guards at these facilities are usually
arrogant, inexperienced and filled with power they enjoy using. For example: When
asking you to take your clothes off for spraying of a chemical agent to rid you of lice and
crabs, etc., they will use a tone of voice more like the military than a ―correctional‖
officer. And, like the military, they use language usually heard in low-class bars. In short,
you will be yelled at and cursed for no apparent reason.
The inmates who work at this facility will be standing around making sexual comments
with the guards about you and those with you. You are not permitted to respond to such
comments. If the guard notices you have taken offense, they may single you out for more
verbal abuse and even try to provoke you into some action to justify using physical force
against you or to write you up on one of the various types of misconduct reports. In that
event, you will be targeted right from the start as a troublemaker and find yourself in
deeper trouble than when you were herded in. Guards will take a special interest in you
(which you do not want) and, more importantly, your initial classification officer, who
determines where you will be transferred to, will make a bad report that will follow you
to the new prison. In this initial phase, it is better to keep quiet and do as you are told.
Direct inmate threats normally come only if you have done something to provoke it. This
is why you must early on establish your persona. Provocation is very different in prison
than in the free world. What you may know as innocuous behavior may be offensive
inside. Watch where you walk; don‘t bump into anyone; don‘t sit on another‘s bunk;
simply stay in your own small space and keep your mouth shut.
Even when you do mind your own business, there are exceptions from the inmate who
wants to provoke trouble. But remember, that it takes two to fight. If an inmate threatens
you verbally or physically, it is usually best to tell him that you are not interested in
trouble and leave him standing there running his mouth. If he insists, tell him: ―I will be
glad to hand out some of the *&%#%@&* anger I have pent up inside from all the crap I
have faced and if you want to be the one that I blow up on, then by god, come on and
let‘s do it!‖ Say that you look forward to breaking someone‘s face in. Say how tired you
are of hearing all this crap, ―So come on punk, let‘s get down!‖ Something of this nature
often is intimidating enough to run off a would-be troublemaker. Strong words are far
better than a violent confrontation.
Intimidation is preferable to violence. With practice, it can become more effective than
any knife or gun. Always try talking if only to say you want no trouble. Violence hurts
you far more than it will them, because most of them are exactly where they belong,
locked away from society. You are not. Use your head to keep out of more serious
trouble than you already face.
SEX, MASTURBATION, HOMOSEXUALITY AND RAPE
While one‘s sexual preference is supposed to be respected, in prison it is not. If you are
obviously gay, expect to have sexual advances made as crudely as possible with the
underlying threat of rape being very real. Although all sexual activity is against prison
rules, it is largely ignored by the prison officials. Guards will not help much in these
situations as they are seen as ―provoked‖ by virtue of one‘s gay orientation. If you are not
gay, try not to participate in homosexual activities. That is not to say that you should stay
entirely away from those who are involved in these activities. A good portion of the
incarcerated seeks sexual companionship. Many straight men will be tempted to become
involved in such a relationship. Men fall in love with other men while imprisoned. You
may feel very close to another and may be tempted toward a sexual relationship. My
suggestion is that you stay away from it. It leads to no good.
Some convicts will use a sexual indiscretion to blackmail you with guards, friends and
family. Some men are caught in sexual slave-relationships that all too often lead to
violence and sometimes to death. Sexual predators use the showers as shopping malls for
prospective partners, willing or not. These sexual animals like power. When it comes to
one‘s deepest and innermost private self, the sexual self, these animals find great joy in
watching and causing all the pain and trouble they can. The moment one becomes
involved sexually with a fellow inmate, he takes the risk of losing his life.
Most sexual predators do not look like the animals they are. In prison, the sexual predator
has many faces. Some are of the accepted type, using only those who, in a sick way, want
and need to be used and degraded. Others take a great deal of pride in ―turning out‖ a
new sexual toy for everyone to have fun with. I have seen nearly as many younger men
destroyed by sexual urges as drugs. It is the younger ―new meat‖ that the predators focus
the most on.
Over the past five years, however, there is a new breed of younger inmates who thrive on
sexual attacks on older fellow inmates. This is the same horror we see when an elderly
person is sexually attacked in the free world. They attack and destroy the defenseless for
the sheer fun of it. These new predators often run in gangs. Do whatever is necessary to
stay clear of them. You‘ll know them when you see them. Do not be befriended by them;
do not borrow from them; do not associate with them in any way. Identify them and stay
Masturbation is also illegal in prison. This is something everyone knows happens
frequently but it is expected to be done discretely and privately. Again, the younger group
of new inmates has no moral foundation, thus has no shame for their perverted needs and
actions. They often masturbate in public. These gangster criminals act as if masturbation
while in view of a female is acceptable conduct. They have no problem demanding that
you move so they can have a better view of the object they want to masturbate from,
usually a female guard. I have actually seen them ejaculate on a female guard and take
solitary confinement for this act as some sort of sick accomplishment they can brag
about. They call themselves ―gunslingers.‖ I call them sick perverts. Prison is exactly
where they belong. Prison is full of them. It is called ‖gunning down‖ when they
ejaculate in this manner.
Sex in prison is as real as it is in the free world. Wherever there are men or women who
are denied this basic human need, it will not be denied. If your sexual needs and urges
lead you to involve yourself with someone inside a prison, you must accept that with this
relationship comes trouble, pain and possibly death. Remember, when you become close
with other inmates, you become as liable for their actions, current and past, as they are.
Don‘t forget it.
All prisons have rules against any sort of sexual activity. Getting caught means at least a
bad mark on your record and possibly solitary confinement and loss of all privileges.
More importantly, sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV and AIDS, are rampant
in prison. (Not to mention TB and other communicable diseases.) With so much at risk,
do not even be tempted. Prison teaches many things, and the most important one is
awareness. Stay hyperaware all the time and you will avoid many problems.
What do you do when you hear or see a rape in progress? This is as sad as it gets, but
more often than not, it is best to turn your back. Again, I learned from my own mistakes.
My first experience came when I was in the county jail when a man was obviously about
to rape another after he had beaten him nearly unconscious. I decided enough was enough
and ran in to assist the ―victim.‖ The aggressor pulled back and told me if I wanted to die,
just take one more step. I had no doubt that I was about to die and I backed off. Back in
the cell, a man who had been there much longer than I explained that the ―victim‖ had
raped and sexually maimed the nine-year-old niece of the ―attacker.‖ Staying away from
such a situation is about all you can do. There are as many prison rape scenarios as you
can imagine. Many, as in this case, are retaliatory. I do not condone it. I hated it, but
learned that you can easily die in prison trying to help others. I wanted to live and it
sometimes meant turning my back on a devastating occurrence.
You will learn too. And, the call will be yours. There will be plenty of times, as with me,
when you will not hesitate to run to someone‘s aid. I cannot tell you the many times I
have fought for another‘s life. Do not try to be a hero; just be your own man. That‘s all I
can say about that.
MAKING FRIENDS OR NOT
Central receiving facilities are generally overcrowded. If you think the jail was bad,
welcome to the place where ―bad‖ has an all-new horrific definition.
Here are many like you, a first-timer. All are scared and doing all that they can to hide it.
Some will do better than others. There are also those who are seasoned convicts who
come and go with predictable regularity. These guys are easy to spot. The guards and
those hanging around will make familiar conversation with them and will take time to
talk to them and get things for them.
While in jail you will have met several of these repeat offenders. By this time, you will
have watched them enough to think you know whether your personality is compatible
with theirs. Do not be fooled. Be extremely cautious with whom you associate. It is
common for an old convict to take on a completely new face and personality when at a
receiving facility. Some will get vicious and loud and try to provoke trouble all the time.
Others will get sullen, withdrawn and quiet and they may be the most dangerous to you.
This is a foreign world. Your normal instincts will not protect you here.
Normally those who get intensely quiet are those who have had a very hard time in
prison. In this class, there are the men who might have been sexual toys for the more
hardened prisoners who indulge in sex of the same gender. Or, worse, they are informants
for the prison guards.
Another class of quiet personalities are those who know the score and are respected for it.
They need no loud voices, threats or tough acts to be respected and left alone by guards
and inmates alike. I cultivated this persona. The loner: the one who does not need or
welcome others. In this fear-filled environment, the loner is respected and admired for his
strength to stand apart.
Yet another class you will see are those who are happy to be back where they feel
comfortable. These men find it impossible to live outside the structured environment of
prison. They are institutionalized. They no more care about the free world and all it offers
than you care about living in Antarctica. Many are intelligent and quite personable. In the
free world they may have had high-paying jobs or had run their own businesses with
success. However, at some point they are compelled to commit crimes that bring them
back to prison. The unfortunate thing is that they never seem to learn from their actions.
No matter how many times they return, they keep coming back and saying they hate it.
It was with this class of inmate I found it best to socialize. I use the word socialize as a
casual term. I never ―got close‖ or became any sort of comrade to any convict. I never
―hung around‖ anyone as a companion. I remained just outside by never making it a habit
to be with anyone for any extended amount of time. While I did socialize, it was mainly
for survival. By having one or two dangerous ―friends‖ along with those who are
institutionalized, and then staying mostly alone, I gained the respect of a mixed crowd. In
other words, in the view of the prison population in general and by the prison staff, I fit
into no category. I caused no trouble, stayed clear of radical groups of all types. I
remained a loner. It was lonely, but I survived while I watched others die on a regular
basis. My sound advice is to avoid any clique. Stand quietly apart, observe and learn.
I had to learn all I could about everything. At 17, entering the world of convicted felons, I
needed to know all I could from every source open to me. Also, being so young and
entering the system with such a terrific amount of time (three life sentences imposed to
be served one after another). I craved the knowledge of the free world from those who
had lived in it longer than I had. I listened to everyone‘s stories and tried to imagine what
those worlds were like out there in that place where I once lived. With every story, true or
false, I renewed my vow to again live as a free man.
Fear is a necessary element of survival, but, like everything else in life, it must be
understood and managed. Many permit this fear to lead them into drugs and other abuses
to handle those hours that each feels a week long.
Using drugs or alcohol leads to only one place in prison: death. Death, if not physically,
then spiritually. They can destroy your very soul in a caged environment. Those who deal
with drugs are as deadly as poison. They choose the drugs over everything. They will do
anything for them and anything to keep them. You, the newcomer to the system, will be
less than dirt to them. They will use you in more ways than there are words to describe.
They will determine your worth and try to use you to their advantage. They will try to get
you so high you pass out and while you are helpless allow several men to rape you, then
prostitute you. Or they will outright sell you to someone who wants you to bring in drugs
from the visiting yard. I have seen drug dealers get a newcomer a job in order to give him
access to drugs from the outside. The dealer cannot get the job but he may have enough
influence to get someone else in that position so he can use him.
I have seen new men come inside and run straight to the dope man. At first, the drugs are
cheap or free but in no time, the newcomer is calling home for money. The money goes
straight to the dope man. They tell their families that if they do not get X-amount of
money now, they will be raped or stabbed. The family rushes to help, but eventually the
family cannot continue to send money and they stop. Within days or weeks, the
newcomer is either out selling his body to anyone who will pay a buck or two or in
segregation for a rule violation. Or, worse, he is in the hospital having been stabbed for
being in the wrong place associating with the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
The general prison administration takes a dim view of those who, while in receiving, get
caught up with drug use. They do not want to hear from the families about their son being
raped, stabbed or stabbing someone else. To the administration, the problem was and is
the person who came into their institution and started trouble.
In one case I recall, a young guy who ran to the drug scene lasted three weeks before
calling home and telling his mother the truth: ―Mom, I have messed up. I started using
drugs in here and now this guy says either you take a hundred dollars tonight to this home
before nine p.m. or he will rape and stab me. His mother immediately called the warden
and told him the story. The warden came back to the institution from home at 7:30 p.m.
and called both men to his office. The young guy told the warden, in front of the dope
man, exactly what had happened. The dope man called the young guy a liar and the
warden sent both men back to the cells. A dozen men raped the young guy that night until
he passed out, and even then, they continued. The next morning when he failed to get out
of bed at the demand of a guard, the sheet was pulled off him showing him nude and so
bloody it was initially thought he was stabbed.
He was carried to the hospital and then sent out to a free world hospital where his anus
was sewn up and a colostomy bag placed at his side. Once back at the institution, he was
put in the same cellblock where he had been attacked. That night he was attacked and
stabbed repeatedly. He screamed when the rapist tried to force himself inside the sown
Again, the young man was hospitalized. The family tried everything to help and was
refused all consideration from the prison. They eventually hired an expensive attorney
who filed a lawsuit against the prison system. After seven years of litigation the result
was only the loss of a substantial amount of money because the young guy, transferred
from one bad prison to another, finally hung himself in solitary confinement after being
there for nearly five years. Because of his death, the suit was dismissed.
This is the worst situation I witnessed. Dozens of nightmarish examples of a lesser degree
were seen every day. The only way to handle this situation is to never get into it to begin
with. Once you are involved in the prison drug world, there truly are no good ways out of
LIVING WITHOUT VIOLENCE
Choosing with whom to socialize and with whom not to is a process each of us has to
learn by trial and error. None of us can see into the future. My suggestions from many
years of experience are made to help you size up those around you and help you choose
what type of person are you going to become during those years of incarceration.
Yes, become. You will become someone other than who you were before you entered the
prison system. As life changes the person we are in the free world, so does prison change
who we are. How much is changed is up to us as we experience it. The difference is that
behind bars we seek ways to handle the ever-present state of fear in order to survive. In
the free world, we are not faced with constant fear as a factor of daily life--fear of a real
and immediate threat to our very lives every second of every hour we remain inside
We are surrounded by those who are evil just because they want to be. They want to hurt
and cause trouble for others as a means of pleasure for themselves. Most of those around
you are not animals. They are much like you. Each finds ways of handling the fears and
losses he is experiencing. You must become a quick study of human nature by the
examples of those around you. You must stop ignoring things and quickly become
acutely aware because in prison everything is important to your survival. Fear is the
single element that will help keep you safe. It can give you the edge of awareness you
must have. Learn to live with it. It will keep you alive.
While at this receiving facility you must keep in mind that you will not be staying here
long. This means that you will not be going to the same prison that many of the men you
have met will be going. This does not mean you will never see them again. The world of
prisons within a state is very small. Never believe that that you can do someone wrong in
this institution and be free of retaliation because you are being transferred. The fact is that
you will face more trouble for any wrong you have done, even if it is months or years
later. As I said, the prison world is very small and word spreads very quickly from one
institution to another. You may walk into a new prison expecting nothing. Inside are men
waiting for you.
Essentially, it is always best to never do anyone a wrong, no matter what his status may
be. Somewhere down the line you will have to answer for all that you do and all that you
have not done as well. For instance, you may have more than enough canteen items to
sustain yourself for the week while someone you see is without such vital things as soap
or toothpaste. If the person is one of those who is quiet and avoids trouble, helping him
out with a bar of soap or a tube of toothpaste is an investment that may pay off many
times in the future.
I once gave a man a bar of soap. I just walked up and said I noticed that he needed this
and I had more than I needed and wanted to give it to him. He said thanks and that was
that. This was in 1974.
In 1981, I was in solitary confinement. When the chow cart came bringing dinner, a man
walked to my cell with my tray and asked if I remembered him. I told him that I was
sorry but no, I did not recall him. He told me he was the man I gave the bar of Dial soap
to at Kilby prison in 1974. I asked how he was and was there anything I could do for him.
He said no but for as long as he was a hall runner, he would see to it that I ate as much as
I wanted. I told him I appreciated it but I was not interested in extra food as I had all I
needed from my own tray and the canteen. I appreciated his offer and no offense intended
but no thanks.
In 1996, I met him again in another prison. This time he came to my aid when I was in a
serious confrontation. He merely stepped up and said he knew me and I was a good dude.
His actions turned that potentially deadly situation into a minor difference of opinion
with no one hurt and my making no new enemies.
Not every good deed will necessarily bring good directly back to you. But remember, the
good and the bad that you do or do not do may return to you in some form or another,
directly or indirectly. Staying right means, you do not create problems. That is what you
need the most inside: as few new problems as possible. You have plenty already.
When dealing with the classification and medical staff it is always best to be honest with
them about everything except what goes on in the cellblock. What goes on inside the
cellblock is information they do not need to know and, in fact, have no business knowing.
If any of these people try to get you to tell what is happening in the cellblock, be polite
and say those are issues that you are not comfortable talking about and, since you are
new, you would rather not speak of those issues. You do not need to be forceful. Just
state your position and stay respectful to them and firm on it. The guards are the same.
You never tell them what is going on in the cellblock. Once you tell ―The Man‖ what is
happening inside your corner of the prison world, you have become an informant, a rat, a
snitch. Few things can get you killed faster.
Anyway, by living the way I suggest, you are rarely around those inmates who are doing
anything that guards and administration are interested in knowing about. After a while it
will become obvious to convicts and guards alike that you want to be left alone and are
not involved with those who are breaking the rules and creating the problems.
Be cautious about those who want to befriend you. The payback may be sexual or
otherwise problematic. Be firm and respectful when you explain that you are new and
know only that you want to be by yourself and you appreciate their offer of help, but for
now you feel it is better for you to learn by watching others. If they insist, then you must
make the judgment call as to how much sterner you must become. Know this: if you do
not make them leave you alone with only the tone of voice and the conviction in your
eyes, you will have to enforce your demand with a subdued but clear threat. If you are
being forced into a situation, you might say, ―Look, I don‘t want trouble and I am not
going to start anything. All I want, no offense now, is for you to leave me alone. I have
enough to handle with this new sentence and do not want to see more time added to it for
my having to hurt you or anyone else.‖
That tells the potential predator that you are prepared to fight and will hurt him if he does
not leave you alone. Most convicts will leave and respect you for having the guts to say
what you did in that way so that he does not feel you have mistreated him. He feels no
reason to hurt you in retaliation.
There may come a time when physical violence is simply unavoidable. Just know this:
most of these situations are the result of others that you did not handle correctly. There
are very few men in today‘s prisons who will seek violence just for the fun of it. The
inmate without the inclination toward unjustified violence has learned that eventually he
will be killed or maimed and is not willing to risk it.
No one likes to face this next fact of life for those incarcerated. But face it you must.
When serious violence does come to you, you must fight for your life. Fight hard and
fight dirty. Yes, because your very life is at stake. This is no schoolyard challenge. The
man or men who are after you want to seriously harm or kill you. You must never forget
it. Those who bring violence to you and leave you no way out but a fight usually intend
to seriously harm you or kill you. Running or screaming for help is not usually an option.
When those who are serious plan an attack, they will leave you nowhere to run. If you
start yelling for the guards, remember this: they do not like coming into a violent
situation any more that you do. Anyway, it takes them far too long to get in the block to
be of any real help. All you are doing by yelling is showing your weakness. That makes
those who are after you more certain to hurt or kill you.
Again, it is very rare these days for a newcomer be forced into a fight just for the test or
for the fun of it. Those days are a thing of the past. Today‘s new sentencing laws mean a
fight can add a new sentence to your record with the upper limit being life-without-the
possibility-of-parole. No one wants that, not even those who already have that sentence.
Also, there are the long periods of solitary confinement after a violent incident and this
impacts your prison record for as long as you are incarcerated. It will affect your parole
chances as well as pose a huge barrier when, years later, you seek a transfer to better
Lastly, form habits of reading and being alone as soon as you enter the system. Hold on
to that persona for as long as you are inside. These are two tools that will make prison life
as easy as it can be. There are other options. In the next section, I share with you a few of
the major ones.
GAMBLING, SPORTS AND TELEVISION
Gambling, sports and television often cause trouble. As you may have already seen in
jail, there are those who think they own the TV and will fight over what programs to
watch. Gambling and card playing are also areas to stay clear of. No one likes to lose.
Especially in prison. I have seen more men killed and harmed over card games than any
other thing except drugs, TV and sexual partners.
My suggestion is to form the habit of reading every possible moment you can. Leave
sports, gambling and drugs for others. Never form any strong attachment to television
shows. If there is something on TV that you enjoy, watch it but do so knowing that at any
second someone may walk in and change the channel without asking a soul. He may
challenge anyone to do something about it. Men have died over the TV. You do not have
to one of them.
WEIGHTLIFTING AND EXERCISE
I chose weightlifting both as a means of relieving stress and to keep in the best possible
physical condition. Today the system does not, as a rule, use harsh physical labor as a
means of keeping inmates occupied or as punishment. Prison food is a high starch diet
that will add pounds when eaten without physical exercise. The stress and tension you
experience has to have some outlet. Some can vent all that while playing cards or
reading. I never could and needed some serious physical outlet and so I chose weights.
Choosing weights also helped me avoid physical confrontations. I put all I could into it
and got good at it. After all, if a troublemaker sees someone lift more than his weight
over his head and sees that he regularly completes an exhausting workout without much
effort, chances are slim that he will choose that person for any physical confrontation. If
he does choose the one in great shape for a fight, guess who has the better chance of
coming out alive.
There are all types of exercise available to you. Basketball is the most favored in the
South. There is also softball and volleyball. These are team sports that require you to
interact with others under stressful situations. Thus, prison sports often lead to dangerous
altercations. Someone has to lose and losing in prison is a big deal. Those who lose are
considered inferior. Over a period of time this can cause you problems. That is another
reason I chose weights. That is as individual a sport as you can get inside prison. I also
walked and jogged some because I could do these alone.
It is up to the individual to keep his body in the best possible condition. The better shape
you stay in, the better your general health remains. It also helps with your emotional
state. When you feel physically capable of making the day, it lessens some of the stress in
other areas. And it allows you more energy to handle everything you must deal in the
course of every long day in prison. Many use sports to escape the harsh reality of
imprisonment. If you do that, it can be harmful because you tend to get frustrated more
easily and more often as time goes by without any changes in your situation. I suggest
you find the type of physical exercise that fits you and make a commitment to keeping
your body as healthy as you can. I am proof that even after nearly 28 years of
imprisonment under some of the worse conditions, you can leave prison in relatively
good health with your mind and emotional self largely normal and healthy.
PROTECTING YOUR BELONGINGS
When you are ripped-off, you can either go fight to recover your things or just ignore it.
Having your things stolen and doing nothing about it is invitation for the thief to do it
again as soon as the chance arrives. Yet getting into a confrontation over a theft is never a
good choice. Someone is likely to get hurt or killed. A third option is to run to the guard
and report the theft. That is probably your worst choice. A ―tattler‖ is labeled a snitch or
rat. This can lead to retaliation that lasts the length of your imprisonment. And remember,
you will be judged by the general prison population on how you handle it.
If someone decides to steal your things, little will stop him. Nothing is foolproof, but the
best way I learned to protect my belongings was to keep in a low-inventory mode. As a
rule, try not to buy more than you absolutely need for a week at a time. Convicts know,
one way or another, what you have. Keeping too many canteen items in your locker or
drawer is an invitation to have those things stolen.
You will hardly ever need to spend all the money you are allowed each week. A full
locker or drawer is an open challenge to those who regularly steal from other inmates.
Even if your things are not necessarily needed, it will simply be a challenge to see if they
can steal them. Do not forget, you are living with hundreds of compulsive thieves.
I avoided being ripped-off for 26 years. Then, a short time before I was released,
everything I owned was stolen while I was at work. I had the choice of fighting, ignoring
it or going to the guard. I knew a fight would destroy my chance of going home. (Which
was what was expected of me by those who set me up for this theft.) I could not risk that.
If I ignored it, I would be seen as a coward. That would not do. My only choice was to
report it. I knew I was going home within weeks. I did what I had to so that I would go
home. The guards ―never saw a thing‖ and when I reported it to the shift commander, he
placed me into solitary confinement. Why? First, he said he thought I had staged the
theft. (That was said and acted upon to cover up the fact that I had been set up for this
theft.) Then, when he had to face the fact that I had not, he had to act according to policy.
Meaning when a theft is reported and the thief is not found, the person who came to the
guard must be placed into a type of protective custody called ―administrative
segregation.‖ I remained in solitary for another three weeks ―to protect me from being
attacked for reporting the theft of my belongings.‖ Only my excellent record and my
previous voluntary program participation made it possible for me to be released from
solitary as soon as I was, after almost four weeks.
Do not count on your cellmate to protect your stuff. Do not even request it. Protecting
your things may mean his life. My only advice is to never buy or keep on hand more than
you can afford to lose. This will protect you as much as there can be protection from theft
Your general attitude and how you carry yourself will make you and your belongings as
safe as they can be. If you carry yourself as a man who is strong in body and mental
resolve, you will stand a better chance of protecting your things. You are alone in a
jungle filled with dangerous animals. It is up to you alone to keep yourself and your
belongings safe. Again, your persona as a man who is not one to ―mess with‖ will go a
long way in keeping you safe from harm and abuse.
WHAT JOBS TO SEEK AND WHY
Once you are transferred to the prison where you will be for your first extended period of
time, you should work. Not all institutions require inmates to do a regular task but it is
my strong recommendation that you work. There are plenty of men who choose to sit on
their butts all day, play cards and do nothing useful. Do not be one of them. Get a job and
do your very best at it.
In the beginning, you cannot pick your own job. It will be assigned to you. Regardless of
what it is, even if it is in the kitchen, work hard. Establish a good work ethic from day
one. The good or bad you do reflects accordingly. Be diligent and honest. A good work
record report is in your institutional file and in your ―jacket‖ kept by central records of
the penal system. One day they may be reviewed for parole or a transfer request.
The best jobs, once you have established yourself are those which allow you to work
alone. There are a number that allow you to be nearly on your own. Working for the
guards as a clerk is an excellent position if you are not a newcomer. This is a position
only for those who have been inside that prison for a number of years and have firmly
established reputations for handling such jobs without being called a rat or snitch for the
guards. Working in the law library is another great job that you will need to wait and
establish a sound reputation before seeking.
Working alone will protect you from having to work alongside those who are too lazy to
do a good job. Their problems then become yours. When they fail, you fail. When the job
is not done or is done improperly, no matter what you did, it will appear that you were
involved with the failure. You will be penalized. If you are doing great, the lazy inmates
will get upset with you as your performance makes them look even worse. Again, in the
beginning, you will not have a choice. Just do your job and do it the best you possibly
If you are sick, watch out; it gets worse before you get better. In order to see a physician
you have to sign up on the doctor‘s list. The list is usually for a next day appointment.
Only in a dire emergency (and often not even then) will you see a doctor the same day.
At St. Clair Correctional Facility, in Alabama, things go like this: You have signed up,
the day has arrived when you are waiting to see the doctor. All ―patients‖ are forced to
wait outdoors (regardless of the weather), usually for three to five hours. First, you will
be ―screened‖ to see if your request for medical care is legitimate. At this screening, a
―nurse‖ will ask what is wrong and decide what you need. If he or she decides that you
do not need to see the doctor, then you do not get to see one. It never matters how sick
you are or how harsh the weather (freezing or sweltering).
I once had a fever of 102 degrees and the night nurse gave me one Tylenol and told me
to come back tomorrow to sign up to see the doctor two days hence. It cost me three
dollars to have that nurse deny my request for medical help. Every time you sign up, it
will cost you this ―co-pay‖ fee. It does not matter whether or not you received
medication, saw the doctor or were just told there was nothing they could do for you. You
will pay that ―co-pay‖ as soon as you have money placed into your inmate account. They
simply debit your inmate account.
To see a dentist, you sign up, pay the co-pay and have the nurse tell you to watch the
―daily inmate newsletter‖ for your name. It may be three days or 10 days before the
dentist sees you. No one is excluded from the dental wait no matter how severe the
problem. Once you are in the dentist‘s chair, do not expect anything more than very basic
care. I left prison with gum disease that is irreversible. To see the eye doctor, you go
through the same process except that the eye doctor usually comes only once a month.
I once stood outdoors with the temperature near 30 degrees. It was raining for three and a
half-hours while I waited to be screened. My coughing and running nose made no
impression on the nurse. I was told to buy some aspirin from the canteen and drink plenty
of liquids. When I tried to tell her that I had been at the store earlier that day and it would
be a week before I could get the aspirin, she said she was sorry but those are the rules.
When I needed this type of over-the-counter medication, I had to buy it myself. She could
not do anything about it, as it was a rule. After a three-hour wait and being far worse for
the experience, I left with nothing.
Once after a four-hour wait with a headache and fever, I was told that the nurse and
doctor had been gone for two hours. A sneering, ―What the hell are you waiting on‖ was
all I got that day.
I lost three friends in prison to heart attacks. All three died trying to get to the hospital.
They were not allowed out of the cellblock because the guard needed authorization from
the shift commander. One man was actually in the line at pill call. His chest was hurting
so badly he walked to the front of the line and begged for help. He was told that he had to
wait his turn. It never came. He died waiting in line.
I can tell horror stories one after another about prison health care, but this will suffice for
RELIGION AND OUTSIDE PROGRAMS
Religion is personal. You should have the freedom to choose and participate as you wish.
Bear this in mind: if you choose a radical-type religion, anything out of the mainstream,
do not expect the guards and prison administration to grant you freedom from hassle for
your choice. It is common sense you need use here. I found my own spiritual strength
from within. If church helps you, by all means attend. You need all the help you can get.
Nearly all prisons have free world people who come into the prisons several times a year
for various activities. One is the Kairos. This is a prison program where men and women
come inside the prison to offer religious training programs for from three to seven days.
They bring in food and drinks and give religious seminars. Various religions sponsor
prison revivals and the like. There are also non-religious programs offered by such
organizations as the Jaycees.
All of these programs offer something good, if nothing more than a distraction from the
daily grind of prison life. It will be up to you to make wise choices as to your
participation. Some will sign up for one of these programs just to have it on their record,
as some sort of good thing. Do not do that. You are living in a place where you are
watched 24 hours a day. Your actions are noted and scrutinized. Once you are known to
fake things, it becomes harder and harder to gain recognition for any good you may do in
the future. I suggest that you never get involved in anything unless you are sincere and
When I read I did so for the pleasure of it and because I earnestly wanted to learn. I
searched for books that would broaden my field of knowledge. I suggest you do the same.
Read only good material. No matter what the field, find an interest in it. This type of
reading will keep your mind sharp as well as help you avoid trouble. There is plenty of
trash in prison, books to simply let you ―do time.‖ You must do more for yourself and
your family than to simply do time. When I came to prison, I was a ninth grade dropout.
When I left, I had an enviable education and more general knowledge than most college
Reading best sellers and history books are ways to learn things you may have found hard
to grasp in school. I have fallen in love with history and several areas of ancient
mythology (Greek, Norse and Roman). From these, I have learned more than I could
have any other way. I have a vast knowledge of geography and foreign cultures.
Knowledge is a wonderful thing. It is available. Just go after it.
Nude magazines and books are generally available in most prisons. While I will not say
they are sinister, I can tell you that the type of men who are involved with pornographic
materials are not the ones you want to be associated with. I looked at probably a dozen of
these magazines and books in the nearly 28 years of imprisonment. I never enjoyed them.
I looked through them mostly for social acceptance. My lack of maturity in those first
years of imprisonment compelled me to look at things I had never seen before. As a
typical young male who was inexperienced, I was curious. There was never any
excitement there for me and soon that small curiosity vanished. Then I met Becky. I
found and then married the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. No woman in any
magazine can ever measure up to my Becky, so those magazines lost all appeal for me.
Using your free time to read and write letters is time well spent. You rarely have enough
of time to correspond with those you hold close. Your family is outside struggling for
your release. Write them often. Keeping a good book around will offer you more than
just help from a troublesome environment; it gives you a fresh outlook, more defined
ideas and new dreams to fulfill when you are free.
TREATMENT AND EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS
Your immediate concerns will be both cell location and choosing programs the prison
offers. Most prisons have cell assignments based on where you work and/or the program
in which you participate.
One program, if the prison offers it, is a Therapeutic Community. There is generally a
dorm or cellblock where only those participating in that program are allowed to live.
There are many demands these programs make on you and on your families as well.
However, in these treatment communities, your risk of harm and theft of belongings are
As a resident in treatment dormitories, you will find out what you are really made of. In
them, even if the programs are substandard, you will be faced with your weaknesses. You
will have to reevaluate every virtue and strength you thought you had.
If you are lucky enough to enter a real treatment dorm, you need only do one thing: make
a commitment to complete the program no matter what it demands of you. You may have
years to live in this monstrous world called prison. Make the commitment to yourself to
stay in the best place inside the prison that is offered. Otherwise, you are not trying to
help yourself or those on the outside who are trying to prove your innocence.
Treatment means that you must accept all that the programs offer whether you like it or
not. In the beginning, you will react inappropriately to all sorts of input. You will say, ―I
know all about that crap and I don‘t need it.‖ The slogan, ―If you spot it, you got it,‖ has
its origins in this type of attitude. Treatment means challenging your destructive self and
building on all the good inside you. Treatment means learning more about yourself. It
offers new ways of handling old problems. It means a new chance to be whatever it is
that you want to become. Being in prison stops you from realizing your dreams only if
YOU permit it. Being wrongly imprisoned makes it all the more important that you know
and practice this.
If your prison does not offer a treatment dorm, find out where one is and do what you can
to get there and be enrolled. Appeal to your classification officer. A transfer into a
treatment program is worth all the effort you can give. Also, seek all the education you
can get. No matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes, get an education. In prison,
I read with a passion and I learned. I got my GED and wanted to learn more. I had to
begin teaching in order to learn more than I had acquired at that point. Without my self-
education, I would have never gotten out of prison.
The only programs I feel need to be avoided are those that do not have a long period of
participation. Six to 12 week Substance Abuse Programs are for the most part a waste of
time. You need a long-term program of one to two years, then possibly more time as a
member of the treatment team. These offer a real chance to help yourself change in areas
that need changing in your life. I entered and, after quitting twice, finally graduated the
toughest treatment program currently offered in this country: the New Outlook
Therapeutic Community at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. I will be forever
grateful for all this program taught and helped me see and learn.
Although you are wrongly convicted and incarcerated, you can learn from this type of
program and become a stronger and better person for it. Your prison time could not be
better spent no matter your education, social standing outside of prison or whether or not
you have an addiction. These programs are life builders and no one can ever say that they
know enough about life to turn down the chance to learn more.
As an incarcerated innocent, visits can make or break you.
You who do not belong here will see your loved ones torn apart at your being in a cage.
They are helpless and you do not have a clue how to help them cope. Visits touch them in
more ways than they do you. For them, the helplessness grows, as does the frustration
and fear. While you are challenged with an entirely new life, time begins to slip past by
the week, visit to visit. Those who are coming to see you must leave you there as they
drive home to where the attorneys are not returning calls, not doing anything you‘ve
asked and at times will even say, ―Just relax a little while and in a couple of months we
will get this done and then we can start this phase which might take another couple of
months, then….‖ It is our loved ones on the outside who truly feel the weight of every
second we are inside this hellhole for crimes we did not commit. We must understand
these dynamics so well that we place our family‘s well being first in our considerations.
We must never lie to our family and friends. We should never embellish our fears and
experiences in here so they suffer any more than they are already. Try to make their visits
as light as possible, but be honest. For example: if someone was stabbed and that has
made you feel more fear than normal, discuss this with your visitor in a manner that you
know they can understand. Do not let them be mislead by what you are not saying to
them. In other words, if the guy was stabbed in a part of the prison you never go into, do
not let them believe that you could have been harmed when that person was stabbed. Tell
them that you never go into that part of the prison but knowing it happened has you
feeling more than average fear.
Visits should be made at the convenience of those who love us and not from our need of
them every second they can come. The bills have not stopped just because of our false
imprisonment. And no employer will pay our loved ones for not working. This is why we
must love those who love us without selfishness. Never demand that they visit. Instead,
love them and permit them to do the things they need to do to keep their emotional and
physical well being intact. Becky and I nearly harmed us by trying to visit every week
with her living 301 miles away. Thankfully, we realized that some of those nightmarish
11-hour trips for a two-hour and 45-minute visit were hurting us instead of helping. So
we pulled our love close and started taking care of us better by skipping a visit here and
there so she had time to rest and relax.
MONEY AND THE CANTEEN
Most prisons today do not permit inmates to have cash money. Money is sent to the
prison in the inmate‘s name and once, twice or even three times a week the canteen opens
and permits the inmate to buy certain items. This varies from prison to prison. Tobacco in
all forms is slowly being barred from all prisons. It is not sold and using it in any form is
Prison canteens usually sell basic hygiene items like soap, toothbrush and toothpaste,
combs, shampoo and conditioners, razors, shaving cream and nonalcoholic after-shave.
(Inmates drink anything with alcohol in it.) Snacks like chips and cookies along with
soups that require only hot water and instant coffee are generally sold. Some canteens
offer more stable foods like pre-made sandwiches, pizza slices and other microwave
items. Ice cream, milk and soft drinks are sometimes sold.
Every prison has regulations as to how much money an inmate may spend in the course
of a week. It ranges from $25 to $75 in Alabama. Each canteen is operated differently. In
some, you line up and one at a time go to a window to tell them your name and AIS
Number (Alabama Inmate Serial Number.) Once they check your available funds, they
allow you to buy the permitted items in controlled quantities. Be prepared; they never
stock enough of the good things.
In short, if you are near the end of the line, you will not get most of what you want,
because they have run out. If you are at the end of the line, be ready to choose some other
item than your favorite. Some canteens permit you to replace items they are out of. Some
prisons require that you make out a list of items you want and place in it a box three to
six days before you can pick them up. St. Clair was like that. I would place my order on
Monday and pick up those items on Thursday or Friday, providing I had the money and
they had the items.
Do not be shocked when you pay a dollar for a 50-cent candy bar. Institutions routinely
charge half again or twice what the item would sell on the outside. Do not complain and
do not have your family complain. It is a fact of life and you will lose your canteen
privileges if you protest.
During nearly 28 years inside, I never found that I needed to spend the entire amount of
money permitted by the rules. I have done it but never because I needed that much stuff
for one week. It is always better to have $100 in your inmate account than to have $50
worth of items in your cell when you cannot be there to keep them from being stolen. If
your things are not stolen, you will have a continuous barrage of requests to borrow this
or that. ―Hey man, you got cokes in your box, can‘t ya front me a couple until I can
If you are not careful you can become obligated to lend your things, and sometimes
refusing to do so can lead to a problem. It depends on how you are carrying yourself. If
you do lend something, be prepared to not get it back. The rule I found most successful is
that I would not make a loan of anything I needed or might run short of. Otherwise, I
would just make it a gift. If they paid it back, I was happy. Some guys will try to borrow
something small, pay it back and the next time want more. Watch for this. It tells you that
at some point this guy intends to not repay you. Most every large cellblock or dorm will
have someone who keeps a lot of items from the canteen. He lends it to you at the interest
rate of: borrow one for two back. (Yes that is 100% interest. It is very common in prison.)
Stay away from this. These men are in a business like the Mob and use the same tactics
you see on TV. Each week that you do not repay them, they double the interest. After a
while, they stab or have you beaten up.
Treasured personal items like rings and necklaces should never be kept inside the prison.
Neither should you keep special, irreplaceable photos. Between sadistic guards,
precarious rules and inmate thievery, you are asking for trouble when you keep items that
are close to your heart and cannot be replaced. Special photos need to be returned to your
home after you have looked at them. If you are like Becky and me, we wore wedding
rings but no other jewelry. Once the rules started to change with the wind we came close
to losing things very precious to us.
In most Alabama institutions, photos of any sort are allowed. This is the official policy of
the Dept. of Corrections. I enjoyed and treasured with all my heart the hundreds of
pictures Becky had made for me. Many were of her scantily clad; none were remotely
pornographic, nothing obscene, nothing ugly, only beautiful photos of the love of my life.
Because of a trial date, I was transferred from one prison to another before making it to
Mobile County. I always took my treasures with me to avoid losing them. At one
institution a guard rifled through every single one of my photos and picked out the ones
he personally found ―offensive due to his religious beliefs.‖ He ordered me to tear each
wonderful photo into pieces. He took particular joy watching me destroy the precious
pictures of my Becky as tears poured down my face.
Let our loss save you the same grief. Keep your treasures at home. If your wedding ring
is particularly nice, replace it with a plain one for the duration of your imprisonment. It is
far better to forego wearing your beloved ring temporarily than to have it stolen and then
get into a fight, kill someone to retrieve it, and be sentenced to death. It has happened.
Hobbies can help and hurt you. Inside prison you will find handicrafts of all sorts from
woodworking to leather crafts. The problem with hobby crafting is that the rules change
from one week to the next. One week you can get to the hobby shop with no problem and
others you will be locked out for weeks. It is more unpredictable than not, so never count
on it for relaxation or financial gain. It can cause far more trouble than it is worth.
I found that working on legal research and participating in a treatment program took all
the time in each day. In fact, I found that I rarely had enough time to write my wife.
There was very little time for hobby crafts in my years of imprisonment.
You may be tempted to get involved with a hobby for the simple reason of money. You
can make money with a good product. You can feel you are helping those who love you
on the outside by not being a financial burden to them. Also, you can make a stream of
gifts for them to show that you love them and appreciate them.
While all of that may be true, there is a higher truth. As a newcomer to the system, you
need to avoid involving yourself in anything that may cause you to be a target for theft.
Spending your time in the law library and in the programs will be the very best you can
do to help yourself and those who are trying to help you. Your actions will be under
scrutiny by prison officials, parole officers and judges alike. None will be more
impressed by hobby crafts than your commitment to a better education. At all times,
remember your priorities.
The telephone is a precious resource. It keeps you in touch with your family, friends and
attorneys. But like everything else in prison, it has its downside. Most new institutions
have enough telephones so that you can use them almost as often as you want to during
the hours you are not locked down. The downside is that every call is monitored and
recorded. Guards routinely listen in on your live calls and they regularly listen to the
tapes. As they wish, they can and often do make something of it. It happens all the time. I
have seen men called on the carpet in front of others, including myself, for talking
sexually with their wives over the telephone. When talking over your case and legal
tactics, even with your attorney, remember that these calls are monitored, taped and
perhaps sent directly to the prosecutor or to the attorney general‘s office. Your
adversaries will know your every move before you ever reach court. If for any reason you
raise your voice and it is construed as a threat, or if something is taken out of context and
used as a threat, you can be thrown into solitary and have disciplinary action taken
against you for it. Any disciplinary is a permanent mar on your record.
Another downside of the prison telephone call is the expense. You are allowed to only
call collect as you use that prisons telephone provider. Your family may have a special
calling plan but it cannot be used with prison collect calls. The cost of telephone calls
from prison is severely high. Our average call cost $6.75 per each 15-minute call. You
have no options. The prison has entered a contract with a telephone company that
provides only collect calls for the entire prison system. Part of this exorbitant cost goes
back to the prison system. It is one of many legal kickbacks the Dept. of Corrections
profits from. No matter what telephone plan your family has, it cannot be used. If your
family has an 800 number, it cannot be used. There is no choice. You can only call
collect and only through this one company. In Alabama, it‘s called Correctional Billing
Becky and I spent more on the telephone than we did on our home mortgage. When our
bill climbed to a bankrupting fee of about $700 a month, which translates to $8,400 a
year, we knew we had to do something. We devised ways to silently communicate.
Aside from the days and times that we would always talk, we agreed that I would call at
precisely the same time daily. She would not accept the call, but she knew I was alive
when her telephone rang at our prearranged time. In this way she would know that
everything was OK and I would feel closer to her for this non-talking communication.
We called these our ―free touches.‖ When Becky needed to talk, she would simply accept
the call. If I needed to talk, I would hang up and call back immediately. She would then
accept the call. When you call, there is an option for the recipient to push a key to hear
the charges. Becky would push this button; I could hear it; that was her way of saying, ―I
love you.‖ There are ways to make even the most cold-hearted system work for you.
If you are in the midst of a legal battle against the state, never forget that you are a ward
of the state and they have plenty of ways of furthering their dominance over you. The
telephone system is only one of them. Do not forget for a moment that your call is being
monitored and taped. One slip could cost you years or perhaps forever.
Finally, it is critical for your family at home to know that you are safe, alive and your
whereabouts certain on a daily basis.
Becky and I exchanged this assurance every day without making the DOC any richer.
There was one guy I trusted enough to give him Becky‘s telephone number. He was
sworn to call only if something happened to me. If anything unforeseen occurred, we
were confident that this man would call Becky and tell her something had happened. As it
turned out, I was never hurt or hospitalized, which are the calls no one wants to get, but I
was transferred to another prison without notice. A transfer can put you out of contact
with your family for days. My trusted friend notified Becky that I was in transfer but did
not know where I was headed. Through further questioning a guard, he was able to find
out and called Becky again to give her my destination. We missed our free touch that day
but Becky was not in a panic because she had been told I was in transfer. In this way, we
saved much needed money for other things that would help correct my false conviction
and help Becky with the mounting bills.
You do not need and should never have a weapon near you. In most states the penalty for
possession of a weapon is severe. You will receive an adverse institutional disciplinary
and most likely be given a new felony charge as well. I have seen more than a few men
come into prison with a 15-year parole probability. After a shakedown, or if a snitch tells
a guard you are ―carrying‖ and your weapon is discovered, you can kiss your parole date
goodbye. A conviction for possession of a prison-made knife will get you an additional
five-year to a life sentence and all hope for your original parole date will be lost. I have
seen it again and again. Because a man carried a weapon, he did not go home. He did not
have to use it; he simply was caught with it in his possession, in his cell, under his bed or
The more you live as suggested in this handbook, the less you have to worry about being
harmed. You should not have to carry a weapon. This is not to say that you will never
face a weapon held by someone else who intends to harm you. Nor am I saying that you
will never need a weapon inside. Knives are not the threat they were 20 years ago when
nearly everyone had one, but they are still an issue. Criminals continue to make them, and
they are awaiting an excuse to use them. At minimum, possessing a weapon increases the
chances of an extended prison sentence. It also could lead to having to use it when
ordinarily a weapon would not be needed. If you have a weapon, the chances of you
using it are greatly increased. If you are in a verbal confrontation with a man who sees
your knife, he will go get one to create an even playing ground, now the stakes are much
What I am saying is that if you will live as suggested, the probability of facing violence
and having to get a weapon are reduced tremendously. You will be free of the violence it
can provoke and their dire consequences.
CELLS, CELLBLOCKS AND DORMS
When you first come to prison, you have no choice as to where you will be living, no
choice with whom you will live. In fact, you have no choices at all. You are one in a herd
of new cattle; they will put you where they want. Prisons are desperately overcrowded.
Do not expect your new home to be comfortable; if you have heard prisons come with
air-conditioning, carpets and color TVs, guess again. These perks are in the warden‘s
office only. Do not expect your cell partner to be a jolly good fellow, neither should you
worry about sleeping next to a Ted Bundy. Chances are that you will meet a good number
of men who are as scared and uncertain as you. For every inmate in the joint there is
another story. You will exchange stories. Most will be lies. Watch what you say. Watch
what you believe.
Once you are settled into the prison routine, there will be chances to move from one area
to another. It‘s really a matter of learning how. Once you have learned the system, you
will understand what it takes to get moved. You will know when an inmate has gone to
lockup, who has gone to court, who is in the hospital, who has died; in short, where there
is an open bed. You will learn which guards you can talk to, how to talk to them, who can
be bribed, what is an acceptable bribe and how to present it. Sometimes a carton of
cigarettes, a drawing or another piece of artwork a guard admires will do it. Subtle bribes
are common, such as a compliment or any number of things that can win you favor
enough to get you moved when you request it. Just do not be so stupid as to run out and
do something obvious. You‘ll get moved all right: straight into punitive isolation.
Beware of tricksters. Remember, you are living in a world full of con men. You can be
promised the world for a six-pack of Cokes. You might pay a bribe to an inmate or guard
who says he can get you a move. When it falls through, you will have to forget it and
Job changes can affect where you live. Age can determine where you live. There are
more variables than we can describe. You will learn them as time goes by.
Based on your individual preferences, you will choose a cell, dorms or cellblock when a
move is possible. I found cells the best because of the privacy and because in a cell I have
a measure of control over what is inside there. Living in dorms means that you have no
privacy; anyone can easily plant something on your bed or in your locker. In a cell, you
still have that risk but they will have to first break into the cell. In a dorm, they just have
to lift your mattress.
In lockdown situations dorms are better because you do have some freedom of movement
no matter what is going on. In a dorm, you are confined to your bed during a lockdown.
For me, even in lockdowns I preferred the cell. You will develop your own preferences as
A lockdown is when the entire institution is on high alert. All inmates are confined to
their cells or dorms and all regular activity comes to a screeching halt. This means no
visits and no telephone calls. All outside activities cease; everything is literally locked
When lockdown is called, guards actually run around yelling, ―Lockdown, lockdown.‖
You immediately go directly to your cell or bed and remain there until the guards permit
you to get back to what you were doing earlier. I have seen lockdowns continue for 36
hours. I have also seen lockdowns used to hurt someone by keeping them from the
telephone at a critical time previously arranged and approved. I have personally missed
important telephone calls with our attorneys because of a lockdown. Who knows if this
was an intentional sabotage of our case. Usually lockdowns come from a major security
threat, like an attempted or actual escape. They may occur when a guard has beaten an
inmate who is well liked by a lot of men and it appears there may be trouble from that
incident. If there has been a stabbing or killing, if it might be construed as a racial
incident. If an uprising has occurred in an institution across the state, your prison will be
Lockdowns are also called when the guards miscount during the three or more times each
day the inmate head counts are conducted. There are lockdowns for bad weather as well.
(This is because most prison doors are now electronic. In bad weather, a loss of electrical
power means there is risk of an escape.) In the dark of a power outage, some inmates take
this as a perfect chance to stab someone without being caught for it. No matter the reason,
being locked inside a tiny cage with another person for an extended period of time is no
treat, yet it is a normal part of prison life.
Shakedowns are usually started when the guards come to your cell or bed area yelling,
―Shakedown!‖ Then they very literally go through everything you have. Every photo,
every letter, piece of paper, article of clothing, hygiene items, everything you possess.
This is done at midnight, in the middle of the day, or at any other time. They are
completely unpredictable. They are intentionally scheduled to catch you unaware so to
seize any items considered ―contraband.‖
Contraband does not simply mean weapons and drugs. It includes such innocuous items
as colored socks, colored ink pens, felt-tip pens, stencil paper, carbon paper, nail clippers,
paperclips and all food that is not sold at the canteen, including a ham sandwich a
generous guard may have just given you.
The shakedown is as much a part of prison life as breathing. There are two basic ways of
living with shakedowns. The easiest is the way we suggest because it worked for us.
Read the institutional rules and live by them. This way any time there is a shakedown you
do not go through all sorts of additional emotional stress. It will also help you in the long
run with prison administration. If, early in your incarceration, you establish a reputation
for never having contraband in your cell or around your bunk area, the guards may stop
tearing up everything you have. If you are not known as ―clean,‖ having your possessions
destroyed will be the rule, not the exception.
Shakedowns do not have to be destructive. But like most things in prison, it is a
capricious as the weather. Some guards will do it in a professional manner while others
will have fun throwing your photos on the wet floor and then walking on them while your
clean sheets go flying to rest next to the photos. It is especially hard to stand quietly as
your favorite photos are wet and torn, when you have only one set of sheets (per
institutional regulations) and they are now sopping wet and filthy. You do not say a word.
Some try to stay one step ahead of the guards in a sort of musical chairs with contraband
items. This can be done for a while but over the long run they are caught sooner or later
and the consequences can be harsh. Penalties can include weeks of no store, no visits or
phone, to name just a few lost privileges along with solitary time in lockup. This also
reflects in your institutional record. The prison has proof that you are not trying to obey
the rules. Years later this can be devastating when a judge is looking for anything to use
as an excuse to deny you help. In our case, our prison record was brought to several
hearings as evidence. Any judge studying your file and seeing that you have been caught
with prison contraband will take a dimmer view of you.
A last word about shakedowns: they are very often accompanied by a strip search.
It is as bad as it sounds. This is when you are ordered to take off everything you have on
your body. It can come at any time and you can be anywhere when commanded to
disrobe. Female officers in male institutions and male officers in female institutions
participate in this type of search. As you strip down, you hand every piece of clothing to
the guard who looks through it and throws it on the floor. Once you are buck-naked, you
are ordered to open your mouth so it can be inspected with the use of a flashlight. You
are then ordered to hold your arms above your head so your armpits can be checked. You
are then ordered to turn around, bend over and pull open the cheeks of your bottom so
your anus is exposed. Next, you turn each foot up so to expose the soles of your feet.
Then you are told to collect your clothes and leave the area. Sometimes you must leave
naked; sometimes you can dress. If you are lucky, your underwear has not landed in a
mud puddle or pool of water.
Some institutions require that strip searches be conducted only inside a cell or another
place where the inmate general population cannot see you nude. This is like everything
else in prison. Rules are subject to change according to the type of officer involved. I
have been ordered to strip in the middle of the exercise yard with the temperature at 35
degrees and one time, near the end of my incarceration, while I was in the canteen line.
This allowed everyone in general population to see what was being done to me. It was a
clear message, an example to everyone considering fighting the state as we did. The
message was simple: bucking the state, drawing media attention to your plight, being in
the news and giving interviews, could result in harsh punitive treatment. This type of
search can and is easily used as punishment and harassment. It is degrading and
disheartening and very much a part of prison life.
You must comply with every order to strip search without hesitation or complaint. You
have no right to refuse. The sooner you adjust to this type of treatment, the better. Learn
to tolerate these things so they do not upset you. See them as only something to get
through. The sooner you do, the quicker you can apply more energy to winning your
freedom. Never forget that that is your one and only goal, to get the hell out of there.
Don‘t forget it, for a single second.
Punitive segregation, also known as solitary confinement, the doghouse and lockup, is
another prison reality you will face sooner or later.
Every prison has a place where men are confined in isolation, a secluded area where only
guards have access to him. You lose your telephone calls, visits and store rights. Needless
to say, it is not a desired transfer. You want to avoid being placed in isolation. You can
end up in punitive segregation through no fault of your own. But, by and large, trips to
isolation are precipitated by a rule infraction. Once again, read the institution‘s rules and
In the prisons where I served time there are several levels of segregation. One is
commonly called the ―dog house.‖ In Alabama, this 5x7 cage is called punitive isolation
by prison administrators. As a rule, the punitive experience is magnified because you will
likely go hungry. Only two meals a day with no sweets, no coffee, no juice served from
day one to upwards 150 days or however long you might be there. You do not leave the
cell for meals. A plastic tray is shoved through the ―chow hole‖ in the door.
You are not allowed to have anything but one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of socks,
one pair of underwear, one T-shirt, one pair of rubber shower shoes, four pieces of
writing paper at a time, one pencil, no pens, four envelopes and four stamps, no books or
magazines. You will likely sleep very restlessly. Your bed is a piece of one half-inch
thick rubber former conveyor belt and two sheets. You are not allowed to have a
television or radio. Each time you leave your cell you are handcuffed with your hands
behind your back and in leg irons. You can exercise for 50 minutes every other day and
you must wear the handcuffs and leg irons all the while.
You can shower three times a week. Chances are you will pass on the shower until you
cannot stand yourself any longer. A shower list is distributed which you must sign. When
the guards arrive, you must be stripped naked with your soap and towel in hand. The
guards open the ―chow hole‖ while you hold your wrists behind your back up to the hole
for handcuffing. The door is opened and guards shackle your legs. You walk naked and
chained down to the shower. As I said, you will be stinking before you choose to do this.
Administrative segregation, called ―admin seg,‖ is when a man is placed in a one-man
cell for security reasons. Any guard or administrative officer can deem it necessary for
you to transfer to admin seg. Reasons vary from your being a possible threat, to others
being a threat to you. Justification can be flimsy. Admin seg is a step above punitive
segregation. You can have a radio during this period of isolation and other items that help
pass the time such as books and magazines. Once a month you may make a telephone call
and have a visit. You may get items from the canteen but you have fewer items from
which to choose than when you are in population. Your exercise is like that of punitive
isolation; your hands must be handcuffed behind your back and your legs must be in
shackles. You can exercise each day for one hour, weather permitting. You shower every
other day. Otherwise, you are in the cell alone, 24 hours a day.
There is one other type of segregation called ―protective custody.‖ Most convicts refer
this to as ―PC,‖ or ―catch-out.‖ Catch out is something of a derogatory term for someone
who cannot make it in the prison environment and has to ―catch out‖ of it. This is almost
always a voluntary request made by the inmate. This inmate asks for protective custody
because he cannot live in general population.
In ―PC‖ you are allowed to have more items in your cell than in the other types of
segregation. The PC inmate is allowed more telephone calls, better access to the canteen
and visits. But he cannot leave the cell without being handcuffed and leg shackled.
Exercise and shower are the same as in admin seg.
Being in lockup is called solitary confinement because the man cannot interact with
others without bars between him and other prisoners. To some men lockup becomes their
home and they refuse to return to general population. Year after year, these men become
more and more unable to interact face-to-face with others. There is no counseling for
these men. They remain locked away in small cages year after year until they die or have
served every day of their sentence and are turned out into the free world. Nine out of ten
of them are back in prison within 60 days or are killed in some violent outburst.
You cannot avoid being placed in segregation. The more you live as suggested in this
book the less you have to fear being locked in solitary. Sadly, the prison administration
will lock you up without a thought if your name is mentioned in connection with a plot to
escape or harm someone. No amount of good behavior or having lived years without any
problems will protect you from being placed into solitary while such an incident is
investigated. You may be vindicated and released back into general population after less
than a week or it may take weeks. Regardless of the situation, you must maintain your
cool and stay as constructive as you can.
Writing letters and having your family and your lawyer write and call the prison to get
you released will hinder rather than help you. Time will see you released and nothing
RULES, THE CHANGING RULES
Every institution has written rules and regulations. They are posted and/or given to you
when you arrive at the facility. They are not hard to understand or follow. Most rules are
common sense and a reasonable way to govern many individuals caged up together. What
is unfortunately typical of state prisons is that most rules are enforced about as
haphazardly as you can imagine. It is almost as if changing of the rules occurs with every
changing of the guard. You will have to learn the written rules and regulations, then, from
observation, learn what is and what is not acceptable behavior. You must spend your first
months of imprisonment learning which guards do what and which will or will not allow
you to do this or that and who will and will not write you a citation for certain behavior.
This constant changing of the rules keeps you off-guard and sometimes will cost you
Learn to be flexible and intuitive. Be tolerant and wise. I made it and you can too.
GETTING COMFORTABLE--DON’T DO IT!
As an innocent man, the most self-destructive attitude you can assume is that prison is
where you will remain for the rest of your life. If you accept this premise, the joint can
become just that: the place where you will spend the remainder of your life. Don‘t get
comfortable with the idea; don‘t get comfortable at all; prison is not your home. I
realized the truth of this after I had spent several years in a very dangerous endeavor.
Prisons in the early 1970s in Alabama were so bad that a federal judge who toured them
‖…In view of the foregoing, the rampant violence and jungle atmosphere existing
throughout Alabama‘s penal institutions are no surprise. The evidence reflects that most
prisoners carry some form of homemade or contraband weapon, which they consider to
be necessary for self-protection.‖ …‖Each of these failings in Alabama‘s penal system is
compounded by that system‘s most pervasive and most obvious problem:
overcrowding…‖[See: Pugh v. Locke, 406 F.Supp. 318, 325,(1976)]
I was one of several inmates who were protesting those conditions. It was dangerous
because the prison officials did not like it. In those years, it was common for some prison
officials to ―have‖ inmates who would harm or kill other inmates for them in exchange
for a bottle of whisky or even a steak dinner. I and those who were trying to change the
unconscionable conditions lived with the ever-present fear of being stabbed by one of
those inmates who wanted favors from the guards. One morning I woke up and realized
that I was risking my life to make this place a better home for myself. I was using all my
energies trying to create a home here instead of trying to get the hell out of this nightmare
After that, I focused all my energies on finding ways to prove my innocence and learning
law and legal procedures. Over the next 20 years, many around me laughed at what I was
trying to do. Some tried to hinder my efforts in one way or another. They had settled into
prison and had made it their home. In fact, they called the cells they slept in their house.
They spent time having nice pillows, blankets, stereos and the like smuggled into the
prison so that they could be comfortable. I watched them slowly die over the years. Each
one was never interested in trying to be free again. They accepted a cage as their
permanent home. Most of these men were more intelligent or at least better educated and
better connected than I was. Nearly all of them had family members who sent them
money and who would have helped them with capable lawyers who could fight to get
them out of prison. These men instead chose to get comfortable, settle in and make prison
all they had in life. I fought this tendency with all my heart and strength. At times, it was
very hard to stay focused on a battle that I knew would take years. Even after 25 years of
fighting this inclination to get comfortable, it never became easier. In fact, with the
passing of each new year, it grew harder. I thankfully had my wife who was my sole
strength against this lackadaisical and self-defeating attitude. Without her, I would not
have made it.
You cannot and must not get lazy. Your attitude and uncompromising determination to be
free of a cage called ―corrections‖ will put you back home. The very men in prison who
criticized my efforts and determination--who said I was a fool for thinking I would ever
be free--had fewer years to serve than I and are still in prison. I am home, in my real
home, with my Becky by my side. We did it. You can do it too.
These suggestions by no means cover every aspect of surviving prison while your
innocence is developed by your loved ones outside. I have stressed how everything you
do makes a large contribution to your family as they deal with your wrongful
imprisonment. It can not be said enough that you must not be selfish. You must
encourage those who love you to maintain a life outside, for it is all too easy for them to
start doing time along with you and lose their mental and physical health all too quickly.
Your false conviction could provide you with a chance to love and understand your
family as you could not while free with them. It is time that you and you alone decide
what you do with this time. Focus on helping those who love you. Put them first in all
you do and think. Spend your valuable time studying and learning what you can and must
do from inside. Always do right. You can become a better person from this tragedy of
wrongful imprisonment. For you and your loved ones, you can create a closer and
stronger relationship than any you could dream possible.
FIGHTING THE SYSTEM AND WINNING
LEGAL RESEARCH AND PROCESS
In the attached appendix is a lengthy section titled LEGAL RESEARCH. For the inmate
or loved one ready to learn the rudiments of serious legal research, this is where you
start. This section covers details and technical instruction that may be tedious to read
and difficult to follow unless you are prepared mentally for this challenging task. This is
a ”How To” book. We assume you are not a legal scholar, thus this is directed to those
who are learning how to research legal issues and must begin their appeal process from
It has been placed in the appendix to give the reader the opportunity to focus entirely on
the issues of research when he or she is ready.
Learning to research the law and draft legal motions and petitions are now the top
priorities in your life. You must learn to do this mostly by yourself. It is not an easy
process; it is time consuming and tedious and you must do it. There are persons in the law
library who can and will assist you. But there are no shortcuts and there is no one whose
life depends on it but yours.
You will be spending days, weeks and perhaps months in the law library. If you do not
like to read, learn to like it. You will have to read more books than you thought existed.
You will read opinions that baffle you while others make you feel like you just won the
lottery. As you learn how to interpret what you read, you will develop a plan of attack
against your convictions. You will find laws that apply to you. You will find cases
perhaps identical to yours. But it takes time. In prison, that is what you have: time. And it
is best spent with a law book in your hand.
There are hundreds of rules about the legal process you must learn. You will watch your
opposition break the rules as if they did not apply to them. It seemed to me that the rules
often did not apply to the state but they always apply to you. You are never allowed to
skip a step or file a petition late. Do not try it; your freedom can be jeopardized by one
day‘s tardiness. The state has an army of lawyers and nearly unlimited resources. The
court seems to favor them at every turn. This is the first of many such realities you must
face and not react negatively to. Your attitude is critical. Clearly, you are up against a
formidable foe. You must work smart and work hard.
Here is another reality you must face: Although you are wrongly convicted, your case is
strong and you have supporting case law, yet you are probably going to lose in the lower
courts. Expect it and prepare for it. With each court that you enter, never let the denials
slow your desire for freedom. Court after court will ignore what you present as if it does
not mean a thing. Do not become discouraged and never get angry. Anger and despair
will distract and slow you. Work, wait and work harder. Run your case and logic by
others. Listen to opinions. Read and read some more. The day will come when a court
will agree that your case has merit and will grant you relief. Your job is to start the
search, find law that supports your issues and follow the procedures required. Do this for
as long as it takes.
In the attached appendix is the step-by-step process that worked for me. This may well be
the greatest undertaking of your life. I won‘t mislead you. It was a difficult and hard task
but it brought me home. This is your life and liberty. It is worth every effort to recover it.
Every prison has them, the jailhouse lawyers. Some good, some bad. To use one or not;
to be one or not; these are questions that might occur to you. There are pros and cons to
I always did my own legal work. Gaining my freedom was far too important to trust to
anyone but myself. When you put your case in anyone‘s hands but your own, you lose
control. The biggest problem I observed about jailhouse lawyers was their lack of
responsibility and dependability. Example: Three or four guys have their cases in court
and their ―lawyer‖ gets busted for being drunk, selling drugs or inciting trouble. He is
locked up in solitary confinement. His ―clients‖ are completely out of luck with no idea
where their case is or how to retrieve it. Their time runs out and they lose their cases. I
have seen it over and over.
There are some who make their living in prison by filing petitions for others. This is
against prison policy but it occurs all the time. In Alabama, officials largely ignore it.
These lawyers charge a fee to file your original petition, which is almost always lost.
More money is charged for subsequent appeals. Sometimes the best jailhouse lawyers
charge, so you cannot use that as a gauge of their ability to represent you. Any lawyer
with an ounce of integrity will never guarantee you success. If one tells you that he can
do this and guarantees it, run like hell.
I am not saying all jailhouse lawyers should be avoided. Once I learned the legal ―ropes‖
and had won a number of cases, more men wanted help. Some I helped, some I would
not. Generally, I would make a personal assessment of the case. If the man was guilty of
a heinous crime such as rape or child molestation, I would deny him my assistance. If a
man had an impossible case with no chance of winning, I would be honest and pass.
I did take a handful of cases when I had time. I was largely successful. As the years came
and went and I won more than I lost, I gained the nickname of ―Matlock‖ and ―The
Lawyer.‖ My success gave me a reputation and protection. It helped me to avoid conflict
because many men would speak up for me solely because they might need my help
sometime down the line.
Good jailhouse lawyers will generally have a reputation for their work and have a
following. Ask around, listen to what others say and ask to review some of their work.
Men will hang around them or they will have men asking them questions much of the
time. They are easily identified. The call is yours. But remember, your freedom is now in
There are advantages to being a jailhouse lawyer if you know what you are doing. If you
don‘t, I strongly suggest that you do not try to help anyone. You do not want to be locked
in a cell with a man whose case you just lost.
If you develop good research techniques and learn sound legal strategy, by all means try
to help those you can. With each man you help, you learn more and it is always
rewarding to see someone get to go home while you battle for your turn to see those gates
Whether you become a jailhouse lawyer or just focus on your own case is up to you.
From my own experience, I cannot understand learning so much and not helping others.
Sharing information always helps and helping someone else is the grandest form of
sharing. I will always be grateful to those men who trusted me and asked me to help
them. I needed those boosts to my morale as I faced so many denials before walking
through my own open gates.
Ten years ago, as I was entering my third decade of mistaken imprisonment, a new
science for testing biological case evidence was just beginning to shake up the criminal
justice system. Here at last was a powerful means not only to convict the guilty with sure
proof of their crimes but to free the innocent. ―More importantly,‖ as the leading
authorities on the subject have said, ―DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful
convictions so that we may study the causes and propose remedies that may minimize the
chances that more innocent people are convicted.‖
This is a revolution! First, a few then dozens of innocents were exonerated by DNA—
some of them as they awaited execution. As I write these words, the 100th ―wrong man‖
had just emerged from prison walls because of DNA. The pace of exonerations by DNA
should speed up as the technology becomes evermore sophisticated and as a reluctant
criminal justice system is forced to respond to demands for DNA testing by imprisoned
That‘s the good news. The bad news is that only a small fraction of the vast number of
wrongful convictions can be overturned by DNA findings. As we have indicated earlier,
false imprisonments are mainly the result of such factors as false identification by
witnesses, misconduct by cops and prosecutors, junk science, bad lawyering and coerced
false confessions. In most cases that rest on such issues, even DNA testing will not put
things right. The two leading figures in the world of DNA testing, attorneys Barry Scheck
and Peter Neufeld, founders of the New York-based Innocence Project, tell us in their
book Actual Innocence that ―Most crimes, after all, do not involve biological evidence—
blood, semen, hair, skin, other tissue—which means there is no genetic material to test.‖
(In other words, most false imprisonments cannot be corrected with a single blow, as with
a decisive DNA test. This only points up the importance if research and record gathering
so that you can find other ways to either prove innocence or upset an illegal conviction.)
The even worse news is that many law enforcement officials, simply indifferent to justice
or determined not to have their mistakes exposed, will resist appeals from a prisoner or
his supporters to test case evidence for DNA. Some prosecutors and cops are even
rushing to destroy DNA evidence in anticipation of such appeals. This must stop!
The lesson here is that you must move quickly to see if there is a chance DNA testing
could lead to your exoneration. If so, do your very best as soon as possible to obtain all
evidence in possession of the prosecutor before you file any petition which alerts him that
you are about to attack your conviction. This will protect the evidence from becoming
misplaced, lost or otherwise hidden from your use.
It is a sad indictment of our judiciary that most states do not permit cases to be reopened
by a prisoner‘s DNA appeal or provide DNA testing at the state‘s expense. (After all, it is
in society‘s greater interest not only to free the innocent but to discover evidence that
might identify the truly guilty.) DNA tests cost thousands of dollars. If you believe you
qualify, you can seek the assistance of the organizations specializing in this field or try to
raise the money by family and private donations.
In any case, for prisoners with DNA possibilities, the first and best approach is to contact
the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, 55 Fifth Avenue (11th
floor), New York, NY 10003. Founded by Scheck and Neufeld in 1992, this rapidly
expanding organization now has regional branches and is the best single source for
information on DNA testing and its possibilities for the wrongly convicted. The website
www.innocenceproject.org provides guidelines for submitting individual cases to their
attention as well as a mass of other information.
BEYOND DNA: HELPING THE INNOCENT
The very existence of DNA testing and the publicity about exonerations has lead to the
creation a number if helpful organizations during the last decade. Some of them are
named in our list of Internet resource sites, including Justice Denied and Truth in Justice.
The Innocence Project itself is no longer exclusively focused on DNA. As its website
says, ―It has grown to become much more than the‗ court of last resort‘ for inmates who
have exhausted their appeals and their means. We are now helping to organize The
Innocence Network, a group of law schools, journalism schools, and public defender
offices across the country that assist inmates trying to prove their innocence whether or
not the cases involve biological evidence which can be subjected to DNA testing.‖
This is a remarkable and encouraging development. You may find that the most helpful
of the many new programs is the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago. These
legal specialists won great attention a few years ago by freeing nine innocent men
sentenced to death in Illinois. One historic result was the decision by Republican
Governor George H. Ryan to impose a moratorium on executions. This, in turn,
energized the nationwide anti death penalty movement. The Center on Wrongful
Convictions is at Northwestern University School of Law, 357 East Chicago Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60011. But first go to the website for an abundance of useful information:
ADMITTING WHEN TO STOP AND REGROUP
If you have tried your best and failed at every turn, you will find that the endless losses
have taken a toll. You have to stop at some point and evaluate all that you have done.
Reread all those opinions against you. If you find that you have honestly done all that you
can, it is time to focus on your physical, mental and emotional well being for awhile.
Back off. Take a week or more and let it all go. Exercise, read novels, watch some
television and listen to the radio. Clear your mind of the battle. At home, the family
should take a break as well: take a trip, treat yourself to something you have been denied,
go have some fun, and put the damned fight behind you.
In some instances, this will permit you to see the things you missed or did not cover as
thoroughly as you can now. Perhaps you can attack differently and more effectively now.
Consult with others. They do not have to know the law or even have much of an
education. Lay it all out to those who are open to it and then listen to all they have to say.
Sometimes the best advice comes from the most unlikely people.
In 1997, we had been fighting with everything we had for nine years. We had overcome
the murders. The State of Alabama had conceded and dropped all the 1973 charges. We
headed back to court for what we hoped would end in a coming-home celebration.
Instead, we were re-sentenced to life without parole for the three escape charges. We
were re-sentenced for escaping far more harshly than we had been sentenced for three
murders! It took our breath away. After all we had done, we realized that we were about
to enter an entirely new battle. The escape charges were now the last charges keeping us
imprisoned and we were sentenced to die in prison for them. New research and a totally
new mindset had to be found. It was time to pull back and regroup. A brief time away
from everything helped us regain energy and spirit for the next round. As bad as it was
then, we never for a moment believed we had lost. We simply could not afford to think
any way but positively.
If it comes time for you to take time off, do it. Then get back to work with more
determination than ever.
OPTIONS WHEN THE SYSTEM FAILS
When you have taken your case to the United States Supreme Court and failed or have
absolute knowledge that going to the highest court would be futile, you must face the fact
that, for now, there will be no help within the criminal justice system. That does not mean
that there will never be a new case decision that will help you. What we are talking about
is what you do between that time and today. You surely cannot lay down and accept a
false imprisonment. You do not belong behind bars and you must not stay there. So what
do you do?
You continue to watch the law books and newspapers for cases the U.S. Supreme Court
is considering. Laws change and if you are suffering from a law that has blocked you
from relief, remember that somewhere in this country there are others in the same
situation. They may be just starting out in the process that you have just concluded. In
their cases, however, there may be issues you have overlooked or issues that are better
defined than yours--similar issues that another court may choose to review. The decision
might apply to you. You must stay tuned into the judicial system.
While you wait and watch, there are a number of options. The only non-option is giving
up. What you do now is to evaluate how you can improve your current living conditions.
Transferring to another institution is always possible, even for those with the sentence of
life without parole. Each prison has good and bad points. If the prison you are currently
in provides you with fewer advantages than another may and you have not sought transfer
because of your legal work, now is the time to think about it.
If you have another several or more years before you are eligible for parole or you are
about to seek to change your sentence within the court system, a change in prisons may
be the best for you. There are considerations. If you are within six months of parole, a
transfer is not a good idea. All of a sudden you are in a new environment, the rules are
different, you are the stranger, there are too many unknowns, and you cannot take that
sort of risk. Stay where you are. If you are about to dive into legal research in order to try
for a sentence change, you obviously would not want to end up in a camp that might
force you to work ten hours a day. Stay where you are. If changing institutions would
impair your ability to begin either of those options, then transfer is obviously out of the
Generally, a transfer can be justified in a number of ways. You may seek a special
program that is offered only in another institution. You may have job skills that can be
used somewhere other than where you are. Your family can request your transfer to a
prison closer to home. The most important issue is this: Keep yourself clean and
productive. Do not do anything that turns the tide against you. When your annual review
comes along and you have done well, chances of a transfer request being approved are in
Sometimes you will be denied a transfer. We were. Becky lived in Mobile in extreme
south Alabama and I was incarcerated in northern Alabama, 301 miles away. The DOC
praises itself for keeping the family unit as physically close together as possible. We tried
for years for a transfer south and were repeatedly denied. They used my escapes as
justification for the refusal. I had no choice but to remain at St. Clair. This is rare, but
should you find yourself in a similar position, it is not the end of the world. You merely
have to commit yourself to never, ever doing anything that can be used against you and
do all that you can to make your life and record stay as positive as possible.
I expanded my teaching so that I had more time with computers. All the legal work was
completed and all that was left for me to do was to serve more time waiting for the next
court decision. I spent that time learning all I could about computers. It passed those long,
long hours in a constructive way and taught me things I never imagined before. Most
importantly, I went to work in the computer lab and worked as diligently as I could.
Every quarter I got a great report from my supervisor.
If a transfer is out of the question for one reason or another, do not give up. There are still
In all sentences including those of life without parole, there are options for release. Now
is the time to put forth every effort possible to becoming eligible for one of them.
Do you have any chance of making parole? If you have been sentenced to anything short
of a flat sentence of x-number of years or life without parole, you are eligible for parole
without a court battle. Granted, you are generally required to serve a minimum number of
years proportionate to your sentence. But if you are within a reasonable time for your
parole hearing, you have work to do. We believe two years is the prime time to start
focusing on parole.
There are bare minimums for parole that are absolute requirements. Before leaving
prison, you must have a home to go to and you must have a job in order support yourself.
In Alabama that's the bare minimum: home and job plan. There's more. First, your
behavior must be exemplary. If you have a load of disciplinaries, forget it. You are not
going anywhere until you can show the prison administration that you can behave
yourself on the outside if you are released. You do that by proving you can behave while
Once you have a decent prison record and a parole date is within sight, your family has
plenty of work to do. Letters of support must be written to the parole board from friends,
family members and clergy. The more letters, the better. Letters must state that you
believe your loved one is ready to come home, that you've seen a marked improvement in
his attitude and you will be there for him once he is released. If he has participated in any
positive activities like education or self-help programs, point those out.
One critical issue that must be addressed is the possibility of protests to your release from
victims, district attorneys or judges. Protest can destroy your chances of release faster
than anything can. If you think you will have protests, you must face them directly. If
protests are from law enforcement, call them and set a meeting. You will have to
convince them that your incarcerated loved one is remorseful and rehabilitated. This will
not be a walk in the park. It is tough, so go prepared. Have all documents that illustrate
good works and progress. Have copies of any positive institutional reports. Again, if he
has completed educational or self-help programs, bring documentation of those. The DA
may give you a hard time and you may leave the meeting not knowing if you have
accomplished anything. But when he receives notice that your loved one is up for parole,
he will remember your meeting.
Victim opposition is tougher. They very often protest parole. As far as most victims are
concerned, offenders have never done enough time. Sometimes contacting the victim stirs
the pot and makes the whole issue worse. Sometimes the victim or their family will be
open to a letter about the issues. It is a personal call you will have to make. You may
know the victim is hostile; if so, stay away.
Now here is a ticklish issue: You have been falsely convicted. You are wrongfully
imprisoned. The parole board is convinced of your guilt and is looking for remorse as one
gauge of your rehabilitation. You are remorseful that the system has failed you. That will
not fly with the parole board. You are snared in this proverbial Catch 22. So, what can
Again, this is a personal call. Let me, Becky, tell you what happened to us. Our second
parole hearing was coming up. This was very early in our battle. (We were still naïve).
After several talks with Michael's classification officer, she laid it on the line in no
uncertain terms. She told me that if we approached the board with the "innocent" story,
we wouldn't have a chance in hell at parole. She suggested that Michael write a letter
professing his remorse for his crimes. He wrote the letter. As you might expect, that letter
has come back to haunt us again and again. It has been pulled out of our file and used by
the state at every convenience. Our suggestion? Do not ever falsely admit to a crime, not
in an interrogation, not for the benefit of a self-righteous parole board. We cannot see that
you will have anything to gain.
One of the greatest cautionary tales about claiming guilt just to please a parole board is
the John Duval case in Rochester, New York, that coincidentally began when Michael‘s
ordeal started in May 1973. Duval and his friend Betty Tyson, both of them young black
prostitutes, were accused of killing a middle-aged white businessman. The record is clear
that a detective known for brutalizing suspects not only beat false confessions out of them
but forced two other black youths to falsely state that they had seen the accused with the
victim on the night he was killed. Though no physical evidence linking them to the
murder existed, Duval and Tyson were convicted in separate trials. Spending the next
quarter century behind bars, both insisted on their innocence but no one cared.
Then in the mid-1990s, a newspaper investigation of Betty Tyson‘s predicament led to
the discovery of vital evidence pointing to her innocence--and to Duval‘s innocence as
well--that the authorities had concealed from the beginning. Prosecutors set Tyson free in
May 1998 instead of seeking a new trial on the old flimsy evidence. The City of
Rochester quite readily paid her $1,250,000 in compensation for her 25 years of wrongful
What about Duval? No such luck. Prosecutors said they would try him again because he
had twice, in 1995 and 1996, admitted guilt to the parole board—something Tyson had
always refused to do. Totally dismissed was his explanation that he believed then, in his
desperation to be free, that his only hope was to express remorse to the board for the
murder he did not commit. Before and during his trial, Duval dug in his heels and took a
great risk of extended incarceration by refusing the state‘s offer of no more prison time
by ―confessing‖ guilt. Fortunately, he was acquitted. He was set free in February 2000
after nearly 27 years behind bars, exactly one year less than Michael. As for
compensation, he got none. Not a dime. Why? Because he had twice ―admitted‖ his guilt
at parole board hearings.
Again, the lesson is: If you are innocent, clutch that truth to your heart no matter what.
And keep searching for a way out. For example, just because you may have a sentence
that offers no parole does not mean that you cannot become eligible for parole. It means
that this option may now be your only hope of ever getting out of the place you should
have never been to begin with. You are in there now, so is it not better to be paroled than
to die inside a prison? Of course, it is.
Thus far, your court battles have been focused on overturning the conviction. Now you
must look into the possibility of having just the sentence overturned or modified. Re-
entering the judicial system is one option. Another is to attack the legal provisions for
parole eligibility of your sentence. You would do that through a state habeas corpus.
After the legal battles you have just experienced, you have learned what court may
consider reducing your sentence or making you eligible for parole. You will never know
what is possible until you try it. As with all your legal attacks, you will start with your
original trial and sentencing court. You begin with the judge and district attorney where
you were convicted. They may never agree that you are innocent but they might come to
see that your sentence is too severe and be willing to lessen it or make parole an option.
This is what we had to do and succeeded: We had to attack the cases I was guilty of in
order to show that the district attorney and the judge had latitude in my sentencing. The
judge and DA in my third escape insisted that my only sentence could be life without
parole. We disagreed vehemently but they never swayed. So we had to attack the escape
convictions themselves. This appeal would be a long shot because I was, in fact, guilty of
the escapes. Luckily, the state was woefully inept and the convictions did not stand up
After we succeeded in having two of those cases dismissed, we approached the district
attorney first because without his recommendation the judge was unlikely to offer us any
help. The life-without sentence could not stand now, as the necessary prior convictions
were gone. The judge could still re-sentence us to life and I would return to prison. After
gaining the DA's endorsement (which was after our huge letter and media blitz), we then
filed a petition into the court requesting several things. We asked to be released outright
with time served or be released on probation for a short period of time, such as three to
six months. The judge refused to simply release us. He stated that he would consider
probation. Which is what finally happened. I was released on a five years of probation
with the understanding that the judge would review it in six months and consider
releasing me from that. Well, after a year the judge still refuses to release me from
probation. However, I have been free for the year and would not trade this year with my
wife for anything.
When the laws simply do not apply to you, there is only one reasonable thing to do:
AMENDING SENTENCING LAWS
Did you know that you could have existing law changed? Within the past three years, we
have watched this "miracle" occur here in Alabama. Because of the tenacity and
determination of a handful of hard working folks, their sons, fathers and husbands who
were previously not eligible for release are preparing themselves for their liberation
dates. The driving force behind this particular law change was these wonderful parents
who have our great admiration: Diana Summerford, Jack Minshew and Mr. and Mrs. A.S.
McLester. They refused the system's judgment as we did. They fought and won. Their
choice was easy: change the law or watch their sons die in prison.
How did they do it? We were in the midst of an entirely different battle and were not
involved directly so we have only our general knowledge to draw from. But from what
we have learned, this is what it takes to change the law in Alabama, and it could work in
Your issue must be popular enough to have a pocket of people willing to help. You
cannot do it alone; remember, it's still all about politics. You will need support. You'll
have to meet with your state representatives and find one or two who are sympathetic to
your cause. It will be up to them to sponsor the bill. There should be considerable
preparation before you seek this meeting. Get a copy of the law you are trying to amend.
Write up the changes you believe apply to you. Be specific, but do not worry about any
legal type wording; if the bill is sponsored, it will be rewritten over and over again. If you
find a representative willing to sponsor it, you have overcome your first challenge. Your
representative will take it from there, but still there is a good amount of work to do. Your
main objective will be to gather support. People must be willing to call, write, fax and e-
mail their state representatives relentlessly in support of the new bill.
This is not a quick and easy endeavor. It took our friends several years before their law
was finally enacted. The bill must pass through several committees, then move from the
House to the Senate. If the bill is approved (passed) through both levels, it goes to the
governor who will sign it...or not. Whether or not it passes through committee, the houses
and is signed by the governor depends on popular support. You have to have support.
"Softening" of criminal laws is not a popular notion. Any politician appearing to be soft
on crime is a dead duck come election time. You will have opposition. Your success or
failure depends on how many folks you can rally to your side.
It may seem like a long shot but it happened here in the deep South. If it happened in
Alabama, it can happen anywhere.
WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN
There may come a time when the chips are so deeply down that you must focus on one
thing: living so that you do not die in prison. If transfer is out of the question and
changing a law is simply beyond your ability to conceive and there is truly no hope of
parole, it is not the time to give up. Now more than ever you must fight to find another
legal method of being released. Any time that you break the rules or laws, you are held
accountable for those actions. The more you misbehave, the less apt you are to be able to
benefit from any changes that others produce. The chips are down, but you must dig a
little deeper into yourself to find more energy to go on fighting.
It occurs to nearly all inmates sooner or later. For those of you who are wrongly
imprisoned, as I was, it may seem like a justifiable action. I did it three times and must
talk about it: escape.
ESCAPE...A VIABLE OPTION?
Under Alabama law, there is only one justifiable cause to escape. That circumstance is
very narrow and open to all sorts of legal debate. Alabama says that only when your life
is imminently threatened and you have no safe place to run within the prison can you
escape. Then you must run directly to some other police agency and turn yourself in. That
is ―escape with cause‖ that will not subject you to any criminal prosecution. At the time
of this writing there is not a single case in Alabama of such an escape. Nor is there any
provision in Alabama law for escaping from my kind of illegal confinement.
Under this narrow legal definition, there is never any legal justification for escaping.
Thus, when imprisoned for a crime you did not commit and the legal system drags on
year after year and you still incarcerated, there is no legal recognition of your
mental/emotional loss. To Alabama, only a threat to your physical life gives cause to
As an option to the years of legal battles, escape is no answer. I escaped. It led to my
receiving the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Not for the nonviolent
escape but for the nonviolent burglary of the prison deputy warden's state-provided home.
It was on prison property and I was allowed to work around this house every day. I broke
into this house so that I would not have to commit another felony to gain civilian clothes
for the escape and so my wife would not be arrested for having provided me with clothes,
car and money. And, yes, your loved ones can be prosecuted for aiding and abetting your
escape. It happens all the time. Becky and I stay so close that I knew she would be the
first person the police would run to. It was my job to show the police how I obtained the
clothes, car and money from which I based my escape. (The police did in fact raid our
home at gunpoint while Becky was there alone). In other words, I stole clothes, a car and
a pistol from this house so that I would not have to do this outside state property or
involve my wife. My problem was that I was committing felony acts no matter from
whom I stole. And, taking the pistol, even though I traded it for gasoline within minutes
of the escape, made that crime a Class A Felony under Alabama's Habitual Felony
Offender Act. I was then a candidate for life without the possibility of parole.
For the theft of the car, which in Alabama is First Degree Theft, I received a life term.
For the non-violent second-degree Escape, I received ten years. Both were imposed to be
served consecutively--or one after the other. So, in addition to my illegal sentences, I now
had even worse sentences.
While in prison we all hear the stories and sometimes even see on TV or in magazines
where someone escapes from prison and gets caught in another state that grants them
asylum. In these very, very rare cases, those men or women have only traded one prison
for another. The state that has granted them the right to live there is only one state. If you
leave that state and are arrested on the outstanding fugitive warrant from the state you
escaped from, there is no guaranty the second state will also grant you asylum. So, in
effect, all you have done is leave a small prison and gone to a larger one. Your illegal
conviction still stands against you, and now may enhance the punishment for any crimes
you may have committed in the course of your escape.
In my nearly 28 years of incarceration, I know of only two men who won asylum in
another state. Both eventually had to return to Alabama for family reasons. One had to
bury his mother. The police were waiting for him and he was arrested and returned to
prison with additional time for escape (a life sentence). The other man returned to help
his sister who had been raped. He too was arrested and, like the other case, received a life
term for the escape.
Our point is that while your emotional and mental sanity will be tested and harmed,
escape is not the answer. It only adds to your immense task. We learned that running
solved nothing. It only compounded our nightmare.
When we began our battle to correct the false murder convictions, we had no idea that in
the end we would have to battle the escape case as well. We believed that once we proved
that the murder convictions were illegal, we would be immediately released on time
served for the escape related crimes. We never expected to have the book thrown at us for
the escapes. As one reporter said, "They didn't throw the book at you, they threw the
whole damned library.‖ He was right. And it could have cost us our life.
Our message here is simple: Don't even begin to think of escape. Do not believe that
because you are imprisoned for crimes you did not commit, a DA or judge will be
sympathetic when trying you for escape. It simply does not work that way.
In the end, we fought harder against the escapes than we had to fight the murder cases.
That is because we were guilty of the escapes. We were successful in winning reversals
on the escapes not from our brilliance but because of the incompetence of those who
prosecuted those cases as they occurred. They committed errors that could only be fixed
by dismissing those charges.
There are few things worse than being wrongfully imprisoned. Once you are caught
inside the mindless and slowly grinding machine of the judiciary you will have a most
difficult time getting out. That is the simple and sad truth. The good news is that there are
many options for winning your freedom. Not a single one of them is fast, but they worked
for us. We pray and trust they will work for you.
GETTING DOWN TO THE WIRE
It took us years and years, but we did it. We knew we were coming home. In our deepest
hearts, we always knew we would be free, but to actually be able to reach out and touch it
is an altogether different animal. Still, with the life without parole sentence gone, there
was work to do. This perhaps was the most serious work of all. It was surely the most
Let‘s imagine that you are in the same situation. You have laid the groundwork.
Everything possible has been done. Either cases are dismissed or dropped or you have
been retried and found not guilty. If this has happened, you could be free now. Our cases
were dropped, other cases were reversed and we still had work to do. Like us, perhaps
you are not yet home.
As you have read, our attack was multi-pronged. We used public pressure as leverage.
We had won the legal battle, but the state was not bound by law to let us go. The judge
could still sentence us to life for one of the escape charges. We knew the DA and judge
had plenty of discretion in how we would be sentenced now. For months we had focused
our letters, calls and faxes on the attorney general, the DA and the judge in the county
where we would next and finally appear. Had they gotten the message? It was time to see.
Now the talking begins. You have come to the point on this long and arduous road where
the state officials are actually willing to talk about letting you go. Or, are they?
CHOOSING YOUR NEGOTIATOR
This is as hard a task as all the rest of this process. There are so many variables to
consider and every case is different. This was our scenario. While we had done the bulk
of the work ourselves, by the time the case had come to this point, we had three different
attorneys working for us. We did not have another choice that seemed reasonable, so we
decided one of our attorneys would be our negotiator.
You must have absolute trust in this person. You must trust that such an individual will
act only in your best interest. He will be in a position of making decisions on the spot.
These will be life-altering decisions and he must be able to press an issue or drop it in the
blink of an eye.
As we came to the last years of our struggle, we were able to attract the pro-bono legal
assistance of several exemplary attorneys. Elizabeth ―Barry‖ Johnson was appointed to
represent us in the Eleventh Circuit of Federal Appeals. Her appointed ―duty‖ was over
but Barry stuck with us for years afterward because of her dedication to justice. Bruce
Berman from the Washington, DC law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, one of the
country‘s most prestigious groups, came to our service after our story was published in
the New York Times. Jim Curenton entered our case as we were preparing for our civil
suit. Practicing in southern Alabama, fearlessly taking on the often-immoral judicial
system, he had won a reputation for being a champion for victims of judicial misconduct
whose constitutional rights had been trampled upon.
All our attorneys were trustworthy, smart and quick on their feet. But there was more to
consider and this nailed our decision. We live in the deep South. Like it or not, this is still
a white-male dominated culture. We sit in the heart of the Bible belt. One of our fine
attorneys is a brilliant female, one is a sophisticated northern male of Jewish persuasion
and another is a white male who is as southern as fried chicken and pecan pie. Guess who
we chose. Yep, fried chicken and pecan pie. He's a slow-talker who thinks fast; he talks
the good ole' boy talk with the best of them. He's witty and cunning. He's local. He was
the only choice.
NEGOTIATING YOUR RELEASE
The reversal of the case that killed the mandatory life-without-parole sentence occurred
in March 2000. Negotiations began shortly after. It was a grueling time. Our negotiator
called the DA in the county where we would be appearing for re-sentencing. We were
hopeful that a quick agreement and release would follow. We would agree to no big
crowds or media and whoosh; we would be on our way. That did not happen. Weeks of
unreturned telephone calls, missed appointments, DA in China, judge on vacation,
dockets full and more turned into months of the same. The DA had met with the attorney
and his staff and everyone was in agreement that Michael Pardue would be freed.
There had been an original ―release date‖ of July 2000 set. Michael would come home in
the summer. Perfect! It did not happen. As we watched one season and holiday turn into
the next, Labor Day into Thanksgiving, into Christmas, into New Year‘s, my birthday,
his birthday, our stress rose as the whole process disheartened us. For the first time in my
life, I felt old and tired. Would the state simply carry this out forever? Is this their latest
When you reach this point, do not let the stress of it all make you lose your senses.
Michael and I both were stretched about as tightly as we had ever been in all these years.
We just had to hold tightly to our love and commitment and ride it out. On the morning
of February 14, 2001 our case was once again pulled off the next day‘s docket. Late in the
afternoon, the case was back on. It appeared that we were indeed about to have the day in
court that we had long sought. We called friends and media. Everyone had been ―on call‖
for weeks. Finally, people from across the country started boarding planes for southern
Negotiations had been much longer and harder than we had expected. Over and over we
were one day, one week, and a few times hours from release only to have another hurdle
thrown before us, blocking our release one more time. This can lead to frustration that
you cannot crumble under.
Never stop preparing for that moment when freedom will become a reality. Know that it
is coming. Prepare. And never allow the hassles and uncertainty to stop you from
knowing the joy of this extraordinary event. Each time we were close, Michael mailed
out all of the things that were bulky and important to me so that they could not be taken
by guards or otherwise lost. We suggest you do that too. Anything that means something
to you, send it home. Keep only a few necessary things you have to carry so that when
you are transported from place to place you are not hindered by a large bag.
I arrived early at the courthouse. Michael was not there. He was not in the county jail. We
were supposed to have an early morning hearing. Our attorney insisted that the DA call
the Dept. of Corrections. We listened as the DA raised his voice to the DOC official over
the telephone. ―You damn well better get him here!‖ It turns out that for the first time in
28 years of going back and forth to court, the DOC decided it was not their job to
transport us. After the DA‘s loud order, it was clear that Michael was on his way.
Before we actually walked arm in arm in freedom, there were more bizarre adventures
than we can describe here. One of our attorneys was forced off the road and threatened by
a covey of policemen. Another of our attorneys called the warden who had accompanied
us to the courthouse a ―lard ass‖ and they came very close to squaring off with one
another. Michael was freed by the judge and promptly kidnapped by the DOC. Our 40 or
so supporters were nearly thrown off prison grounds for demanding Michael‘s release.
Michael was taken to the roadside and let go after a call from the state capitol told the
prison officials to release him now!
You can never be prepared for what the final moments of false imprisonment will bring.
Over the years, you have imagined every possible coming home scenario and every
emotion a hundred times over. So did we, and guess what: It was nothing as we ever
imagined. It was far more intense. It was far more exciting. It was far more stressful. It
was happier. It was beyond all our combined imagination.
You will drive your loved one from his nightmare. There will be no words that can begin
to say what your heart feels. Just feel it and know the joy of victory.
Most importantly, never forget all that you have experienced. Once freedom is yours,
take the time every hour to appreciate all life offers in the free world. I often walk
outdoors to just do this simple thing in gratitude for my wife and all it took for me to be
able to savor this small wonder. Expect to see new things and have old places gone, for
progress never slowed while you were inside a cage.
Be ready to assume new responsibilities for you are now in debt to all of those who have
worked for you, prayed for you and done thousands of things that made it possible for
you to be free.
Never for the rest of your life, forget what it is like to lose every vestige of humanity,
and each time you see anything in a cage, remember what it was like for you.
Lastly, keep someone close to you whom you trust so that you can express your feelings.
Someone who will not laugh at your childish wonders and cravings. Someone who will
help you without making you feel inept or stupid. For in those first few months, the most
important thing on earth to have is someone who will be there with you, helping, guiding,
teaching and just sharing with you all that you are experiencing.
God bless you and keep you strong and wise.
You can reach us. We try to answer all questions and comments.
Michael and Becky Pardue
P.O. Box 5457
Mobile, AL 36605
My experience in post-conviction litigation has been in Alabama. I will use some terms
specific to Alabama such as ―Rule 32 Petition.‖ I refer to the 11th Circuit of Federal
Appeals, which has its jurisdiction in the southeastern US. If you are fighting your case in
another state, your petitions will have their own titles. If you are incarcerated outside the
southeast, your federal court will be different. For example, if you are in Texas, you will
be in the 5th Circuit Court of Federal Appeals. Regardless of the terms and the court‘s
jurisdiction, the process of filing an appeal to your conviction: how to appeal, where you
file and where to appeal, is basically the same for every state. Your law library will have
the books that will tell you what federal circuit you are in, what your post-conviction
petitions are called and other critical information.
Research! It is the cornerstone of your success within the judicial system. Sound
research takes time and a good deal of patience. Research is not a mystery. It is simply
the process of locating cases and rulings (case law) that support the facts in your case as
specifically as possible.
Why is research the cornerstone of your success? Whether or not your conviction is
dismissed, affirmed or something in between depends on how well you have researched
the issues within your case. You must locate those superior court rulings that not only
apply to your specific legal issues, but also were made in your own jurisdiction. Your
research, when done properly, will provide you with rulings of the superior courts that are
―over‖ the particular court you are currently before. You must show your current court
that their superiors have ruled on this issue in the past. Superior courts rarely reverse
themselves. Your current court is legally compelled to follow their superior courts‘
ruling. They know the court(s) above them will follow their own ruling again and if they
rule contrary, they will be reversed. The court you are before now has only to look to
determine whether or not your case issues fall under superior court rulings. If they do, it
is difficult for them to refuse to follow the higher court‘s order. Your appeal may be
granted at that level. If not, the superior court will be bound to follow their previous
ruling and you will win at that level.
For every statutory error and for every constitutional violation committed, there are cases
already in the books that have been heard and ruled upon. True, there may be something
new that has come up but after over 300 years of law in this country, just about
everything that can be done wrong has been done and courts have heard and ruled on
them. Your job is to read and search for those errors that fit your case and the
circumstances of those previous cases that match yours as closely as possible. You must
read, read and read some more.
You will be researching two areas of law: statutory and federal constitutional law. While
state constitutional issues are important and you should make note of them, all of them
are based through the 14th Amendment (due process) to the federal constitution or are
identical to federal constitutional guarantees. You will find both as you do the basic two-
prong search of state statutory law and federal constitutional issues.
Statutory law is state laws, rules and required procedures. They are found in such law
books as Southern Reporter 2nd Series for those in Alabama. If you are not in Alabama,
go to the institutional law library and ask what series of books deals with your state‘s
laws and case laws.
Constitutional law that you must study will be found in the series of books called Federal
Reporter 2nd and 3rd Series. These books apply nationwide. They report on all the various
circuit cases across the country. Here, you will learn how constitutional issues are
violated, how state prisoners can file on them and what exactly what constitutional issues
can be brought to the federal courts in your case.
For the Southern Reporter 2nd Series, case laws are referred to this way: Michael R.
Pardue vs. State, 571 So.2d. 320 (Ala. Cr. App. 1989). 571 is the volume number, So.2d
tells you it is the Southern Reporter 2nd Series. 320 tell you the page number of that case.
(Ala. Cr. App. 1989) tells you that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1989
released their opinion in that case. When you need to refer to a different page of that case,
you do it this way: (See: Michael R. Pardue vs. State, 571 So. 2d. 320 at 331 (Al. Cr.
App. 1989) ―where it was shown that the prosecutor had admitted that he introduced the
prior felonies during the trial.‖ This is the way you show the court exactly where and
from what book you quoted and that it says what you are claiming it does.
You do the same thing when using the Federal Reporter except it is cited this way:
Michael R. Pardue vs. Larry Burton, Warden, 26 F3rd 1093 (11th Cir. 1994). The 26 tells
you the volume number of the federal 3rd series, the 1093 tells you that the case is found
on page 1093 and this is an 11th Circuit Court of Federal Appeals that made those rulings
in that case in 1994. You would cite from it as you would from the other book.
The third set of law books you will need in your research is the L Ed 2d Series. These are
called: Lawyers Edition 2d Series. These books contain solely United States Supreme
Court cases. You will cite from them the same as you do the other two books.
In Alabama, you will use the Southern Reporter 2d Series the most for statutory law and
state constitutional law as well. Your books for federal constitutional law will be the
Federal Reporter 2nd and 3rd Series and the Lawyer Edition 2d Series books. Again,
regardless of what state you are in, you will find comparable law books.
There will be some crossover references between all the books. For example, a state case
brought to federal court will be reported in the F 2d Series and the So. 2d Series as well.
The final decision is published only in the F. 2d Series.
Only cases that are appealed are published in these books. If no appeal was taken in a
case, it is not reported in any of these books. In the appeals process, laws, practices and
rules are challenged and revised. Laws are also changed by the legislature, but more often
by those like you and me who dare to challenge them and win.
It is my opinion, from all I experienced, that you must get your case into the federal court
system before you will find justice. All too often state court judges are so tied up in their
own political agendas and careers that justice is no longer the force that guides them.
These judges will deny you in order to pass the buck (for correcting their mistakes) to the
higher courts. And sometimes, those higher courts are involved in re-election interests so
they too will deny you. Then it falls to the federal court to order the lower court to give
you a new trial or render another remedy. My experience with the judiciary confirmed
this time after time. I have shown the state courts the law and facts and they deny my
claims. Three, four or up to seven years later, the federal court would order the state court
to do as I had petitioned so many years before. It appeared to me that an immoral state
court served an unjust prosecutorial process by sustaining my incarceration, only to have
the federal order them to correct their errors. The judge who rules this way is not held
accountable for his actions. He is rarely reprimanded for his ―mistakes.‖ I suggest that
judges be held to same level of performance as we all are. If he cannot do his job, if he is
reversed by the higher courts, fire him.
We believe in the integrity of the federal courts and we suggest that you begin to prepare
for federal district court some six months to two years from the time you file your
original Rule 32 Post-conviction Petition. It is mandatory by the federal courts that you
must first give the state every chance to correct their mistakes before you are allowed to
file in federal court. This is called (exhausting state remedies).
In Alabama, for example, exhausting state remedies means that you must present every
issue that you have to every court in its judicial system. First is the circuit court that tried
and convicted you. From there, you appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals and from
there to The State Supreme Court.
Once you have presented your issues to each of the state courts, starting with the circuit
court, and if the State Supreme Court denies you, you can then proceed to federal court
under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2254 Federal Habeas Corpus Petition. This is a special habeas
proceeding set up solely for state prisoners needing federal court help on their
convictions. You have one year from the date that the State Supreme Court denied you to
file your Federal Habeas Corpus Petition.
Using Alabama as an example, you would start by filing a Rule 32 Post-conviction
Petition under the Rules of Criminal Procedure. Under Alabama Law, it must be filed
with the same court that tried and convicted you. This court must have the opportunity to
correct the error(s) it made in your original case. As I said before, I have rarely seen a
lower court admit and correct its own errors. In helping others in prison with a Rule 32
Petition filed in circuit court, I rarely saw a judge reverse his own errors, even when our
proof was legally sound. Instead, judges deny they made any error and an appeal must be
taken to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This court may issue an order to the circuit court
telling them that they were wrong to deny the petition. In that case, a new trial would be
ordered by the superior court. This takes time! Time that is a horror and travesty for those
Usually an appeal takes from six months to two years. If the appeals court refuses to
reverse the case, you must request a rehearing from them on your issues. When your
request for rehearing is denied, you now have to go to the State Supreme Court. You file
for a Writ of Certiorari to the State Supreme Court. This court has no time for small
matters. They hear only one case out of every 100. This is a greater number than in years
past. Today, you stand a good chance of receiving relief from the State Supreme Court, if
you have done your research properly and have solid case law in support of your issues.
Do not count on this, however. Build your case for the federal courts from the very start.
Be ready to enter federal court the very minute the State Supreme Court denies you relief.
Once the circuit court denies your Rule 32 Petition, you immediately file Notice of
Appeal. Alabama law says that you have 42 days to do this. We found that you need to do
this as soon as possible because many things can happen and those 42 days can disappear
quickly. You file this with the clerk of the circuit court that just denied you relief. I have
always sent a second notice to the Court of Criminal Appeals too. It never hurts and it is
better to do than it is not to.
In the prison law library, there should be books that tell you the Rules of Court. Here,
they are called: Alabama Rules of Court and Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.
These two books are vital to you. Read them and learn them. They are the tools to make
your case move and be heard as it should be and needs to be. Do not depend on others or
even the court itself to live by these Rules. Each time the court or the district attorney
(DA) breaks one of these Rules, file a motion to the judge, even if it is the judge himself
who broke the rule. You file motions very simply by setting them up like this:
[See next page]
In The Circuit Court of Mobile County
Michael R. Pardue,
VS. Case No: 2001-0987-AS
State of Alabama,
Motion for Sanctions for Rule Violation
Comes now the Petitioner, pro-se in the above-styled cause and respectfully
moves this Honorable Court to impose sanctions for violation of Rule #9 of the Alabama
Rules of Criminal Procedure.
In April 6, 2001 Honorable Judge Whitely T. Tallman did violate Rule 9 of the
Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure when he refused to order the Respondent to turn
over documents that Petitioner requested as they are material and prove Petitioners
entitlement to relief sought in this cause of action.
Certificate of Service
Under the penalties of perjury I swear that I have served a copy of the above on
the District Attorney by placing said copy into the U.S. Mail, first class postage pre-paid
and properly addressed on this the ____ day of August, 2001.
Mr. D. C. Doyle, District Attorney
P. O. Box 54
Mobile, AL 36605
Michael R. Pardue, pro-se
P. O. Box 5432
Mobile, AL 36605
That is all there is to filing a motion. But, you must have it in this form. It can be as long
as you need, but try to keep the motions to as few pages as possible.
Always mail a copy of everything you do to the counsel for the state. This will be the DA
in circuit court and the Attorney General (AG) once you are before the Court of Criminal
Appeals. When you are in federal court, it will be the AG as well.
You must always include a certificate of service and mail those copies to the DA or AG.
Samples of Certificate of Service and other forms will be found in the Alabama Rules of
Court. Your petition can be dismissed if you fail to send the DA or AG copies of
everything you file to the court. Even if you need to ask the court clerk for information, a
copy of that letter must go to the DA or AG.
There are time limitations to filing everything. Making yourself familiar with the Rules of
Court will help avoid having your petitions dismissed. If you do miss a filing deadline,
this error is generally not forgivable. If it is, then you waste valuable time and energy
fighting to correct your own mistake. Our suggestion is that you never be late. Read the
Rules of Court and no matter what the DA or AG does not do, you always stay right.
If you lose a Rule 32 Petition, there is a 42 day time limit on your filing notice of appeal.
This is one filing date with no room for error. You fail to file in time and you have no
appeal. It is that simple.
When you give notice of appeal, remember: unfortunate things happen in the mail when
you are a prisoner and have legal deadlines to meet. I have always filed two notices of
appeal: One to the court clerk of the court that denied my petition and another to the
Appeals Court where the case will now go. For example, if this is a Rule 32 Petition
denial, I know that the case now will go to the Court of Criminal Appeals in
Montgomery, AL. If this is a federal habeas corpus denial, I know the case has to go to
the 11th Circuit Court of Federal Appeals in Atlanta, GA.
I know this because I have read the law books that I suggested you read. In these books
rests all the information you will need to pursue a post-conviction challenge.
Last note on notices of appeals. Always give your notice of appeal as soon as you can and
do it in writing. (Remember, if it is not in writing it can be denied.) Never wait to the 39th
or 40th day to do this. It is vital, so do it immediately, always!
With all that said, let us look at your research now, then later we will go step-by-step
through state court into federal court under 28 USCS § 2254. (―§‖ This symbol means the
A Rule 32 Petition is a fill in the blank form provided by the court clerk‘s office.
Normally, it can be found in your institution's law library. If you cannot get a form and
the court clerk refuses to provide you with one, use ordinary typing paper and copy the
form in the law book (Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure). Be sure to copy the form
as it is in the book and answer every question. If you have been refused the form, add a
letter to the court telling them that you requested and were refused the form. Sometimes
they will accept your handwritten form. Sometimes they will return your handwritten
form with a copy of the form you asked for in the first place.
The form instructs you to tell the court what your claims are and asks you to provide the
facts that entitle you to relief. They tell you not to use legal terms and not cite any case
law, just tell the story.
The form does not tell you that once your petition is filed the DA will very likely file a
motion to have your petition dismissed. Again, he does not worry about the merits of
your argument. He just goes about trying to deny you relief. You must rebut this motion
with facts and case law that support your claims. In this rebuttal, you will focus on
showing the court what the DA has said is wrong. You are not discussing the merits of
your petition. You are arguing to have the court deny the motion to dismiss your petition.
So, you do not argue your case. Just show that the motion to dismiss has no merit and
must be denied and your that petition should heard, as is your right under the 14th
Amendment of the US Constitution.
If you do not argue against the DA‘s motion to dismiss, usually the court will grant it.
Now you have another legal process before your issues are ever heard. You must appeal
that dismissal. Your grounds will be that you were not allowed a hearing on the merits of
your petition. You must argue against the motion to dismiss and usually the court will
deny the DA‘s motion and you will have the issues now before the court.
The DA will argue against your issues no matter what you say. As a matter of course, this
judicial office will work to have your petition dismissed without any consideration of its
facts. This is not to say that you should not put all you can into the petition. You must.
That the state will, as a matter of course, fight your every claim without investigating its
merits is another indictment of their indifference to justice.
Once the court has denied the DA‘s request to have your petition dismissed, you will be
able to proceed with your issues. If you have researched as I suggested and have laid out
your claims in a clear, plain and simple form, the DA will do everything within his power
to have the court rule against you. It is maddening to have proof and endless case law that
an error has occurred, know you are entitled to the new trial, to come before the court and
hear the DA argue that for some reason this error does not deserve relief. In fact, in my
experience, I have presented claims that were so clear, with undisputed legal case law to
support them that the DA takes offense that we should presume to ask the court to correct
the errors. When you show that the prosecution is wrong they fight you all the harder
instead of admitting their mistake and accepting your new trial.
Prosecutors will argue that although you have proven an error was made, you are not
entitled to relief. They tell the court that you are guilty of the crime and they proved it
before a jury thus, this error should be overlooked. I found the average prosecutor would
like the court to let your conviction stand even when you prove that the prosecution
violated rules. In several instances in my case, prosecutors committed felony acts in
falsely prosecuting me for those murders. The DA's response was to deny all wrongdoing
then use all their resources to stop me from having a hearing to prove it. Once I had the
hearings, they argued that using perjury to falsely convince a jury of my guilt did not
Yes, at every stage I had to fight hard. You will too. At no time did I find a prosecutor
who admitted making the errors we later proved. They demanded that I admit my wrongs
while saying nothing about their own.
No one likes to be wrong and we have found that judges and DA‘s in Alabama are some
of the worst in this category. Be prepared for this. Expect the judge who tried you and the
prosecutor who presented the State‘s case against you to never admit the errors they
made. You find their errors. You present them clearly and they will deny them. Do not be
daunted by their denials and efforts to keep you from winning correction of the errors.
You must be the example they should follow by never showing anger, frustration or
I once stood before a circuit court judge presenting my claims that I had spent over three
months preparing. I wanted to present his errors in a manner that would not offend him
by showing how the error was made and that under those circumstances anyone would be
as mislead he. I took ten minutes making my argument. I showed that this error was
reversed by the appeals court repeatedly and asked the judge to do the right thing and
order a new hearing. The judge looked straight into my eyes and said, ―Mr. Pardue, I will
not argue law with you. If you are right, I want the appeals court to tell me, not you.‖
This judge denied my petition and I appealed and won. The appeals court ordered him to
do exactly as I asked him to do two and one half years earlier. This judge took two and
half years of my life and Becky‘s life with no more thought or consideration than you
would give swatting a fly that kept buzzing around you at the dinner table.
This is why you must be perfectly prepared at each stage of the legal process. Had I not
argued that particular issue before the judge, it would not have been a part of the record.
Thus I could not have appealed it and won it. You must present and argue those points of
law you want the judge to consider. It must be part of the record or ―before the court,‖
meaning in a courtroom with a judge and court reporter taking notes. Only those points
argued and/or put in writing and presented to the court (as a part of the record) will go to
the court of appeals. This is true with state and federal petitions. Once you are in the
federal court, you cannot bring up new issues.
Again, you cannot bring up any point of law or issue in an appeal that was not a part of
the record in the circuit court hearing or submitted to that court in writing if there was no
hearing. You may hear the phrase ―preserving the issue for appeal.‖ That is exactly what
it means. Even if you are certain that a judge will ignore your claims, your must submit
every one of them or lose your chance of ever having them heard.
There are exceptions to every rule. But do not count on being that exception. If you do,
be prepared for battles that may take years to win. Avoid believing you will be the
exception or having to use exceptions to the normal rules and procedures as much as
While it is a fact that trial judges and prosecutors do not admit making reversible errors at
your original trial, you must never do less than your very best on a Rule 32 Petition. You
must prepare the issues and facts of your case as thoroughly as possible and submit case
law that supports your claims as if you believed the judge will in fact order the new trial.
Give them a chance. Give them your very best. Then if they refuse to admit any error, do
not waste time and energy in anger or disappointment. Move on quickly to the next stage.
You already have more than enough to be angry about. Allowing anything to add fuel to
that will only bring you more grief. This is a long and trying procedure. Conserve all the
emotional, mental and physical energy you can so that you meet the challenges of the
long battle the falsely convicted person must face.
Each time the lower courts deny you, it puts you closer to that higher court that will see
justice as their duty instead of a means for personal ambitions. Truth has its own power
and it will prevail. Each time you are denied, gain strength and reaffirm your faith in
truth. Get back to work. Do more research and most importantly, never, ever let up.
Each denial draws you closer to that judge who has the integrity and the power to order
justice. I was blessed when my case fell onto the docket of United States Federal
Magistrate Judge William Cassady for the Southern District of Alabama. This decent and
honorable man ruled on truth and did so in no uncertain terms. For Becky and I, Judge
Cassady is a true ―judge‖ in that he based his decisions on fact and law, not on personal
You will have to go through the system to find that rare judge who will look at only the
facts, then have the integrity to make the ruling based on the law as it applies to those
In our case, Judge Cassady made the ruling that eventually lead to my freedom. But,
nothing, except getting arrested and imprisoned, happens quickly in our criminal justice
system. His ruling, reversing the three false murder convictions came in December of
1992. In November 1997, the cases were finally erased from my record. Then it was
another four years before Becky and I walked free.
Judge Cassady ruled that the state of Alabama had 180 days to retry me or he would
order me freed in his December 1992 order. After a long appeal battle from the state,
Alabama retried me in May 1995 and again, using new perjured testimony gained another
conviction that took until November 1997 to overturn.
We filed our first Rule 32 Petition in 1988. It took from 1988 to November 1997 before
my three illegal convictions were reversed. We moved back and forth from court to court
for nine years. The state was relentless but so were we. In the end, we won. I am a free
man today in part because of good case law research and persistence.
There are no shortcuts. I suggest that you not waste time trying to find any. Use your time
and resources wisely. Your research, preparation and presentations will bring results.
Keep your attitude positive and your actions responsible. Those are your keys to
Your battle will be two-phased. First in the state court system and then in the federal
court system. During your research, the state court work must be done while keeping the
federal phase in mind. Study both state and federal books simultaneously.
When preparing your petition, it is a good idea to reference both state and federal
decisions to support it. For example: when in state court I found a state case that showed I
was entitled to relief. I also found a federal case supporting my position. That told me
that if the state court refused to grant relief on this issue, federal courts would. I always
sought U.S. Supreme Court decisions that supported our claims. This is the highest court
in the land; everyone listens when the Supreme Court speaks. Include relevant US
Supreme Court cases from the beginning.
Remember, initially your argument will be in written form before the court. It will
introduce you and your case to that court. Much can be understood about the person
writing the petitions from the way the petitions are written. The courts hear about your
injustice in this written introduction. From these pieces of paper life-altering decisions
are made. It does not matter who you are or who you think you are. It makes no
difference what you look like or what your personality may be. All that is before the
court are these pieces of paper. It is the arguments, case law and presentation that the
court has before it to rule on. Be professional at all times. Do not use angry or
inflammatory language. Stay clinically neutral. Present your facts in a clear and concise
manner and present the case law that supports your requested relief.
Remember, first impressions are important. Your petition is the first impression the court
has of you and the case. The better the impression, the better chance you will have to gain
the interest of the court. The more interested the court becomes the greater chance you
have of gaining a full honest review.
A fellow inmate brought me a petition that had been denied by the court. The time for
appeal was running. I read the petition and did not understand what he was trying to say.
I asked him to explain it. Once I understood, it was clear that he had a case that should be
reversed. I rewrote the petition and asked the court to reconsider and read this revised
petition, explaining that this was not a new petition with new issues but a rewritten
petition. The court granted the review and ordered a hearing. At the hearing, once the
judge understood that the man could not read or write well, the revised petition was
accepted. That is how important it is to present the facts in a clear and plain style.
Before filing your petition, collect as much case evidence as possible. You will need
every document, transcript and record you can get. Include forensic reports, the names of
persons who testified before the grand jury and the evidence presented to gain the
indictment your conviction is based on. Gather all statements and interviews. Include
everyone who spoke to the police investigators. This is where family and outside support
is essential. Without them, you can not gain most of this evidence.
If you do have evidence of crooked investigators, develop ways of presenting it before
the court. We had several. Other evidence comes from what the prosecution had but did
not use during the trial. This is some of the new evidence that you are gathering as you
learn the judicial system and prepare for the petition. If you do have proof of a bad cop
before you start filing your petition, be careful and make sure that you well document it
every way you can.
If you have proof of a bad cop or prosecutor, develop ways of gaining all the documents
and records you need without involving them. They will hinder and may destroy proof of
their actions. Again, this is where having family and friends help you is vital. They can
go to the various agencies that keep those records and get them before any bad cops or
prosecutors are aware that you want those documents. More than once Becky gained
records and files that the prosecution denied having when we were in court later. In one
instance, we used part of a co-defendant‘s trial transcript as evidence of wrongs done in
my prosecution. The prosecutor in that case told the judge that he did not have a copy of
that transcript. We had it and gave it to the court that proved our point. The prosecution
intentionally refused to release those documents. We gained all the records we could
before we filed the petition. We suggest that you do this as well. It will keep you from
finding out, as we did, that there are those in the criminal justice system who will destroy
and hide records even from a federal court order.
In 1994, a federal judge ordered every document and record that carried my name to be
produced for a hearing set for several months later. Two sheriff departments, two DA
offices in two counties and a city police department responded in writing that after
exhaustive searches they found nothing at all bearing my name. Both counties assured the
court that all these records had been destroyed in a hurricane in 1979.
Less than two months later, when it served them, one of those offices mysteriously found
a critical piece of evidence. It had been hidden for 21 years. Had this evidence been
produced in 1973, as it should have been, I would have never been falsely convicted.
Now in 1995, this evidence was used against me in an illegal retrial.
While we all want to believe and should be able to believe that prosecutors are honest and
have ethics that are superior to the criminals they place in prison, that is not always true.
For those who have been falsely convicted, you cannot seek records from the individuals
who framed you. They will not give them to you. Family and friends can get them. They
can walk into the various offices and ask to see them and will generally get them. After
all, they are public records. As citizens, your family and friends have a right to those
Learning how the judicial system and police investigators work is critical to your success.
Reading those law books go a long way to teach you. In Becky‘s chapters, she offers
suggestions on what worked best for us in our records and evidence gathering.
As the evidence: records, documents and transcripts, are collected and sent to you, Read
them carefully! Do not rely on your own memory for case details. Too much has
happened since you were wrongly convicted. Study every piece of evidence you get.
Information that is in or is not in those records can win you a new trial.
If you have no proof of something you think might be a reversible error, it is useless. You
are wasting your time to put anything like this into a petition. And, never depend on
anything to be developed at a hearing. That usually never happens. Your life is a stake
here and you cannot take chances that normally do not work. Stick to what worked for
others and me. Only take such chances when there is nothing else you can do.
While studying the documents and records, read the law books along with them. Just pick
up any recent volume that deals with state cases and read them. After a while, you will
begin to see what constitutes reversible error and what does not. You will learn what to
look for and recognize it when you see it. The hundreds of case law cites in the law books
will lead you to more in other books. Read them all before you form your issues or start
to draft your petition. Do this so that you know what does and does not work before you
Finally, research allows you to make statements and present arguments from the rulings
of superior courts that have addressed the issues you are now presenting to your trial
judge. What this does is show your judge that superior courts have found error in those
acts or omissions you are protesting in this petition. Using the very words of those
superior courts to your judge also makes it harder for him to justify denying your petition.
After all, your judge is facing decisions that were previously made by his ―bosses.‖ Thus
what you are presenting is not your argument, but the justifications of superior courts.
This will not guarantee that you will win. Nothing can do that. It does make it more
certain that if you are denied now; you will win later in another court. You are heading to
the court that wrote the opinions you are citing. For example, if you use the opinion of an
Alabama Appeals Court to the circuit court judge and are denied, your next step is to the
Alabama Appeals court. Now you are in front of the very judges you have been quoting.
Nine times out of ten, those judges will rule for you as they previously ruled.
When you have studied your evidence, researched all you can and have written out every
possible quote that proves you are entitled to a new trial, you are ready to write the
While the petition form tells you that you do not need to cite case law in the petition
itself, we found that when you find a case that is like yours use the words from the
judge‘s opinion as you fill in the form. Do not cite the book and all, just use those words.
For example, the Rule 32 Petition Form on page 4 lists ―Grounds for Petition.‖ Here you
are required to place an ―X‖ beside those that your research has found laws to support the
proofs you have.
The next section of the form asks you to ―State the Facts‖ that you feel entitle you to
relief. This is where you will use those quotes from your research. Let us say that you
found the trial court did not give you the youthful offender consideration required by law.
In the research you found that this is mandatory and will get you a new trial. Your
research case says, ―…The courts first step is to inform the defendant that he might be
eligible for youthful offender treatment. This duty to inform has been analogized to the
duty of the trial judge to explain a defendants constitutional rights before accepting his
guilty plea.” “Trial courts failure to inform youthful offender defendant of Act violates
federal due process and requires setting aside of guilty pleas.‖ [These quotes come from:
Clemmons v. State, 294 Ala. 746, 321 So.2d 238 (1975): Whitfield v. State, 56 Ala.App.
653, 324 So. 2d 796 (1976) and Coleman v. State, 827 F.2d 1469 (11th Cir. 1987)].
On the form you would write:
“I was not given the first step required by law in having information that I could seek
youthful offender treatment before I was sentenced.”
My state and federal due process rights were violated when the trial court failed to
inform me that I was eligible for consideration under Alabama’s Youthful Offender’s Act
before sentencing me to 25 years in prison as I was 17 years old at the time I was tried
for this offense.”
I read until I understood those three cases: Clemmons, Whitfield and Coleman. Then I
formed words that applied to my case that came directly from those judges. Every word I
wrote came from those three judges.
The Rule 32 Petition then asks you for facts in support of that claim. In your research you
found other cases on the youthful offender issue. Use all of them as you write this part of
the petition using quotes as much as possible. Like this: On May 22, 1973, I was
seventeen years old, when I was arrested. My trial was held on October 29, 1973. At no
time was I informed of the existence of the youthful offender act, nor was I permitted to
request consideration of it. That is called your proofs.
Now use these quotes. ―Like the right to be informed of my constitutional rights, I waived
in pleading guilty, the trial judge has to also tell me that I can request treatment under
Alabama Youthful Offender Act.” The judge must inform me of this before I can ask for it.
At no time did the judge advise me of the Act or that I could seek treatment under it. Had
he, I would have. It is very important to state that had you been offered this, you
would have asked for it.
By using quotes from appeals judges, you are clearly showing your entitlement to a new
trial and make it easier for those judges by using their exact words on the same issue that
they have already ruled.
Once you have completed the form, you can do as we have always done. Write and attach
to the Petition a ―Memorandum of Law.‖ It is not required, but when you write it with the
case law in support of the issues in the petition, make it clear that you are entitled to the
relief. It is a second proof of your claims. It also helps overcome the dismissals the DA
filed at the initial stage of the petition.
You will find a motion to proceed in forma pauperis with the petition form. You must fill
out this form. This permits you to proceed into court without having to prepay all the
cost, filing fees, etc. You will have to do this again once you go into federal court. In
federal court they always ask you to pay something. It may be as little as five dollars. No
matter what it is, you must pay it before you can file your federal petition. In state court,
the in forma pauperis motion allows you proceed without any costs.
There are no short cuts to legal research. Taking the newest volumes of the Southern
Reporter 2d Series and the Federal Reporter 3rd Series and reading will lead you to cases
that will be on point with yours. (On point means similar to your case issues.)
I usually look in the back of these books for such boldface titles as: Robbery, Homicide,
Theft, etc. Below each title are cases with summaries of those cases that are in that
volume. Reading summaries first helped me find more case law. My cases were three
capital murders. I found case law that reversed a murder in a robbery case. I found case
law for murder that I used in cases about theft. Reading those cases led to yet more
relevant cases that, in turn led to more. It is like a chain. Your job is to fully research as
many chains as you can that share common links. The more common links you find, the
more likely you are to find a case similar to yours with issues so similar so that the case
law will seem all but tailor fitted for you.
The rulings of the United States Supreme Court (S.Ct. means the same thing) are the
supreme law of our country. Any decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court is binding on
all states on that single issue. Binding means that all states must honor that decision.
Once you have looked for all state and federal case law you can find, now turn to the
L.Ed. 2d Series for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that are like those you found in the
state and federal cases. All of them will have U.S. Supreme Court cases cited. But you
need to expand on those as much as you can. The more U.S. Supreme Court decisions
you have to support your issues, the stronger will be your case.
Now a sad but hard truth.
Even if you have solid, on point state, federal and U.S. SCt. decisions that say exactly
what you need about your issues and case and you present them wonderfully in the Rule
32 Petition, do not look for the circuit court to grant your petition.
Trial courts and prosecutors seem highly unreceptive to inmate pro-se (meaning doing
the legal work yourself) petitions. Some appeal courts will appoint counsel to represent
you on appeal from a denied Rule 32 Petition. Some will not appoint lawyers under any
circumstances. Appeal courts will sometimes order a lawyer appointed even after the trial
court denied your request for appointment of counsel. No matter what happens, you must
know the Rules of Court and Appellate Procedure. These superior courts have nearly zero
tolerance for rule violations in their courts. That does not mean they will treat rule
violations by the attorney general as they will treat your rule violations. It does mean that
you cannot take the chance that your appeal will be thrown out for a rule violation even
when you see the attorney general break that same rule.
The most frequent rule the state breaks is filing deadlines. Repeatedly, they will file late
with no consequences. You cannot do this; do not try it. Always file a motion asking
the court to take notice of those failures of the opposition but never expect any action.
You file on this failure to document the violation - it will help later. For example, we are
now in the civil suit phase for compensation and to expose the wrong doings by officials.
All of the missed filing deadlines we documented will now show the federal judge the
opposition acted in bad faith when they ask for more time and consistently filed late. It is
always up to you to document every wrong act during the process.
Courts of appeals, both state and federal demand that you follow the rules as if you are a
lawyer. Again, these rules are rigidly enforced nearly to the letter against you. The same
court will overlook and will refuse to impose sanctions against the prosecutor and
attorney general for breaking those same rules. Your petition will be dismissed if you
break the rules. Don‘t forget it.
In addition to your legal research (case law), you must also read and know the Rules of
Court and Appellate Procedure of each court you enter. Violations of any of these rules
can have your petition dismissed so that you can never bring your case issues before any
other court. Read these rules until you know them. I kept a copy with me all the time.
Before I would file anything, I would read the rules on that particular motion or response.
Some courts require you to use certain types of paper. They will demand that you bind
the briefs in certain ways. They have their rules in a book called: ―Local Rules of Court.‖
In some states, there are different rules in the superior courts from the lower courts. So
read the law books and rulebooks for your state carefully before you start. Also, some
courts will limit how many pages you can include in a brief. We mention this to show
how important it is to learn and apply the rules.
Your appellate briefs, whether state or federal, should always be concise, yet you must
fully state the relevant facts with supporting case law. If you are using an issue with
several supporting case law cites, be specific with those you feel are the strongest and
then use others that merely support the stronger ones. Stay focused on your issues and
always reply to what the opposition may file in opposing your entitlement to relief.
If the opposition has said something you feel does not apply to your case or issues, say
that in your response. For example, if the opposition states that I was not entitled to the
relief sought because I had failed to file a proper challenge as required by law, and if I
knew I had filed all required by law, I would respond to the opposition saying: ―I have
proceeded as required by the Alabama Rules of Court and do not understand how the
State of Alabama by its attorney general now complains of improper procedure. I simply
do not understand this allegation and ask the court for clarification.‖ You would do this in
the response brief.
Again, when you begin your challenge, you will be in state court, usually filing a post-
conviction petition. In Alabama, it is called a Rule 32 Petition. Your opponent will be the
county district attorney. Usually, it will be the same DA who prosecuted you at the
original trial or guilty plea. The district attorney will represent the State‘s interest against
your appeal. He will usually say, ―The State of Alabama‘s position is this….‖ You will
likely be denied. Once you appeal this court‘s denial of your petition, it will be the state‘s
attorney general who will take over for the district attorney. In federal court, it will be the
state‘s attorney general as well, and he will be your opponent on any federal appeals.
Prosecutors, district attorneys and state attorney generals have one job. Sadly, that job has
nothing to do with justice or truth. Pleading your innocence means nothing to them. Their
job is to protect the conviction they won against you originally, the one you are now
appealing. They will fight you with all their inexhaustible resources. You can beg and
show them repeatedly they made a horrible mistake and they will ignore all of it as if it
Truth and justice! The grand ideals upon which our great country was founded have no
meaning to these members of the judicial system. They are incapable of admitting any
error except in extraordinary circumstances. In our case, the individuals who fabricated
my false convictions had been out of office for many years. I was falsely convicted and
sent to prison in 1973. It was in 1988 before we began to fight my false murder
convictions and there were new prosecutors, judges and attorney generals in place. It
made no difference in our case. No matter what we did, what proof we offered, nor how
many members of the media questioned their actions, they turned a deaf ear. They fought
us as if their lives depended on their winning. They left no stone unturned and committed
more and more errors as they fought us. Eventually, some of those fighting us started
committing felonies. We had to endure all that and maintain our faith that somewhere
down the line we would find a true champion of justice to whom truth and justice
It is a disheartening truth but the truth nevertheless. Most of our elected prosecutors and
state attorney generals are not concerned with truth, the foundation of justice. Instead,
they are only interested in maintaining the convictions they have gained. It is more about
their political careers than any glimmer of justice.
You will find that even when the state appeals court agrees that you deserve a new trial,
the attorney general will appeal that. Yes, they will petition the state Supreme Court to
stop your new trial. They ask the Supreme Court to say that the appeals court was wrong.
When asked, the Alabama Attorney General‘s Office admitted that they appeal all cases
when they lose in the appeals court. They do not look at the case to see if they have a
chance of winning. Nor do they review the facts to see if it is a waste of money and time
to appeal; they just automatically appeal to the state Supreme Court! The Supreme Court
will grant a review of only one out of every 100 cases that are brought to them for
review. The attorney general knows this, yet will appeal nevertheless. What the attorney
general also knows is that it takes time for the Supreme Court to deny their appeal. Time
that you will spend in prison. Time that no amount of money can ever replace. These
Prosecutors and attorney generals who abuse the system so flagrantly and repeatedly
should not be in office. Justice is founded on truth, not how well one can argue an issue.
When a person is innocent and imprisoned, every second means more than words can
express. Those who will callously insure that the innocent imprisoned stay inside months
and months longer by using automatic appeals are people this system does not need. They
cause more devastation than the actual false conviction itself. Right now, there are no
penalties to those who imprison the innocent. We say, imprison them! You and I know
that if prosecutors were held to the highest standard of conduct and their freedom
depended on it, your loved one would not be in a cage now. Nor would I have spent most
of my life behind bars for something I never did.
You can also expect the state to appeal any federal habeas corpus relief you win. They
say it is an automatic step. We waited 16 months from the time the federal judge ordered
―a new trial within 180 days‖ of the signing of that order while the state appealed to the
11th Circuit Court of Federal Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, the state waited the full
180 days before retrying us.
With this background, here are more specifics about the legal process. After the trial
court denies your Rule 32 Petition (or the equivalent), you must give your notice of
appeal. Then ask the court to reconsider and give them reasons by showing more proof
that you are entitled to the relief you seek. Never wait on an answer from the court on
this reconsideration motion. Go ahead, file your notice of appeal and get your appeal
brief ready. (The 42 days is running to give notice of appeal.)
The appeals court will notify you that you have a certain amount of days to have your
brief filed. Always try to get your brief filed as soon as you can. Never wait until the last
few days of your time limit.
After you have filed your brief, the state will file its brief. You will be sent a copy if you
do not have a lawyer appointed by the court. Always watch the time limit the state has
been given by the appeals court to their brief filed. If they are late, file a motion with the
appeals court under the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure and ask the appellant‘s
response be stricken for noncompliance of the rules and your appeal be granted as it
stands now uncontested. Of course, the appeals court will not do it. But you have it in the
record that they broke this major rule. If your case goes before the State Supreme Court,
bring that to their attention in your brief. And bring it up again once you are in federal
If the appeals court denies you relief, you must file for a Re-hearing under Alabama
Rules of Appellate Procedure. You also file a motion for a petition of Writ of Certiorari
to the State Supreme Court. The appeals court usually takes from three to 12 months to
grant or deny your appeal. Sometimes even longer. We once waited 23 months.
The motion to Re-hear takes about three weeks to two months to grant or deny. Usually
the state Supreme Court briefs take two to five months to have filed and then from two to
12 months for that high court to grant or deny. The time will depend on how crowded the
court‘s docket is. Anyone can call the clerk of the court, state or federal and ask how
backed up their dockets are. After giving your case number to that clerk, they will be able
to tell you about how long the wait will be before the judge will be able to review it.
If the state Supreme Court denies you relief, you must file into federal court as quickly as
you can. You have one year to do this but that is another year you will serve, so have
everything ready to go into federal court as soon as the state Supreme Court denies you.
The will be a Federal Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2254 for state prisoners.
You will prepare the federal habeas form as you did the state Rule 32-petition form. The
forms should be in the law library. If not, the federal court for your district will have
them and will mail them to you free of charge. Always ask for the in forma pauperis
forms. Now, you will be filing them into the federal district court that your case was tried
in. For us being tried in state court in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, our federal district is
the Southern District of Alabama. Alabama has three federal districts: Northern, Middle
and Southern. You must check to see which federal district your case will fall in no
matter what state you are in.
Entering the federal system is much like when you filed the Rule 32 in state court. You
will file the petition, then wait for the magistrate-judge to order the state to answer it.
They will answer after they have waited until the full allowable time. (More often than
not, the state will wait until the deadline, then file for an extension which is always
granted. Then, they will wait until the final day of the extension before filing.) They
consume years of your life this way. Many people crumble under the pressure of the
endless waiting. We did not and neither should you. Usually, is it from five to 10 weeks.
In this answer they will first ask that your petition be denied for this or that reason. This
is called a Summary Judgement Motion. You must respond to this showing that the state
is wrong and that you are properly before this court and have valid issues that entitle you
to the relief you seek. Your case will be assigned to a Federal Magistrate Judge who will
handle the case and eventually issue a ―Report and Recommendation.‖ The time you file
your federal habeas and the Magistrate Judge issues the ―Report and Recommendation‖
will vary from six months to two years. It will depend on the caseload on the docket of
that Magistrate Judge.
Once the Magistrate Judge has issued the ―Report and Recommendation,‖ you will have
only 10 days to file any objections to it or any part of it. If you do not make any
objections, you cannot appeal what the judge does later.
After you have filed your objections, all of this is sent to a United States Federal District
Judge for final orders. This judge will either follow the recommendations of the
Magistrate Judge or will make new findings. Ninety percent of the time the judge will do
as the Magistrate Judge recommended. However, there are exceptions. When you receive
the Magistrate Judge‘s ruling study it carefully and file an objection to any portion you
wish to contest. Do this even if the ruling in whole is in your favor. You are reserving the
right to later appeal any adverse rulings by the district judge. If you do not file your
objections to the Magistrate Judge‘s ruling you lose your opportunity to later appeal.
By filing objections, you open the door to later cross appeal any decisions made by the
district judge. For example, in our case the Magistrate Judge recommended that my
convictions be reversed and retried within 180 days or ordered released. His ruling was
based upon a legal technicality, without addressing our innocence issues. We feared
further delays and did not object to any portion of his ruling. The District Judge ordered
my convictions reversed and I was to be retried within 180 days or he would order me
released. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit. The 11th Circuit appointed a lawyer to
represent me for this appeal. Our attorney cross-appealed because the District Judge did
not address my innocence. On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed that innocence was an issue
that should have been permitted and ordered an evidentiary hearing on that issue. We
gained the hearing only by having the attorney filing and winning the cross appeal. We
had had not objected as we should have, but our attorney saved us. You may not be so
lucky, so file your objections and have no fear that it will anger that federal judge. We
have met that judge in our case and found another very fine example of integrity as we
found in the Magistrate Judge.
If the Magistrate Judge‘s recommendations are half for and half against you, it may be
because you did not write as clearly as you should have or did not have the case law you
needed. Our federal habeas courts are very good and do what is right when issues are
placed before them correctly. Again, it is your job to do the research and have the case
law to support your issues.
Federal appeals to habeas corpus petitions denials are not a right! You have to seek
permission from the Federal Appellate Court and show cause for the appeal. That means
that you have to show that a federal constitutional right of significant magnitude will be
left so that your constitutional rights in total will be rendered pointless for that error.
Being innocent of the crime is that type of error, so you would say that if this court (the
appeals court) does not hear your arguments, an innocent person would remain
incarcerated which is a complete violation of everything for which the federal
The state does not have to show cause! They just have to ask for an appeal and the federal
appeals court will permit them to bring the case before them. This is another one to three
years of your life the state can take just because they can. Federal appeals courts rarely
overturn the District Court‘s ruling.
Usually if you have done your research well, the Magistrate Judge will order an
evidentiary hearing. This does not mean you have won. It only means that a hearing will
be held so that facts and proofs can be presented in court before a Magistrate Judge who
can determine if your claims are true. Having a hearing means that you have done well,
but not great. If you had done great, there would be no need for a hearing.
In one of our federal habeas cases, the Magistrate Judge found no hearing needed and
recommended that the writ be granted and a new trial ordered. (See: Pardue v. Burton, 26
F3d 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). We had proven our case issues and won but the state
appealed so we cross-appealed. That took another 18 months. The hearing was held and
another five months were gone. We won again. Then, we had to wait another six months
before we had that long awaited new trial. Overall, we started the state petition in 1988
and finally gained the new trial in May of 1995, seven years for that phase. Then we had
to go through further state appeals that took another 27 months before we were finally
free of the false murder convictions.
At these hearings, you can produce new facts that are tied directly to those you have
claimed in your petitions. However, they MUST be tied to those issues you have brought
before every court up to this point. For example, we alleged that we were innocent of the
murders. We offered proof of this with documents and other evidence. One of those
documents showed that the forensic evidence proved that the weapon the prosecution
says killed one of the victims could not have been the murder weapon. We made this
claim in every single court yet no court allowed us to produce proof in court. In the
federal hearing we offered proof by way of having the county coroner come to court to
testify that in his expert opinion that weapon could not have killed that victim. This was
new evidence because we previously never had that testimony in a deposition. We had
not been able to depose the coroner.
Carefully read the Magistrate Judge‘s order for the hearing and research the law on the
points brought out in that order. The Magistrate Judge may have missed something. If so,
you need to be ready to show this with case law that establishes you have the right to
present it to the court‘s attention.
Reread the AG‘s arguments against you. Pay very close attention to all that is said, and
all that should be said but not spoken of, in that brief. Your research can show you
exactly what the AG‘s arguments are. When the AG uses a case against you, read that
case and every case that it cites. Be very careful for there may be things in those cases
that could harm your case. There are also things in some of those cases that were used
against you that could be used to help you. More than once I found that the AG used a
case that only part of it was to their benefit, the other was in opposition and they withheld
that part. The other part was very good for our issues. Had I not researched those cases I
would have missed this very important element. It is always helpful to find that the state
has used only part of a case that is more for you than against you. It proves the state is
being unfair in its presentation of the law.
Evidentiary hearings are primarily to produce proof that what you alleged is true. These
things have not been a part of the official record before this time. Just because you allege
something in your petition does not make it a part of the record as proven fact. It is
merely an allegation you have made with supporting law and facts that can be made a
part of the record at a hearing where they are introduced before a judge who rules on
them as being yes proof or no proof.
Never count on introducing new facts in these hearings. Prepare and try to but do not
count on it. Usually the only new facts that will be accepted are those that come about
during the course of the hearing that could not have been discovered any other way. For
example, a witness for the state suddenly changes his testimony. That helps you, as it is
the state examining its witness on the stand. In this instance, it is evidence you could not
have anticipated discovering, thus the court will allow it as it came about in court.
Preparation is the key. If you have prepared and done the research, you never need to
worry about getting facts into the record. Remember, you must bring every claim you
have from the very start of the process (The Rule 32). Federal courts throw out many
habeas petitions because they contain issues that were never presented to the state courts.
The idea is that before the federal courts enter your case, they want proof that you have
given that state every possible chance to rectify it.
If you find something as you enter the federal system that you never knew before, try to
have the federal court understand that this was something that could not have been known
to you before that time. However, be prepared in cases like this to have the federal court
dismiss your federal petition without prejudice and permit you to return to the state courts
with this newly discovered information. That means that you start all over again.
Once you are incarcerated, nothing within the system moves quickly until that day you
finally find justice. From that moment on, time moves swiftly. I have been home since
February 15, 2001. Nearly one year and it is surreal how fast these months have flown
After the federal evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge will review everything and
make the ―Report and Recommendation‖ to the judge. In one of our cases it took the
Magistrate Judge 14 months. Once that report and recommendation is released you
usually have 10 days to file objections. The Magistrate Judge who issues the report will
tell you how long.
You or the state file your respective objections and now wait for the judge to make the
final ruling. This takes usually from three weeks to several months. Remember, the judge
nearly always does as the Magistrate Judge recommends. Be ready to appeal. In this case
you must ask for permission and then show why you should be permitted to appeal.
Always anticipate and be ready. Your time is your life.
Once your notice of appeal and the request to appeal have been submitted to that Federal
Appeals Court, it is time for you to get back into the law books and research some more.
Every time you hear there is a new law book available, read it as soon as you can. New
laws are drafted every day!
Every Federal Court has local rules that apply only to it. Be sure to ask the clerk of the
court for these rules. They will be sent to you without charge.
If the Federal Appeals Court grants you permission to appeal, normally they will appoint
a federal certified attorney to do the appeal. Although this is great, it is still up to you to
do the work and show the lawyer everything you have done and the evidence you have to
prove your innocence. Your job is not over with a lawyer being appointed. You are more
involved now than ever before. This is your life; it is a case to him, even if he is good; it
is only a case. With the help of an appointed lawyer, you must work harder than ever.
Help the lawyer. Read everything he writes on your behalf. If something is wrong, show
him. If he has left out something, tell him. He will never know the case as you do. He has
had the case only one week; you have lived it for years. Be patient with the attorney as he
learns the facts. Ask him to let you read everything he does before he files it with the
court. In this way, you can help him with all the little details.
It is not to your best interest to cause any personal conflict with this attorney. We have
found that if you are honest and straight up with him from the very start, he will work
with you. If you have U.S. Supreme Court law that he has not included in your brief and
you are not satisfied with his explanation, insist he include it and write the court and tell
what has happened. Telling the court everything, including what the attorney gave as
reason for not including what you want is what you must do.
By doing proper research, you will have better than average knowledge of what is and
what is not a good issue. You will know from what your appointed attorney writes if he
knows what he is doing or not. You will also need to read some of the cases that the
attorney has handled. Do your homework; get to know the attorney who has your life in
If the federal appeals court denies your petition, within 30 days you must file a motion
for them to reconsider or rehear the case. If they refuse, then you have only one place left
to go, the United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C.
Out of all 50 states, 7,377 appeals were filed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1999 term
and only 100 of those cases were ―heard‖ (permitted to be argued). This court hears only
cases that may change current laws or present a new point of view that will make new
laws better than those currently existing. If you think your case issues fall into those
categories, then appeal to the United States S.Ct. Otherwise, accept that you have not the
proof you need and try to gather it and start again.
Yes, denial by the Federal Appeals Court means that you have lost. There is nothing
more to do with the information and proofs you have. Now is the time to back up and
start all over again with new proofs to expand on those you already have. This time your
battle will be many times harder because at every turn you will be challenged on the fact
that you have already had one chance to prove your innocence and you failed.
Look carefully at every stage of your appeal to see what you failed to prove and how you
still might be able to present convincing proof.
Re-investigate and search those old records and document archives again. Re-interview
everyone. Do it all again with a finer look but, never, ever, give up!
If you do discover new facts and proofs, restart your challenge but start with a state
habeas corpus this time instead of the Rule 32 Petition. Use factual innocence as the
cause for this second challenge. Your newly discovered evidence must be truly new,
compelling and clear. And even if it is, that does not mean that you will have an easy
time of it. The prosecution will fight you all the harder this time. They will have the
successive petition rule to use against you and they will most certainly use it.
Innocence is not a legal issue. It is merely a word that by itself will get you nowhere in
the legal system. It carries no magic or power at all. Using it will get you nothing. Our
criminal judicial system is set up to convict, not correct false convictions.
Your job is to find the statutory and constitutional errors that caused your false
conviction. Then show the courts that those errors demand a new trial. What every court
looks for are violations of state law and the constitution. Those violations must
undermine the reliability of the verdict of guilt. Only then does the word innocence have
any meaning. Even then, it is very little.
Most post-conviction petitions allege ―ineffective assistance of counsel.‖ This is the most
often claimed issue in these petitions and is the least often proven. Be sure that you can
prove this if you intend to use it as a ground for your petitions.
There are two types of ineffective assistance of counsel. One is where the attorney just
plain did not do the job required by law. You are saying that this lawyer was so
incompetent that your constitutional rights were not protected and had any other lawyer
done the job, you would not have been convicted.
The other type of ineffective assistance of counsel is when as in my case, the police and
prosecutors have conspired to hide the truth and evidence from the lawyer in violation of
the law and constitution.
Another case: a judge absolutely refuses to allow your lawyer to do the job required by
law. For instance, when the lawyer asks the judge to order the DA to produce a death
certificate so the attorney will know the cause of death before the trial. The judge refuses.
That would be a starting point for this type of ineffective assistance of counsel. That
would not be enough all by itself because there were other ways for the lawyer to have
obtained that information. Another instance: I was in prison and could not come to a
court hearing without the judge ordering me to be transported to court. The judge did not
order the state to bring me to court. The same judge denied my petition because I was not
in court. My attorney begged the judge to either put off the hearing until I could be there
or to order that I be brought there that day for this hearing. The judge refused and denied
my petition solely because I was not present. That made my attorney ineffective. He
could not do his job because the judge refused to do what he was supposed to do by law.
These actions were in violation of my constitutional rights.
The next thing is ―harm.‖ You must show there was ―harm‖ caused by the error in your
case. The harm must be of a constitutionally protected nature. No, it is not enough that
you show there was a constitutional error made; you show also how that error
constitutionally harmed you.
An example: In my case, I claimed my due process right was violated when the trial court
did not advise me that, prior to my trial for murder, I could be considered for treatment
under Alabama‘s Youthful Offenders Act. First, I had to prove that under Alabama Law
that judge was legally required to tell me about the Act. Then, he was to allow me to
decide whether I wanted to apply for it. When he did not, my due process rights were
violated because I was sentenced as an adult without any information about the Act. Had
I been treated as a youthful offender, I would not have received adult punishment.
Instead, I would have been able to have my record cleared of this crime under the
provisions of that act. Under Alabama Law due process was violated and I was harmed.
[See: Pardue v. Burton, 26 F3d. 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994) and Pardue v. State, 566 So.
2d. 502 (Ala. Crim. App. 1990)]
No matter what error or violation of law or constitution you use, it must have harmed you
in a legal way. You must show both the error and the harm it caused. In one of my cases,
the prosecution hid the victim‘s death certificate. The state claimed that I had shot the
man in the head with a sawed-off shotgun. Several witnesses testified that the victim was
shot in the side of the head. The death certificate proved the victim was struck on the
head with a blunt instrument and shot in the head. Both fatal wounds occurred so closely
together that there could not be any judgment as to which injury was inflicted first. Had
this information been available to the jury those witnesses who committed perjury would
have been revealed as liars. I could not have been found guilty for his murder.
Through investigating the case, Becky met and shared information with the victim‘s
sister who gave her this death certificate. It was a bombshell. It proved the prosecution
knew the witnesses were lying and did all they could to hide that fact. This death
certificate proved that there were actually two causes of death and not one as the state
claimed. This began to form the basis for the possibility of our innocence. The medical
doctor who performed the autopsy was not allowed to testify at my trial. This added to
the proof that the prosecution knew the story they were using to convict me was false.
They were intentionally hiding information.
In my case, the withholding of vital evidence showing two fatal injuries, then permitting
several prosecution witnesses to commit perjury in order to convict me, made my trial
more than merely illegal. I suffered a conviction based solely on a fabricated story with
no evidence to support that story.
I could have used both types of ineffective assistance of counsel in my petition. I did not
because I proved total ineffective counsel by his own actions established beyond
question. I did not need to include the other type in which someone interfered with my
lawyer doing his job. Had my attorney tried to protect me, he would have challenged the
case going to trial without a death certificate. That would have forced the state to stop the
frame up and I would never have been tried for this crime.
In framing your Rule 32 Petition, I strongly encourage you to give great thought to which
type of ineffective assistance of counsel you want to use or if, in fact, there is any
evidence of this issue. Remember, it is the most often brought issue and the least often
proven. I am not suggesting that you not use this issue. Just be sure that you have the
proof required by the courts in your area.
No matter what, in every court you enter, ask for the appointment of counsel. Always ask
for help with those petitions and hearings. Rarely will counsel be appointed. But you
must ask. You can definitely use the help a lawyer can offer.
For us, one of the lawyers who was appointed realized that we were innocent and kept on
helping us in every way possible for over seven years after her appointed case was over.
This attorney fought her own law firm to keep helping us as she did. In my last hours of
imprisonment, this attorney did the impossible. The judge had ordered me free to go and
the Dept. of Corrections grabbed me and ran. I was literally kidnapped and taken back to
maximum security Holman Unit by DOC officials, against the court‘s orders to set me
free! In the end, this attorney had a connection with state government and called in this
connection. She explained what was being done. The telephones rang and the DOC was
ordered from the state capitol to release me immediately. That was done at 5:00 p.m. and
I was freed by 5:30 p.m. On February 15, 2001, the saga of nearly 28 years was over.
This attorney, E. Barry Johnson, worked with us for all that time without being paid a
cent. You too may find such an admirable champion of justice. The only way you can is
to ask for the appointment of counsel.
If counsel is appointed, be open with them. Show them that you know something of the
law and know the case as no one else can. You do, because you are living it. Establish a
mutual trust and work together on the case. Offer all the research you have done and offer
to draft all the briefs, etc. This way the attorney learns what your legal skills are and how
to best help you. Plus you help them by doing this work so they have only to polish the
work and submit it to the court. The more you and the lawyer work together, the better
your chances are of winning sooner.
Never allow your anger to show. Do not write angry letters to the court, DA, etc. This is
useless and shows your lack of maturity and control. No matter what, you have to learn to
stay calm and composed, especially before the court. If you have a problem with your
temper, FIX IT! It is your problem and will not go away without your making the effort.
Your creditability is always in question. The more you do to harm it with temper
outbursts, the less credible are you. Never hurt yourself more than you are already
hurting. Temper tantrums can destroy you.
When researching in the prison law library, sooner or later you will find a case that is torn
out of the book or the entire volume may be missing. Have someone outside help you
find and copy that case and send it through the mail. There is a law library in every town
in this country with a population of over 12,000. If the town is smaller, the court usually
will permit others to use theirs by merely asking to do so.
When you ask loved ones to help you by going to a law library, again, do not forget that
they have jobs and obligations they must meet first. Never place them in the position
where they have to choose between your request and doing things they need to do for
themselves. Those outside cannot just drop everything they are doing to run to the law
library for you. Know what their plans are and try to fit your requests into their life. Be
patient with those outside. They are suffering your false conviction, too. They are having
as hard a time as you are. Love them before you do anything else.
I suggest you never type the things you send to the court. Always neatly handprint them
with a good clear block type print. (And do not say that your handwriting is too bad. That
is an excuse and right now is the time to stop using excuses and start finding ways of
doing everything that needs to be done). By hand printing you have everything you need
with you everywhere you are. I was transferred once three times in one month. I never
missed a filing deadline because I never needed anything that I could not carry with me.
Do not start out needing anything that you cannot carry along with you as you travel.
Under our constitution every person is considered innocent until proven guilty. For those
of us who were falsely accused and found guilty, we must prove our innocence. Even
when we prove that there were numerous flaws and errors in our case, errors that demand
the case against us be thrown out, even then we are not considered innocent. We have
only proven that there were errors that made those convictions unconstitutional and we
have suffered injustice because of those errors. That is where we are at in our continuing
battle to prove our innocence. Even with the charges gone, we are still guilty in the eyes
of those who prosecuted us, thus we are not entitled to any monetary compensation. So
now, we must reenter the legal system. This time we will ask the court to uphold the most
sacred of constitutional guarantees: innocent until proven guilty. We must now fight to
have the court order the State of Alabama to compensate us for the 27 years and nine
months I spent in prison for crimes that the state ―proved‖ by the use of manufactured
evidence and perjury while concealing evidence of innocence. And fight them we will!
This is more than a critical battle. It goes to the root of our very souls. It is about right
and wrong. It is about truth and justice. It is about the evil that men do in the name of
power and politics. To us, it is about breaking the cycle of prosecutorial misconduct. In
1973, it was acceptable to beat a suspect into a false confession. It was accepted practice
to manufacture evidence, to hide exculpatory evidence, to use perjured testimony. Today,
it is better to conceal the truth, to use more perjury as a way to cover the sins of your late
associates in prosecution. Yesterday it was accepted. Today it is accepted. But, someday
in a court of law, we will insist that it be exposed as the carnage of humanity that it is.
We will call the criminals of justice to the stand to defend their cowardly actions. And,
we will shout that the time for wholesale injustice is over.
Maybe our efforts will make a difference, maybe not. But if you do it and another does it,
and another, soon the message will be out: Injustice for the sake of power is no longer
acceptable. Officers of the law who break the law for personal gain will be held
accountable to the full extent of the law. The law must apply to a far greater magnitude to
those elected to administer it than to those who live under it.
Our mission is clear. Once you have freed yourself from prison, you too should enter
federal courts and demand that those who broke the law be held accountable. Demand
that they be as accountable for their wrongs as they demanded from you.
As more horror stories of judicial misconduct are exposed, the call for change grows.
Laws should be enacted that automatically compensate a falsely imprisoned person upon
release from prison. How much compensation? In the vast majority of cases, there is no
compensation at all or only a token amount. Large payments to the innocent are the rare
exceptions, and even then the compensation is usually no greater than $25,000 or $50,000
for each year of stolen freedom. Even $100,000 is not good enough. Why not a million?
That would send a message! We are confident that claims of innocence in the judicial
system would be handled with a greater seriousness and far more expediently than today.
If the state were forced to pay a million dollars for each year of life they destroy, there is
little question that the issue of wrongful convictions would take on a new significance to
those who wield the long arm of the law.
Serious compensation might be a deterrent, but what of those who so carelessly violate
our constitutional rights and enjoy complete immunity for their crimes? Prosecutors have
no motivation to change. Quite the contrary, they are rewarded for their misconduct.
They are reelected by their constituents because they are never publicly censured or
reprimanded for their illegal acts. They are never held accountable for the lives they
destroy. The time for change is now!
And in regard to the blanket of immunity that prosecutors enjoy: Eliminate it! In its place
the law should read: when any court finds a constitutional violation has been committed
by a prosecutor, that prosecutor is not entitled to any form of immunity. Additionally, an
investigation by an outside law enforcement agency will be immediately conducted to
ascertain how and why the system failed. For every constitutional violation found, the
official responsible for the ―error‖ will be charged with a civil rights violation and
imprisoned for no less than five years for each wrongful act he committed.
Only radical change in how we punish those responsible for false convictions and how
we compensate those whose lives have been ripped away will reverse the unconscionable
tide of wrongful convictions.
While America condemns countries across the globe for their human rights violations, we
fail to look into our own backyard for similar abuses. Only when the last state forensic
specialist taints evidence to gain a conviction, only when the last prosecutor uses perjury
to sway the jury, only when the last innocent person leaves their cage can we raise our
heads to the world as an example of freedom, honor and justice.
Yes, the time for change is now! We will do our part. You must do your part. Demand
compensation! Demand accountability! Together, we can mend our broken criminal