Floyd Bledsoe, Richard Jones and I share a unique bond. We were all wrongfully convicted by the state of Kansas. We all served decades in prison together at Lansing Correctional Facility until we were exonerated and released.
Now we are all 41 years old. We are restarting our lives without a dime of support from the state that unjustly imprisoned us.
Floyd and Richard each served 16 years, and I spent 23 years behind bars. We were all innocent.
It is hard to describe the emotional toll of losing that time. I was only a teenager when I was taken from my family. Floyd and Richard could not be there to raise their children. We missed all of the special occasions like birthdays and Christmas, and the simple daily activities that make up a normal life.
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No amount of money can give us back those years, but the state can help with our financial hardships. However, Kansas is one of only 18 states in the country without a law to compensate the wrongfully convicted. After everything that the three of us have been through, we are still struggling just to make ends meet.
At our age most people have a career path, retirement accounts and assets, but we are all starting from scratch. Next month I plan to enter college to finish the degree I began in prison. Luckily, a scholarship is going to help pay for my education, but I still have to find a way to afford an apartment, food and clothing.
When Floyd was wrongfully convicted, he lost a good salary as a dairy farmer and had to sell his land and livestock to pay for legal expenses. Since his release, he has found a job, but he still faces financial challenges like getting a car loan without any credit history.
Richard is struggling to find employment with a multi-year gap in his resume.
Ironically, had we been guilty, we would be eligible for more support from the state of Kansas, including job training and mentoring programs. Without a state compensation law, our only option is to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the local government that contributed to our wrongful convictions.
This isn’t an ideal option for anyone. The wrongfully convicted have to meet a very high burden of proving that their cases involved official misconduct and it often takes years of litigation before any money is paid. Taxpayers are ultimately left to pick up the tab for these lawsuits, as they did in 2010 when Riley County agreed to a $7.5 million civil settlement for the wrongful conviction of Eddie Lowery.
A state law with a fixed payment for each year the innocent person spent behind bars would provide consistency and more immediate help for the wrongfully convicted. Kansas lawmakers should look to Texas’ law as a model, which provides $80,000 for each year in prison, or neighboring Colorado, which offers $75,000. The law should also provide us with an official judicial declaration of innocence so there is no confusion for employers and others that we were wrongfully convicted.
In recent years the Kansas Legislature has worked to prevent wrongful convictions by requiring eyewitness identification best practices and recording of suspect interrogations. Now it’s time for the state to finally make things right for the innocent by ensuring we receive the financial compensation we need to rebuild our lives.
Lamonte McIntyre was wrongfully convicted of a 1994 double homicide in Kansas City and was exonerated on Oct. 13. He co-authored this with Tricia J. Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project.