With Lil’ Wayne on his way into solitary confinement for the last 25 days of his prison sentence, his support base seems stronger than ever, people donning his likeness on t-shirts and shouting “Free Weezy!” at the top of their lungs. He is in for a weapons conviction that he is undoubtedly guilty for. And you all are cheering for him? Now, I’m a big fan of his, and do tend to agree with the general population that he is a lyrical genius who may very well be the “best rapper alive.” But this uninhibited praise we offer him, along with a slew of other stars, while there are everyday men and women behind bars, wrongfully accused and subsequently convicted of crimes, serving lifelong stints, a few of them even waiting for capital punishment, stripped bare of whatever traces of humanity were left on them when finally incarcerated, is beyond me.
This past July, I was invited to an event my sister had a hand in hosting. It was at the SoHo House, offered an open bar of booze, and in attendance would be more than a few of her friends, one who I’ve had a childish crush on since I met her my freshman year of college, when they were seniors. She didn’t even need to ask, I was going to be there even if it meant volunteering a couple hours of my downtime to whatever charity or organization this party, as I had come to refer to it as, was for.
That night, I left the office early, took a long shower, and dressed in my best attire, pulling a nice summer blazer out of my wardrobe and throwing a crisp white square in my breast pocket, looking dapper as ever when I left my apartment overlooking Washington Square Park for a leisurely stroll to the Meatpacking District.
Upon my arrival, I promptly went to the bar, ordered a scotch, and began looking around the room, trying to look as cool and careless as possible, when my gaze happened upon a man in faded jeans, a cotton tee, hobbling on a cane – Dewey.
Dewey had been convicted of murder nearly three decades ago, a murder he had been wrongfully accused of, and was just now walking freely. Forget solitary confinement for 25 days. Think 26 years sitting on cement blocks, knowing you were innocent. While he was offered multiple plea-bargain offers, he refused to confess to a crime hadn’t committed. Knowing he was fighting a uphill battle, he contacted the Innocence Project, a legal group dedicated to freeing men and women imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, focusing their efforts on DNA testing. But the physical evidence linking Dewey to the murders had been destroyed. That was when the Innocence Project turned to WilmerHale, who took the case and finding favorable evidence that had not been turned over to his lawyers in an old case file, were eventually able to have Dewey exonerated.
All along I was worried about the knot in my tie, and there is this man in street clothes exuding more strength than I would ever be able to do. I felt downright foolish. I left, collar unbuttoned, allowing my self-interest to air out, emotionally elsewhere as Dewey’s story lingered in my mind.
And a couple nights ago, the Innocence Project hosted the premiere of Conviction, a new movie following the story of a woman who put herself through law school to overturn the wrongful conviction of her brother.
C’mon, people. This shit is real. Open your damn eyes. Put your weight behind something that matters. The Innocence Project is an opportunity for you to do just that. Don’t allow the momentum that will surely come from Conviction to stutter. At the very least, visit www.innocenceproject.org and have a look for yourself. Or duck into your neighborhood theater and snag a showing of the movie, which opens today. Let’s cheer for something that matters.