By Beverly R. Muzii
The Seminole State College Speaker Series held its first event of the school year on Oct. 15 via Zoom, featuring representatives of the Innocence Project of Florida speaking on wrongful imprisonment and exoneration.
IPF is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2003 that works to exonerate innocent women and men who have been wrongfully imprisoned in the state of Florida. After they are released, the organization helps them readjust to their new lives outside of prison.
IPF is located in Tallahassee at Florida State University’s law school, but the organization works around the state. It has freed 25 innocent people who in total served 530 years in prison.
The Speaker Series event featured the voices of James Bain and Nathan Myers, who were both exonerated with the help of IPF. They were given the opportunity to share their stories during a panel discussion.
In 1974, Bain was wrongfully charged and convict- ed of rape and sentenced to life in prison.
“I’m on the Serengeti, I’ve got to survive” was how Bain likened spending 34 years in jail for a crime he never committed.
When he was freed in 2009, he had served the most years of any IPF exoneree.
That was until Nathen Myers was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1976 and also sentenced to life in prison.
Myers was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate when he was arrested and sent to jail where he continually tried to petition the court.
“It took me 47 years to prove my innocence,” Myers said, recalling the ways the courts “knocked him down every time [he] stood up.”
Myers said he remembered thinking, “If I could get somebody to listen to me, I got a chance.”
And that was when he discovered an article about the Innocence Project in a newspaper.
He said he called IPF’s staff, which began to build a file for him.
About a year later, after serving 42 years in prison, Myers was exonerated in 2019.
He was 60 years old at the time.
But getting out of prison was only the beginning for these two men.
After serving decades in prison, the outside world had changed drastically, and they both had to readjust to a new way of life.
Upon his release from prison, Bain used a cell phone for the very first time. Crossing the street also presented a bit of a challenge.
“My first day I was scared to cross the
street,” Bain said, explaining how when
he left society it was easy and simple
to cross the street, but in 2009, he “was scared because [cars] were zooming.”
Myers also struggled to readjust to civilian life.
“My life stopped at 18 years old,” he said. He just wanted to go home.
Now, in his 60s, he is trying to transition back to normal life.
“After 7 [p.m.] I’m home,” Myers said while talking about how, since his exoneration, he tries not to be around a lot of other people. Myers does not “hang out” with former inmates and prefers to spend his time separate from people.
“I lost my life, I lost my family,” he said, “I’m not that person that I was.”
Despite their struggle and hardship, neither Bain nor Myers say they are angry.
When exonerated, Bain remarked how he had 35 years to be angry, and he is not going to waste another minute.
And though both men have grief for what they lost, they expressed how they are ready to move forward and enjoy the time they have left.
Myers said he wishes to reconnect with his family, and Bain said he wants to assure that his family has a better life than he had.
Although Myers and Bain finally received the justice they deserved, IPF’s work is far from over. The organization is continuing its work in helping innocent people find freedom.
“The hardest part is knowing there are so many people we can’t help,” said Kelleigh Helm, the development coordinator at IPF.
Another issue that IPF advocates for is racial justice, which officials said they believe is a very important aspect of social justice.
According to the National Registry
of Exonerations, out of 25,000 exonerations across the country, over 60% have been of Black men.
During the panel discussion, Helm brought up that “until we are all actively anti-racist there will be no social justice.”
Both Bain and Myers are men of color who represent an overwhelming percentage of Black men who have been denied adequate and fair social justice.
Helm explained that institutional racism continues because society remains silent, an option that IPF will no longer accept.
The Speaker Series will continue Jan. 27 in partnership with the 32nd Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Regina Bradley, assistant professor of English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University, will speak via Zoom about race in the post-Civil War American South.