In one of the more incredible stories surrounding this year’s graduating class, a man who spent 10 years behind bars under a wrongful conviction recently earned his law degree from Loyola University Chicago.
According to a May 16 CBS Chicago article, Jarrett Adams, 34, defied all odds by proving his innocence and making it this far — it’s exceedingly rare for former inmates to earn degrees, much less make it through seven years of college and graduate school.
“I couldn’t have imagined this day,” Adams, who entered prison as a teenager, said.
His professors at Loyola have said his post-grad future looks just as impressive.
“I can’t say that if that had happened to me I’d have the same outlook on life that Jarrett does, so it must be something in the core of his being that I would love to be able to bottle,” Loyola Prof. Michael Kaufman said.
At age 17, Adams, a Wisconsin native, was convicted of rape and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Throughout his trial and sentencing, he maintained his innocence and stressed that witnesses who could have cleared him were never called upon to testify.
After spending a decade behind bars, his cellmate motivated him to find a way out of his wrongful conviction.
“He was like, ‘Sit down. I’m in here for the rest of my life for something I did do. You are here for some absolute bull-crap with no evidence, and you’re not going to fight to get out.’ And so it really woke me up,” Adams explained.
He then began to study the law on his own in prison, writing letters to the Wisconsin Innocence Project. With the organization’s help, his conviction was overturned.
Wrongful convictions continue to be a problem plaguing much of the country. In an average year, 10,000 U.S. citizens are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes.
Recently, a federal investigation into wrongful convictions revealed that botched forensics play a major role in wrongfully convicting the accused. The FBI stated that experts gave inaccurate, erroneous hair analysis in more than 250 trials before 2000, and that is just a small chunk of the mishandled forensic evidence used to determine people’s innocence or guilt.
Even when exonerated from a wrongful conviction, former inmates have a difficult time adjusting back into society. Two out of three exonerated individuals are not financially independent; one in four has post-traumatic stress disorder. Formerly incarcerated people face chronic underemployment and have difficulty getting social assistance.
With his new degree, Adams plans to help those who are in the same position he was — wrongfully accused of a crime they didn’t commit. He told CBS Chicago he especially hopes to work with low-income defendants.