How would your life and the lives of your family be impacted if you were wrongly imprisoned for one week? One month? One year? How would that wrongful incarceration affect your career, financial stability, physical and mental health? How much money would be adequate to make up for that lost time?
We served a combined 28 years in prison for two unrelated crimes that we did not commit. We were working towards completing our educations and advancing our careers when we were accused, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for crimes we had nothing to do with. Our lives had become a storyline in a horror movie.
We each served 14 years at Louisiana’s plantation prison, Angola, before we were freed and exonerated. The days we each walked out of prison were the days we finally exhaled. We could live again. But we walked out with nothing but the clothing on our backs and legal papers in our satchels. The sense of despair and loss of starting over in middle-age with nothing was as acute as the sense of despair and loss we felt when we were bused to Angola to die there.
We are among the 33 exonerees who have been granted wrongful conviction compensation by the state (58 individuals in total have been exonerated in Louisiana). After you have proved your innocence to a judge to get your conviction and sentence overturned, you have to prove your innocence again to another judge to receive wrongful conviction compensation from the state. It is a challenging process and not all exonerees prevail. We are grateful that Louisiana provides compensation, but the amount we receive barely covers our basic expenses.
Louisiana provides the fourth lowest compensation in the nation. Thirty-five states have innocence compensation laws, and the national average is $70,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. Mississippi and Alabama each provide $50,000 per year. Louisiana provides half of that: $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration and for up to just 10 years, meaning only 10 of our 14 years of wrongful imprisonment are recognized.
Although we worked as field hands, cooks, license plate makers, and prison lawyers for 14 years at Angola, none of those years counts towards our Social Security benefits. As a result, we will have to and are working long past retirement age to support our families.
Our children and our families suffered the most when we were wrongly convicted and imprisoned. We missed their first steps, first days at school, first performances, first school dances, first driver’s licenses, and so much more. We know there is no compensation amount that would make up for the years that we lost.
A bill by state Reps. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, this session attempts to provide real assistance to innocent exonerees. Their bill — House Bill 570 — enables innocent exonerees to live with dignity and more stability by increasing the amount of annual compensation to $40,000.
We are loving fathers, hardworking entrepreneurs, passionate advocates for justice, and thoughtful neighbors. Helping us to live our best lives for what is left of our lives will not only help our families, but give faith to our communities that our leaders will do what must be done to correct a wrong for the well-being of every Louisiana citizen.
Glenn Davis and Doug Dilosa each served 14 years in state prisons.