BALTIMORE (WJZ) — This Saturday is “International Wrongful Conviction Day.” It’s an opportunity to shed light on the fact that flaws in the legal system may force some people to spend decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Alfred Chestnut spent 36 years behind bars for murder. Chestnut was exonerated in November 2019, but he remembers the exact moment he was arrested as a teen.

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“I was basically in bed, like 1 o’clock in the morning, and I thought I was dreaming. Lights bright as this was in my face and all I saw was guns,” Chestnut recalls.

Another man, Eric Simmons, had a similar experience in a totally separate case. Simmons and his brother, Kenneth McPherson, were convicted of murder back in May 1995. Simmons says he too remembers the moment when he and his brother were arrested.

“When I woke up, there was a bunch of guns in my face, the same way, snatched out of the bed,” says Simmons, adding that his mother saw both of her sons taken away the same day. “She lost her only two sons for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Simmons said his mother died before he and his brother were eventually released.

Chestnut and Simmons are among 10 men from Baltimore who’ve been released from prison after the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office helped to prove that they were innocent and that the evidence used to lock them up was tainted. Anyone can contact the office if they believe they were wrongfully convicted.

“You know that somebody finally heard your cries, somebody finally listening that didn’t listen for the last 25 years,” Simmons says.

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Chestnut says the world felt different when he was released from prison in his 50s, compared to when he was incarcerated as a teenager.

“When we walked out the door, I instantly looked up at the sky and I looked at the tall buildings and it seemed like the streets were much more smaller compared to when I was a kid,” Chestnut says.

Chestnut, Andrew Stewart, and Ransom Watkins are known as the Harlem Park Three. The young men were wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983, when they were 16 years old. They were convicted of murdering their childhood friend Dewitt Duckett in the hallway of Harlem Park Middle School.

While behind bars, Chestnut and Simmons studied the law, fought for and won their freedom. It’s a battle that lasted decades.

“For those who may be in prison, that’s wrongly convicted, you can’t let go too soon. You can’t give up, you got to keep up a constant fight,” Simmons says.

On Saturday, Oct. 2, there will be a town hall from 1-3 p.m. at the School of Social Work auditorium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The event is expected to feature some of the exonerees.

Click here for more information.

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Ava-joye Burnett