BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For the past few weeks, WJZ has been sharing stories about people released from prison after newly uncovered evidence proved they did not commit the crime.
But when an innocent person is exonerated, victims of crimes and their loved ones are left to wonder, “Who is the real criminal?”READ MORE: ‘I Spent 36 Years In Prison For A Crime I Didn’t Commit’: City State’s Attorney Office Talks About Program That Helps To Overturn Wrongful Convictions
Jennifer Thompson knows what it feels like to be a survivor of a heinous crime, only to find out later the man she thought raped her was innocent.
“A DNA test was run and it showed not only that it had never been Ronald Cotton but it had actually been a man who was serving time in the same prison as he was. A man by the name of Bobby Poole who had assaulted and raped me and a second woman on the same night, then was left out in the streets to commit further harms,” said Thompson, the founder of Healing Justice.
Thompson said she knew there had to be other people like her out there, so she started the nonprofit organization to help victims after they found out the wrong person was arrested in their case. Now, the group provides support to people whose lives have been impacted by wrongful convictions.
“It’s so many layers of harm and trauma and grief that are family members in these cases, these original victims have to unfold,” said Thompson.
Healing Justice holds retreats where victims of crimes, families who’ve lost loved ones and even people who were wrongfully convicted can all come together for a space to heal.READ MORE: Baltimore Man Cleared Of Murder Decades Later: ‘You Can’t Give Up’
“One of the biggest harms that happens in wrongful conviction cases is we feel like we are the only people that have experienced this, so it’s very isolating,” she said. “But when you realize that there’s a group of people who care and have lived and survived a similar experience, it doesn’t feel as lonely, you feel like there are people out there that you can talk to.”
Ten local men have been released from prison after further review found they were wrongfully convicted, according to figures provided by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
The agency is now working with Healing Justice to help victims of crimes who thought they had closure only to realize it was a mirage.
“You’re not alone, and there’s many of us out there,” Thompson said. “For every wrongful conviction there’s a crime survivor or murder victim’s family member, so you’re not alone. And I would really encourage them to look at Healing Justice.”
On Saturday, Oct. 2, a town hall will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the School of Social Work’s auditorium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The event is expected to feature some of the men who are working to put their lives back together after spending time in prison for crimes they did not commit.