I can’t imagine what it must have been like.
Sentenced to life in jail for a crime you didn’t commit.
At what point do you just give up, and accept the fact that you are going to spend the rest of your life in jail? Or do you keep fighting, like Chester Hollman III did, despite several setbacks along the way.
I’d be terrified to spend one night in jail, let alone 28 years.
Hollman’s case is the eighth murder conviction reversed under Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit since he took office last year.
Eight people wrongly convicted. I shudder to think what would have happened to these eight people if they had been sentenced to the death penalty before their cases were reversed.
But the death penalty and life sentences are a discussion for another time.
What intrigues me about these reversals, such as Hollman’s, is what it must be like for these people once they are set free.
Hollman was sent to jail in 1991; the world was a very different place back then.
No smartphones, no Google Maps, no Facebook, no electric or self-driving cars, no flat-screen TVs, no PlayStation consoles, no self-ordering kiosks at restaurants and convenience stores, no Amazon deliveries. The list could go on and on.
How do you take all of that in? My guess is that if you were in jail for 28 years, you probably heard about these changes, but had no opportunity to experience them first hand. Are there things you can’t wait to try?
Plus all that freedom you now have; when to sleep, when to eat, where to go, what to wear, what to do.
Is that freedom hard to transition to?
I can’t imagine what must have been going through Hollman’s head while he was driven away from prison.
Hollman notes that he felt a “weird” sense of loss after leaving the prison that had been his home for over a quarter of a century. He also felt the weight of expectations of not wanting to fail all the people who helped secure his release, as well as all the people still in prison.
He also talked about what being free meant – going to sleep in silence in his own room; a soft mattress; calls from people he hadn’t spoken with in decades; cutting his dad’s grass; sitting out in the open without fences or time restraints.
All simple things that we take for granted. And Hollman should have been allowed to do so as well.
There is much talk about a need for prison reform, which we certainly need.
But perhaps more importantly, we need to more broadly reform our entire justice system, to try and ensure that cases like Hollman’s never happen again.
I wish Chester Hollman III the best; his story is a testament to the power of the human spirit.
*image from NBC Philadelphia