Freed After 28 Years in Jail, for a Crime He Did Not Commit

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

10 thoughts on “Freed After 28 Years in Jail, for a Crime He Did Not Commit

  1. Wow. I doubt this Black man’s sad, unjust conviction existed in isolation. Shudder puts it mildly. Absolutely agreed we need prison reform, yet the vitriolic racist undercurrents running through our country these days has me extremely worried that justice will ever prevail. I would like to think we are ready for a compassionate society, a truly equal society, but I have lived too long and witnessed too much. Like you, I wish this sweet soul all the success he deserves. So sorry for his suffering. And that of his family. 🙏

    1. It seems like we have made so little progress since the 1960s with regard to race; and in some ways, it’s gotten worse. I am hopeful that someone will come along that can lead us to a better place.

  2. 🙂 Ooops! The ending of that sentence should be, “… did not commit” and not “… “did not have to commit”. That is what happens when I start my day without caffeine — mindless typos!

  3. A profound and stirring entry Jim. In a system in which the presumption of innocence is paramount and guilt requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, how could we have failed so miserably? Sadly, as you stated, this is but one story of many. How do we now repay someone for the loss of all that time?

    1. I don’t know if you can ever make up for all that lost time and those relationships. Perhaps instead of a lawsuit, there should be contributions made to initiatives like the Innocence Project.

  4. These stories are heartbreaking and should stir the fight for reform in all of us. Sadly, it does not. I am forever hopeful however. I know there are a lot of good people who want better.

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