What Is It Like to Be Wrongfully Convicted of a Crime?

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Answer by Michael Morton, author:

I was wrongly convicted of murdering my wife. I recall that first night in jail—it was not unlike being punched in the face. I was stunned, numb, and not sure of what lay before me. All personal control had been yanked away. What I wore, what I ate, where I slept, and where I could not go were all dictated by the state. In that situation, the absolute power of government becomes blatant, coercive, Orwellian.

The first few months of prison life are about adaptation. It’s a different society, a subculture of power—physical, emotional, and spiritual. There are simple rules. Obey and internalize those rules, and you’ll get by.

As the years pile up, feigned apathy becomes your outward mask. But on the inside, anger and bitterness consume you. Revenge occupies your so-called free moments. At other odd times, you fantasize about living a normal life or escaping to a tropical paradise or dying in prison. You imagine building houses, establishing relationships with the opposite sex, or burning down the houses and the relationships of your enemies.

But as the decades accrue, an acceptance and an understanding of life creep in. If you’re lucky, you become calmer, more relaxed, more sure. You see the value of faith, hope, and of course love. You come to appreciate pure things, like the behavior of animals and the joy of small children. It sounds cliché and almost banal, but time wears a man down.

In the end, if you are lucky, you see that our trials are what improve us. And if you are very lucky and somewhat insightful, you see that whatever your trial has been, it is exactly what you needed. Our trials make us who we are.

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