What did you learn about wrongful convictions and innocence work throughout the course of your Spring 2018 internship at GIP?
I learned that the process of freeing an innocent person takes a long time and DNA technology has come a long way. Now, we have DNA testing that can help jurors reach accurate verdicts at trial. But for those old cases, so many people have been wrongfully convicted because of factors such as flawed forensic science, government misconduct, and false confessions, and implicit racial bias is present in many wrongful convictions.
What surprised you the most about wrongful convictions?
I’ve always known that people of color and those without access to resources and opportunities are discriminated against and targeted. But, what stunned me the most about wrongful conviction was the way the justice system works to protect itself. I often read stories about how prosecutors withheld evidence or used incentivized informants. Here at GIP, I have seen several cases where DNA evidence proves the prosecution got the wrong person, but prosecutors still try to keep the innocent person in prison. It’s as if they don’t want to admit that they made a mistake. That is not justice.
What was your most interesting assignment?
One intriguing project I got to work on was, every Monday morning, I would scour the news for articles that were relevant to wrongful conviction. Because of the progress of technology and the prevalence of innocence projects around the world, the media covers exonerations and wrongful convictions more and more. I had Google alerts set up to help me find articles related to government misconduct, junk science, wrongful convictions, exonerations, DNA, compensation, and guilty pleas. Racial bias and government misconduct, such as withholding evidence or mishandling scientific evidence, were two of the many factors I saw over and over when I read these articles. Another exciting project I got to work on was making new marketing materials for the Georgia Innocence Project by using a design tool. I had to combine all the information I learned during this semester and research wrongful conviction statistics for the branding project. This project helped me get more in touch with my creative side but also taught me about content, how information is perceived, and to how to make GIP’s information relevant and clear.
What is life like in the GIP office?
GIP is a small office, so it is usually quiet. We are all working on a billion things, so everyone is focused and hard at work. However, GIP has an open door policy and there are other interns I get to work with almost daily. Everyone here is friendly and collegial.
What skills did you gain?
I mentioned collecting stats for the branding project that I did. I also revised a handbook that will be used by the next interns. I’ve improved my research, writing, and analysis skills and learned how to make things as clear as possible and how to make materials look more appealing to the eye. I’ve learned how to use a donor database called Bloomerang, and I would recommend Bloomerang to other organizations for fundraising software.
Any fun memories?
For the February exoneree meeting, I got to meet GIP exonerees Calvin Johnson Jr., Pete Williams, John White, and Clarence Harrison. Calvin and Clarence told us their stories. Both were accused of crimes involving rape. It was sad to hear their stories, but indeed necessary to learn about them. We all went to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in honor of Black History Month. I believe it was their first time being there. I’ve attended the Center before, but every time I go back, I learn something different. The whole day was eye-opening because I saw how active GIP still is in the lives of those they helped free.