Man who was wrongly imprisoned for 21 years speaks out about difficulty readjusting to normal life
I am sure that being wrongly accused of a crime ranks fairly highly on people's list of fears. Maybe it's because of this that so many Hollywood films are based on this concept, with movies such as The Fugitive and The Shawshank Redemption spinning tales based on good people forced to go on the run from their own government.
Unfortunately, this is all too real a problem. Some people can lose their entire lives to a mistake made in the courts, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was the case with Colin Warner, who was arrested and sentenced to a lengthy 21 years in prison, without having even committed the crime.
Warner was arrested in 1980, accused of the murder of Mario Hamilton, a 16-year-old boy. Hamilton was killed outside the Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York, but the real culprit got away with the crime. Norman Simmonds admitted to being responsible for the boys death, but his affidavit was considered to be insufficient evidence.
In 2001 the case was re-investigated, and they discovered that Simmonds really was the guilty party after all. On February 1 that year Colin Warner was released, with over two decades of an innocent man's life lost behind bars. A year later he claimed damages, gaining $2 million from the lawsuit.
His amazing story is now being adapted into a movie called Crown Heights, starring Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Atlanta) as Colin. But before that movie comes out, the real Colin Warner appeared on Reddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything).
Warner, who was accompanied by a legal expert, took to Reddit to answer the users' questions about his life in prison and what his life has been like since his release.
When he was asked which person had the most effect on his life while he was imprisoned, he answered: "That would have to be Carl King, my best friend. He was a fanatic, and that's how his family labelled him. He was always fighting for me." Speaking about the general experience of being stuck in jail for a crime he didn't commit, Warner continued:
"Being in prison felt like hell. It felt like a strange land that I was forced to get accustomed to. What I realized early on was that I was fighting for my survival. From the day of my arrest to getting out, I was fighting for survival in prison on a daily basis and fighting for my freedom. My feelings were loneliness, frustration, a lot of anger, feeling like I was a nobody. Feeling like I had no one in the world that I could depend on. My main fear was that I would come out of prison and still be labelled a murderer."
But when he did get out, what struck him about the world were the big changes that had occurred in the two decades he had been away, such as the fact that his wife's phone no longer had a chord. He's so overwhelmed by new technology that he has stayed away from anything past the cell phone.
"What I found out and I probably didn’t realize before I went in, was how scared people were. Scared about everything. It threw me back because I never saw it in people before. On a small matter, the use of cell phones. I don’t remember people talking like that so I was asking my wife “Who are they talking to?” Even the geography of Crown Heights where I came from, it seemed like it was sunk in, not expanding and growing. The streets looked dark and bleak to me, so it was hard to try and re-organize things in my mind."
When asked how much money he received after he was released, he simply said: "How much money is 21 years of your life worth?" It's a good question, as I can't even imagine spending that much time locked up when you know you did nothing to deserve it.
But Warner remains hopeful that the film about his life will touch many and help them relate to his plight and others who have suffered similar fates.