Today's Wilmington Star News in North Carolina reports, "Exonerated death row inmates readjust to society after release." It's by Brian Freskos.
In 2004, Alan Gell walked out of a Bertie County courtroom a free man.
After languishing nearly five years on death row for a murder he did not commit, a new jury overturned his original conviction. But despite the sense of vindication that accompanied his freedom, Gell felt uneasy and scared.
He was released into a foreign world where toilets flushed automatically "and scared the crap out of you," he said. On the outside, he had no access to health care or social services. And with an erroneous murder conviction on his record, it felt impossible to find a job.
"They threw me to the wolves," he said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "If it was not for my family, I don't know what I would have done."
Gell is among 18 exonerated death row inmates whose post-release odysseys form the subject of a recently released book entitled, "Life After Death Row: Exonerees' Search for Community and Identity," co-authored by professors at University of North Carolina campuses in Wilmington and Greensboro.
Cook and Westervelt say only a small proportion of exonerees receive compensation. Only 23 states have compensation laws. North Carolina boasts one of the most generous, awarding $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. But the process often takes years. And to qualify, exonerees must obtain a governor's pardon – a task that often proves elusive. As a result, only about 23 percent of them win compensation through the law, Westervelt said.
Gell believes he should not have to ask the state to correct a wrong that it perpetrated. He instead filed a lawsuit against prosecutors and investigators and in 2009, settled for $3.9 million, according to the book.
Today, Gell's life has assumed a degree of normalcy. He is in a healthy relationship and has kids. But the stigma of being "that guy" who once served time on death row still sticks to him.
"You never really get over the whole deal," he said.
More on Life after Death Row: Exonerees' Search for Community and Identity is at Amazon.com.
Related posts are in the wrongful incarceration index. Texas has one of the most generous compensation laws in the nation for those wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.