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Recent Exonerees Give the Public Advice on Being Locked Down: You Have No Idea

by Dale Chappell

Now the whole country is incarcerated,” Theophalis “Binky Bilal” Wilson said after being released in January 2020, exonerated after 28 years wrongfully in prison, only to find himself locked in at home. “This is a microcosm of what a person experiences when he is incarcerated,” he said. “This is nothing.”

He’s of course talking about the “lock down” of the entire world due to the coronavirus pandemic that has city streets deserted across the nation. Wilson was exonerated this year after it was found that the prosecutor used false evidence, false accusations, and committed “official misconduct” in securing a murder conviction against Wilson when he was 17.

While the stay-at-home orders have prevented him from restarting his life going to work for a law firm helping others still stuck in prison, he’s happy to give advice to those who have never experienced being locked down. He’s also hopeful the “incarceration” of the country will create some empathy for prisoners stuck in prisons being ravaged by the coronavirus.

Another recent exoneree, Mark Whitaker, also has some advice to the newbies on “lock down” at home: “You have to be creative. You better have something to do with you mind.”

Whitaker was released back to his hometown Philadelphia in 2019, after 17 wrongful years in prison for murder when it was uncovered that the prosecutor used false witness identification, false accusations, and committed “official misconduct,” as well.

“When you been through what I been through, being here [stuck at home] is not a problem,” he said. “There’s much I can do.” When he was stuck in prison, he relied on his cheap radio purchased on commissary to listen to the 76ers games. “We escaped for a little bit, and we all went to the game” using our radios, he said.

Terrance Lewis, another exoneree after 21 years of wrongful imprisonment, agrees that the public complaining about this “lock down” has no idea. “You got to cherish that which you do have. It allows you to cope with that which has been taken away.” Now he can look out a window and open it without seeing fences and razor wire. It’s the little stuff.

When he saw the shelves at the store empty of toilet paper, it didn’t faze him. “I already know how valuable toilet paper is, trust me.” But Lewis can’t wait to get to work. He can’t afford to stay home, because Pennsylvania is one of the few states that doesn’t provide compensation for those wrongfully imprisoned.

Ex-prisoner John Berry bristles against using the term “lock down” for the coronavirus. “Lock down means having your liberties taken from you, being in a place you don’t want to be 24/7, feeling horrible,” he said. “Out here the beauty of it is, we have all these different distractions — so many wonderful things to get our attention.”

Unlike a life sentence, Berry reminds the public that the stay-at-home order will end. “I’ve been through the most frustrating situation on Earth almost,” he said. “Now, I’m enjoying life. I’m free after 28 years. How can I be frustrated?” 



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