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December 02, 2009 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-12-02

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:hey made amends.

Imagine that tomorrow, you will barely exist. You
will spend the next 20 years in a cell so claustropho-
bic that the walls seem to creep toward you. It's so
hot you can barely move or breathe. The smell of body
odor, urine and shit is so strong that it seeps into your
skin. in order to stay alive, you eat slop a dog wouldn't
touch. Every morning you worry you might not make it
through the day alive.
Welcome to prison. It's just as bad as it sounds - and
for prisoners who are locked up for crimes they didn't
even commit, it's even worse.
Marvin Reed and his nephew, Deshawn, know that
all too well. It was their hellish reality for nine years
after they were wrongly convicted of assault with intent
to murder.
Last August, though, they walked out of prison as
free men. Their convictions were overturned thanks
in part to the Innocence Clinic, a Michigan Law School
student program that litigates cases for which new evi-
dence could prove a convicted prisoner's innocence.
The Reed case, the clinic's first success, is a beacon of
hope for several other prisoners who the clinic is in the
midst of defending.
But the Reeds' story didn't end on the day of their
release, when family members cried tears of joy and the
former prisoners counted their blessings for being alive
and liberated. Often passed over in the heartwarm-
ing tale of an innocent man set free is the struggle of
rebuilding a life that was suadenly puton hold. Dropped
into free society in the midst of the worst economic cri-
sis since the Great Depression, Marvin and Deshawn
must now piece together a livelihood in aworld that has
been forbidden to them for almost a decade.
Ten years ago, Marvin and Deshawn were a couple
of family men living in Ecorse, Mich., a suburb outside
Marvin, then 32 years old, was married and raising
his stepchildren with the Security Disability Insur-
ance that he received because of a learning disability
that prevents him from holding a job. As Marvin puts

it, he was "just living day by day (and) staying out of
At 24 years old, Deshawn was busy working as a
party promoter in Detroit and completing the process
of obtaining his real estate license. He had recently
become engaged and had three children, with his fian-
c6 pregnant with a fourth.
But on March 12, 2000, their world came crashing
down on them when they were accused of attacking
their neighbor Shannon Gholston, who was paralyzed
from the neck down in a drive-by shooting that night.
"About 100 police are outside my house saying, 'You
were in a drive-by,' or something," Marvin said about
the day the shooting occurred. "And I'm like, 'When
did this happen,' you know? You're just messing my
head up, you know. (I started) running around explain-
ing to them you got the wrong person."
Gholston identified the Reeds as the assailants, but
that was the only piece of evidence against them. No
physical evidence tied them to the crime scene, and
other prosecution witnesses fingered another sus-
pect who police had found with the gun that was used
in the shooting. But despite that evidence, a Wayne
County Circuit Court judge found the Reeds guilty on
Aug. 27, 2001 and sentenced them to 20 years in prison.
Gholston later recanted his testimony, but the appel-
late court denied a request for a retrial.
Deshawn said that while in custody, he fully
believed he and his uncle would be found innocent.
When the judge announced a guilty verdict, he was
"We were like, 'OK, this is gonna blow over once
we go to court and we get found not guilty, 'cause we
never did this. But when we got found guilty, it was like
a dream," he said.
Deshawn's dream quickly became his reality. The.
seemingly impossible guilty verdict turned into a one-
way trip to a Level 4-security prison, which is just one
level lower than maximum security. Ins4 Level 4 prison
- which holds prisoners with longer sentences - Mar-

vin and Deshawn had to stay in their cells for 23 hours
a day for four straight years.
"Just imagine being in a real, real deep hole, and
you yelling for help, and it like don't nobody hear you,"
Deshawn said. "And when somebody do hear you and
they look down - and you thinkin' that they gonna
help you, give you the help you need - and they just
walk off."
Throughout their decade-long incarceration, the
two men moved frequently from one prison to another,
but never together. Every time they entered a new pris-
on, they were stripped naked and searched for smug-
gled goods - a reoccurring humiliation that Deshawn
still bitterly resents.
The roughly 6-by-8-foot cells they lived in reeked
of human waste, or what the Reeds called "boo boo."
During the summer, the walls themselves sweated in
the stifling heat.
Every waking moment, Deshawn worried if he
would be alive by the time he went to sleep that night.
He described a typical days as "just waking up, just
praying, just hoping I don't get killed or have to defend
myself - have to end up, you know, doing something
that's not even me (and) hurting somebody just to
defend myself."
He feared that if he was put in a situation where he
needed to protect himself, he might commit a violent
crime against another prisoner and blow his chances
at a retrial.
One time, an inmate ambushed Deshawn from
behind a door, stabbing him in the arm with a make-
shift knife called a "shank." Deshawn believes he was
mistaken for someone else and that the attack had not
been intended for him. But no matter the reason for the
violence, Deshawn was left to fend for himself.
"It's like everybody don't see nothing," he said.
"They turn it off. When I got stabbed in my arm...a lot
of people see it, but ain't nobody seen it."
Marvin, who called his incarceration a "nightmare,"
was dogged by the same constant threat of violence
without adequate protection from the guards. One of
the worst experiences he remembers is when he was
put in an isolation cell for two days after he got into a

fight with a fellow inmate.
"I mean, when I say a nightmare, you know you can
only deal with this so long," he said. "You justgettired.
You wanna just get about ready to break. I just wanna
end all this pain and suffering and all this stress, you
know? It was terrible."
While solitary isolation was soul-crushing for Mar-
vin, it was probably safer than being with his cellmate.
Marvin and Deshawn were placed in cells with men
who were convicted of rape and murder, among other
violent crimes.
"You might be put in a room with a guy who's been
in prison for 40 years, probably killed four people...and
he might be a homosexual and he got no respect, not
even for himself," Deshawn said.
To deal with the unbearable, Deshawn busied him-
self by studying law and scrutinizing his case, while
Marvin helped with prison yard work and played bas-
"You gotta occupy your time doing something busy,
to get out of prison mentally," Deshawn said.
But finally, one day in 2008, hope showed up at
Deshawn's jail cell in the form of a dozen Innocence
Clinic law students. They had decided to investi-
gate Deshawn's case after learning about it from his
friend. At first, the Innocence Clinic only planned to
work on Deshawn's case because of the concern that
the prosecution might try to offer Marvin a deal to
testify that Deshawn was the shooter. But Deshawn
refused to accept their assistance if they did not help
his uncle, too. Family came before anything, even his
The Innocence Clinic agreed to take on both cases,
and worked diligently to attain a retrial and build
a case for the defense. Without the clinic's help,
Deshawn said, "we wouldn't be sitting here. Period."
After the clinic took their cases, Marvin and
Deshawn agonized and fantasized over the idea of
freedom for 14 months before their appeal began.
When they met in Wayne County Circuit Court in
2008 - the first time they had seen each other in nine
years - they expected a bitter fight from the Wayne
County Prosecutor's office.

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