My life was broken. I had to restart myself to get myself to grow again.
HIS MOTHER’S HOUSE in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood had shrunk. At least that’s what it seemed like when Antione Day looked around his childhood home for the first time in about a decade.
His kids, on the other hand, were much bigger than he remembered. Antione, one of nine children, had 13 of his own. It was hard to keep up with them before he went to prison, let alone after such an absence.
They trickled in for visits. Father and son, father and daughter, and over again, they shared tearful reunions. But the joy couldn’t quite blot out the collective pain as Antione tried to reconnect with them and reenter their lives. He wanted that second chance to be a father, as he had told the judge who sentenced him in 1993.
Follow the stories of three Illinois exonerees through their wrongful convictions, releases and struggles to put their lives back together as free men.
When Antione went away, one of his sons, Krishon, was a toddler. When Antione was released, Krishon was already a little man, having just graduated from eighth grade. He had visited Antione some in prison, more so when he was younger. Antione tried to parent from prison, looking over schoolwork from time to time.
Krishon never knew why his dad was put away. It wasn’t until Antione was released that Krishon’s mom told him. He mustered up the courage to ask Antione him for details.
“Don’t worry about it,” Antione told him. “You just don’t get yourself into any situations.”
AFTER HIS FIRST NIGHT BACK, Antione left his mother’s room when his stepdad came home. He moved to the couch where he slept for a week or two before crashing at a friend’s place in Bensonville, Ill., a half hour drive from home.
He spent his days talking to his mom, comforting her and telling her everything was going to be OK now. She kept him fed, making him baked chicken, sweet potatoes, greens, corn bread – “a real soul food dinner,” Antione remembers.
But late at night, Antione would be wide awake. It was hard to fall asleep. The car horns and street lights disturbed him, signaling a scary world beyond his mom’s cozy brick bungalow on Quincy Street.
Soon he ventured out into the neighborhood, said hello to folks. He discovered that rumors and sideways glances about his conviction still haunted him. Antione didn’t tell many people how he got out. People just thought he was out.
One friendly face greeted him across the fence, his neighbor and former music instructor Mr. Hicks, who had seen promise in Antione from an early age.
“Come over and play,” Mr. Hicks said. “Let’s play a little bit.”
Antione was on the drums while Mr. Hicks played the xylophone. Mr. Hicks could tell Antione had kept up his skills in prison, no matter that he had been practicing on a dilapidated drum set. Antione could tell Mr. Hicks was proud.
“FIRST THING WE DID, we got me my license.”
Antione’s friend Darnell took him to the DMV to take the test. A lover of the open road, Antione found it easy, as though no time had passed.
He drove a family car, a Chevy Cavalier, and he took it just about anywhere he could go in a day’s time – Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota. He had craved these voyages over the years in prison, drawing pictures of highways and dreaming up trips he might never take.
“Always said that I want to get on this highway and when I get on it, I’m going to ride, ride,” Antione said.
As he racked up miles on the car, Antione got to thinking he’d like to build something of his own. He figured out how to use the Internet on his mom and stepdad’s desktop computer, and he ordered parts for a Suzuki Hayabusa, a sport bike motorcycle. He found the bike’s 1999 frame in Texas. The engine too. The plastic parts came from California. Piece by storied piece, web page by web page, trial by many errors, Antione had the conviction to create something strong and solid out of the scraps.
“Finally got something done,” he says. “Made my challenge worthwhile. Felt like I accomplished something because everyone said I couldn’t do it.”
When he put the motorcycle to pavement, the world still seemed so brand new. He crossed through the neighborhood, got on the highway and rode.