All my support was my mom. But she deceased now. I feel like I was cheated out of that, having that time with her, you know? Those years that I definitely can’t get back.
May 8, 2002
HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY, Mr. Day?
It was an unusual question from a judge, breaking up Antione’s daydream. He had already checked out of the routine hearing and was thinking about how long it would take before he could go back to the jail to work out.
“I’m good,” Antione said.
Follow the stories of three Illinois exonerees through their wrongful convictions, releases and struggles to put their lives back together as free men.
Are you ready to go home?
Antione turned to his lawyer, Howard Joseph, who was smiling at him. The two had a longstanding joke where he would pester Antione to prepare for his release.
“Are you ready to go home? Do you have your clothes packed? Got some clothes ready to go home? It’s going to happen when you least expect it,” he would say during legal visits to the prison.
“Mr. Howard, I will go home butt-naked,” Antione would tell him. “I don’t need no clothes to go home.”
The judge wasn’t joking. Antione looked around the courtroom, scanning faces to find his mother’s.
She wasn’t there. No one was there for him. No one knew.
Mr. Day, you’re free to go home.
He turned to the state’s side of the courtroom: “You knew I didn’t do this. You knew I was innocent.”
While being escorted back to Chicago’s Cook County Jail, where Antione had been waiting for a new trial on appeal, he bumped into a lawyer he hadn’t seen in more than a decade. The lawyer had shown up early in his case before passing him off to another attorney, who passed him off to another attorney.
“My case just got overturned,” Antione told him. “No thanks to you, you punk!”
The bailiffs kept him moving.
IT TOOK ALMOST ALL DAY to be processed out of the jail.
The sealed bag of Antione’s personal property, containing a watch, some cash and an ID, had gone missing. Wherever a prisoner goes, for transfers or for court hearings, the sealed bag is to follow. But Antione didn’t want to argue about the loss.
“OK, where’s the door? That’s all I’m looking for. Nothing else but the door,” he said.
He passed through the underground tunnels that connect the units, lined with bullpens, or holding cells. The inmates hollered at him: Hey, he’s getting out!
The worst of the day came when he had to turn in his clothes.
Stripped down of his uniform stamped with CCDOC—short for Cook County Department of Corrections, Antione was led into a room with used garments piled to the ceiling. It was a musty mountain of other men’s clothes, abandoned as they had gone into the system, who knows how long ago.
“People sweating and farting in those clothes,” Antione says.
He eventually plucked the least offensive sweatshirt he could find from the stinking heap. And some pants. He put them on, ready to leave.
Outside, it was dreary.
“It was raining so bad that day,” Antione remembers. “I’m standing in the rain smelling like a mule.”
He stood at the corner of 27th and California, just south of the criminal courts building where his case had been overturned that morning. His hometown appeared foreign to him. The cars whizzed past. He didn’t know where to go and had no way to get there. He wanted to see his mother, but she wasn’t expecting him.
After what felt like two or three hours, a man pulled up to the corner in a black sedan. He knew him.
“What are you doing out of jail?”
“I just broke out!” Antione laughed.
Antione hopped in the car, and they drove over to Roosevelt and Clinton, where a string of men’s clothing shops still stands, selling everything from three-piece suits to fedoras. His friend bought him some new threads and then took Antione back to his apartment so he could shower up and change.
Once Antione shed himself of the jail clothes, he told his friend he was ready to go see his mother. He hitched another ride and rolled in to the Austin neighborhood where he’d grown up.
At his mother’s house on Quincy, Antione walked up the familiar concrete steps to the long brick home. The structure ran deep into a backyard, where they used to have Hawaiian luau-type cookouts. His mother would roast a pig to feed a crowd.
The front door to the house was unlocked. He opened it and went inside to his mother’s bedroom.
She was lying in her bed and screamed when she saw him in the doorframe.
Later, the shock wore off, and they talked, lying side by side.
Littie Day cried herself to sleep that night. Antione was in the bed with her, weeping in unison.