Exoneree Diaries: Antione Day saves his mother's life

December 26, 2013

By: Alison Flowers

WBEZ/Andrew Gill
Antione Day

“That was the most uplifting part for me, saving her life.”

TIME HAD BEEN MOVING FAST, working in construction. Antione was amazed by how days, weeks and months would disappear. Gone. His kids were getting older. He was getting older. He added a couple more kids to his brood, and then they started growing before his eyes.

Sometimes, when the calendar would escape him, Antione would think about how time used to crawl in prison.

“Tick-tick-tick,” he remembers. “You know, one hour took a whole month it seems like.”

But it took no time at all for Antione to sign up as his mother’s organ donor. He scoffed when medical staff offered him the pre-surgery counseling.

“Man, I don’t need no counseling,” Antione told them. He just needed a date and a time.

A few days later, he was in the prep room.

“I’m a momma’s boy,” he says. “Whatever my momma need, she going to get it.”

Follow the stories of three Illinois exonerees through their wrongful convictions, releases and struggles to put their lives back together as free men.

He felt honored to keep her life going. She had kept his going during the incarceration.

“She never second-guessed me,” Antione says.

He could feel the doubt emanate from other people. Maybe he did do it, they seemed to be thinking.

Not Littie Day.

“You just can’t quit because you can’t quit,” she had told him during prison’s dark days. “No one knows your case like you do.”

Littie hadn’t let her son give up, so when life was close to giving up on her, her son opened himself up.

Touting himself as a non-drinker and non-smoker, Antione considered himself the healthiest of his siblings. Except for some knots that had sprung up on his arms and legs, and troubled eyesight, he had kept himself healthy in prison. He had been convinced there was lead in the water supply, so he would boil the water before drinking it. Some of his fellow inmates skipped the water, swapping it with soda and juices from the commissary. Antione didn’t want to develop diabetes, so he avoided sugar in what he drank and ate.

“Always thought they was trying to poison us,” he says. “The food was very unsanitary. It was cooked very poorly.”

He would refuse food from the prison kitchen and bought most of everything from the commissary to cook it himself. For a time, he was a vegetarian behind bars.

Once he was a free man, the one indulgence he allowed himself was seafood.

“I love shrimp, and there was having no shrimp in prison,” he says. “Absolutely not. I love shrimp. I ate tons of it when I came home.”

His last big meal before donating his kidney to his mother was a shrimp and king crab leg feast.

It was major surgery. The doctors cut through his abdominal muscles to get to the organ.

“I felt like a pregnant woman,” Antione says with a laugh.  “However that feels.”

For about six months he struggled to walk. He was laid up at his mom’s house, unable to work, watching old movies like Gunsmoke on Turner Classic Movies to pass the time. But despite the extended recovery, he felt it had all been worth it. His mother finally looked like she was becoming healthy again.                                                                                   

ANTIONE HEARD THE NEWS from his mother that the wife of his attorney friend, Mr. Joseph, had died of cancer. Lois Joseph had several bouts of the disease over many years, and the last one got her.

He wanted to pay his respects. But when Antione would stop by Mr. Joseph’s law office, it was empty.

Mr. Joseph got sick too, falling ill after his wife’s passing, as it goes.

“I was trying to find him,” Antione says. “I didn’t even know.”

Antione’s new family life was keeping him busy, as he shared three young kids with his girlfriend, whom he had befriended before his incarceration.

They married.  It was a small ceremony at their home.

“Having the kids, you feel you want to do the right thing,” he says.

His mother taught him to keep your kids close. He was trying.

Just three days before Antione’s nuptials, the Chicago Tribune ran a short, matter-of-fact obituary:

“Howard G. Joseph, 82, beloved husband of the late Lois Joseph; loving father and grandfather. Funeral Service 10 a.m. Friday at Piser Funeral Services, 9200 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL. Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the American Cancer Society…”

The newspaper miscalculated his age when the obit ran on Independence Day 2007. Mr. Joseph was three months younger.