Exoneree Diaries: Jacques visits his son in jail

June 17, 2014

By: Alison Flowers

WBEZ/Andrew Gill
Jacques Rivera

“They were young when I left them, so they really don’t know me and I don’t know them.”

THE INMATE STARED AT JACQUES through the glass at Cook County Jail.

Outside the same jail, about a year and a half earlier, news cameras were rolling as Jacques’ three grown children ran up to him, a free man after more than 20 years of wrongful incarceration.

Back at the jail, this time a visitor, Jacques peered through the other side of the glass. Before him, a 25-year-old man appeared with features similar to his own.

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

He was his son, a fourth child, Joshua.

Joshua had been locked up for a few years waiting for his criminal case to play out, entering the system as Jacques was fighting to get out.

With dark unruly hair and a goatee, Joshua resembled a younger Jacques. Jacques kept his goatee throughout the years, which turned to silver in prison. As a free man, sometimes he would cover the patch with a touch of Just For Men hair dye. Other times, he didn’t mind trading in a little gray for some respect, finding that thugs on the street tended to leave him alone when he looked older.

Jacques knew little about Joshua’s case. All he knew was what was missing – himself – a father who was absent from some of his son’s earliest memories.

“This wrongful conviction definitely took a toll on my life with my kids,” Jacques says. “It basically ruined my life with my children. Because they don’t know me.”

Court records show Joshua was charged with holding up two women, hijacking their Jeep in 2009, grabbing one of them by the hair and detaining them both. A couple of weeks after the crime, the Jeep crashed out with two of his friends inside. They were killed. Joshua, severely injured, was hospitalized for months before being transferred to jail on a slew of charges. While in custody, he racked up another charge for assaulting an officer in 2012.

Joshua was considering a plea deal when Jacques visited him. Joshua was already familiar with the Illinois Department of Corrections, convicted of a weapons charge in 2007, when he was 19 years old. As they spoke, Jacques couldn’t tell if they were being recorded.

“The public defender lady is supposed to call me,” Jacques said.

He encouraged his son to learn as many skills as he could in prison, to do the time and make the most of it.

Jacques preached this and another gospel to friends who called him from prison.

“I accept phone calls from them,” Jacques says. “All of them are Christians that do call me. They’re not gang members.”

He would tell them to minister to the young kids in prison. “You see what the Lord can do for me? He can do the same for you.”

Joshua ended up taking the deal, pleading guilty to the car hijacking in exchange for serving half of an 18-year sentence, with some credit for the time in jail. A judge sentenced him to three more years for assaulting the officer.

After sentencing, Joshua was booked at Robinson Correctional Center, a 4-hour drive south of Chicago. He stared straight ahead, blankly, for another mug shot. His thick dark hair was slicked back in a ponytail, his goatee neatly trimmed. At more than six feet, he stood taller than his dad.

The intake officers noted in his file the presence of several tattoos. On Joshua’s left forearm, there were several, including “RIP Julio” and “Trust no bitch.”  On the right, one tattoo showed a pitchfork and horns.

On his back, he tattooed a clown inked with the words, “Would you love me.”