After Prison: Alton Logan's Year Outside

April 17, 2009

Download Story
Alton Logan, right, with attorney Harold Winston.
Today, a Cook County judge decided that Alton Logan was innocent of murder. Logan spent 26 years in prison for a 1982 killing on Chicago's South Side. Another man had confessed to his attorneys that he'd done the crime. They said ethical codes made them keep the secret for more than a quarter of a century. But the story eventually came out, and Logan was released a year ago tomorrow. Last week, the former inmate performed as one of the narrators in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ in the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel.

Related:
Follow Alton Logan's Journey

A year ago tonight, Alton Logan reported to his job washing pots and pans at Stateville Prison near Joliet. He worked the midnight shift. When it was finished, he showered and boarded a bus that took him to Cook County Jail.
 
From there he was escorted to a courtroom, where, after several hours of testimony, the judge surprised nearly everyone with the speed of his decision, dismissing the conviction and releasing Logan on bond. Logan wept.

He walked out a few hours later wearing ill-fitting hand-me-downs, his aunt holding his pants up because he had no belt.

Months went by…and in September, the Illinois attorney general decided not to prosecute, and Alton Logan was officially a free man.

Last week, he seemed at first glance to have travelled a long way. He appeared with distinguished religious scholars and musicians at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.

LOGAN reading: We need to reconnect with God, even after it seems like he has disconnected from us.

Logan had been invited to read one of the meditations written to accompany Haydn's composition The Seven Last Words of Christ.
 
It was a high point in what's been a hard year. When he first left prison Logan went to live at his aunt's house, where he was confused by the operation of a cell phone, flummoxed by a single handle tub faucet. He was penniless and did not have a single piece of identification. He was delighted just to be able to touch a tree, to eat what he wanted to eat, to go to bed when he wanted to.

LOGAN: It's been a learning experience. And I'm still learning.

Since his release, what Logan has learned would seem to be a lesson he already knew, which is that the state has a hard time recognizing and compensating the wrongfully convicted. Guilty ex-convicts who complete their sentences receive reintegration assistance from the state, but innocent ex-convicts are not entitled to those same services.

LOGAN: Since I've been home, the state has offered me no type of job training, skills training, re-entry training, nothing…. Right now I am living with my girlfriend and basically she is taking care of me. 

His job search has been frustrated by both the economy and by his criminal record. He says he has been looking for....

LOGAN: Any kind of work. I am not particular...I am just trying to survive. Everyplace I apply for, they say they hiring, but then after I apply there's nothing. I've applied at Lowe's, a number of the Home Depot, Target, all the chain stores that is looking for laborers. 

Logan was trained in welding, heating, air conditioning, and building maintenance while in prison. If the judge grants his petition for a certificate of innocence, the former Stateville inmate will be entitled to job search and placement services and about $200,000 in compensation. That's the maximum allowed to a prisoner who serves time for a crime he did not commit. It's not the kind of money that could set a man up for life, particularly a man with no job and few prospects. But the certificate might prove useful if Logan's attorneys eventually file a civil suit against police and prosecutors.

At his appearance on the Tuesday of Holy Week, Logan looked more prosperous than he is. His suit fit far better than the outfit he wore when he walked out of prison a year ago, but it too is a hand-me-down from a relative.

LOGAN: We need to trust that though God may be testing us, he never abandons us.

CONROY: I'm thinking of the words in the service tonight, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Did you think God had forsaken you when you were in prison?
LOGAN: At one time I did feel that way, but I came to realize that he hadn't forsaken me, I had forsaken him.
CONROY: Is the god you believe in, is he just?
LOGAN: Yes, my father is a just god.
CONROY: How did he allow you to serve 26 years in prison for a crime you did not commit?
LOGAN: I think that he was trying to teach me something.

LOGAN READING: We cry out in helpless desperation and anger. But in the end, we must give it up.

LOGAN: The Seven Last Words of Christ, this is an event I will never forget.
CONROY: What does it mean to you?
LOGAN: It means that I am alive. It means that I can contribute to the community in a positive manner. It means I can gain the trust of individuals once again. It means a lot. And it's good.

Special thanks for WFMT Radio for concert audio used in this story.