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Exoneree Diaries: "You've got anger issues, Dad."

More than 20 years after being wrongly convicted, Jacques is still learning to deal with a temper that’s viewed differently on the outside.

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Exoneree Diaries: "You've got anger issues, Dad."

Jacques Rivera

WBEZ/Andrew Gill

“I haven’t received no counseling. People’s been telling me that I have anger issues. I don’t see it, but you know, of course, you never look at yourself in that manner. But now I’m starting to accept it. Maybe a therapist or somebody could sit down and talk with me. But they [the state] don’t provide you nothing. They don’t provide me no healthcare, no type of therapy, no counseling, nothing.”

DON’T EAT too much candy!” Jacques hollered to his work friends, one by one, as they headed home from the medical school.

It was Halloween, and despite the smile plastered on his face, Jacques was worn out. He had covered someone else’s deliveries all day while keeping up on his own.

His body was tired. His mind was busy. His heart was heavy. And he felt embarrassed and misunderstood.

“You’ve got anger issues, Dad.”

He didn’t know what to do with those words. The warning had come after a Hennessy-fueled night for his son’s birthday. Jacques didn’t normally drink, but he was trying to fit in and goof off. In jest, he pulled out a knife. But because of his background, it scared his family and friends.

In prison, Jacques would cry and cry through his anger. He was offered medication. He said no because he saw what those pills did to people.

Sometimes, he would lose his temper. When he shared a cell with a Muslim in county jail, Jacques told him he was cool with his prayer schedule. But when the guy washed his feet before praying, he wouldn’t clean out the sink. The carelessness irritated Jacques.

“You mother ------!” Jacques would scream.

A guy from another cell suggested Jacques’ cell mate simply wipe his feet before prayer, and that solved it.

At Stateville, where Jacques did all his time, people trusted him. He would roam around the prison. He showed new correctional officers the ropes. He would find their keys or cash laying about and turn them back in. In the kitchen where he worked, Jacques would give extra taco meat to some guys to get what he wanted. He stock-piled cereal in his cell. It was currency. It was power and control.

But on the outside, more than 20 years after being wrongly convicted, Jacques alarmed the people around him. When his paranoia met his passionate tone of voice – which would quickly rise from raspy and soft to frantic and loud – he would look like he was going to lose it.

“I know he was having a difficult time sleeping,” said Rose, Jacques’ sister, whose upstairs apartment he occupied with their mother. “He was afraid that somebody was going to come up to the house. Every night when he goes upstairs, he locks the door. He locks the inside door that goes upstairs.”

Rose had recently seen Jacques outside her home preparing to throw a rock with his left hand and waving his cell phone with his right hand. It was nighttime, and he had tried to call her, but her phone was on silent.

“What are you doing?”

“There’s something there!” Jacques exclaimed. “It’s right there. Can you see it?”

A small black mass moved through the gangway. Jacques was convinced it was a possum. His son Richard had once lived at Rose’s too, and he told Jacques he once saw a possum just outside the house.

The innocuous detail roused Jacques’ fears every time he walked home at night.

Finally, one night, he saw something dark scamper through the gangway.

Rose told Jacques that if it was a possum, it wasn’t dangerous.

Jacques asked her to send down one of the dogs to scare it. Rose said no because the possum might have rabies.

“I thought you said it wasn’t dangerous!” Jacques yelled.

He called to his mom upstairs to see if she could scare it away.

Rose went to get a flashlight. She pointed it at the suspicious creature.

“It’s a bag dude,” she said, laughing and relieved.

Jacques’ heart pounded as the garbage bag gulped the air around them and kept moving.

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