Exoneree Diaries: Journey to a 'Life after Justice' home
“Being an exoneree you have no opportunity for training, you have no programs set in place for you. Programs are not available for exonerees as of right now, but there are plans, and we pushing it through to try to make things happen for exonerees today. But when I came home there were no programs at all for the exonerees, so that’s one of the things we really fighting for with Life After Justice and Life After Innocence.”
“ANTIONE CAN BE A LITTLE BIT of a dreamer,” says Brad Lorden. “That’s one of the things I love most about him.”
In 2012, Brad was finishing up as a law and business student at Loyola University when he put together a small business plan for Life After Justice, the organization Antione and fellow exoneree Jarrett Adams had talked about starting.
Antione’s vision had long been in place. It started ten years earlier in those first steps of freedom outside of Cook County Jail as he wore another man’s clothes without any place to go.
For Jarrett, an incoming law student, it was the not-so-distant memories of sleeping on his mother’s sofa and, like Antione, being turned down for jobs because of his incarceration for a wrongful conviction.
The pair wanted to help other exonerees become self-sufficient, first by giving them a place to lay their heads at night in a residence shared with other exonerees – the Life After Justice house. Job training would come later, when the exonerees were ready, Antione and Jarrett thought.
But how the organization would become self-sustaining was another question, especially in a house that would incur expenses like property taxes and supplies.
So Brad and some business classmates took on the project. At the end of the semester, they presented their business plan to Antione and Jarrett at Loyola’s Water Tower campus in Chicago.
“They were excited to see it becoming more of a reality,” Brad, now a board member at Life After Justice, remembers. “They were both moved that we put so much time and energy into it.”
The students proposed that Life After Justice provide a grace period to exonerees first entering the house where they could live rent free. Then, after a set period of time, the house would expect them to contribute back through a particular job. The exoneree could supply a small amount of rent to help pay the monthly expenses of the house.
They also figured that there might not always be a steady stream of exonerees coming into the house, so Life After Justice could then open up the place to parolees. This was a natural move for Antione, who mentored former prisoners for his day job at the community center.
After the students finished their presentation, the entire class rose to its feet upon learning Jarrett would be entering law school in the fall.
“It was nice,” Jarrett says of the standing ovation. “It was one of them things that made me realize just how far I had [come].”
About eight months later, the organization was given 501(c) 3 tax-status approval. Jarrett had his first semester of law school under his belt, collecting media nods, and Antione kept fixing up a cousin’s place while setting his sights on another potential property for the Life After Justice house.
“IS THIS MR. DAY?” Jarrett asked into the speaker phone, pretending to be a telemarketer as law professor Laura Caldwell stood next to him, fiddling around with the conference call set up as Brad walked in the room to join.
“Yes, it is.”
“How are you doing today, sir?”
“Doing well,” Antione said, tentatively.
Jarrett burst out laughing: “I’m just messing! C’mon man, you know my voice.”
Jarrett, coming from work, was dressed in a purple and white checkered shirt, topped with a black sweater – business casual to his classmates’ plain casual student garb. As students settled in around a conference table, Jarrett sat at the head of it. Laura’s weekly, workshop-style class engaged law students in a clinic to aid exonerees for her organization, Life After Innocence. One of the class projects was to provide support to Life After Justice.
Jarrett had become the face of Loyola’s law school, Life After Innocence and now his own organization. At times he just wanted to be known as Jarrett, rather than an exoneree-turned-law student, but he also felt a responsibility to share his story to those who would listen. Laura showed him a picture of himself for a story about finishing his first year of law school.
“My teeth are white!” he laughed.
Jarrett was ready to get to work. On the class agenda: a planning call with Antione to discuss next steps for Life After Justice.
On the line, Antione could be heard still at work, preparing for his Wednesday night support group for ex-offenders.
“Let the man in the wheelchair sign in first,” Antione said to the support group attendees, as Laura’s class listened to his conversation. “Everyone sign in.”
“He’s the king of multi-tasking,” Laura chuckled.
The class waited for him to wrap up, chatting and Google-chatting, akin to passing notes, across the conference table.
Antione returned to the conference call. They talked through what logo to pick – should they go with the one showing prison bars or with something else more forward-thing, they asked – then moved on discuss the status of the house. Antione was juggling two properties. One of them might become the house, at least temporarily.
“We got to start somewhere,” Antione said. “We can start downtown in Trump Towers for all I care.”
The students loaded Antione with questions: How long should exonerees stay before paying rent? How many units will be in the house? How many beds?
“We’ve got a roomful of lawyers here, so we’re just making sure we’re dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s,” Laura assured Antione.
“I’m definitely not frustrated,” Antione said. “I’m excited!”
The class went through potential zoning issues and real estate questions. Jarrett interrupted the discussion and reminded everyone of the mission.
“My goal is to pull other people through the window I came through,” he said. “We win if we have one Antione Day.”
Less than two weeks later, on a windy April day, Jarrett, Antione and Laura (and her dog Shafer), posed for a photo in front of a boarded-up brick home in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, close to Antione’s childhood home. Antione wore sunglasses to shield his eyes from the gusty cold. Laura’s red hair whipped around as she held Shafer close. Shafer wore a scarf.
Jarrett captioned the photo in big cursive letters, time-stamping it and sharing it on social media: “Life After Justice House.”