“Mr. Joseph told me, ‘Don’t call me your angel.’ But he is. He said, ‘I see what they done to you. I’m going to get you out of here, but I want you to be patient.’ From that point on, I fell in love.”
ANTIONE OVERSLEPT. It was a Saturday morning, and his 3-year-old daughter had been visiting from out of town, so he lost track of time between the ice cream cones, movies and going to the zoo.
But this morning, he had an important errand, and he was already more than two hours late for it.
Seven years after the death of Howard Joseph, the real estate attorney who helped free him in 2002, Antione had connected with Joseph’s son Rick. He had made plans to see Rick before, but Antione kept missing their meetings. He finally lost his number when his phone was stolen from his car at a hardware store in the summer of 2013.
Antione drove to Rick’s suburban home in Buffalo Grove, waking himself up with sips from a bottle of water. On the passenger seat, Antione had an award to give Rick. The Howard Joseph Award.
Inside a blue velvet case, on glass it read:
“Loyola University Chicago
School of Law
Life After Innocence
The Family of Howard Joseph
With the inaugural
Howard Joseph Innocence Award
On October 25, 2012
To serving the innocent”
When Antione pulled up to Rick’s home, the slim-build, graying man was waiting for him in the driveway. Antione immediately handed him the award. Rick took it and invited Antione inside.
“I can’t get you anything?” Rick offered.
“Nah, I’m good — this water is enough,” Antione said. “You look like your dad.”
“Yeah, some people say that.”
Standing in his kitchen, Rick slid the velvet case off the glass award. “This is awesome.”
“We were trying to get it together,” Antione explained the year delay in delivering the award. He took a seat at the kitchen table. “I’m a bad timekeeper.”
“It’s ok. I’m glad you’re finally here.”
Before Antione’s wrongful conviction, Rick had worked with his sister at a video duplication company in the late 80s.
“She asked me if I knew a good attorney,” Rick remembered. “I didn’t know if it was for you or something else.”
“It was me.”
“When I gave her my dad’s name, I never thought in a million years he’d be the one to take the case!”
Rick’s wife walked into the room, smiling.
“Kim, this is the famous Antione Day.”
She shook his hand and asked to see her late father-in-law’s award.
“Take it out, take it out,” Kim said.
“This is the first one,” Antione said.
They swapped stories about “Mr. Joseph,” as Antione called him.
They talked about how people in court thought Mr. Joseph was a joker for wearing a crooked tie and shuffling to the bench in corduroy moccasins, his house slippers. How he drove a beat-up station wagon, operated an antique shop for a few years and insisted on using a typewriter. How his office looked like a bomb went off in it. How he and Antione would eat Good Humor ice cream bars together — toasted almond and strawberry. How he would send him Time Magazine in prison.
But when Mr. Joseph first visited Antione in the penitentiary, he didn’t call. He didn’t leave a message. Antione had no idea who he was.
“I go up, and here is this little old white man,” Antione told Rick. “He said sit down. Didn’t introduce himself or nothing.”
Mr. Joseph always called him by his legal first name, “Lee.” He reminded Antione of Columbo. Trenchcoat and everything.
“I knew he was going to get you out,” Rick said.
Mr. Joseph had told Rick that he would try to sue the city for millions of dollars. It never happened. He died after filing a lawsuit, which was later dismissed.
“When I lost communication with him, your mom had passed first?” Antione asked.
Rick nodded. His mother had endured seven bouts of cancer in 20 years. The last one got her in 2006.
“I talked to him,” Antione said. “I wanted to come to the services and pay my respects. But I just lost him. I went by the office a couple times and couldn’t get him. He wasn’t there. Then he took sick.”
Mr. Joseph had moved to a facility in Rogers Park where he fell and broke his hip. He never left the hospital after that, losing his ability to speak. When Rick and his brother visited him one day, he was on a respirator. They went to lunch, and when they returned, he was gone.
“He died broke,” Rick said.
After a silence, he retreated to another room and returned, holding his father’s law degree from Northwestern University. He handed it to Antione.
Antione stared at it. He ran his hand over the seal. Then he raised it to cover his face. He wept.
“It’s alright,” Rick said. “Want a Kleenex?”
“Oh, man,” Antione sniffed.
“I didn’t know you were such a sissy,” Rick teased. “No long-lost brother of mine is going to be sitting here crying!”
“God, Rick,” Kim chimed in. “Have some tact.”
Antione took off his glasses and wiped them.
“I’m always mentioning his name,” he said, voice cracking. “In all the work that I do, I never forget about him. My mentor programs. My drug abuse programs.”
They stood up to take pictures with the Howard Joseph Award and the law degree.
“I want you to take it,” Rick said, gently pushing the degree toward Antione. “Keep it in the family.”
“No, no, no…”Antione shook his head.
“It means more to you than it does to me,” Rick said. “Want me to get you a hanky?”
“I probably need a bath towel!” Antione joked as fresh tears rolled from his eyes.
“Just don’t lose it.”
“That’ll never happen,” he said, looking down and rubbing his eyes. “Man, I didn’t cry this much when they gave me all that time. Oh wow, man.”
Antione paused and looked over at some framed pictures of Mr. Joseph. “Handsome cat, you know.”
Just like the Dos Equis commercial, Rick noted. “His twin.”
As they inched their way back out to Antione’s car, they talked about a nearby Harley shop, Antione’s band and Life After Justice, his fledgling organization to provide transitional housing and services to exonerees.
“You have a CD?”
“I can get you one.”
Outside, Antione held the Mr. Joseph’s law degree to his chest. “I’m gonna guard this with my life.”
Through the car window, Antione hollered that he was headed to the bike shop Rick mentioned.
“Tell ‘em Rick sent you,” he said. “They don’t know me. But tell ‘em anyway!”
Antione nodded and waved.
ALMOST A YEAR LATER, Antione hopped in his boss’ car to pick up some sub sandwiches and drinks for a staff meeting with parole agents from the Illinois Department of Corrections. He drove around the corner from the Howard Area Community Center when one of his commander friends called him.
He told him someone who identified himself as a police officer had stopped by the center. He had tipped them off that he had run Antione’s plates and there was a warrant out for his arrest. For murder. Then the man left, the commander told Antione.
Toting sandwiches, cans of soda and bottles of water, Antione halted. “Who is this guy?”
He got back in the car, drove back to the center and from the parking lot, called a few attorney friends. After earning his certificate of innocence, Antione’s record should have been cleared.
“It was like déjà vu all over again,” Antione said. “Somebody again has taken the time out to lie and conspire to have me locked up.”
It would turn out to be nothing. Soon, Antione would be assured after calling the police station, that no new warrant had crossed anyone’s desk.
But in that moment, sitting in the parking lot of his workplace, huddled inside the car, Antione froze.
He worried about losing his job from this defamation. He worried about being hauled back to jail.
Should he go back inside? Should he run? When would this trial for his life ever end?
Antione got out of the car. His heart beat fast and strong. He walked to the door. Inside, he did not think of leaving.