Exoneree Diaries: Jacques takes steps in the right direction

Exoneree Diaries: Jacques takes steps in the right direction
Jacques Rivera WBEZ/Andrew Gill
Exoneree Diaries: Jacques takes steps in the right direction
Jacques Rivera WBEZ/Andrew Gill

Exoneree Diaries: Jacques takes steps in the right direction

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“Everybody wants to be a part of something greater. At least I do.”

THE END OF THE YEAR brought more frustrations for Jacques. He was ready for a fresh start in 2014.

He had had some harsh words with his daughter when she called him explaining she needed $600 to repair the Infinity car he had given her. She asked him what she should do.

“Take the bus!” Jacques said.

He called the following morning to apologize. He told her it wasn’t her fault; he had been upset with himself because he was cited for two tickets in one day – parking and speeding. He explained to her that he wasn’t feeling that great about money. Or cars.

Jacques had been losing his temper at work too. A few episodes. And when he went to the holiday
party, after a long Thursday on the clock, he kicked back a couple. He hadn’t eaten and was tired.

He threw up.

“That’s why I don’t drink,” he said.

His friends at Northwestern, the people who worked on his case, were worried about him, so Jacques found his way to a therapist. Her office was nestled somewhere inside Chicago’s labyrinth office and shopping space, the Merchandise Mart. They were to meet once a week on Tuesdays.

“I knew I needed it,” Jacques said. “She’s really accurate about a lot of things.”

Jacques learned about “misdirecting” his anger. Soon, he would talk about how admitting you have a problem is the first step. He would learn about making healthy decisions.

SIX MONTHS LATER, the July sun lit up a softball park near Northwestern University’s Chicago campus on a Friday afternoon. Law school students and a few exonerees were playing another team from a nearby school.

Jacques showed up in the early afternoon in his Northwestern delivery uniform to watch the game.

“What’s happening?” Jacques said, side-hugging, chest-bumping and then back-slapping his longtime friend, fellow exoneree Juan Rivera, who had just been up to bat.

“You on lunch break?” someone said.

“Lunch break?” Jacques echoed, as if to ask “what’s a lunch break?”

In fact, he had just wrapped up an 8-week break from work, having smashed his hand on the job.
He fractured and nearly broke his pinky finger, the type of injury that will put a delivery guy out of work for a bit.

“Watch your hand!” the supervisor had warned as they were moving a table.


Jacques wore a cast for six weeks and went through physical therapy for another two weeks before returning to work.

During his time off, he learned about the professional social network LinkedIn.

“I want to learn how to get in the LinkedIn thing.”

“LinkedIn?” someone watching the softball game asked.

“This young lady, I want to try to get a hold of her,” Jacques explained, collecting stares from his friends.

“She’s a nonprofit organization professional,” he went on. “We’re trying to start a nonprofit organization.”

Innocence Demands Justice would be the name, Jacques decided. He wanted to save the innocent – or at least try.

“Maybe she can assist us, help guide us.”

Jacques paused to watch the game. He liked hanging out at the park. A month earlier, he had stopped by Chicago’s annual Puerto Rican Day parade. When some friends invited him to join, he was hesitant.

The parade was known for its gang presence. His buddies assured him the old guys wouldn’t be out. Just some new Latin King kids. It’s not like it used to be.

After taking in the parade, they went over to the old neighborhood in Humboldt Park. Police cars were all around.

“What happened?” Jacques asked.

Some people had been shot, he was told.

He left.

Jacques avoided going out in public with his family. He didn’t feel it was safe.

He also didn’t like being recognized around the neighborhood. Did people remember his face from the news of his wrongful conviction – or from his past life in the gang?

Jacques didn’t like being left to wonder.

“See ya!” he told his buddies.