Catlin Wells, a rising 3L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, dedicated an entire year of her life to the Ohio Innocence Project. During that time she witnessed six overturned convictions, the most to occur in any single year for the OIP. After being asked to write about her experience, Catlin found it difficult to describe the profound impact working at the OIP had on her.
I thought about what I would put on a resume, but I couldn’t figure out how to reduce a whirlwind of a summer internship into a few bullet points […] I used the control A function to delete my draft and started over, this time trying to think about what I would tell if I had to turn my experience into one of those thirty second networking elevator speeches. “My name is Catlin, and I…” I couldn’t finish that one either.
Last week, I watched Ricky Jackson, a man who spent thirty nine years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, walk out of the jail doors and into life as a free man. Surrounded by a sea of microphones and questions, Ricky shrugged off questions about systematic injustice and the twelve year old whose testimony led to his incarceration. “I’m just glad to be out. I’m glad to be free.” At lunch a few hours later, Dean Gillispie, a Dayton exoneree, looked at Ricky and asked him if he’d used the bathroom yet. “Those sinks,” Dean said, “they just turn on by themselves.” When Ricky laughed, Dean gestured towards a line of exonerees and said, “It’s hard to get used to, but we’ll take care of you. You’re our brother now, you’re one of us. ”
Nothing follows the “I” of my elevator speech because what I am doing is not about me. My job is not about accumulating credentials, but about a man who, after almost four decades in jail had the compassion to forgive the kid who put him there. It’s about Dean, his line of brothers, and the other innocent men and women who still sit behind bars waiting until they too can throw their hands up and say, “I’m free.”
This article was featured in the Winter edition of the Dayton Federal Bar Association Newsletter. Read the full article here.