By Dahlia Laury
Imagine you are taking a final exam. It is your last one before you graduate college. During the test, your pen falls down. As you bend down to pick it up, you hear the teacher call out your name. You look up to see a disapproving teacher, shaking her head as everyone stares at you.
“I saw you cheating. Give in your test — you will receive a 0%.”
You try to protest. You look around the room, hoping someone will stand up for you, but the room is silent. You are confused, bewildered, hurt, and frustrated. Having no choice, you retake the class in the summer with another teacher.
Several months later, you receive an email from the teacher that accused you of cheating. “It has come to my attention that you, in fact, did not cheat on the final exam. Sorry about that. Enjoy the rest of your life,” she says. You are furious, but there is nothing to do about it. You retook the class. It is already over. What an unfair situation!
Well, it’s nothing compared to the American prison system — a system designed to have as many prisoners as possible, and where innocence can often be irrelevant. Thousands of people have been falsely accused, and hundreds of years of people’s lives have been lost, due to corruption and false judgment. Few are exonerated, and those who are, rarely re-enter the world the same way. They are treated as criminals despite their innocence.
We live in a world where judgment is easy. A world where a man can be accused of anything, for simply existing around an overly sensitive female. A world where accusations are often built off of monetary gain and revenge. A world where a gay, Jewish, black man can be called a homophobic, misogynistic racist, for not being sympathetic enough to another person. The craziest thing is, it can happen to anyone. Even you.
There are many stories. Recently I heard a horrible, but true, story about this. A man had a car, and his woman friend texted him for a ride to a hotel. He dropped her off, she paid him $20 for his gas, and he continued with his day. It turned out that she was a prostitute, and she had gone to the hotel to meet with a client — one who turned out to be an undercover cop. The cop went through her phone and arrested the driver that brought her to the hotel. A man who had innocently done her a favor went to jail for seven months awaiting trial. The trial was dismissed the day before it was supposed to begin because there was NO EVIDENCE that he knew what she was doing. So why was he incarcerated for seven months? The prison had gotten paid $500 for each day he was there.
In another true story, there was a doctor who worked in an office with other medical personnel. His physician assistant was a drug addict and had been writing narcotic prescriptions under the doctor’s name. The doctor, who was completely innocent, was arrested on drug charges. He was threatened that he would have to spend the rest of his life in jail if he did not accept a plea bargain. A plea bargain is giving up the constitutional right to a trial. Having no choice, he admitted to a crime that he did not commit. Even though the defense attorney had promised him that he would have no jail time, the judge sentenced him to time anyway. He was there for several weeks before being released on house arrest. He is currently being forced to pay hundreds of dollars per month to be electronically monitored with limited movement. (As insane as this may be, it was even rumored that the judge who sentenced him OWNS STOCK in electronic monitoring devices.) The doctor did nothing, and knew nothing, but was forced to suffer for being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.
These stories are just a few examples of the lack of accountability within the legal system. No one will blame the defense attorney or the judge who falsely prosecuted the innocent. As Lord Acton explains: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, as of July 2019. Despite making up close to 5% of the global population, the U.S. has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. Most inmates are held in state and local prisons. Some are arrested and go to jail before any court appearances. Some are able to get out quickly by posting bail. Those who can’t afford bail sit in jail until the court decides to take action.
People are also afraid to speak up, for fear that district attorneys and judges will come after them, just like the classmates who let your teacher accuse you of cheating, for fear that they may be accused as well.
Speaking up should not just be done when someone does something wrong and you notice. Speaking up is also important when someone does something right. Welcome to the land of the free, where we have to be brave, or no one is safe. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”