We certainly all know life doesnt always work out perfect. Things do not always go our way. Been there, done that; right?
Nowhere is this truer than in those rare cases a person is sentenced to prison for a crime he or she did not commit. This was the case for Billy Smith who had served 19 years and 11 months in a Texas prison before he was exonerated and set free.
It is hard for me to think of a more horrible situation. Not only did Smith have nearly 20 years of his life stolen from him, but it was replaced with time that was qualitatively vastly inferior and surely will negatively affect him for the rest of his life. Regaining an active professional lifewhile not impossibleis extremely difficult. Tim Stelloh describes Smiths overwhelmingly difficult path (Big Payments for the Wrongfully Convicted Bloomberg Businessweek, 2/4/132/10/13, pp. 2728):
Despite clearing his name, hes never been able to find a job. Who wants to hire someone whos 61 years old and whos an ex-convict? Smith says. Even though Im exonerated, people dont consider that because I was in prison for 20 years. (p. 27)
In recognition of these painful consequences visited upon the innocent, 27 states have enacted policies that render some kind of compensation and aftercare to these victims. Beginning in 2009, Texas made itself the leader for just compensation. Smith, and others like him, will receive a lump sum payment linked to time served, payment for 120 hours of college credit, an annual lifetime annuity of $80,000, and a $10,000 allocation for job training services.
Money can never replace the time and the quality of a persons life. We all understand that. Nevertheless, these kinds of provisions will go a long way to helping people who have genuinely been grossly wronged by our justice system. In whatever manner it helps these people to rebuild their lives, it will be money well spent.
Whether its government or corporate America, we have an obligation to right our wrongs. In the long run, that is what will engender the greatest public support and the greatest team integrity. And besides . . . its just the right thing to do.
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