Michael Anthony Williams was convicted of rape at 16 as a Louisiana high school student. He spent 24 years in prison but was freed two months ago when a DNA test proved that the state had the wrong man, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Now, like dozens of others wrongfully accused and later exonerated, a bewildered man finds himself, without resources, thrown into a world with which he is unfamiliar. That includes things that are second nature for most adults — using a cell phone, leaving a voice message, going to an ATM, paying the phone bill.
Williams, of Baton Rouge, La., is one of 159 people who have been jailed and then freed in the United States through post-conviction DNA testing since it became available in 1989, says the national Innocence Project. Justice may have been served, but many of the defendants lost virtually everything they ever owned. Almost half suffer from depression, anxiety disorder or some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, says Lola Vollen of the DNA Identification Technology and Human Rights Center in Berkeley. None has access to public services such as health insurance, job training. and anger management that are routinely available to ex-convicts on parole to help their transition back into society. Louisiana, where 18 people have been exonerated since 1989, has no compensation for people such as Williams; the state gave him a check for $10. Williams’ time inside, isolated, makes it hard for him to “interact with people socially and pick up on social cues,” says Barry Gerharz of nside/Out, a New Orleans program that helps exonerated prisoners return to normal life. “Michael’s adjustment is and will be difficult.”