Here’s an account of Amanda’s talk at the Loyola Law School from the perspective of someone who was actually there. It was one of those warm and wonderful occasions that stay with you for awhile.
Chicago is especially pleasant between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are throngs of people in the streets and the trees in front of the stores on Michigan Avenue are dressed up in bright Christmas lights. It was an easy, pleasant journey down from where I live.
I got to meet Amanda and her mother and fiancé, but will spare them the indignity of being described by me except to say that they are very approachable, down-to-earth people. Amanda herself, is small, intelligent, and gentle of manner and to meet her is to realize how utterly absurd the accusations against her always were. The guilt mongers of this world are clearly suffering from a dread psychological disorder known as the British Tabloid Mind.
The event, a function of the school’s “Life After Innocence” program, was held on the 15th floor of the Corboy Law Center, a smart, new looking place just a few blocks off the Magnificent Mile. From the first it was apparent that Loyola had put a great deal of time and expense into the program and that it was going to be a very big deal. The conference room has a capacity of 170 and it was full to bursting. When a noted defense lawyer and her staff came in a few minutes late it was difficult to seat them.
The Dean of the Law School gave the welcoming address. An Illinois legislator was given an award. An exoneree named Jarrett Adams, who has since become a lawyer, talked about the aims and purposes of Loyola’s important effort to aid people who have been wrongfully convicted.
But the main part of the program was a conversation between Amanda Knox and attorney Laura Caldwell, director of the “Life After Innocence ” project.
Amanda spoke movingly about the challenges the wrongly convicted face upon release—dealing with anger and despair—learning to make decisions for oneself again—the need for financial and emotional support. She made a very touching reference to feeling both much older and much younger than her contemporaries. Older because she has been through more and has a settled sense of who she is. Younger because there is still a gap in her life from formative years having been taken away. And through it all she had the grace to recognize that, bad as her experience was, she was constantly meeting equally innocent people who had suffered more.
The program’s conclusion, when Amanda was formally inducted into Loyola Law’s group of recognized exonerees, was especially moving. A dozen or so of them approached the stage one by one, most of them towering over Amanda, to give her a big hug and a single red long-stemmed rose. Then the audience exploded into applause, and even though we were not supposed to take pictures, everyone moved in closer to do so. (Some official photos can be seen on Amanda’s own website).
Then it was off to the long lines at the book signing that followed.
The Loyola University Law School deserves a great deal of credit for sponsoring an event that was first class and professional in every way. It was very apparent that public recognition of the harm done was important to Amanda and the others. Nothing can bring back the lost years, but it was important to have a highly reputable organization recognize and memorialize the suffering caused by society’s failure. There is a big difference, I think, between being justly and unjustly convicted. The idea that if “you do the crime you do the time” makes intuitive good sense and a society that convicts justly appears rational and orderly. But every wrongful conviction is a descent into irrationality and evil.
By highlighting the fact that wrongful convictions occur far too often, and that the victims of it need to be recognized and supported, Loyola has provided a valuable public service and taken a step toward meaningful reform. I have two modest proposals in that regard: 1) there should be far more serious consequences for prosecutorial misconduct than there are now and 2) we should establish a right of de novo appeal, at least in certain cases. Too often our appeals process is a grotesque kind of kabuki theatre where everyone smirks and winks and absurd, terribly unjust convictions are upheld.
I had the privilege of speaking to a number of exonerees during the luncheon and explained how I came to be there. They know full well—and, indeed, Amanda herself never fails to say—that she had advantages they never had. But they welcome her involvement because she is a fellow sufferer and because it gives visibility to a good cause.
One man who looked me in the eye as he shook my hand and said: “The help you offered Amanda was wonderful, but don’t forget the rest of us.”
I promised that I wouldn’t and I won’t