Based upon an article written for Inquiring News
This post will beg the question as to why there has not been a national public outcry over the number of people being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated? More than 2,000+ people have been freed from jail over last two decades. Together they have served over 10,000 years. Many receive little or no compensation and/or have to fight for years to get it. Fernando Bermudez, 44, is one of those people.
Wrongfully convicted of murder in 1992, he was sentenced to 23 years to life. He spent a total 18 ½ years in various New York maximum-security prisons. He was released in 2009. An appellate judge pronounced him “Innocent!” “Innocent” as in did not commit the crime, dropping all charges.
Bermudez currently travels on speaking engagements worldwide. He has spoken up for the wrongfully incarcerated in the U.S., Germany, Japan and Italy. The Innocence Project has featured his as a guest speaker. Fresh from a speaking engagement at Harvard he granted Inquiring News an exclusive interview.Jocelyne Hudson-Brown: At the time of your arrest what were you doing?
Fernando Bermudez: This happened about 2 in the morning. I was driving back with my brother to home where we lived with our parents. When we drove in front of the building and were about to get out we were surrounded by cops who pulled guns and forced me out of the car.
JHB: What would you like people to know about your whole ordeal?
FB: I think people think that once a situation like this is over that people can continue to live their life and be happy and make peace with what happened. But that is not true because (what happens often time to people who have been wrongfully incarcerated) I have a lot of pain; I have lot of hurt over what happened. The lost years, there is the PTSD that I deal with now after my experience. I still have anxiety, distrust, being uncomfortable, watching every penny that I spend. All these things are related to my wrongful conviction and what happened.
JHB: How are you adjusting?
FB: I’m still adjusting actually. It’s an ongoing process. I’ve found my place and my calling in society through public speaking and sharing my story. Doing that helps to heal myself as well as make a difference. Sharing my story is how I am able to find acceptance in it and share that perspective. But there are still issues with adjusting. Here is that main problem, lack of closure. Closure with the situation. I still have not been compensated yet. I still have not received justice in my case. I was released but that does not mean that I have received justice.
JHB: Let me get this right. You were wrongfully convicted, wrongfully incarcerated 18+ years, have been deemed innocent of any crime, and then released from prison. In the 5 years since you have been released you are still fighting for compensation? It there any end in sight?
FB: I don’t see it yet. To be sure I have been proven actually innocent! It’s not a matter of a technicality. It was proven without a shadow of a doubt. The State of New York did not appeal the ruling of the judge, they let it stand. The case is over. (I interrupt him at this point.)
JHB: So there is no question in it, no lingering doubt? You are totally innocent?
FB: Totally. My case actually made history. I am the first Latino male proven innocent without DNA evidence.
JHB: What was the worse thing about being in jail?
FB: Well the worse thing was the uncertainty about whether I was going to live or die in that place. The next day is not promised. You are living in a very violent, unpredictable environment day-to-day. I tried to increase my chances by staying in my cell as much as I could. In my cell at least I could control my immediate surroundings. But you have to go outside of your cell and that’s where the danger lurks even more.
JHB: As an innocent person, knowing you did not belong there you must have been overwhelmed…
FB: It was feeling of discomfort and dread. A constant level of fear. I would fight and battle with anger and depression. Just the stress of it all. How I dealt with that positively was occupy myself, distract my self. Through reading, exercise, working on my case, through writing letters.
JHB: How do you feel about the justice system now?
FB: Well I feel that we have a deeper problem with the criminal justice system than is ever imagined. And, in that regard I think that the issue of accountability needs to be discussed with greater consideration. We are talking about prosecutors who are sending innocent people to prison purposefully and nothing happens to them Corrupt prosecutors and even police do not get held accountable. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to society and especially not fair to the victims. The people who died or get deceased during the commission of a crime and those who become victims by being wrongfully convicted.
JHB: So everybody loses? And, the perpetrator is still out there.
FB: Everybody loses, everybody loses. The guilty person remains free, so many things happen. They wrongfully incarcerate the wrong person; they waste the taxpayer’s money. It’s a mess.
JHB: Do you currently see a counselor?
FB: Every week.
JHB: How has this affected you family? You Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles etc. How has this experience both while you were in jail and now that you are out affected the family?
FB: Excellent question. I think that during my situation it kept us together and kept us solid in terms of unifying to fight and trying to support each other. Ironically, you would think that coming of prison it would have solidified that even more because when you get out it is time to celebrate. Time to reflect on the victory, try to heal together. Just the opposite has happened. I am embarrassed to say this, it has created a wedge. I call it the collateral damage that is related to being wrongfully incarcerated.
JHB: What does the future hold for you?
FB: The idea of continuing to be an international speaker. Opening up different corridors throughout the world where I can go and share my story. There are great expectations in continuing my college degrees. I hope to get my Masters and my Ph.D. so I can start teaching at a university and get my kids a free education. I’d also like to complete in book, which will tell my entire story.
Writers Note: I first met Fernando Bermudez in 2011 during a seminar hosted by Yale University. At the time I was left speechless by his testimony. Why? Because his is a story you see on TV or in a movie. That of a stranger, not someone you meet and get to know. The association makes it very real. He is to be applauded for having lived through his story to be able to tell it.
Jocelyne Hudson-Brown is an award winning journalist and a longtime correspondent for the Inquiring News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.