After Innocence Focuses on the Post-Prison Lives of the
Wrongfully Convicted

by Sam Kornell

After Innocence, a new documentary by the filmmaker
Jessica Sanders, tells the less dramatic — but equally
poignant — story of what happens to American prisoners after they
are exonerated by DNA evidence. Sanders follows seven men as they
try to reenter society after decades in prison. In the process, she
reveals the often shocking lack of support provided by the criminal
justice system that wrongfully convicted and imprisoned them in the
first place. Sanders (interviewed below) and exoneree Herman Atkins
will present a screening of After Innocence at UCSB’s
Campbell Hall on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m.

What do audiences find most surprising about the
Not so much that there are people who are wrongfully
convicted, but that when they’re released from prison they’re
treated worse than guilty people. They still have criminal records
even though they’re completely innocent of the crime. So when
they’re trying to start their lives again they can’t, because they
can’t get jobs with a felony criminal record. Guilty people get
social services in ways that exonerated people get absolutely no
financial or social service help.

You document how prosecutors are often reluctant to
overturn cases where DNA evidence clearly proves a wrongful
That’s a shocking thing. To learn that
someone’s in prison and they’re able to obtain DNA evidence that
could prove their innocence, yet there’s huge resistance from
police officers and from prosecutors to help aid these people or
reopen cases. One of the main stories in our film is a man who
spent 22 years in prison for a rape he didn’t do, and he fought
from day one trying to prove his innocence. Fifteen years into it
DNA came along and he tried to get a DNA test, they refused, and it
took him 10 years to get a DNA test, and even after he was proven
innocent they still kept him in another three years fighting his
release. So the resistance that those prosecutors put up is

Why is that resistance is so endemic? Well, of
course there are good prosecutors out there. But, sadly, I think it
has to do with that human need to not be proven wrong. … In this
case, the stakes are just too high for personal pride to take
precedent over doing what’s right by these prisoners.

Is the film having any kind of political
It has become a political tool, which I didn’t
expect. It was shown in the California state Legislature to help
pass a bill to put a moratorium on the death penalty, and also to
help reform the compensation bill for the wrongfully convicted,
because right now it’s not a very fair bill. California does
compensate, but it’s a very hard battle to get it. And in Florida
one of the main guys got $2 million after the film was shown to
state legislators.

4•1•1 After Innocence screens at
UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m. Filmmaker
Jessica Sanders and exoneree Herman Atkins will be in attendance.
Call 893-3535.


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