LaMonte Armstrong doesn’t hesitate at all, recalling the date.
“Aug. 18, 1995,” he says, definitively.
That’s the day he was sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Eighteen years later, he is not only out of prison, but has received a full pardon from Pat McCrory, when McCrory was still governor. But that doesn’t mean the sentence doesn’t linger. When he went to work, soon after getting released, “They still would not take that inmate, exoneree - whatever you want to call me - cap off my head. I still was that guy to them.”
Then he met Jennifer Thompson.
She was on the other side of a similar problem. Thompson was approaching a senior year she’d worked very hard for at Elon College, as it still was in 1984, when she was raped in her apartment near campus.
The man she helped put in prison for the rape was exonerated of the crime 11 years later. In the interim, Jennifer has learned how wrongful convictions leave a field of hurt that touches people you never realized.
“The concentric circles of harm in a wrongful conviction are deep and they are wide and we need to care because they could be you,” Thompson said. “The trauma is very, very big, it's just big.”
After struggling with the aftermath of wrongful convictions for years, Thompson started a group called the Healing Justice Project.
It works with everyone involved in a wrongful conviction, from the exoneree to the victim and even their families.
“A of the work we do at Healing Justice is driven by those that have lived it. So it's not just me making up stuff on the top of my head,” Thompson said. And she’s seen the results of her work up close. “What I saw on Sunday, when the retreat was over, you could just see that there was a physical change, there was a change in their spirit.”
Armstrong can vouch for their efficacy.
“We're touching people. We're opening eyes,” he says with a smile. “Meanwhile, we still need people to listen, we need people to be aware.”
See more about the Healing Justice Project in this edition of the Buckley Report.