'Out Of Prison But Not Really Free': Getting Exonerated In The Era Of COVID-19

May 27, 2020
Originally published on May 28, 2020 4:20 pm

Imagine being stuck in prison for a crime you didn't commit. And as you wait to get out, the pandemic hits. WVXU interviewed two people in that situation who are now free. They talk about their fears, joys and need for patience.

Isaiah Andrews

Now that 82-year-old Isaiah Andrews is out of jail, he would love to go to a seafood restaurant and enjoy the food, service and atmosphere. Who could have imagined that when he went to prison 45 years ago for a crime he didn't commit, he would have to wait even longer for that to happen once he was out.

"It was difficult to get an ID card and set up a bank account in the coronavirus era," Andrews says. "But, where I'm at, it's a whole lot better than prison, I'll tell you that. I'm taking it one step at a time and appreciate what I've got."

Andrews praises the Richland Correctional Institute warden for separating prisoners into pods. He says he feels fortunate he wasn't in the Marion prison, which suffered a COVID-19 outbreak.

Ohio Innocence Project Attorney Brian Howe, who represented Andrews and a couple other exonerated prisoners in the COVID-19 era, says, "You're out in the world but you're not really free. You can't hug a friend or go into a store or go into a public place."

Chris Smith

It was June 2019 when Chris Smith's conviction for aggravated robbery was overturned. He had served 12 and a half years as an innocent man and now waited to get out of prison. But it took the courts until April 2020 for him to be released. As an inmate with chronic high blood pressure, he was worried when the pandemic hit.

His attorney Michele Berry-Godsey, also with the Ohio Innocence Project, was also concerned. She says mid-March until he was released in mid-April was a very intense period of time. "I filed motions and notices with the federal district court letting the court know that Chris has a specific condition that puts him at serious risk or death."

According to Smith, "It was the most scary thing and social distancing and things like that are unrealistic in that type of an environment."

More than once Smith stayed in his room and went hungry rather then run the risk of going to dinner in a crowded cafeteria.

Even more worrisome, there were confirmed coronavirus cases at the prison where he was in Toledo.

Now out Smith is focusing on building a relationship with his children. "I can't complain one bit," he says. "I just take it as it comes."

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