Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Melissa Chessher, Chair, Magazine Department
Mark Obbie, Associate Professor, Magazine Journalism
Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Communication | Journalism Studies | Nonfiction
Exonerations are increasing, largely thanks to the advent of DNA evidence, which several prisoners’ rights advocacy groups, like the Innocence Project, have used to prove the innocence of the convicted. But returning home after spending years imprisoned for a wrongful conviction brings with it several types of challenges: psychological, financial, and simply personal.
Roy Brown, the main subject of this story (though there are several other important characters) is an incredibly intricate man. Before his 25-to-life sentence for the murder of a county social worker, he’d faced several other convictions for a slew of misbehavings and a general disregard for the law, which undoubtedly affected his guilty verdict. For instance, the jailtime he spent closest to the unjust murder conviction was for threatening to kill another social worker. But prison changed Roy in many ways. He contracted an illness that nearly killed him. He attempted suicide. And after prison, he suffered from nightmares of being back in his cell. But in other ways it actually helped him. It seemed to give him a greater sense of purpose. The settlement money he received allowed him to buy himself a home with a three-car garage (and several sportscars to fill it), become a fulltime landlord, and make more money than he ever did from prior wages. And for a time his return brought his fractured family closer together than they’d ever been—but only for a time.
It’s hard to value the good versus the bad in Roy’s case; he himself can’t seem to completely do it. But his overall takeaway was one of loss. This matches the findings of reports by the Innocence Project, a New York Times survey, and a study by forensic psychiatrist Adrian Grounds. Grounds’ 2005 psychological study of 18 wrongfully convicted men constitutes the largest ever such study on the effects of incarceration on the wrongfully convicted. And in it Grounds found that the paradigms constructed by studies of imprisonment generally may not completely cover the feelings of wrongdoing that many of the wrongfully convicted struggle with.
This capstone project is a feature article intended for a general interest magazine. It illustrates the story of one man’s struggles with life after his exoneration in a way that both informs and entertains the reader. As most magazine features do today, it applies elements of narrative fiction—i.e. symbolism, character description, and simile—to facts. In doing so, it intends to affect how readers perceive the victims of unjust convictions and enlighten them to the problem of the punitive system within their society.
Hopper, Nathan Damon, "The Accused" (2012). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 102.
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