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Darrell Jones On Life After 3 Decades Behind Bars15:01
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Darrell Jones in January 2018. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Darrell Jones in January 2018. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

What happens when a person is sent away to prison for a crime he says he didn't commit? That's what Darrell Jones has been saying happened to him for the past three decades.

In fact, Jones says he didn't even know the victim, Guillermo Rodriguez, who was murdered in 1985 in Brockton. Last month, after a three-month review of the case, Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire overturned Jones' conviction. He ruled the case was tainted by racial bias and allegations that police altered a videotaped interview with a key witness to remove exculpatory evidence.

McGuire learned of the racial bias on the part of the jury from reporting by WBUR's Bruce Gellerman and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Interview Highlights

On what he sees as the strangest thing about the world today

"The strangest thing to me in the world coming out — this is the same society that tricked themselves up into a president that reminds me of a guy I met in jail — trick answers and somebody else is fake. So when I saw society was willing to do that, and I come out here — people appear to be incarcerated."

Anthony Brooks: "How so?"

"By what they don't know. They're all looking at their phones, from the little kids on, and I'm like, they're not even seeing the world no more.

"We do understand in Massachusetts alone in the last years, maybe five innocent men got out. We go to jail and it's 'Commonwealth vs. Darrell Jones.' That means everybody's involved. And now all these guys get out like I get out. And I haven't heard one DA [district attorney] ... come out and say, 'Well, that's not the guy? We're going to deal with it. To make sure the right person ...'

"They don't care about that. They just care about the conviction. Because the commonwealth, the people like you, weren't coming into the courtroom holding them to that. Weren't coming to the courtroom in masses or calling from their homes and saying, 'You convicted these guys in my name. I must start needing to know what you're doing.'

"No one else has voice for [Guillermo Rodriguez]. Has anybody called you and said, 'What about his concerns?' So everywhere I go ... I have no choice but to be [loud] and I'd gladly do it. Because if he doesn't get no justice, I'm still not getting no justice."

On how he managed his 32 years in prison

"First, you don't manage on your own. When I went to Walpole [MCI-Cedar Junction], Walpole prison wasn't all the fancy names it is now. The supermax in all these prisons didn't exist. It was full of grown men. My age, come in at 18 [years old], maybe seven of us out of 600 guys. Everybody else were grown men.

"There were murders going on in there. It was known for that. You could just be left there. I came in and had to acclimate into some form of animal, with the animals, to say, 'Leave me alone.'

"... But on my own I was blessed to have a partner Dominic Williams, and my cousin Gary Hall, and a brother man by the name of Thomas. Collectively, they were older brothers who had a hand in the jail. Those older guys embraced me. That's how I started surviving ...

"You play your role. In there, the killers were real, not the imitation stuff I might've saw on TV, running the street with my buddies. These guys are not running around the jail saying, 'I didn't do it' — which is one of the biggest myths that I hate, that everybody says that. No, they don't. I know guys that lay back with their feet kicked up saying, 'Yeah, and if you get in my way, I'll do something tomorrow too, right in this jail.' "

On the WBUR/NECIR investigation

"The one thing about [WBUR reporter] Bruce Gellerman was that he did the work. He didn't pop up and ask me some questions and say, 'Yeah, I'm looking at an innocence case.' We didn't start like that. We started on, who are you? What's going on? Let's start from scratch. We're not friends. We're not buddies. If you start off telling me you believe me, you're not doing no story for me. And he looked me in my face and said, 'I don't believe anything because I don't have any evidence that you didn't do it.'

"He cracked every door possible and he asked questions and he got to the people that were in the world still alive, when my old lawyer said they were dead and they'd gone. Still alive.

"But the juror that was destiny. I felt like she had did what she needed to do when she spoke out for my family and for me. I knew it happened. ... Thing is that she had a concern about it and if she didn't have that concern, it would've never came out."

On what he sees now in society

"I'll give you an experience that I had already. I don't want to say the experience was a race experience because I believe it can happen to anybody. So that's why I'm making a point.

"So I go to a store because I'm trying to shop for myself — I'm a 50-year-old man — because I'm in jail, with somebody telling me what to wear all the time. In fact, I'm wearing the same color for the last 10 years — the 'Kermit' outfit -- all green.

"I went to Costco. I didn't know what Costco was, just a big store. Went in there. I get all the stuff together. I go to the new counter thing, and they tell me, 'You can't buy that.' And I go, 'Why not? I got the money right here to buy it.' 'You're not a part of Costco ...' 'What do you mean, part of Costco?'

"And I'm saying wow, that was the first societal hit telling me I'm not a member of society, even though I just did all this time, before Costco was even out here.

"I was doing time when Costco wasn't even known and you're telling me, I'm not a member? You reminded me of prison. They [in prison] tell you that every day. You just told me that I just came out in your name. Commonwealth vs. me is them, too.

"And I want to tell the Costco management I should be a member instantaneously, or sign up right now, because I just did all this time for something I didn't do. And I'm coming to give you my money that I don't even really have. And you're telling me, that was the experience to me? And because it was white faces doing it, this is how we run the world. It's a membership and you're not a member. And telling me I'm not a member? I'm somebody that hasn't been a member in so long. You didn't hurt me with that. You just bothered me with that."

On what he hopes to do now

"I am the one calling for the retrial. I was the one fighting — I want a retrial. I've been fighting for 32 years to get a retrial. Not to pop out, 'I'm innocent ...' I'll see them in 90 days. I'm looking forward to that. But I know what the truth is."

On where he lives now

"I keep it personal, where I am right now because I'm not looking for that attention, I'm not interested in that ...

"But let's just say this. The Jesuit community, which my father is a part, he didn't come and just give me love. His family didn't just pray me out of prison. The Jesuit community is big, as you know, the pope is a Jesuit. Their spirit didn't just pray me out.

"Here's how I'm going to put that and I want you to quote this forever, maybe make this my headline: When you walk in the store, I guess they got all these scratch tickets. And I've seen people on TV win $470 million. Nine hundred-this million [dollars]. They don't got no scratch ticket for love.

"I came out, hit the love lottery, man. That's rare in the world. That ticket that I hit, you can keep all the millions, just give me this love, because I know what it's like for 32 years to be held away from family and can't get love. Even though they love you, because they can't get in.

"I know what it's like to have 15 minutes and can't talk to your grandkids. And I definitely know what it's like to lose my brother. And then to lose my own son and not be able to go to their funerals because of a conviction. I mean we can't take you out of the jail for your own son ... When I came out here, I hit that love lottery. When they say light, man, I'm in light."

On what he feels the state owes him

"The state can't do anything but go to school now. That's all the state can do. And I say go to school — I master degree-d in what prison is, what would help it, how it would work. Because superintendents have changed since I've been ... they retired and gone. Commissioners have gone and went. I never left, never retired, never took a day off. I'm 24-hour. Even a guard is only there from 7 to 3 then 3 to 11. I'm all-day.

"So what I'm saying is, go to school with me. Meaning I should have a right to talk to the governor about that place, because he should want to know everything there is. I should be able to talk to the mayor about that place, because he wants to know who's returning to his community and why they're returning like they are. Why is your murder rate high right now? Don't think it doesn't have anything to do with prison ...

"I've been there since I was 18 [years old] to 50 [years old]. The government can only do one thing: Listen to me. Because they've got to change governors again and mayors and they're not going to be acclimated to what's going on there.

"They haven't done anything else. They haven't even given me my property from the jail yet. ... I haven't heard from a society agency, meaning I haven't been talked to by all the stuff they call prison reform and reentry. I reentered after 32 years and I haven't heard from one agency to ask me if you needed a toothbrush. I got all mine from that love lottery."

This segment aired on January 2, 2018.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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