Childhood

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L: Jermane (18) 12 months prior to his wrongful conviction. R: Jermane (39) after 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit

I have been asked many times now why I have waited 20 years to speak up about my wrongful conviction. And why is it only now people are hearing about my story or even my name. I have always maintained my innocence and I have been screaming ‘I am innocent’ for 20 years now but no one has heard my cries. This is because I had no one outside these thick concrete prison walls to tell. When an inmate (either guilty or innocent) has no family, no support network on the outside, who can he talk to? Who can hear his pleas/his words/his cries for help if he has no one to communicate with or no one who is willing to communicate with him? I have NOT waited 20 years to speak up about my wrongful conviction I have been waiting for 20 years for someone to hear my words. That time has come at long last. I now have someone on the outside who I class as my family. I now have someone who believes in me, who is willing to help me and at last they are speaking my name and telling my story and doing all the things I am unable to do myself from this solitary prison cell. I can’t access computers; I can’t just Google a list of law firms in the Ohio State (heck I don’t even know what Google is). I have no way of accessing legal help (I have no money for a start not to mention complete lack of reasonable phone time available to me due to the absurd and inhumane prison rules regarding phone time). I have no way of finding out the contact details of various Innocence Projects or Organisations who able to help people like me. I was completely isolated. I had no family/friends writing letters/making contact to law firms/Innocence Projects or various Government Officials on my behalf. Anything I have been able to do in the past 20 years to fight for my freedom, clear my name has been done from my solitary confinement cell using only the resources available to a man in prison with no family, no friends, no money and no access to helpful information….there isn’t much a man like me could do. I tried to be heard but no one could hear me. Until now.

My Childhood

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Jermane on the far right

What type of person am I? How did I end up here? I’m not blaming my childhood in any way for my decisions as a youth to join that street gang but my childhood, the neighbourhood and my upbringing did go some way into the reasons why I made that decision as a young boy. It was necessity – I (we as a family) needed money. Money was something we did not have. It is something I have never had. Had I been born in a different neighbourhood, with a different upbringing, in a different family environment would I have joined a street gang? NO I would not have. I did not steal for the joy of it. I have never physically hurt anyone. I did not join that gang for the glamour. I joined it because that is what the boys in my neighbourhood in the 90s did. And we did so due to boredom, lack of money, necessity and lack of opportunities for boys like us with next to no education and no prospects. I say this because at my trial the prosecutor gave a very long winded speech to the Jury about how I was this dangerous gang member and a menace to the streets portraying me as something I wasn’t. The Jury who had no idea about the type of neighbourhood I came from, the type of childhood I had endured decided to believe this story the prosecutor fed them about how this young black boy was a danger to society. The Jury had no understanding about boys like me. They had only the information available to them that the prosecutor gave them and what society believed  and portrayed boys like me to be (that we were all punks and a waste of space). If the Jury had been given more details about who I really was, where I came from, my background and the reality of my very small connection to that street gang they would have seen I was just a young uneducated boy who had no strong family unit, a life drenched in poverty and upheaval. They would have learned I was a good boy (with no history of violence) who wanted to provide, protect and look after my siblings as best as I could (the only way I could).  I have never hurt anyone and my relatives and old friends could have testified to that. They didn’t because my defence counsel never called upon them. I was driven by money for my most of my life. When your born with no money and your childhood is plighted by having no money you grow up wanting it. I left school and joined that gang to earn money for my family. Money was my everything. I have never hurt anyone in order to gain money but I do admit and have always admitted I obtained my money by being part of that gang. It’s no excuse and I hold my hands up and I have lived with that for 20 years now every day in this cell. But I have never hurt anyone in the process. I was too much of a coward to do anything like that. I have never even robbed someone’s house in fear for my own safety. I was that punk with no spine who would steal your car radio in the middle of the night but I was never that boy who was a menace to society and danger to others like the prosecutor led that Jury to believe. I do believe if that Jury had included in it a few people who could relate to my neighbourhood, my background then their verdict would have been different. Instead the Jury was made up of a bunch of people who had been scare mongered through years of media portraying boys like me (from my neighbourhood) to be nothing but trouble.

So here is my recollection of my childhood. This is what led me to where I am now. This is why I joined that gang, why I had no one for 20 years supporting me and fighting for my freedom. I can only start from my earliest memory and that was when I was 3 years old. The 1st thing I remember is waking up in some apartment with my mum and dad asleep in my mum’s bedroom.  I remember that particular day because that is the one of the rare time that I was actually around my mum. My Mum has been in my life sporadically since I was born. My Dad is the one who raised me.  I grew up in poverty to put it mildly. I guess we all did coming from the neighbourhood we lived in. All us kids from that neighbourhood had very little. One old friend of mine from back in the day has recently come forward to tell me that ‘none of us had much growing up but the Scott’s had less than the majority of us’. Even the kids back then knew that me (my siblings) had less than most and that’s saying something. I grew up with my Dad and 2 sisters for a vast part of my early life. At the age of 8 I believe we lived in an apartment on the Southside of Springfield Ohio with my Stepmother (Anita). In this apartment it was so run down we rarely had heat. So we used Kerosene heaters to keep warm and to heat hot water in order to bathe. Due to my Dads excessive drinking we had a hard time keeping food in the house so we often went to the local food pantry down the street 5 days a week every week. I still remember the couple who ran the pantry. We lived like that for almost a year until my Dad got what I remember to really be his first job. That job was being the manager at the city’s homeless shelter. Eventually due to the break up between Anita and my Dad, me and my 2 sisters moved into the very homeless shelter where my Dad worked. We were there for a while until eventually we moved to an apartment complex which was the 1st decent housing I had ever lived in. I just remember all of u sometimes living with different members of extended family, all at different times because we had no place to stay due to my Dads drinking. We had no Mum, no money, no stability and where shipped around or alone a lot. I was separated from my Dad whilst still very young and forced to live with Aunts and Uncles (who were like strangers to me). My Mum was in and out of my life during this whole time either due to her being in prison or just jumping from State to State. I have never lived under my Mums roof for more than 30 days in my entire life. In my teenage years my Dad met a woman named Marcia. Marcia spent perhaps the most time being my Mum and I cherish the time I spent with her. I have memories of her cooking for us, teaching us how to cook and teaching us how to care for ourselves. She was a Mum to me and I will never forget that. We eventually moved from that apartment into Marcia’s home where our families blended. At that time the kids totalled 7. My Dad was basically the working Dad and my Step Mum ran the house. When I entered 8th grade that is when I started getting in to trouble. I skipped school and stayed out late at night with my friends. I used to spend days in Juvenile Hall for being unruly and that’s when I started drinking and smoking weed. Although I had smoked weed before because my Mum got me high when I was just 9 years old (which is another story in itself). After my few stints in the detention lock up (for nothing more than unruly behaviour and smoking of weed) I felt like nobody could tell me anything. Eventually my Dad was able to purchase our 1st house and we moved in but by then it was too late for me. I had become lost. I had started hanging out with the wrong crowd, no longer interested in school and believing no one cared about me. I was by this time involved with that gang. It was just me and my neighbourhood friends to start with – we all believed if we joined this street gang (and took up their offer for us to join)  we would be stronger, safer and protected. We were I guess won over by the prospect of becoming a ‘family’. That gang offered me a safety net, a family unit so to speak. They offered to look out for me, they offered me money and protection and for a young impressionable boy with nothing that sounded so amazing I couldn’t refuse. Joining that gang brought money which is something my family never had. It’s something I was able to provide at last and it was accepted by my family and appreciated. I was needed by them and I felt good. Even living in that house we still struggled living off of welfare and social security and the social security checks my step brothers and sisters got every month. It was a very ‘hand to mouth’ existence and any money I could/did bring home was appreciated and used to help us survive. My family knew I was part of that gang. They knew what I was doing (selling drugs) to provide for our family and I was never told to stop. I was still a kid and I don’t blame my parents for my actions but they did not tell me to stop or tell me ‘that’s wrong son’. I just thought it was right. It’s what all the boys I hung out with in my neighbourhood were doing too. Was it lack of educations? Lack of parental guidance or just sheer desperation for money that led me to that gang? I don’t know….I just wish I had not joined it because if I had I thoroughly believe I would not have found myself caught up in all this mess that I now live with day and night for the rest of my life.

When I was arrested for this case my Mum was in prison and she was brought back to bring some light about my life. Obviously I was found guilty of Agg Murder and I was facing the death penalty. During my mitigation phase of my penalty trial my Mum revealed (under very close pressure from the prosecutor) to reveal a hidden family secret. In fact it was this family secret that the prosecutor gleefully paraded around the court to the Jury as proof I was some wild young man with no parental guidance and therefore proof I was a danger to society. He used this very private and very sensitive family secret against me and my Mum in court to trash my name and my true character however the revealing of this secret I believe also saved me from certain death.

My Mum begged for the Judge to save my life and under questioning she revealed a secret she and my Dad had lived with for 19 years. Not even I was aware of it. My Dad was in fact NOT my biological father. To say that every member of my family (as I knew them up to that point) was caught totally by surprise by this revelation is an understatement. I too was floored, wounded and deeply affected by this knowledge. The one person who had been a constant in my life was not even blood related to me and he had lied to me all this time. My Mum and Dad kept that secret strictly between themselves from the moment I was born. My Dad even signed my birth certificate. Subsequently once the secret was out I was deemed no longer a ‘Scott’ by the family who I loved and provided for. I was abandoned and have been for the past 19 years. I have tried to re-unite with my family members over the past few years but too much time has passed and they just aren’t interested in being an active or regular part of my life or fight because I’m not related to them by blood is my only guess. And I can only guess because not one of them has wrote to me, contacted me or explained to me why they suddenly just all left and abandoned me after that secret was revealed to them. I have sat here many times now in 20 years and asked myself ‘if I had been blood related would they have left, would they have given up on me still or would they never have stopped fighting for my freedom’? I will say this though – the one thing they all agree on is my innocence, they all agree that I am innocent, that I would not have done this and couldn’t have done it. They all knew me back then; they knew my capabilities and what kind of brother/son/nephew I was. I never met my Mums side of the family with the exception of my Grandmother (who passed away years ago) and one Aunt who I barely had any relationship with. That is why my story is just now being bought to the surface.

My Dad stuck by me and he still is to this day someone whom I love and look up to. He didn’t have to take on the responsibility of looking after me all those years if I wasn’t truly his child. He did that and I am forever grateful for him because he treated me no different to his other children. I never saw or felt anything that would suggest I wasn’t his biological son. My Dad was my constant and my only link to the outside world for many years. Unfortunately he died whilst I was in prison and I was unable to attend his funeral. The one person who had been a constant in my life was gone and I didn’t even get the chance to tell him I loved him or to say good bye. I want my freedom. I want to be a dad I want to be the best Dad there can possibly be. I want a family. I want to feel love, unconditional love that suffocates me every day. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about superficial stuff and I have no interest in drugs at all (and haven’t done now for 19 years). All I want is to be a good Dad, a good Husband and to do all things all the other 39 year old men out there take for granted every day.

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