Imagine being in prison for 24 years. Being that I am 22 years old, it is very hard to imagine. Here, I’ll paint that picture. For me it would be like being born in prison, living my entire life, every meal I had eaten would be a “prison patty” as Darryl Howard called it. That would be about 1,251 weeks, or 8,760 days or 210,240 hours.
Howard came to speak with students at UCM about the injustices he faced and to share his story as the keynote speaker for Unity Week. Unity Week is designed to create awareness of social justice topics and unite the campus as well as celebrate the diversity in our UCM community through a week of events, according to a Student Activites news release.
Howard was convicted in 1993 for a double homicide of a mother and daughter in North Carolina.
“When I first got convicted I didn’t believe it. I didn’t even believe they could do that.” Howard said. “I was like anybody else, that lie ain’t gone stand, but it did. The judge gave me 80 years. I had 120 at first but they ran one-fourth concurrent and that left me with 80 years in prison. I was devastated.”
However, he was not alone in this journey. His wife was there all of his 24 years incarcerated and visited him every week. His wife sent him letters, cards and even called on multiple phones at one time to get through and schedule her visit every week.
“I actually watched the man that I think committed the crime walk in the courtroom and plead the fifth and walk out,” he said.“That was hard for me.”
Howard spent much of his time incarcerated researching how to get out with no money. He had little trust in prison lawyers but then he and his wife learned about the Innocence Project.
“I found out there was such thing as the Innocence Project, and it was at most of the major universities in the United States,” he said. “So me and my wife wrote the letter and mailed it out to 77 universities in the United States looking for somebody to get me out of this.”
Most of Howard’s responses were letters of rejection because he was not in their area of service.
A university in North Carolina finally took on his case, and then the Innocence Project of New York University took over Howard’s case.
“It took them 14 years to get me out of prison from the day they took my case,” he said. “My lawyer was Barry Schecks. He called me one day and was like, ‘I’mma get you out.’…every time I relive this it bothers me…y’all will have to excuse me sometimes this is very emotional for me but it’s something that has to be done” he said.
NYU took on his case and had several members working on the details of getting Howard out of prison and proven innocent. Howard explained during his speech how shocked he was that so many people he never met were so dedicated to his freedom.
He was released from prison in 2017 after serving 24 years of an 80-year sentence. Exonerated shortly after his release after being proven innocent by DNA testing technology at the.
This event was organized by Cole Fine, the coordinator for the American Democracy Project, and Shari Bax, UCM head coordinator for the American Democracy project.
In the process of coordinating the event, Fine said he wanted to bring someone with a powerful message.
“I wanted to find someone who has a story that could actually connect on a deeper level than just the motivational speaker who says, ‘stay in school’ and stuff, Fine said.
“I thought this was a really good and creative way to get outside the box.”
The criminal justice program here at UCM as well as the political science program are working together with the Midwest Innocence Project. They came out that night to help anyone who may have a family member experiencing what Darryl Howard has gone through.
There were several moments during his speech where the room fell silent. I put down my camera and notebook and just began to think. Darryl’s story and strength are beyond that of any individual I have met in my entire life thus far. I admire his strength, his story and emotion have motivated me in many ways to take action in my community it also highlighted the injustices that he has faced and that of others who may still be in prison.
Howard now dedicates his time to traveling to universities to share his story as well as helping other inmates integrate back in society after being released through The Darryl Howard Organization. He strives to unite inmates in prison with their children and loved ones in honor of losing his son from a drug overdose while he spent years in prison for something he did not do.