One year of freedom

An interview with Madison Hobley


Madison Hobley was pardoned by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan in January 2003. Here, he speaks to Susan Dwyer about his year of freedom.

In general, how has your life been this past year since your release?

I’ll start with the things that make me happy. I have a wife that has stayed with me for 11 years through the good times and the bad. I’m happy to be home with my mother and my sisters and friends that stayed with me. It’s good to be out and sharing things with them. What tears me apart to this day is that the States Attorney’s office has yet to reopen my case and seek the truth and prosecute the actual perpetrator... and the fact that they have reopened Death Row and put three men on the row.

How easy has it been to build a life for yourself?

Some things I’m able to adjust to--like the workplace. But at times I’m having trouble sharing myself with other people. I have to make sure I make time for myself. Time for solitude. Otherwise, I won’t function at all.

How hard is it for pardoned or released prisoners to find a job on the outside?

Very difficult, even if your record has been expunged. Employers want to know about the gap. It’s hard to explain 16 or more years without a job. That goes for everything from getting an apartment, library card or a driver’s license.

Recently, the Illinois legislature passed reforms to make the death penalty more fair. Can you comment?

The so-called reforms are definitely not enough in Illinois. The death penalty should abolished period. Regardless of any kind of reform, we know that there will be some corruption involved. It’s a known fact that you cannot mix politics with justice. Although Gov. Blagojevich recently suggested that corrupt police should be disciplined, I don’t think that’s enough. They should lose their jobs and face criminal charges. So should anyone else involved in the corruption.

Last year, when Ryan pardoned you, he also commuted all of Illinois’ death sentences to life in prison. What do you think about the fact that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit to send 32 of those men back to Death Row?

She contradicted herself when she said she wouldn’t interfere with justice. I’m excited and happy that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against her unanimously. I was involved in a radio program with Governor Ryan and he was very pleased with the decision.

Along those lines, what do you think about the charges facing George Ryan?

I think it’s terrible about the allegations. I think justice will prevail. If they spent even a little bit of the effort investigating former Police Commander Jon Burge [who tortured Madison and 90 other Black men] that they did on Ryan, Burge would be in jail by now.

There are over 150 capital cases in Cook County now. Over 70 percent of the cases involve Black defendants. What are your comments?

Just recently, I visited the DuSable museum, and I saw a display about when the government was calling on Blacks to join the North in the Civil War. There was a sign that said something like "Do You Know That America is Still Lynching?" Today there’s a different kind of lynching. It’s called the death penalty.

Can you tell us about your recent trip to Italy?

I was surprised at how much the United States is looked down on because of the death penalty. I talked with people from all over, and they couldn’t believe that we even had the death penalty...I talked to one man from Bangladesh. He didn’t understand why we had the death penalty and also why there were still U.S. soldiers in Iraq, especially after the capture of Saddam Hussein. A lot of Italians think the same. They voiced that they did not like George Bush. The most common question that people asked me was why I still live here.

Why do you still live here?

I was born here. My home is here and my family is here. My purpose is to educate the United States. I’m an activist against the death penalty. This is where my fight is. I want to make the United States a better country.

What would you say to people who are active in the fight to abolish the death penalty?

What they do is very important. Without it, I could still be in prison. Regardless of some of the results and decisions that will go against you, don’t give up. It’s persistence that counts, that wins in the end.

Have you been following the case of California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper?

Yes I have. Looking at the facts of his case I can clearly believe that the police are capable of planting evidence like he claims. I’ve experienced that. There are too many gaps and discrepancies between the state’s case and the defense. It makes you think that this man could be innocent and a victim of corruption.

Do you have any words for Kevin Cooper?

Give as much help and information as you can to activists and to your lawyers. Everything helps, even the little things. Exposure that brings doubt about a case is the last thing prosecutors want. You are in my prayers and my wife Kim’s prayers. Stay positive. Through your strength, we gain strength.