Interview with Madison Hobley


By: Douglas Lee

Despite hours of torture by the police, you never confessed to the crime. Did you think that you could be convicted of a crime you did not commit, and what are your thoughts on the criminal justice system?

No, I never thought that I could ever be convicted for a crime I did not commit. I thought the truth would come out during trial. Through my terrible experience I of course found out that during trial everything but the truth would come out. For that reason, I feel the criminal justice system is fixed to convict from the start no matter what the truth may be.

Can you describe the torture that you were forced to endure?

The torture itself was a total nightmare. I could not believe what was first being said to me by the arresting police detectives. Once they got me to the interrogation room they began to call me nigger and stressed how much they hated niggers. In fact, in order for them to build a true hatred against me, the head detective insisted that I call him a honky. He then said it was a known fact that blacks and whites did not get along. When I refused to call him a honky, he began to kick me in my shin. After that they began to taunt me, he hit me and eventually suffocated me with a plastic typewriter cover until I blacked out.

The detectives' purpose in torturing me was obviously to get me to confess; however, I made up in my mind that I would rather die in the hands of those corrupt detectives than confess to something I did not do.

Even a few weeks prior to Governor Ryan's blanket commutation and pardons, there was doubt that you would win your freedom despite overwhelming evidence to call for a new trial. At what point did you learn that you were pardoned and what were your thoughts?

I first learned of my pardon at 11:30 a.m. on the news just prior to Governor Ryan's speech. I believed I would be set free when I saw and heard the governor say my name live on the noontime news, while I was sitting in my cell.

Before that, I was skeptical about the pardon, even though it was rumored that I was going to receive one. I had to hear the governor say it directly out of his mouth before I could really consider my freedom.

As far as my evidentiary hearing is concerned, I feel I never really had a chance of getting a new trial. Hindsight tells me the circuit judge was in on the fix and had no intention of granting me a new trial.

Can you discuss the role that activism played in Maryland and Illinois to expose the death penatly?

It's very important. When you are able to show that the errors are all common in all the states, it's clear that something is wrong and the death penalty is no longer an isolated issue but a national problem. The subject of the moratorium in Maryland and the commutations and pardons in Illinois have had a historical impact with regard to the abolition movement.

It shows that when activists highlight issues, victories can be won. It also means that we need to continue the fight in other states as well. It suggests that the fight must be expanded to include other aspects of the criminal injustice system with the same zeal.

You were a part of the Death Row 10, a group of prisoners who were tortured by Chicago police and organized against this injustice from death row. Do you find any difference between being an activist on the outside vs. the inside?

There is a difference. The difference is I am able to speak to people face-to-face, and the people seem to be more concerned when they see a face. Also, it's far more encouraging to actually see the sheer size of the movement. On the inside, you don't realize how big this movement is. You don't realize the numbers of nameless people fighting for you. Seeing this for myself that there are strangers who cared about me and others actually motivates me to continue the fight.

One of the tools I have learned is how to network. Another is how to speak to the media. Another is not to be ashamed to express your feelings. Whether it be anger or sorrow, you have to let people know what you are truly feeling. I have found this in particular to be therapy for me.

What has been the easiest aspect and the most difficult aspect of adjusting to life outside of prison?

The easiest aspect of adjusting to life outside of prison is my gratitude of simply being free to come and go whenever and wherever I want. The most difficult aspect of adjusting to life outside of prison is sharing my life with others after being alone for so many years.

What's the most important thing you've learned since you've been free?

The most important thing I learned is that I've learned being free is that I know who my friends are and who are not.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is new to activism?

My advice to a new activist is: Don't get discouraged when others oppose your views, because if you allow others to discourage you, your voice becomes weak. You never know what part you can play. You may just save someone's life.