“Don’t wait until it happens to you”
By: Alice Kim
Ronald Jones is one of the 13 innocent men released from Illinois’ death row over the past 13 years.
[CEDP] How many years did you spend on death row?
[Ronald Jones] I got convicted in 1989. I stayed on death row until 1997. So that’s eight years. That’s not including the four years I spent at the county jail waiting for trial and the two years I spent at the county jail waiting for my case to get dismissed.
On what basis were you convicted?
I went through a beating at the police station when I first got arrested. They forced me to sign a confession that they made up. I just wanted to stop the beating, really. I knew that I would have the opportunity to prove that statement to be a lie.
Were you surprised when the jury came out with the guilty verdict?
I was surprised, but then I wasn’t surprised, because I knew that I didn’t really have the representation to prove my case. I was only surprised because I knew that I was innocent.
But as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, I wasn’t really surprised, because that’s the way they do things. It doesn’t really matter if you’re innocent or guilty. It’s about who has the best story to tell, and I didn’t have the representation I needed.
How do you feel about the criminal justice system?
I feel that the criminal justice system is so messed up. If they wanted to, they could stop me in the street right now and put another charge on me, and I’d have to go through the whole thing again.
Nowadays, you’re guilty until you prove your innocence, whereas there was a time where you were innocent until proven guilty.
When you tell your story, what do you want people to take away from it?
I want people to wake up and realize that what happened to me can happen to them. I feel that Governor Ryan’s moratorium in Illinois was a good first step, but that’s all it was. We’ve got plenty of more steps to go to correct all the wrongs.
I applaud Ryan for doing that, but if that’s all he’s going to do, then it’s going to go back to the same old thing again.
What do you think about the growing activism around the death penalty?
I think all of that is good — you can’t ever have too much. I wish people were out there every day consistently.
Don’t wait until it happens to you. Try to stop it before it happens to you or one of your loved ones.
What’s your life like now?
Right now, my life is moving in slow motion. It’s really a strange thing for me to be locked up for 15 years and now to be sent back out here in society with no income.
I’m just supposed to move on, and it’s not easy. I’m getting by day by day, but I’m going to survive.