2011 PRO BONO AWARD RECIPIENT
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO SCHOOL OF LAW’S LIFE AFTER INNOCENCE, THE ONLY PROGRAM OF ITS KIND,
OPENED ITS DOORS IN 2009 FOR EXONERATED PRISONERS STRUGGLING TO GET BACK ON THEIR FEET BY BETSY GRACA
Antoine Day spent 10 years incarcerated
for a crime he didn’t commit. But when
he got out of prison, things didn’t get
much easier. That’s when Life After
Innocence stepped in.
Many organizations are dedicated to
seeing that the wrongfully convicted
are released from prison. However, after
people like Day are exonerated, many
have nowhere and no one to turn to.
“There’s just no warning and you’re just
starting completely over,” says Loyola
law instructor Laura Caldwell. “So, in a
way, it’s the predicament of many ex-
offenders, but actually, it’s even worse
because … they just come out with
Caldwell witnessed these struggles
firsthand while working with a client.
Around the same time, several Loyola
law school students approached her with
the idea of starting an innocence project.
Caldwell suggested they instead establish
a program to help the exonerated once
they’re free. In 2009, that idea turned into
Life After Innocence.
A few years later, the program is a
growing success. Caldwell says that
at any given time, roughly a dozen
students are working with five to 15
former inmates. Members of the program
ensure that each prisoner’s record is
expunged—a pivotal step to starting
over that’s not automatic—advocate for
beneficial legislation, such as a recently
passed bill that provides mental health
benefits, and help in the search for work
or further education.
Day was released from prison in
2002 and was introduced to Life After
Innocence by a fellow inmate once the
program was established. He says that
without Caldwell and her students, he
would probably still be struggling today.
Instead, he works with support groups
to help parolees and others like him.
He visits the prison as a motivational
speaker and helps former inmates
register to vote, become active in the
community and, in general, re-enter
society on a positive note.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise
to go through what I went through,
because the people I’ve met since I’ve
been home have been tremendous. It’s
been beautiful,” says Day. “This is what
I [tell the] other guys: Don’t waste your
time on looking for revenge or hating
or being mean to somebody. Use your
time on living your life to the fullest and
raising your expectations. It was hard at
one time, when I was just abandoned [in]
the prison system, but when I began to
work and learn how to help other people,
it helps me. I just pay it forward.”