‘I made a promise to myself that I would never be sad or afraid about anything again in my life,‘ Jackson says.
During his three months of freedom, Ricky Jackson has embraced the words of Nelson Mandela, the late president of South Africa, who spent 27 years in prison as a wrongfully convicted political prisoner:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said after his release in 1990.
“No truer statement has ever been spoken,” said Jackson, who spent 39 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit – the nation’s longest period of incarceration by an inmate wrongfully convicted before exoneration.
“That moment for me was like the first day of the rest of my life, to just step out, to forget about my past and to move forward with my future,” Jackson told an audience at the City Club of Cleveland on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Jackson and the Bridgemans filed papers with the Ohio Court of Claims that should produce checks from the state treasurer in about three months. The first checks will be worth about half of the damages the three are due, which could total more than $3.6 million, plus additional damages for loss of income and attorneys’ fees.
In 1975, Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, were falsely accused and convicted of the murder of Harold Franks outside a Cleveland convenience store. Jackson was 18 at the time. Wiley Bridgeman was 20, and Ronnie, now known as Kwame Ajamu, was 18.
The only witness against them was a 12-year-old boy from the Glenville neighborhood named Eddie Vernon. He waited nearly four decades before deciding to recant his accusations.
Jackson has met with Vernon and forgiven him. Ajamu has been out of prison since 2003, and lives with his wife in the Slavic Village neighborhood. Wiley moved in with them, and has been working on writing his memoirs.