Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin articulated what many exonerees are feeling during this time of social distancing.
“It brings you back to the place you were, back then, when you were locked up for real,” said Aguirre-Jarquin, who was freed in November 2018 after he was incarcerated for 14 years. “It brings you back to that mindset, that vulnerability and sadness."
The virtual town hall was hosted by the Innocence Project to bring awareness to the fact that prisons are especially susceptible to COVID-19 because it is impossible to practice social distancing and their are not enough sanitizing products. The issue of innocent people being unable to continue working to prove their innocence because the Supreme Court suspended all proceedings during this time also came up.
“I’m very concerned, very sad about them, because I know the system there is not the best that we can have," Aguirre-Jarquin said. “I cannot imagine what the people in there will go through being so close by together."
While being isolated once again is difficult, Aguirre-Jarquin also worries about the financial ramifications from the public health crisis, especially since his claim for state compensation for wrongful imprisonment was rejected.
“You rely on some kind of generosity from family, friends, organizations… but a lot of people are struggling now," Aguirre-Jarquin said. “We exonerees have to be really, really careful.”
Only four people have been granted compensation through Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act since it passed in 2008, though more than 30 people have been exonerated, according to the Florida Innocence Project. A judge ruled in 2018 that Aguirre-Jarquin missed the deadline to request the $50,000 per year to which he could have been entitled, an element of the law the nonprofit’s attorneys say needs to change.
“What good is it to have a law and it doesn’t help the people it’s supposed to help?” Aguirre-Jarquin said. “The state of Florida, what they do to wrongfully convicted people, it’s torture. You’ve taken from us life as we know it, … and we get out without nothing.”
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