05 December, 2016

Awful, Contemptible, Foolhardy Hope

Hope is the best-smelling meal you've ever salivated over, which riddles you with intestinal parasites. Hope is the cutest girl in your third-grade class, approaching you at recess just to kick you in the nuts and run away giggling. Hope is the stingray you mistake for a sand dollar. Hope is the big, frosty orange-sherbet tub in Grandma's freezer, from which you scoop a bowlful and discover, too late, is frozen chicken fat. Hope is the beauty spot on your cheek that metastasizes.

You might've been surprised to read, in my September post about MTV's Unlocking the Truth, that the series had me "excited for the future," since I normally eschew such hopeful abandon. If you later scratched your head at the series finale, aware of what producers cut from the show, you'll understand now why my September enthusiasm turns my stomach.

Hope is the imprisoned innocent's daydream of freedom.

As a recovering pessimist, I nevertheless consider wide-eyed, credulous hope a failure to maintain perspective. My perspective was warped when I unquestioningly believed that, with access to all our information, Unlocking the Truth would at least mention certain witnesses, certain critical points, even if television's strict time constraints prevented lengthy discussion of them. As long as all of the information got out, I'd have been satisfied with whatever interpretation of it the series came to. The narrative only goes one way, so I naively waited, episode after episode, for them to show the rest of the picture.

The night of the finale, credits rolled, a Catfish rerun began, and I sat stock-still on my bunk, in the TV's flickering, trying to work out what I missed. I thought, That can't be it. But, somehow, it was.

Street demonstrations, benefit concerts, candlelight vigils, #FreeByronCase trending on social media, donations piling in to cover my lawyer's fees, mailbags bulging with viewers' expressions of solidarity, flurries of messages to the governor and tweets to @GovJayNixon — none of it happened. But, then, since Unlocking the Truth left out essential facts, and since Ryan Ferguson concluded that the evidence didn't establish guilt or innocence in my case, I was hardly surprised. Impassioned responses don't usually result from a shrug.

Then the election came and went, and I couldn't stop thinking about my pardon application, submitted to Governor Nixon in August of 2011 and still under consideration. Plenty of prisoners and parolees have filed and been denied in the five years since I filed that document and its fat appendix, setting out a pretty solid argument of innocence. The governor's legal advisor, after meeting with my people in 2012, seemed to believe that mine is a wrongful conviction, that I didn't murder Anastasia WitbolsFeugen. He must've told Governor Nixon the same, so why this delay?

Missouri has another highest officeholder now. Is Governor Nixon planning to leave my case untouched, a sticky wicket for his successor, Eric Greitens, to deal with? Or is he going to dignify my plea for freedom with an answer? With less than two months before the powerful Governor Nixon reverts to being plain ol' Jay, every day that passes adds weight to that question.

Since day one (that's 11 June 2001, as anyone paying attention already knows), I've maintained that I had nothing whatsoever to do with Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's death. It was true then, it's true today, and it'll still be true in another fifteen years, whether I'm locked in this box or living a life of rightful freedom. It'll be true no matter what stories Kelly Moffett tells, no matter how many distortions the Antibyron Clique posts online, no matter which of my personality quirks gets mistranslated, no matter who steps out of my undignified past to say what an asshole I was, no matter when (or if) the evidence of my innocence is finally shown to be incontrovertible.

Moreover, I'll keep saying it until the public, the Missouri courts, Governor Nixon, Governor Greitens, or whoever else has power enough to change my circumstances sees my innocence for the absolute truth that it is. That such a day comes is the one and only hope I'm willing to keep close to my heart, without regret, without embarrassment, without reservation, unflaggingly, for as long as it takes.