Posts tagged ‘criminal justice’

July 20, 2013

MY TIME – Column by Melissa Vanover


Before my incarceration, I was not very educated. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade to give birth to my daughter. After that, my life eventually spiraled out of control and into a life of organized crime: fast cars and even faster men.

All I had wanted was a better life for my children than I had at that time. I seemed to make all the wrong choices. I put myself and my children in dangerous situations. I simply wasn’t thinking! I was too caught up in the “good life,” the life of the world. That world ended up being not so good afterall. It was a lifestyle that led me to prison to serve a sentence of 25-years to life.

Since my incarceration, I have grown up a lot in these past 15 years. I finally earned my G.E.D. and completed several group programs to help better understand myself; these programs included topics and experiences covering “Who am I,” depression, self-discipline, victim’s awareness, eating disorders, “Cage of Rage,” and “Thinking for a Change.”

I have also increased my occupational skills. Although not licensed, I have become quite the “handywoman.” I have done plumbing and general maintenance, such as building things and repairing just about anything, painting, and laying tile. I can drive a forklift and I can weld.

For the past year and a half, I’ve had on-the-job training as an electrician, which is something I absolutely love. My crew saved the state of Ohio thousands of dollars by taking on the project of wiring and putting up security cameras in all the housing units. It has been great experiences to have under my belt.

I can also operate a ‘scissor lift’ and I have had the exhausting opportunity of using a jack hammer when tearing up and replacing a concrete step. Doing all this hard work has humbled me.

I attended church at home years ago. But I was never serious about it. Again, as I’ve written before, I had my spiritual breakthrough in 2001. Now, I’m serious about my salvation, and I know I’m not perfect and I do fall short sometimes. I fight it, but God knows I’m worth it. And I’m so thankful that He will never give up on me. I just need to learn to be more like Him and less like “myself,” and that I should never give up on Him.

April 8, 2011


Tonight, my first dispatch forRED!, as I attend a local criminal justice conference, regards the issue I call “Exploring Innocence.” I sat in the audience of a viewing of Presumed Guilty a disturbing documentary about Mexico’s inept and downright strange judicial system.

Most defendants never see a judge; whatever is written into to the record is accepted as the facts and cannot be questioned and defense attorneys aren’t allowed to introduce new questions. It’s the proverbial “catch-22” with innocent people caught in the crosshairs.

Presumed Guilty chronicles the fight to free Antonio (Tono) Zuniga, a 26-year old street vendor who was pulled into a police vehicle and arrested for murder despite the fact that he had a solid alibi with numerous witnesses to back him up. There was nothing connecting him to the crime, and he didn’t even know the victim.

With a twenty-year sentence looking probable, Layda Negrete and Roberto Hernandez, two young married attorneys, began filming both the proceedings in court and even in the prison. The best part of the viewing was afterwards when we were treated to a Q-and-A session with film participants who answered many questions about the parallels between the Mexican and American justice systems, the film, and innocence. 

Yes, Antonio Zuniga was ultimately freed!  

Tonight was the kick off of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference: An International Exploration of Wrongful Conviction. Many of the leading experts in the Innocence Movement from around the globe and more than 80 exonerees have gathered here in Cincinnati this weekend. I am excited to be attending the conference and will be sharing more.



EDITOR’S NOTE:  RED! columnist Angela Derrick is on assignment for the webzine, sending dispatches from the 2011 Innocence Network Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her regular column is called “Looking Outward”.