In 1998, when he was 17 years old, Jarrett Adams, an African American, was falsely accused of rape, found guilty by an all-white jury, and sentenced by a Wisconsin court to 28 years in prison.
During his time behind bars — nearly 10 years including time before his trial and before his release — Adams worked to familiarize himself with the judicial system, educate himself on the law, and send hundreds of letters pleading his case to authorities, attorneys and the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which helped him finally be exonerated late in 2006.
Adams went on to earn a college degree, attend and graduate from law school and pass the bar. He worked as an attorney for the New York Innocence project. In 2017, he opened his own office and today, has offices in three cities and practices in both federal and state courts throughout the country. He also runs Life After Justice, a nonprofit devoted to assisting exonerees.
Adams has told his story in “Redeeming Justice: From Defendant to Defender, My Fight for Equity on Both Sides of a Broken System,” to be published Sept. 14 as both a book and an audio book that he reads. He spoke recently with The Dispatch from his office in Chicago.
Q: Persistence is a theme in your book. How did you keep going when you faced so many obstacles? Did you become bitter?
Adams: I did become bitter. I’ve got to be as real as I was in the book about this. I was angry and I was upset and that’s OK. But the issue is what do you do with that? For me, my response was to keep fighting and to go forward.
Q: Your mother and your aunts gave you so much support. Are they still around?
Adams: One of my aunts is alive and my mom is, but the sad thing was when I got out they were all older. Dementia seems to run in my family and my mom and aunts are in and out of it. I just wanted them to be proud of me.
Q: When you were in prison, you gave legal advice and assistance to a number of inmates, earning the nickname “Li’l Johnnie Cochran — Looking (expletive) With the Glasses.” Does anyone call you that today?
Adams: No, but I do get, “man, you a lawyer?” I’m young, 40 years old, black and a lawyer and some people marvel at that.
Q: Do you have any contact with any of the inmates you helped?
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SOURCE: The Columbus Dispatch, Nancy Gilson