Project Advent II, Day 13: Innocence Project of Texas


Today I wanted to help an organization that I see literally almost every single day.  I work in downtown Lubbock, and a little over a year ago I noticed their office directly across the street from my own office.  Here's a picture to help you visualize it.
Now, without looking at the title of this blog post, can you guess which of those two offices I volunteered at today?

From their website:
The Innocence Project of Texas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions. We operate out of our organizational headquarters located in Lubbock, Texas, but we evaluate claims of innocence made by individuals convicted of crimes across the state. On average, we receive more than 150 letters each week from individuals requesting our assistance on innocence cases. We currently have more than 500 cases in line for investigation.
I stopped in at their office a few weeks ago, and visited with Nick Vilbas, the executive director.  He told me some more about the Project and the kind of help they need.  Before IPOT will agree to help with a case, there are a few criteria they look for.  It must be a state, not federal, case.  The individual must have exhausted their direct appeals.  There must be some new piece of evidence that needs consideration.  Most importantly, the individual must claim actual innocence.  In other words, they must not have been involved in any fashion with the crime they are accused of, not just petitioning for release on a technicality.  Because of the huge volume of requests that IPOT receives, the biggest limiting factor they have is just getting enough people to put eyes on all of those letters.

One of IPOT's biggest cases so far was the exoneration of Timothy Cole.  Because this involved a case that happened here in Lubbock, it was in the local news a lot.  Mr. Cole died in prison while serving time for a rape which he did not commit, and which he was cleared of posthumously through DNA evidence and a confession from the man who actually committed the crime.

Because I'm not a lawyer, or even law student, I'm not really qualified to do most of the work that they need done, but there's one thing that 15 years of office life have prepared me to do, and that's filing documents.  When I crossed the street today, Jennifer the intern explained their filing system to me, showed me a cart full of letters and case documents, and set me loose on the cabinets.  I finished the stack just as I finished the hour.

On the way out, I stopped to talk with Nick again, and to thank him for letting me come.  IPOT is an organization that I'm going to find a way to make time for during the year ahead.

Affirmation Project: Rachel Rieckhoff, you've been one of my truest friends for two decades.  Nothing I can even say here can begin to thank you (and now your family, too) for the highs and lows that you've shared with me and my family.


Ali said...

I guessed that you volunteered at the GOP HQ. I'm not very good at guessing.

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