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Lose The Battle To Win the War

April 06, 2018

What would you do if you were wrongfully convicted for a murder you did not commit? Would you;

A) Agree to a plea deal so you can get out faster? Or

B) Stick to your guns even though that could mean you being jailed forever?

Well, I don’t know what your response would be but I know of someone who opted to take the hard option 45 years ago, but just 24 hours ago, his story changed in a most dramatic way. I got an excerpt of that story from the CNN news site and would now like to share the same with you here below.

One of the first things Richard Phillips did when a judge finally declared him a free man is go on a grocery run. He was amazed to discover how many varieties of orange juice are on sale. It's just one of many revelations Phillips is dealing with these days after 45 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. 

Phillips was exonerated earlier this week after a judge threw out his murder conviction. When he went in, the Detroit man was 27. He turns 72 next month.

The time he served behind bars makes Phillips the nation's longest serving exoneree in history, says the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school.

"The world has changed, a lot of people have changed," Phillips told CNN on Thursday. "I have a lot of adjustments to make."

Phillips was an auto worker in Detroit when a man named Gregory Harris was dragged from his car and shot to death in June 1971.

Based on the testimony of the victim's brother-in-law, police arrested Phillips. The brother-in-law told investigators he'd met up with Phillips and another man, Richard Polombo, at a bar to discuss Harris' murder. Phillips and Polombo were convicted. And in October 1972, Phillips was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Years went by. Phillips' contention that he was innocent fell on deaf ears.

Then, in 2010. Polombo said he lied. He told a parole board that he killed Harris along with the brother-in-law; Phillips had nothing to do with it. In fact, Polombo said, he didn't even know Phillips.

But Phillips wasn't made aware of this exculpatory evidence until four more years.

In 2014, someone tipped off the Innocence Clinic, an organization that investigates prisoner claims of innocence.

After speaking with both Polombo and Phillips, the clinic took up his cause -- and began working quickly to get him a new trial.

After years in and out of court and court of appeals, Phillips was finally granted a new trial late last year.

"When he first got his new trial, prosecutors dangled a carrot," Phillip's attorney Gabi Silver told CNN. "They said if he agreed to a plea deal, he could get out faster."

Phillips refused.

"He told me, 'I will die in prison before I agree to a plea deal.'"

On December 14, a judge overturned his murder conviction, making him the first person to be exonerated by the Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney's new Conviction Integrity Unit.

But he had to wait until Wednesday(28th March 2018)  to become a free man permanently. That day, Phillips -- wearing a blue suit and a big smile -- listened as prosecutors dismissed all charges against him.

"The system failed him. There's no question about it," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told reporters. "Justice is indeed being done today."

Michigan adopted the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act in 2016, which grants $50,000 for every year that a person has been wrongfully imprisoned. This makes Phillips eligible to receive up to $2,250,000.

Silver, Phillip's attorney, told CNN that she was "hopeful and very confident" that he would receive full compensation.

"The most difficult part of my journey since being freed has been that I do not have financial assistance from the state," Phillips said. "Exonerees do not get very much compensation from the State of Michigan."

Phillips says he has been living off $80 worth of food stamps each month since December.

"He's a very smart man," Silver said. "He's made some friends. He's living in an apartment with a friend. He wants to get his driver's license. He's very artistic."

Despite his struggles, however, Phillips remains optimistic.

"I am not bitter," he told CNN. "I was upset at first, but mistakes happen in this world. No life is perfect. Everybody has problems. It would be unimaginable for me to be upset because I had problems, because everybody has them."

Phillips spoke at length about his amazement at new technology.

"When I left the streets, if there were any phones at all, they were these big boot-like portable phones," Phillips laughed. "It would look like you had a big shoe up to the side of your face. We didn't have all these gadgets. iPhones didn't exist."

When Phillips was convicted, he left behind a wife and two children, ages 4 and 2. He hasn't had contact with them since and hopes to reconnect soon.

"I have not seen my children in 45 years," Phillips said. "I hope that they will see my story in the news and come find me."

In the meantime, Phillips is enjoying life outside of the prison walls.

"I'm so happy to be free, I'll make any adjustment I have to make," Phillips said. "Despite the hardships, I am very upbeat about my newfound freedom."

 

What can we learn from this sad but amazing story?

 

  1. When you know who you are, nobody can trick you into being who you are not. Even though he knew the chances of him ever leaving jail alive were very slim, he purposed in his heart not to plead guilty for a crime he never committed, no matter what! Would you say you have the same character as Philips? How many times have you found yourself agreeing to practices that are not really what you agree with, just because the alternative is worse? How many times have you agreed to give that bribe to that traffic cop on the road because you know if he takes you to the police station the story might be different? #FoodForThought.
  2. People who know who they are always maintain a positive attitude no matter what. Though he was set free in December last year, he had to wait for another 3 months before he could actually taste his freedom! And when he did, the first thing he went to look for were oranges!  I can guarantee you some people would not have been looking for oranges,  but whatever or whoever they would have gone looking for would have made them end up back in jail less than 24 hours after leaving it.
  3. When you know who you are, you don’t carry unnecessary baggage and grudges. You forgive. I have to admit this part got me thinking a lot. Someone puts you behind bars for 45 years and you just brush the whole experience off like it was nothing? Now that is a man worth emulating. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. So, are you strong or weak?
  4. Someone who is fully aware of who he/she is never gives up hope. I believe it is this very hope that kept this man alive in prison, it kept his lawyers fighting for him and it eventually saw him get out of prison. In his own words, he is hopeful that his family will see the news that he is now out of prison and go get him. This same hope will deliver the 2.2M dollars owed to him for being wrongly convicted. Imagine that! This man is a sure epitome of hope. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
  5. When you know who you are, you never stop learning regardless of your situation.  He says he will make “adjustments” where he needs to, meaning he is ready to learn what he doesn’t know and unlearn what may be outdated considering he is stepping back into a completely new world.

 

There are many other lessons to be learned from this guy but for now, let me just leave it at those five.

 

Friends I don’t know what situation you may have found yourself in, in the last few days, weeks, months or even years. Question is, how are you dealing with it?

May we learn some lessons or two from Mr. Richard Philips and hopefully, we will become better people in this world. His fight was not small and even though he won some and lost some, eventually he made it to win the main war, which was not just getting his freedom back but also being compensated in the process.

As we start the second quarter of the year 2018, and in line with the story we just read of Richard Philips who lost some battles so he could win the main war, this week in my on going #52BooksIn52Weeks2018 Book Reading Challenge I am recommending a book by Sun Tzu called, “The Art Of War”.  You’ve got to read the interesting strategies explained in this book so you can learn to apply them in the wars (challenges) you will be facing this quarter.

As we start this new week, new month and new quarter, I leave you with a quote from this book......

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

 

And I add; know your enemy, know yourself and know the battle you are fighting, then decides whether it's worth it.

 

Be Ignited. Be Inspired. Be Influenced. Become the best version of yourself you can ever be.

 

PS: This article was originally published in Tanzania's Guardian On Sunday on the 1st April, 2018, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".

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