Black man spends 27.5 years in Ohio prison for crime he didn’t do

“They don’t think they make mistakes and, in my case, they made a mistake and it’s obvious,” Charles Jackson said. “They still don’t believe that they did anything wrong.”
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Charles Jackson was confined to prison walls for 27 years, six months, and 20 days for a 1991 murder he didn’t do.

Decades of precious time lost, but Jackson knew his life wasn’t over. He stood up to the justice system and fought for his freedom.

“I was 27 when I went to jail when I can home I was 54 and my daughter was 27 so I was gone a long time,” Jackson said.

“Everything is different, people change and even your family members you don’t know people you’re just a stranger now and it’s just hard.”

Jackson grew up in a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, turning to drug dealing and doing what he could to survive, but never murder.

“Being African American living in my community and the life choices, lifestyle I was living it was acceptable for me to see prison in my future,” Jackson said. “When I was locked up in prison and then I saw a whole different side of what life is because I was in prison for something I didn’t do.”

A witness to the April 1991 murder said the shooter hung out in the neighborhood and drove a 1978 or 79 brown or maroon Monte Carlo, a classic popular in the 90s.

Investigators had made a recent traffic stop with a car resembling that one, suspecting the driver of carrying drugs but found none in the car.

They still took a picture of the driver, who was Jackson, and showed it to the witness who falsely identified him.

Weeks later, Jackson was arrested.

“I feel the officers and the police whoever involved with me being wrongfully convicted felt like I wasn’t worth being in the streets,” Jackson said. “Whatever they thought I was doing they must have thought I didn’t matter.”

Jackson’s story is a familiar to other Black men who have been wrongfully convicted.

Innocent Black people are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people, with the majority of exonerees being Black.

The Ohio Innocence Project takes on these cases to help free people, like Jackson.

“The more interactions law enforcement have with any community the more wrongful convictions there will be,” Pierce Reed with the Ohio Innocence Project said. “That’s just because sometimes we get it wrong. We then have to look at why we got it wrong.”

Reed said wrongful convictions are fueled by several things. In Jackson’s case, racial bias resulted in officers locking in on an innocent person that fit their stereotype instead of a thorough investigation looking into all potential suspects.

OIP later found police reports from witnesses that denied identifying Jackson as the shooter.

“They don’t think they make mistakes and, in my case, they made a mistake and it’s obvious,” Jackson said. “They still don’t believe that they did anything wrong.”

Innocent Black men spend an average of 10 years wrongfully imprisoned, which is about 45% longer than innocent white people.

“Regardless of the debate about why there is such a disproportionate impact among communities of color by the criminal justice system there’s definitely a disproportionate impact,” Reed said.

It wasn’t easy knowing his life was at a crossroads.

Inside some of Ohio’s brutal prisons was unlike any other pain he’s experienced and one he never should have gone through.

“I can’t even explain the humiliation I felt every time somebody called my name inmate, prisoner, read the charge, murderer,” Jackson said.

Jackson was nicknamed “sweetman” when he was a kid by his mother for kind and gentle nature.

Jackson said his mother was his rock and he got his perseverance from her.

He was turning into the opposite with the anger, frustration, and helplessness of being locked up.

“I had become a product of my environment,” Jackson said. “I was turning into a monster.”

Not being able to say goodbye to the person who believed in him was when everything changed.

“When my mom died, I started looking at me, her baby who she loved and I ain’t recognize myself in the mirror,” Jackson said.

Life was beginning and ending without him, and he was missing moments for something he didn’t do.

Today, he’s a free man after fighting for his freedom for decades.

He’s always reminded of how precious time is, especially with those you love.

“I’m home and that’s the most important thing to me and I know if I can make it and survive in prison then I got to be alright out here, but it’s hard,” Jackson said. “I just figured it took me a long time to get used to being in jail, so I guess it’s going to take me some time to get used to being out here now.”

This November will be Jackson’s four year anniversary of being home.

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