A mother fights in the war on wrongful convictions
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org November 16, 2012 5:58PM
Terrill Swift, sitting next to his mother Carleane Swift, is a member of the so-called Englewood 4 that were exonerated two years ago and now has sued the city of Chicago for wrongful conviction. They are photographed on Friday, November 16, 2012 in Woodridge. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: December 19, 2012 1:24PM
I don’t know where black mothers get their strength.
During slavery, young black mothers had to watch their children being sold off to distant plantations never to be heard from again.
Today, too many young black mothers are seeing their sons get killed in the street, while others are watching black youth get locked away for the rest of their lives for pulling the trigger.
But there’s another group of black mothers who are seldom heard from.
They are the mothers who have watched their sons go to prisons for crimes they did not commit.
Their voices are dismissed like noise, especially in the aftermath of a heinous crime.
These mothers are left alone to tend to the wounds of a family caught up in the ruthless assault of the criminal justice system.
Carleane Swift, 53, is the mother of Terrill Swift, one of the so-called “Englewood 4.” Swift, along with Harold Richardson, Michael Saunders and Vincent Thames, spent most of his youth locked in Illinois prisons for the 1994 rape and murder of Nina Glover.
Glover’s body was found in a dumpster in the Englewood neighborhood. The four teens were picked up and were allegedly coerced and intimidated into giving false confessions.
DNA evidence exonerated the men after they had spent more than a dozen years behind bars. A judge overturned their convictions last year.
All four men have filed lawsuits against the City of Chicago, a Cook County prosecutor and police detectives who they said ignored evidence that linked a career criminal to the murder.
“It is almost more painful for me than when he was locked up,” said Carleane Swift, on Friday.
This is her first interview about her family’s ordeal. The events are still so painful; Swift becomes emotional when she has to recall them. Several times during the phone interview, Swift broke down in tears.
“There are deep wounds,” she said. “I’m just trying to find a way for my family to be happy.”
The mother said she is now confronting the “discrimination” that her son has to deal with because of the incarceration.
“Had he not been incarcerated, I knew he would have had a better life than what we are going through now,” she said.
She was about the same age her son is now when police officers took him away. The arrest didn’t just change Terrill’s life. It changed the blueprint for the entire family.
Terrill’s sister grew up. Family members passed on. Friends moved on. Over those years, the mother believed in her son’s innocence.
“I put it in God’s hands. I had another child and I focused on her and tried to give Terrill what he needed to sustain him. It’s been a heartbreaking nightmare,” she said.
She thought the nightmare was over when her son was exonerated. But the aftershocks of the wrongful conviction are still deeply felt by her family.
“It is like they shipped him off, then gave him back to me with all these restrictions and pressures. It is overwhelming. He couldn’t get an apartment. He couldn’t find a job,” she said.
“I thought his vindication would be like a load lifted, but it isn’t. Every time I look at him, it is a constant reminder that this was brought upon my family and it is still existing today,” she said her voice breaking.
“It is still happening as I sit here.”
Until their day of exoneration, the wrongfully convicted are as forgotten as the soldiers of an undeclared war.
But mothers like Carleane are quietly serving on the frontlines of a war most of us don’t even know is being fought.
“I didn’t know it until I came home, but my mother put her life on hold to make sure I was O.K., to make sure I had food; to make sure I could call home; to make sure she could come and see me. She was behind me 110 percent.” Terrill told me.
No one can give this mother back the years that were literally stolen from her.
But law enforcement could stop ignoring the systemic flaws that lead to wrongful convictions. Maybe then, black families won’t feel like they are living with a new kind of slavery.