INNOCENCE NETWORK CONFERENCE 2022
By Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Ph.D., Proving Innocence Board Member
The Innocence Network Conference is a national event that brings together members of the innocence movement and others for two days of plenary and breakout sessions. The theme of the 2022 conference, held in Phoenix, AZ on April 7-9, was Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and ways that the pandemic has shifted, adapted, or redefined our work over the last two years and beyond. The conference was attended by more than 800 people, including 220 freed or exonerated men and women who had served 6,030 years for crimes they did not commit, as well as their families, Innocence Network organizations, and advocates from across the globe.
Michigan freed and exonerated individuals and advocates were very well represented at the 2022 conference. First-time freed and exonerated attendees were Dennis Akins, Danny Burton, Mark Craighead, Juwan Deering, Walter Forbes, Kevin Harrington, Corey McCall, Ken Nixon, Gilbert Poole, Ronald Simpson-Bey, Larry Smith, Gerry Thomas, and Ramon Ward. Richard Phillips, Davontae Sanford, Darrell Siggers, and Ron Keine (New Mexico) had previously attended; and Tonia Miller was one of 23 freed and exonerated women in attendance. For information on many of the exonerees, go to PI Walking Free Fund, or for more detailed information go to the National Registry of Exonerees.
Other Michigan supporters and advocates included: family members Sherry Upshaw, Tracy Nixon, Pauline Lawrence, and Roeiah Epps-Ward; David Moran, Imran Syed, Megan Richardson, Emily Fullerton, Victoria Clarke, Alexis Franks, Zoe Van Dyke, and Kate Flexter from the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan Innocence Clinic; Marla Mitchell-Cichon from the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School Innocence Project; Valerie Newman from the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit; Attorney Wolfgang Mueller; and Photographer Khary Mason with the Michigan Department of Attorney General.
Zieva Konvisser represented Proving Innocence and Wayne State University Department of Criminal Justice. She facilitated the Women’s Welcome Reception, co-sponsored by Proving Innocence, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the Womens Criminal Justice Network, and Healing Justice. She also organized and moderated the session, Freed & Exonerated Women Speak Out – Hear Our Voices, and helped organize 3 other sessions: Families of the Wrongfully Convicted Speak Out - Supporting the Innocent Post-Release, The Spotlight’s Glare – Responding to Media Requests, and Working Together: How Researchers Can Support Freed & Exonerated Individuals Post-Release.
David Moran and Megan Richardson organized and presented a session on Bad Cops: Using a Police Officer’s Misconduct in Other Cases as New Evidence of Innocence and Megan also participated in a panel discussing Broadening the Movement: Wrongful Convictions and Gender Justice. Ronald Simpson-Bey led an Emerging Leaders Workshop with JustLeadershipUSA and Mark Craighead was on the Bad Cops panel. Davontae Sanford spoke on the Complexities of Coming Home and Kenneth Nixon and Darrell Siggers discussed Participatory Appellate Defense from the Perspective of the Freed/Exonerated. And Gilbert Poole participated as one of The Moth storytellers. Kudos to all!
The conference was especially inspiring and meaningful as freed and exonerated individuals and their loved ones recognized that they are not alone and that others share the same experiences, behaviors, and feelings. It was beautiful to watch one of the newest women exonerees blossom as she began to process what had happened to her, find her voice, stand up, and speak out! And to hear the son of a man who had been released after 40 years share that the hardest thing for him and his father has been figuring out how to love each other in their new lives together. It was obvious that they had!
Hopefully, you all will be able to attend and participate in next year’s conference to witness and feel for yourselves these special moments! It will be held April 13-15, 2023 at the same location, the Arizona Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Arizona.