Williams was released last year from a Louisiana prison after serving nearly 40 years for a rape and attempted murder he did not commit.

A fingerprint database showed prints at the crime scene matched another man, The New York Times reported, and the district attorney apologized.

“I went to prison but I never let my mind go to prison,” Williams said, adding that he prayed and sang.


HONORABLE GOAL: Less Violence This Summer

With Memorial Day weekend signaling the start of Chicago’s historically violent summer season, city agencies are banding together in an effort to tamp down shootings.

To that end, the city has opened the new Summer Operations Center — a facility staffed by employees of the Chicago Park District, CTA, CPS, and the Department of Streets and Sanitation, among others.

The facility will be housed in the city’s Office of Emergency Management & Communications in the West Loop in an effort to streamline operations and resource deployment among the various departments and the city’s emergency services. The SOC will operate from 5 p.m. Thursday until Monday morning every weekend of the summer, according to city officials.

The goal of the SOC, CPD Supt. David Brown said, is straightforward: “Reducing murders and shootings this summer.”



The COVID-19 crisis in U.S. prisons has shone a light on the horrific conditions and overcrowding that have turned many prisons into death traps.

But it is only a reminder of the fate of many people incarcerated in Illinois who face death-by-incarceration every year, due to decades of extreme and inhumane sentencing policies.

Victims of crime, convicted people, and their loved ones all suffer when people are locked up for years beyond the needs of public safety. Nearly every other state has mechanisms to release long-term incarcerated individuals who are ready to rejoin society. Illinois does not.

If nothing changes, over 5,000 Illinoisans will be required to grow old and die in prison.



Maryland’s parole process for people serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, like Eraina Pretty, is long and arduous.

In 2008, parole commissioners first recommended her for parole after she completed a required risk assessment and psychological evaluation. She waited three years for the governor’s decision; in 2011, then-Governor Martin O’Malley denied her parole. In 2015, the commission once again recommended her for parole; this time, she waited four years before receiving a denial from Governor Larry Hogan

In February, legislators introduced House Bill 1219, which would have precluded the governor from making parole decisions for those serving life sentences.

The bill had been introduced during the past 10 legislative sessions. This year, it passed with a veto-proof majority in the House and, according to Lila Meadows, an attorney at the University of Maryland Law School’s Gender Violence Clinic, would have had enough votes to pass in the Senate. Then COVID-19 prematurely stopped the legislative session.

“If a sentence with parole is meaningful in any way, it has to be that when you have held up your end of the bargain and did all the things the system has asked you to do … you get returned to society. If that doesn’t happen, parole sentences are completely meaningless.”


COWARD’S POSE: Inslee Vetoes Clean Slate Bill

Governor Jay Inslee vetoed House Bill 2793. It would have initiated the process of automatically expunging criminal records in nearly 2 million eligible cases.

Advocates have pushed for this type of reform, dubbed “Clean Slate.”

Although expunged records yield major benefits, the vast majority of people who are eligible to get an expungement—over 90 percent of them, according to a University of Michigan study published in 2019—don’t even apply, for a host of reasons ranging from cost and time to legal complexity and a lack of information.

Clean Slate bills propose to remedy these obstacles by requiring states to automatically expunge people’s records for eligible offenses. Though specifications vary, these bills typically involve clearing cases promptly if they did not result in a conviction, and clearing convictions after some waiting period.


WONDERFUL BREAKING NEWS: Willie Mae Harris Is Going Home!

Clemency is one of several mechanisms to relieve overcrowded prisons and reward prisoners for their behavior while incarcerated.

Since taking office four years ago, Hutchinson has granted clemency to roughly 500 people. Just one person who received clemency, Shirley Danner, was convicted of first-degree murder.

In the early 1970s, Danner was working as a sex worker when she shot a man who attemped to date underage girls. In 1975, Danner was sentenced to life in prison.

The parole board recommended her for release at least 17 times before Hutchinson approved her clemency petition in April 2019.



The order came from a 15-year-old on a bicycle near a Chicago park in 2001: “Shoot him, shoot him.”

Benard McKinley, 16, obliged. And Abdo Serna-Ibarra, 23, never made his way to the soccer field.

McKinley was later arrested and charged as an adult with first degree murder for the killing of Serna-Ibarra. In 2004, Cook County jurors found him guilty.

The sentencing judge, Kenneth J. Wadas, went on to make an example of McKinley and his murder, condemning the young man to 100 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections — 50 years for the murder, and a consecutive 50 years for the fatal use of a firearm. The sentence was necessary to deter other criminals, Wadas said in court, and would enable others to play soccer with “one less Benard McKinley out there with a handgun blowing them away.”

With no chance of parole or early release, McKinley was doomed to either live to celebrate and surpass his 116th birthday, or grow old and die within the fortress of the state’s prison system.



A University of Illinois college-in-prison program created a reentry guide for those released from prison and jail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every year, the Education Justice Project updates one reentry guide to reflect the latest information about resources available to those released from prison and returning to Illinois communities, as well as another guide for those being deported to Central American countries following their release.

This year, however, Rebecca Ginsburg, EJP’s director, says it became clear the group needed to create a reentry guide specific to release during the coronavirus pandemic.

The group who worked on the document “interviewed people who had been released during (the COVID-19 pandemic) to understand what the particular challenges were, and they worked very hard to get the guide produced in one month,” Ginsburg says.

She says one challenge newly released people face is a lack of information about the virus.

“And the guide seeks to provide that,” Ginsburg says. “So they know, for example, why it’s so important to wash your hands regularly.”

The guide advises people released from incarceration to quarantine for 14 days before interacting with their family, and it also provides guidance for what to do if they fall ill.


JULIUS JONES: Widespread Support For Clemency

Last year, Jones’s current legal defense discovered that at least one juror — in a nearly all-white jury — was influenced by racial prejudice.

In an application for post-conviction relief, they state that a member of the jury told the judge that another juror said the trial was a waste of time and that “they should just take the [N-word] out and shoot him behind the jail.” That juror was never removed.

Jones also wrote about racism during the trial in his application.

“Prosecutors took every opportunity to racialize me by appealing to the deeply entrenched and stereotypical association between blackness and dangerousness,” he wrote. “In urging jurors to sentence me to death, prosecutors argued that I was a ‘continuing threat’ because I was ‘out prowling the streets’ engaging in criminality. … At the time of my trial I had no prior violent felony convictions. I had gotten into some trouble previously, but none of it was violent.”

Jones’s clemency application has received support from several local and national leaders who have urged the Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Kevin Stitt to commute his sentence, including county commissioner Carrie Blumert, Oklahoma NAACP, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), various national evangelical leaders and even Kim Kardashian West, who has been using her platform to advocate for criminal justice reform.

Julius Jones, an Oklahoma man on death row, filed an application for clemency.



“They’re back on lockdown. They let them go to yard. After that, there were too many cases. So they put them on lockdown. With no yard.”

Name: Melly Rios

“My husband says he’s doing good.”

She says husband but they’re not married. Not yet. In her mind, they’re a team. It’s not a ring. It’s not a dress. It’s not a fancy party. It’s a mindset, this is how you love someone on the inside.

Husband: Benny Donjuán Rios

Sentence: 45 Years

Time Served: 18 Years

“Just to show how much we take life for granted, right. He called me and he’s like baby I’m so happy! I’m so excited! And I’m like what happened? Tell me. He’s like it’s been a really great day. Guess what? And I’m like what? And he’s like, I ate a lime. He was that excited because he ate a lime.”

When life deals you lemons, make lemonade. Right? That’s common knowledge. But who ever heard when life deals you limes, brag about it to the woman you love. 

It’s not really bragging, is it? It’s more like a confession of love, opening up about a small thing, a seemingly small thing, when in fact it’s the opposite, it’s the biggest thing because it wakes up joy, it tastes like hope.

“You know how many limes I throw away? And I’m like baby that’s so good. I’m not gonna tell him, oh a lime? That would bring his whole mood down.”

That’s the thing about love. Sometimes it’s tangy. Sometimes it’s tart. But sharing your life, what could be sweeter?

Benny Donjuán Rios is incarcerated at Stateville.

He has a home waiting for him with Melly.