Sean and I both grew up in a small, rural town in Northern California. We met in the second grade; being the same age, we were in the same grade at school. We were childhood friends, often rode the same bus and had many of the same classes together. We slow danced at a junior high school dance and shared silly moments riding the bus home after school. I always thought of him in a positive light, he was just a normal kid who participated in 4-H, Boy Scouts, and volunteered at our school.
In 2003, when I saw Sean’s case in the newspaper I was shocked. The child I knew Sean as was gentle, sweet, an animal lover and a total dork. At such a young age I had believed that the justice system always does the right thing. I fully trusted in our law enforcement and legal system, just as Sean had. We grew up with the belief that the guilty were put away and the innocent walked free, which is unfortunately not always the case.
Sean and I began writing each other letters in 2007, 4 years after he had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole as a juvenile. Over time with letter writing, I grew to know my friend again and the more I learned about his case the more I understood that he was actually innocent. I didn’t want to know a world in which this could ever happen. But the truth was right in front of me, I had leaned what would change everything forever. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. That’s staggering.
What began as a mutually respectful friendship slowly bloomed into much deeper feelings. When we realized we had fallen in love, we proceeded with caution because of our situation. We didn’t know if a healthy relationship between the prison walls was even possible, but we gave it a chance. With prayer and God’s guidance we have been blessed with a rare and beautiful connection that allows us to have a deeply fulfilling relationship.
Despite the many years of suffering and pain Sean has been put through, he is not angry or bitter. He is a genuinely happy, optimistic person. It is clear to everyone who knows him that he does not belong in prison. Sean is a good man who is always patient, extremely intelligent, and devotedly compassionate. He has helped to give me the ability the get through literally anything and to achieve true happiness despite the circumstances in our life that we are unable to control.
Sean and I have been together since 2013 and we were happily married in August 2017. We have something truly special, it gets us through each day. We are grateful for things that most people take for granted, we appreciate all the blessings we have in our life. We place great importance on our faith, our marriage, and just living an authentic life. Since getting married, Family Visits (46 hour visits) have given us quality time together and we are truly grateful for every moment we have together.
We feel driven to make positive changes within the prison system and when Sean comes home, besides spending time catching up on everything he has missed out on such as BBQing, fishing, hiking, and being at home together; he would like to be an advocate for juvenile justice reform and work for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. We are passionate about bringing much needed reform to a broken system and preventing something like this from happening to anyone else.
This is our story…and it’s not over yet!
“Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:3
“Unfortunately in wrongful conviction cases, there are literally no winners; everybody loses. Not only is someone incarcerated, at times for years upon years when they did nothing wrong, but the victims’ families have to relive the pain of losing their loved ones over and over again: at the trials, at the hearings, the appeals, the post-conviction hearings…it’s a long arduous process. And then, when a conviction is vacated, the families lose any type of conclusion in the case. They lose any sort of comfort they may have felt thinking that justice had at least been served. And that’s truly heartbreaking.” – Jillian, Court Junkie podcast