NILES — It’s been said that prison life can break or greatly strengthen a person, and Laurese Glover was determined to achieve the latter.
A lot of that could be attributed to the fact that he was incarcerated 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Giving up was not an option for me,” Glover, of Cleveland, said. “I was going to fight until the end.”
Glover, along with Eugene Johnson and Derrick Wheatt, were convicted in 1996 of the February 1995 shooting death of teenager Clifton Hudson Jr. and served 20 years. The men, who were known as the “East Cleveland Three,” were exonerated and each awarded $5 million after they successfully argued that police had withheld a witness report favorable to them and coerced a 14-year-old witness into implicating them.
Glover shared his experiences during the Unmute the Uncomfortable professional development symposium Friday at the Eastwood Events Centre. The event’s primary focuses were racial justice, suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
The conference’s main sponsors were Coleman Health Services and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board. Serving as moderator was Carol Bennett, Youngstown State University’s assistant provost of diversity.
Glover recalled having grown up with strong morals and a large number of loving family members and relatives who included five sisters, many of whom often gathered for Sunday dinners, cookouts and Saturday card games. Being wrongfully imprisoned was made more painful because he lost several of them during that time, said Glover, who added that he’s carried on the Sunday dinner tradition.
Glover explained he could have been freed sooner when he went before the parole board if he “gave them what they wanted to hear.” Glover refused, however, because he was innocent and didn’t want to confess to something he didn’t do.
“That was never an option for me,” he added.
On March 26, 2015, Glover was released, thanks largely to the Ohio Innocence Project, which was established in 2003 at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and works on behalf of those wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.
After the euphoria surrounding his freedom faded, though, things weren’t always smooth for Glover. He had to deal with certain family conflicts and struggled to find work before getting an $8-per-hour job at an area discount store at age 37, then eventually working for an Amazon contracting company and earning $14 per hour, he explained.
He also has sought counseling to deal with his trauma, refuses to lament the time he’s lost and continues to work to improve himself, Glover told an audience of about 100 who attended in person and 200 who watched the conference virtually.
“I’m a work in progress,” Glover said, adding he’s largely at peace with himself.
Echoing that sentiment was Kevin Richardson, who, at age 14, was one of five teens convicted in the April 19, 1989, rape, beating and aggravated assault of 28-year-old Patricia Meili, who was attacked while jogging in New York’s Central Park. Beforehand, she had worked in the corporate department for Salomon Bros., an investment bank.
The other teens who were convicted wrongfully and imprisoned were Raymond Santana Jr., 14; Korey Wise, 16; Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, both 15.
The teens, then known as the “Central Park Five” but who call themselves “The Exonerated Five,” were convicted solely on confessions they said had been coerced by police and were false. Richardson, 45, fondly refers to the other four as “my brothers.”
“When they say the phrase, ‘hell and back,’ that’s literally what we went through,” said Richardson, who was released in 1997 and lives in New Jersey.
While incarcerated, he coped in part by studying in the prison’s law library and reaching out to other inmates, he remembered.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, who had a long criminal history, confessed to acting alone in the attack on Meili.
The five men were freed and awarded a $41 million settlement from the city of New York that was divided between them, but the money does not compensate for the time and childhood innocence lost, said Richardson, who uses much of his share to ensure his two daughters, 4 and 13, will be financially secure.
“No amount of money can replace what happened to us,” he said. “We’re still broken inside.”
Richardson said he felt tremendous pressure from the media photographing and identifying him almost daily before and after his arrest, even though such actions were illegal because he was a minor. The activity included being “bombarded by cameramen hiding in the bushes,” he remembered.
After his release, Richardson had trouble finding work. He and the others also had to face many people who still believed they were guilty, he added.
Richardson told his audience that he grew up in a home filled with music and sports activities and assumed he would make inroads in the music industry. Today, he works as an advocate for criminal justice reform and performs public speaking about his experiences.
He refuses to be bitter and finds sharing his story to be highly therapeutic, said Richardson, who added that he tries to be “a voice for the voiceless.”
Richardson noted he hopes to see more common ground and dialogue between police and the communities they serve — something made more challenging now because many young people have little or no guidance and assume no one cares about them.
“All they really want is to be heard,” Richardson said.
It’s also imperative to have greater accountability for authorities’ wrongdoing, including for certain tactics used, he explained.
Other symposium presenters were Judge Carla J. Baldwin of Youngstown Municipal Court, who spoke on trauma-informed care in the courtroom; attorney Pierce Reed of the Ohio Innocence Project, which helped free Glover; James DeLucia, the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center’s clinical director; Doug Smith, a Summit County psychiatrist who addressed suicide prevention and racial disparities in health care; and Carmella Hill, clinical director for Coleman Health Services Trumbull.