When I was the age of 20 similar men my age were really starting their adult lives. They were going to college, starting careers and families. I was faced with the all too possibility reality of spending the remainder of my life in a prison cell. And even worse, it was a crime I did not commit.
Without a shred of physical evidence and mountains of inconsistent statements and out-right lies. I was convicted of murder in the first degree. My sentence…life in prison without the possibility parole!
My life has not been the same since. After all the years it is still hard for me to believe they said “guilty”… I mean, how can something like this happen me was all I could think? Sentenced to life for something you didn’t do…is a hard pill to swallow.
They didn’t need any finger prints, DNA, weapon…nothing! Mine was a case of inconsistent, contradictory and “unreliable” eye-witness testimony. The witnesses accounts of events shifted repeatedly as the case developed against me. Add insult to injury, I was a inner-city Kansas City kid during a time like now where crime was rampant in the city and for Law Enforcement, all the young black men in our community were “guilty”. …Guilty of something. That was the era I grew up in which I know probably hasn’t changed much in the years that have passed since I’ve been away.
Moreover, the fact that my family were not wealthy an could not retain a private attorney to represent me during trial did not help. It was my first time through the system and I was ignorant to the law. At the time of my arrest I was only reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. I really didn’t have a clue as to what was happening to me and the impact it would ultimately have on the rest of my life.
I was very naive to of the system. I believed the courts would get it right as do most wrongfully convicted prisosoners. I just knew I was innocent and it was no way responsible for this tragic loss of life.
I landed in maximum security prison where the “worse of the worst” criminals are housed. Being in prison for the first time I felt very confused and defeated -I am not ashamed to metion it now – and afraid. I’d been placed in the old Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP)! It was better know as the Walls…the deadliest 40 Acres on this side of the Mississippi River. And, I must say, MSP lived up to its name…it was a pit of death! Disgusting filth, a stench unimaginable, with double-cell the size of “second-bathrooms” of homes housing two men. When you entered the “Old Walls” you knew you were in prison…you knew if there were a ‘hell on earth’ you were in it.
MSP earned it’s reputation which you could not help hear horror stories about in the County Jail. I had mixed emotions “going inside” as it was commonly referred to. Going inside was – inside of the Walls. The Walls of doom I quickly learned. I served years inside of the Old Walls before the prison was finally condemned and we were transferred a mile or so away to the Jefferson City Correctional Center on “No More Victims Road” in Jefferson City where victims like Rodney Lincoln and me are languishing inside of this prison, innocent.
Victims like George Allen, the late “exoneree” who passed not even 5 years after a wrongful incarceration. George was one of the prisoners I knew from the Old Walls. He was a Old Timer, a guy we all knew was innocent. I hate to say it, but George was one of the men who had it hard inside. He went inside back in the 80’s when young men were being broken left and right by the violence, rape, and death that was inherent in the walls. Truth is, it did not help George that his wrongful conviction was rape. Convicted rapist and child-molesters had it hard behind the ‘Old Walls’. Not only did the inmates condemn them, but so did the guards and staff as well. They were bombarded from all directions and many didn’t get any peace. “Check-In” (Protective Custody) couldn’t save you behind the walls. If somebody wanted to get you, you were got, and everybody knew this.
The stories guys tell who were inside of the Walls are horrifying! The assaults, the rape, torture, mental anguish and death…. There were knives everywhere inside of the walls and some were have been rumored to have been there since the 1920’s and beyond. It was a scary place for anyone to have to live, especially someone falsely accused of rape.
George Allen loss one of his eyes in an assault behind the Walls. By the time of his exoneration, George had sadly loss hope. He was broken and we all knew that when he was released. We only hoped the taste of freedom would help redeem his soul. Sadly, it did not and George is simply another of Missouri’s injustice system…
The Old Walls was probably the worst prison on earth! Any inmate or guard that ever worked inside can attest to this. Not even a week in after I arrive I witnessed one of the most brutal and violent stabbings. Inside of the walls and in other Missouri prisons I have been housed in I’ve seen my fair share of stabbings, but that stabbing was the worst ever and it was in the first few days of me being in the system! It was a eye-opener to say the least.
I stood stunned as I witnessed this violent encounter. I didn’t know what to do and I was shocked and afraid. An older convict came and swarmed me away from the stabbing informing me that I had placed myself in jeopardy of being slammed in the hole for months for being a witness! That’s how bad it was inside. You saw but you didn’t see.
The living conditions in MSP were horrible as well! The water that we had no choice but to drink was unfit for human consumption. All of the running water in the prison was brown. The guards and staff refused to drink the water and the prison supplied them bottle water. But the prisoners were stuck to wrestle with the brown water which many of us learned to do. We would either allow the water to run for several minutes before drinking or we’d boil it in an attempt to purify it well enough to drink which was impossible.
I learned quickly why the Missouri State Penitentiary was the “Deadliest 40 acres”. It was plagued with violence, inadequate medical care for the cancer causing drinking water, and a never-ending cycle of death. Being inside of the walls was one of the most traumatizing periods of this entire experience.
Finally, in 2004 the Old Walls was closed down. For many prisoners that served in the Old Walls, it’s closing could not have come soon enough. Yet, to many Missouri prisoners’ dismay, the city of Jefferson City has turned the old prison that victimized so many into a tourist attraction as a “source of revenue” for the city. It is a place tourist visit to be haunted by the ghost of dead inmates who often died violent and untimely deaths behind the walls…
The Old Walls has been closed, a “new” road coined (No More Victims Road), yet the Missouri Dept. of Corrections cannot get out from the stench of its past.
by Howard Frazier
(Edited by: Anthony Williams, Director of MOPAC, LLC)
(Howard Frazier is a wrongfully convicted prisoner currently confined in the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. Howard says he received ineffective representation during and leading up to his trial and his legal Team is now raising funds and consulting with attorneys to try and effect his release. You can learn more about Howard by clicking HERE)