Exit to Freedom
Exit to Freedom
University of Georgia Press, Hardcover, 9780820325590, 298pp.
Publication Date: September 1, 2003
"With God as my witness, I have been falsely accused of these crimes. I did not commit them. I'm an innocent man." In 1983 Calvin C. Johnson Jr. spoke these words to a judge who later handed down a life sentence for rape and related crimes. Johnson spent sixteen years behind bars before he was freed in 1999 after DNA testing conclusively ruled out the possibility of his guilt.
Exit to Freedom is the unforgettable story of Johnson's unrelenting quest for justice against incredible odds and under circumstances that threatened to shred his dignity and hope. As Johnson recalls his trial and long journey toward freedom through five Georgia prisons, he also speaks candidly about everything from his middle-class childhood in Atlanta to the reasons he came to be a rape suspect to the steadfast support of his family. This is also a story of faith: how Johnson found it in prison and how, he believes, it played a role in his release.
At the point in his prison term when Johnson thought that he had exhausted all avenues of appeal, DNA-based forensics began to make headlines. Eventually his case was taken up by the Innocence Project, the nonprofit legal clinic renowned for overturning convictions through DNA testing of evidence. Years of delay followed, but Johnson eventually became the sixty-first convict to be exonerated with the Innocence Project's help. His is the only first-person account of a wrongful conviction overturned through DNA testing.
However disturbed readers may become by this portrait of a justice system undermined by its own cynicism, Johnson himself feels no bitterness toward his accusers. In a book that offers many lessons about freedom, that may be the most important one of all.
"Calvin's saga lifts the rock exposing the dark side of America's system of criminal justice. Plucked from his family and friends by racism and indifference to truth, Calvin spent almost seventeen years in prison for crimes he did not commit. In the end, Calvin's personal transformation enabled him to triumph over his own bitterness and succeed in winning his freedom."--Peter Neufeld, Cofounder of the Innocence Project
"Calvin Johnson's story shows that the criminal courts are failing in their most basic function—separating the innocent from the guilty—and that race continues to influence who is not convicted and who is convicted. Only the miracle of DNA technology proved Johnson's innocence and allows him to tell his compelling story after sixteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. We are left to wonder how many other innocent people languish in prisons because there is no biological evidence in their cases."--Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights
"Exit to Freedom is a powerful and moving story of how one man deals with his loss of freedom and turns bitterness and defeat into personal success. Calvin Johnson's riveting story of life behind bars for a crime he did not commit would be just another prisoner's tale but for the tenacity of the human spirit and the truth and justice of modern technology."--Dr. Henry C. Lee, Chair Professor in the University of New Haven’s Forensic Science Program
"Johnson, in a remarkably even voice, details his trial and sixteen years in prison for a rape he did not commit, ending with the long-suffering process that established his innocence. . . . Miracles come in the form of DNA testing, lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project, and sweet release. A rare individual, victim of not-too-rare legal circumstances, with a story that will have readers grinding their teeth until the end.”--Kirkus Reviews
"[Johnson] tells his story with dignity and convincing emotion. . . . [A]lmost always gripping and inspirational . . . DNA is lighting the path to reform of the criminal justice system. As a journalist who has studied the criminal justice system intensively, with an emphasis on prosecutors, I have read more than 100 books about alleged or proven wrongful convictions. This is the first I have read by someone who was wrongfully convicted. Maybe others will follow, but this one will be hard to top."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"This is both a documentary of a man's life and an insider's take on the workings of the prison industrial complex. . . . Johnson brings humanity and controversial opining to life in a structure that once held him in its clutches. And in that hard-won honesty are the keys to freedom.”--Atlanta Tribune
"A story that should appeal to readers interested in judicial reform, in our prisons, or in the conversion of hearts. Most of all, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys a strong and dramatic tale of struggle and triumph."--Smoky Mountain News