On Community, Power in Numbers, and How the People Stepped In Where the State Did Not

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. ~Mother Teresa

It’s always good to have your faith in humanity restored.

Especially when you live in a red state, like Missouri, that too-often measures its success by how much it “owns the libs.” (Read: restricts healthcare, defunds education, denies reproductive freedom, forces people into poverty and rejects the will of the majority.)

I’ve detailed the goings-on in Missouri, which have been painful to experience first-hand. But this red state outdid itself when it came to a certain person: Kevin Strickland.

Mr. Strickland was 18 years old when he was convicted of a crime that he did not commit.

That was 1978.

Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to life in prison. For four decades, he professed his innocence. And for decades, the only person to implicate him – an eyewitness who mistakenly identified him – professed he was innocent, too. No other evidence linked him to the crime.

The two men who were actually guilty of the murder were released decades ago.

But Mr. Strickland, an innocent man, remained behind bars.

The evidence of his innocence was clear. So clear, in fact, that the principal force behind his final release was the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor’s office that had convicted him. She had to fight the (Republican) Missouri Attorney General, who fought valiantly to keep an innocent man behind bars.

(Aside: Imagine that – being the highest law enforcement officer in the state, and fighting an innocent man’s release. It’s craven.)

Meanwhile, Governor Mike Parson (also Republican) has pardoned a number of people during his tenure. He could have pardoned Mr. Strickland at any time. People pleaded with him to do so, pointing to the overwhelming evidence that Strickland had nothing to do with this crime, and that keeping him locked up for decades was … barbaric.

Parson refused, saying Strickland was not a priority.

Instead, Parson pardoned the two rich St. Louis lawyers who waved their guns at peaceful protesters who were walking past their house.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General drug out court proceedings to an excruciating degree, prolonging an innocent man’s incarceration. But ultimately, the court would have no more of it, and forced the evidentiary hearing that would result in Mr. Strickland’s release last week.

After 43 years.

He is now 61.

Unlike many other states, Missouri does not have a program to compensate people that it has unjustly incarcerated. And so, Mr. Strickland was free. But he was not really free. With not even a parole officer to lead him through the very difficult reentry process, he was quite literally on his own.

As his lawyers at the Innocence Project explained: “With no money, housing, transportation, health services or insurance, and a criminal record that is rarely cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after innocence has been proven.”

And so, with not many options available, his lawyers started a GoFundMe to benefit him.

Upon hearing he had been released last week, I clicked on the GoFundMe page that was linked in an article.

I caught my breath, and a tear came to my eye.

Our state’s elected leaders did not find Kevin Strickland – a wrongfully incarcerated, innocent man – a priority.

But the people do.

As of the time I’m writing this, nearly 30,000 people from around the world have donated to support Mr. Strickland.

His fund now stands at $1.67 million.

It continues to climb.

Reading through the comments from donors is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Words of encouragement for Mr. Strickland, words of shame for Missouri and the “justice” system that wrongfully held him for so long. Images of the ocean – which he wants to visit and wade in as soon as possible. People donating on behalf of children, grandchildren. Kids donating their birthday money. One contributing as part of his bar mitzvah. Anecdotes. Poems. Prayers. Many donations of $5 and $10 … alongside donations of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars.

Our state may have lost its moral compass.

But the people haven’t.

And while we weren’t able to convince the Governor to pardon him, couldn’t make the Attorney General drop his opposition to his release, and couldn’t get the state legislature to compensate him for the years that were stolen from him, we could still do something, as individuals, to show him how much we care.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how people can visualize the impact of small actions from thousands of people. That the power of the collective is inspiring and too-often untapped.

Raising $1.67 million for a wrongfully incarcerated man with small-dollar donations from tens of thousands of people – in less than a week – is a pretty darn good example.

I hope the support and words of encouragement help Mr. Strickland find peace. He certainly deserves it.

And I hope it will remind you just how much We can do, even if the government won’t lift a finger, when We all work together.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of November 30, 2021

For #GivingTuesday, consider Kevin Strickland

Today I’ve gotten quite a few requests from organizations to contribute to them on this #GivingTuesday. I’m sure you have received just as many. And honestly, it’s due to support of people like us that those organizations are able to do their important work.

But, if you are so inclined to support a cause financially today, might I suggest a small donation to Mr. Strickland? I have no doubt he will need the funds, and the message your donation sends is just as important as the dollar amount.

You can go to his Go Fund Me fundraiser here: https://gofund.me/9b5e5e8b

Please spread the word. This man has endured enough. We can help make his future a little easier.

Call Your Senators: Pass Build Back Better

So, this is the week to push for the passage of Build Back Better. There’s so much good in this bill that it’s hard to keep track. But, capping insulin at $35/month and providing universal pre-K is pretty phenomenal. Head over to Indivisible’s Facebook page for some great graphics that show the timeline various portions of the plan are implemented. And then give your Senators a call, and encourage them to support BBB.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to encourage the Senator to vote in favor of the Build Back Better Act. Capping insulin at $35/month, capping prescription drug costs for seniors at $2,000 a year, providing universal pre-K, replacing lead pipes, providing more affordable housing – there’s a lot in this bill that people of our state could use. Please tell the Senator that the people of [your state] deserve this investment. Thanks.

Sign Up for Democracy Docket

Marc Elias is the preeminent election lawyer in the country. I don’t think that’s even contested at this point. Earlier this year he and his election law group split off from his former firm. And right now, they’re bringing cases all across the country fighting against states’ voter suppression and extreme gerrymandering.

He has a great newsletter, and just by subscribing to it, you’ll get more detailed information about what’s happening in states across the country, what he’s concerned about, and what he’s working on. It’s totally free, and it’s very much worth your time. Sign up here: https://www.democracydocket.com/subscribe-join-the-fight/

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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