A wrongful conviction interrupted the life of our New Yorker of the Week for more than a decade, and now, he's making up for those lost years by giving back. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
When he was 17-years-old, Jeffrey Deskovic was convicted for murdering a classmate.
Except, he didn't do it.
"I felt hopeless, helpless," he says. "You have to fight off those feelings, to fight off feelings of giving up. I mean, the thoughts of suicide come in your head every now and then, so a lot of ways, you're not just fighting a battle against the prosecutor or even against the court."
Deskovic won that legal battle after being incarcerated for 16 years. DNA evidence cleared him of the crime. In 2006, he was set free, an innocent man trying to make sense of the pain.
"I couldn't forget about the men and women who I metaphorically left behind," he says. "I know that there's many people who are still wrongfully imprisoned, just as I was."
So Jeffrey is helping to free them. Using money he won from settling a lawsuit, he founded the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice.
Deskovic raises awareness at presentations with law-enforcement officials across the city. He works closely with inmates during trials and helps the exonerated integrate back into society.
William Lopez was one of them. After serving 23 years for a crime he didn't commit, Lopez tragically died after his release.
"Jeff did a lot for us in every aspect," says Alice Lopez, William Lopez's widow. "We got into an apartment, he paid for our apartment. Anything we needed, Jeff was there for us."
He's been there for dozens of New Yorkers.
"I ran into hard times and I became homeless for a little while," said Kareem Bellamy, who was wrongfully convicted of a crime. "He's a special person. You don’t have too many people that will do that for you."
"Knowing that the system in place is unchanged from the time that I was wrongfully convicted means that wrongful convictions can happen just as easily now as they have before, and so that drives me, that motivates me to continue to do this work," Deskovic says.
So, for fighting for the innocence of those he left behind, Jeffrey Deskovic is our New Yorker of the Week.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, or to donate to The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, visit deskovic.org.