Brown takes full advantage of freedomWritten by Holly Abrams | | firstname.lastname@example.org
While in prison, Daniel Brown read “Les Miserables” and found he could relate to the life of a man wrongly imprisoned.
“Jean Valjean tried to change his life and he did,” Brown said. “It kind of reminded me of my experience.”
Wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of an East Toledo woman in 1982, Brown spent 19 years in prison until he was released in April 2001 when new DNA evidence proved his innocence. Testing also identified the real killer, who was already serving a life sentence for another rape and murder.
Since his release, Brown has been living life to its fullest.
Like many other grads, Brown received his degree from the University of Toledo at commencement.
He plans on dispelling misconceptions and stereotypes in society about incarcerated people.
“That’s what my fight is now, getting people to realize I’m a human,” Brown said. “The thing I really want people to understand, is people who are incarcerated can come out and do something and be a credit to society.”
Commencement marked an important time in Brown’s life, said his wife, Rhonda Brown.
“He was happier than I had seen him in a long time,” she said.
Receiving his degree is a way to encourage others, Brown said.
“A lot of people have congratulated me and motivated me, so it’s a good feeling,” he said.
He is making up for lost time and working toward a career in law with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Brown is an intern at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) in Toledo. There he has been working in research on fact-based Social Security cases. Brown also works full-time to pay off his student loans and make up for many years of no income.
Life behind bars
There are many misconceptions about prison, Brown said.
“That’s a place where a person resides,” he said. “What you do is try to make the best of your time there for when you come out.”
Brown said he has always maintained his innocence and disagrees with society’s views of prison.
“I went to jail for something I didn’t do,” he said. “But I think in society it’s hard for some people to grasp the fact that you’re innocent or guilty. People don’t realize that you can go in and come out and have ideas and have your life in order. People think of you as a savage. This incarceration distorts the picture of the person.”
Brown said his story can be a learning experience for others.
“I think sometimes people assume things and they put things on you that they wouldn’t have,” he said. “I think it helps to shed a light on people in my position, that when they get out they can come out and live and be productive.”
Backed by the motivation to prove his innocence, Brown became interested in the law and began to study on his own and with the help of other inmates.
“Trying to understand law, that’s what really kept me going,” he said.
He also got a job in the correctional facility’s library, where he had greater access to books.
Schooling was always on the horizon for Brown, said Michael Zeigler, a friend since childhood.
“Danny was always the type of scholarly guy before all this happened to him,” he said. “He’s always been very goal oriented; he’s almost a hero to us to have accomplished all this. He’s going to be a wonderful person for the community and will do great things.”
Brown has always remained positive and hopeful, Rhonda Brown said.
“He’s hurt by it but he doesn’t carry it with him,” she said. “A lot of people have a lot of anger and animosity but that’s not him.”
Others need to have the optimism he practices, Brown said.
“We’re a class of citizens that don’t have a lot of hope —— they need to have hope that they can do better,” he said.
More schooling may be in the future, Brown said.
“I want to go further than I have thus far but economics plays a role,” he said.
Clearing his name
Brown credits his release from prison to Centurion Ministries. A non-profit organization, they were the backing force in presenting the evidence to prove his innocence.
Centurion Ministries works to clear the names of wrongly convicted people across the U.S. and Canada. Based out of New Jersey, their organization has helped more than 30 people be proven innocent, Brown said.
“It’s like you become a family member once they take your case,” Brown said. “It takes people with a lot of love in their hearts to do the work they do.”
Seeing Brown released from prison was a meaningful time, said James C. McCloskey, executive director and board president of Centurion Ministries.
“We were just really filled with joy,” he said. “Whenever you’re able to free an innocent person like Danny and to give him new life it’s like a resurrection of life. It’s tremendously fulfilling.”
Brown is not sure where his degree will take him next but he has thought about pursuing work with Centurion Ministries or starting a similar operation in Toledo.
“To do something along these lines would be rewarding,” he said.
The people closest to Brown find him a vital part of their lives.
“He is a very warm and giving person,” said Rhonda Brown. “If he gives his word, that’s his bond. He’s my strength in a lot of different ways. Danny is just a blessing to me.”
McCloskey echoes Rhonda Brown’s views.
“We’re very proud of Danny, he’s an extremely hard worker and he’s one of our pride and joys,” he said. “He’s just a good-hearted man who wholly cares about people and lives his life accordingly.”
Whatever path he pursues, Brown plans on helping others.
“I have a lot of things I’m doing now and I want to stay busy,” he said. “I’m just going to keep moving and fighting for justice if I can help other people I will.”