Prison door
Sep 2020 - 11 Min read

I Was Wrongfully Convicted: 25 Years in Prison

Chynillz Manager Moderate Gen X

A man explains how his run-ins with the justice system eventually led to a quarter of a century behind bars for a crime he claims he didn't commit.

My pops was drafted into the Army for Vietnam. Then he was stationed in Korea, he met my mother and he brought her back to the United States to get married.

I was born at a military hospital in Massachusetts in 1974. My mother is South Korean and my pops was Black and Native American. He was from Bridgeport, Connecticut. My grandmother raised seven kids in the projects, the P.T. Barnum Houses. She was able to move her children out of the projects.

My childhood was spent in Bridgeport. I went to public school. And when I went to high school, I got in trouble. I went to juvenile detention. I first got arrested when I was 11 years old. They accused us of stealing hubcaps and radios from a junkyard. But we weren’t. We were just in there driving cars. I got arrested with four other kids. 

That was my first experience with the criminal justice system. And they lied on us.

My pops had a drug program. My parents got divorced and my mother moved back to North Carolina. I lived in Bridgeport with my pops and his side of the family. 

The second time around, my friend and I had a gun but it was broken. We got arrested in a mall. I was 13. But we got out right away because the gun was inoperable. Nothing major. A lot was going on in Bridgeport at the time. We were thinking that we were protecting ourselves. 

It was foolish. 

Bridgeport was one of the worst cities in the United States in the ‘80s. I’m making that declaration and it can be proven. Connecticut is a small state. That’s where a lot of people from the suburbs and outside counties would come and buy drugs. The drug trade there was so lucrative that there was a lot of violence.

As I got older, I started to understand that my family helped build this country. My father was in the military and so were my grandfather, my great grandfather. My pops wasn’t an addict before he went to the military. So, he got caught up in it. He was never able to completely break the cycle because my pops ultimately passed away from HIV in 2003. I was in prison at that time, so that was a heartbreaker. 

I had an older brother who was killed in 1989. He was named after my pops.

I Was Wrongfully Accused of Crimes From the Beginning

In October of 1991, my friend and I were driving in a car on Bridgeport’s east side. We pulled into a parking lot. My friend went upstairs to talk to a female, a girl who he was trying to court. I was sitting in the passenger seat, he went upstairs to talk to her and I saw two police cars pull up behind me and tell me, “Yo! Don’t move.” They asked me to step out of the vehicle. They said, “We got a call that you were burglarizing the house.” I said, “Burglarizing the house? We’re not burglarizing nothing.” They said, “Sit in the car.” And the officers went to the back of the driveway to talk. So I could have run if I wanted to but I didn’t. I assumed nothing was wrong. 

They came back and said, “We found marijuana in the car; you’re under arrest.”

In the report, they said I was walking down the street with a bulge in my waist. And when the officers saw me, I got nervous and ran. He chased me and caught me, and I had the weed on me. That’s wrong. That’s a lie.

And so I wind up going to jail. And I had to stay behind bars for five months behind that shit. Then I got out on three years probation and some other stuff. I didn’t do that! 

I was in the streets at the time. I was selling drugs. That was my lifestyle. By that time, I had so many bad experiences that I was cold.

It was foolish.

One Bad Decision Changed My Whole Life

Pizza

After I got out that time, I went to a pizza place. And I saw my friend Todd; he was with Jeremy. He asked if I wanted to go to New York City. They wanted to do a stick-up. I said, “I dunno; I just came home today.” They said, “Well, we got your number, we gonna beep you.” And all they did was: beeping me, beeping me, beeping me. I had stayed with my lady friend that night. That’s my daughter’s mother. That was the night my daughter was conceived. 

So the next morning, they beep me. I had a friend’s car and I drove over there. Picked them up. They brought the plan to me; I was willing to go.

All three of us were 17. None of us had licenses, the car wasn’t registered. One of us had a gun and the gun had four bullets. So, the plan was to find this location where they had given us some fake cocaine a few months ago. And go take something, try to get something back. So, that was the plan. It was a stupid-ass plan. You know what the federal judge called it? He called it “a hare-brained scheme.”

My Friends Didn’t Give Me the Full Story

So when we got to Manhattan, Jeremy stayed in the car. It was just me and Todd. When we got into the apartment there were three guys. The guy who opened the door, he had a gun in his hand. So we walked past him and there were two guys weighing the coke and putting it on the scale. 

What I did not know was: A few months before that, Todd and some other people came to that same area in New York and they robbed a lot of cocaine. I was in jail at that time so when I came home I was oblivious to this and they didn’t tell me because they didn’t want me to know. I could have said,  “Hell no, y’all just did that? I’m not going there.” 

These people ultimately ending up testifying on me at my trial. And they’re relatives of Todd.

You know what the federal judge called it? He called it 'a hare-brained scheme.'

I Nearly Lost My Life

The dealers went into a closet and pulled out a kilo. Then they opened it with a razor and peeled it back. They tried to get me to test it. But I don’t do drugs like that. So I said, “No.” They tried to get Todd to test it. He refused. So when we didn’t test it, I don’t know if they thought we were police but the whole energy shifted in the room. 

The biggest guy in the room came to me aggressively and said, “Get against the wall.” So I complied. I didn’t have a gun on me, Todd had the gun. I got on the wall and he was patting me down roughly. So Todd is watching me and the other guy is standing in the doorway with a gun out. So Todd reached his hand where he had the gun, and then they stumbled into the other room. That’s when I heard multiple gunshots: boom boom boom boom. 

The guy who had me on the wall, he tried to throw me into a chokehold. I maneuvered out of it and ran into the other room. Todd ran into the bathroom and I followed him into there and closed the door. Then I heard gunshots coming through the bathroom door. I ain’t got nowhere to run. Todd was in the bathtub, I’m against the wall. So, he puts the gun on the windowsill, he opens the window. He jumps on the fire escape. I followed him, I jumped into the bathtub but I grab the gun. I jumped on the fire escape and saw the gun was empty and I just threw it. So, as we were running down the fire escape, someone starts shooting down. They shot Todd and hit him in the top of the head and he fell over the fire escape onto the ground. 

I got grazed on my leg. It was bleeding but it didn’t penetrate. It just grazed my shin. I’ve got a hole in my pants, my leg is bleeding and I jumped down from the fire escape. I look back at Todd. I didn’t go check on him, but he looked like he was already gone. 

I panicked, jumped a couple of fences, ran into the front, got in the car with Jeremy, we drove off a couple blocks then Jeremy jumps out the car and runs. I parked the car and we caught a train back to Bridgeport. When we were back in Bridgeport, we went back to Jeremy’s house. And when we go to Jeremy’s house his mother comes back from work. She be like, “Yo. Where Todd at?” And Jeremy told her what happened in New York. She was like, “Well, you gotta go tell his family what happened.”

My Word Against Their Word

Tunnel

So she drove us over to his family’s house and I was trying to explain what happened. And then Todd’s older brother, he started questioning me. So while I’m trying to answer the questions, you know I’m a little panicked, I don’t know what’s really going on. I just told him, “I don’t know. I don’t even know if he is alive or not.” He said, “You left my brother out there? How you gonna leave?” I said, “They were shooting at us. I didn’t have a gun!” He was like, “Yo, we're going back. I’m gonna go get a car, go get ready. Imma come pick you up, you gotta show me where my brother is.”

I left and my cousin pages me. When I call her back she was like, “Did you kill Todd?” I said, “What?! Hell no! Why would you ask me something like that?” She said, “Well they talkin’ in the projects that you went to New York with Todd and y'all got into something and you got a lot of money and you killed him off it.” I said, “What?” I thought the only people who could have spread that rumor were his family. So when they started calling me back to go to New York, I didn’t go. Now it looked even more suspicious. They start talking like: I set him up, I got him killed. His family was supposedly looking for me.

I Couldn’t Accept Being Falsely Accused of a Crime I Didn’t Commit

About six days later I got shot at a house party. An older guy shot me over some female stuff. It was corny, man. Jealousy. And he shot me in the leg with a nine millimeter, broke my leg completely in half.

While I was in the hospital, I got arrested. I didn’t even get out of the hospital until April. And then I was in Bridgeport County jails for a few weeks and I got extradited to Rikers Island in May of 1992. 

They accused me of felony murder, attempted robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.

After I was on Rikers for a year, they offered me six-to-18 and then, right before trial, they offered me a four-to-eight for manslaughter. My lawyer brought the offer to me and I asked, “Manslaughter? That means I slaughtered a man! I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t even shoot nobody, I didn’t have a gun!” He said, “Well, you know. This is your life. We can go to trial.” I said I wanted to go to trial because I didn’t kill anyone. 

I went to trial and got convicted of felony murder, two counts of attempted robbery and I got acquitted of the weapons possession charge. I was found guilty in April of 1993.

Going in at 17 years old, I felt like I was still a juvenile—no matter how advanced I was, or how intelligent I was, I still was a juvenile. I couldn’t buy cigarettes legally, I couldn’t get into the military legally. But, I made a dumbass criminal decision as an adolescent, as a juvenile. And I got treated very, very harshly. I basically got tortured.

I had no real legal representation because I had legal aid. All the people who dealt with me, there was no real compassion. And in my paperwork, it all says that I didn’t even have a weapon. So if everybody knows I didn’t have a weapon, that means that I couldn’t have shot anyone. So I couldn’t shot anyone, why would somebody even want a murder charge connected to my name?

The Criminal Justice System Doesn’t Care How You Feel

Statue of liberty

As a 45-year-old man right now, as a learned man, I want to ask these men, “Where was the compassion? Where was the humanity?” I was not a lost cause. I always felt like I was a gift. So, for them not to see that, and almost sacrifice you. There were so many times I tried to go back into the courts. I went before these same people, the same judge, and it was he was so cold and callous. He almost destroyed the spirit of my family. That’s what hurt me. Because my family always kept hope that I was gonna come home. So every time I would go to court, my family would all come to court hoping that I would get some justice, knowing that I didn’t kill anyone. And every time he would deny my motion.

I had a lot of fights in prison. A lot of fights. I was fighting a lot. Because I was little, I was young. I felt like I was handsome. There are predators in there. So I had to carve out a little square for myself or I would have been devoured.

I wound up doing 12 years in solitary confinement. 

I did 25 years in prison straight. So I used to be praying, “God, please man, give me another chance.” I was young. I didn’t even do it. I didn't’ kill nobody. I didn’t shoot nobody. So when my pops died, my faith was a little shaken. So I used to say, “God, keep my grandmother alive, keep my daughter safe, keep my mother and let me get home. And if you do that, then I’m a believer.” And when I got home, my grandmother was safe, my mother was safe and my daughter was safe. And my whole family was pretty much intact. I lost my pops, but my family was still solid. So that’s why I came home with a different spirit.

Some Wrongfully Convicted Stories Have a Happy Ending

I learned that in prison, you’ve got some of the worst types of people to be around. And then you’ve got some of the best types of people. Because you’ve got some people that are great men. They just got put in bad situations. They might have made a bad decision, a pressured decision, but they’re great men. Like I could trust them with my family, they would never steal from me, they would never hurt my kids, none of that. I learned that these men, that society deems to be like a waste or outcasts, these men were actually like buried treasures. 

I learned from these men. They gave me books to read, they guided me. But I was able to be open to that teaching because I was raised with my pops. So I didn’t have like a complex about learning from older men. That’s where a lot of younger men slip: They’ve got a complex because they didn’t have a strong, male presence in their life. Your message is not going to be received because they don’t want to hear it. 

I had great people come around me: Whether it be a fellow prisoner, correctional counselor, it could be a lady friend. I’m just happy now, it’s like everything I could dream of in life is happening now. 

I feel right now, at this moment, I’m finally getting the blessings of life and freedom. I just got off parole in March. I’m completely a free man now. I’m with a new music label. And we are trying to secure a deal with RCA. So I’m in the music business, which I love. I’m in the hip hop culture, which I love. And I’m around young people that I can educate with my life experiences. So even if they’re wayward, I’m in a position right now in life where I can catch them and redirect them. 

And I’m trying to teach them that music is a way to communicate to the world and make sure that people around me are conscious in their messages.

Chynillz Manager Moderate Gen X

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