September 30th, 2016
“Night Out with NEIP” was a great success! The evening, held last Friday night at the beautiful Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, was a wonderful celebration of NEIP’s work on behalf of wrongfully convicted prisoners. The reception was held in the large ballroom where guests, staff and recent exonerees and their families mingled and spoke about what NEIP and its work means to them. Guests enjoyed delicious hors d’oeuvres from Above and Beyond catering, and wine donated by Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod. In the Center’s art gallery, we held a successful silent auction with items donated from local artists, restaurants and professional Boston sports teams (see complete list below). Live music was provided by Kurt Reynolds on the harp, and later on in the evening guests enjoyed vocals by Emma Zack, accompanied by Joe Reid on the piano.
The program began with a welcome address from board member Stephanie Hartung, Professor of Law at Suffolk University, who acknowledged the exonerees and their families present at the event, which included: Ronjon Cameron, Dennis Maher, George Perrot, Victor Rosario, the family of Raymond Tempest and Crystal Squire, niece of Barnard Barron. Next, NEIP board chair David Siegel highlighted NEIP’s accomplishments of 2016, and discussed some promising legal developments of the past year; particularly, the fourth consecutive unanimous decision by the SJC interpreting MA post conviction access and testing statues in an expansive way, which facilitates more access for persons who claim to be wrongfully convicted.
Sharon Beckman, board member and Professor at Boston College Law School, presented the Joe Savage award to Lisa Kavanaugh, the CPCS Innocence program director. The award is named for Joe Savage, a highly respected criminal defense attorney and founder of NEIP. Beckman described Lisa as a brilliant lawyer, a visionary, and a genius collaborator, and noted that over the past five years, under Lisa’s leadership, the CPCS Innocence Unit has had a role in bringing about the release, new trial, or exoneration of nine men, who together spent a total of over 161 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit.
Lisa Kavanaugh discussed her journey as a public defender, and how NEIP and the innocence movement are changing the conversation around wrongful convictions. She thanked the exonerees present, some of whom are her clients, for teaching her that “the lesson that I have to keep learning, again and again, is that I can’t stop fighting for the impossible.” She also discussed attorney Bryan Stevenson’s idea of brokenness, and the challenges and opportunities of living in a broken world: “If we have any hope of making a difference in fighting wrongful convictions, we have to recognize that not only are we all broken- not just our clients or the system, but every single one of us; but we also have to manage to find some strength in those places of brokenness, and then we have to have the daring to advocate for the impossible.”
Next, Dennis Maher presented his namesake award to Ronjon Cameron. Dennis served over 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and since his release has had a tremendous impact on Massachusetts law and the innocence movement by sharing his story and working to help exonerees in a multitude of capacities. Dennis noted that same spirit of giving back in Ronjon: “I had nothing when I was in prison,” Dennis said, “when I got out, I decided to leave everything behind, and chose to embrace life- Ronjon has made that same choice.”
Ronjon spoke about the struggles he faces to clear his name (he has still not been officially exonerated) and receive compensation, the challenges his family faced during his incarceration, and his gratitude to NEIP for taking on cases of innocence. He also noted the strange irony that on the very same day that Dennis finally walked out of prison, he himself was taken to prison- a poignant reminder that for every wrongfully convicted person who is freed, there remain many more caught in the snares of the criminal justice system. Ronjon finished with an important message to those in the field: “You attorneys, well-seasoned attorneys, please, you know what’s going on. You new attorneys- change it.”
We at NEIP hugely enjoyed connecting with our guests, honoring our exonerees, and hearing the words of our inspiring speakers. We are truly grateful to all of those who joined us last Friday night, and to all of our staff, board members, and volunteers who helped make the evening possible. We hope you will join us again next year, and in the meantime, keep supporting NEIP and join us at future events!
We would like to particularly thank the following organizations and individuals for their generous silent auction donations:
- The Boston Red Sox
- Eliana Dunlap and Esh Circus Arts
- The Fireplace Restaurant
- J.P. Licks
- The Paint Bar
- Anna Meyer & Dancers/ Beheard.World
- New Repertory Theatre
- Cape Air
- Whole Foods
- Dave Roberts
- Truro Vineyards
- The New England Patriots
- Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse
- Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange)
- Omni Parker House
- The Celtics
- Thomas Dunlap
- Dennis Maher