Nat Cosenza Reflects on his First Innocence Network Conference after 16 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

In August of 2000, at 4 in the morning, a Worcester woman awoke in her dark bedroom to find an unknown man sitting at the foot of her bed. The man proceeded to beat the woman repeatedly on the head with a hard object; in response, she covered her head with her arms to protect herself. After she began to fight back, the attacker fled her apartment. The whole encounter lasted only seconds in a room suspended in darkness - and was marked by the victim's shock, stress, and fear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these conditions led to the victim's misidentification of Natale "Nat" Cosenza as the perpetrator. Nat was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years.

He was released in October of 2016, and, while he awaits a new trial in Worcester Superior Court, has been making the most of his newfound freedom. He, along with his daughter Alicia, was one of five Massachusetts men who accompanied us to the 2017 Innocence Network Conference in San Diego. Ronjon Cameron spent 14 years in prison and was exonerated in 2015; Victor Rosario spent 32 years in prison and was freed in 2014; Angel Echavarria spent 21 years in prison and was exonerated in 2015, and Sean Ellis spent 22 years in prison and was freed in 2015. Since this was Nat’s first conference – and his first time meeting so many other wrongfully convicted men and women – we asked him to reflect on what the conference meant to him.

“Even after everything I’ve gone through, it was still such an eye-opening experience,” Nat told us. “Hearing all of these stories, and talking to these men and women — especially the ones who were on death-row — was just amazing.” What surprised Nat the most was the sheer number of people involved in the innocence movement.

“Honestly, the number of people involved — advocates, family members, lawyers — was kind of shocking to me. I just didn’t know that there were that many people who cared about us.”

Nat with exoneree Amanda Knox.

Nat with exoneree Amanda Knox.

Nat also took part in The Moth workshop, which offers the wrongfully convicted (and their advocates) a chance to craft and hone a 5-minute story which they then present to the conference attendees (who numbered nearly 1,000.)  Nat presented his story, as did Ronjon and Sean.

“When I did The Moth, it was the first time that I’ve really spoken about what I’ve been through,” Nat said. “It was gratifying, and also kind of a relief to talk about. I’ve had so many emotions locked inside, and it was really good for me to get some of them out there.”

Despite the conference being just a whirlwind 2 days, Nat met people with whom he formed a strong and lasting bond: “I became very close with three individuals, students from Texas and Canada. It was amazing how close we became in such a short time. That’s really, really rare for me.” 

Returning to the outside world after being released from years of incarceration isn't an easy process, to say the very least. Having the opportunity to be welcomed into a community of individuals who can understand what you've endured in a way that the rest of us simply can't is incredibly important, and we're so grateful to the donors who enabled us to bring all five of these incredible Massachusetts men to the conference.