In 1998, when Jarrett Adams was just 17 years old, he and two friends visited the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and were accused of sexual assault.
Although Adams maintained that he was innocent, his lawyer did not put up a defense at his trial, and he was sentenced to prison.
“I maintained my innocence from the beginning because I was innocent,” Adams recalled in an interview with MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber.
But while Adams was in prison, he began to work toward his freedom. An inmate there told him to shift his focus from basketball to defense, and he put his energy into teaching himself case law. He then wrote to the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
“We got the letter, from Jarrett, in time to allow us to do a federal appeal,” said Keith Findley, a founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “We had powerful new evidence that had not been presented to his jury.”
Adams was in prison for nine years before his conviction was overturned in a unanimous decision. And while Adams was overjoyed to get his freedom, he was overwhelmed by the prospect of his new life.
“When I went to prison, there was no Google. There was no email. There was none of this stuff,” Adams said. “So I had to figure out a way in which I had to catch up with the world to be able to just have a shot at life.”
But Adams didn’t run away from the hard work ahead of him, and just this past spring, he graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a law degree.
Now, he is working at a fellowship to clerk on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that granted him his freedom.
Adams is awaiting his results from the bar exam, and he is looking forward to his career in the law, where he says he will work to provide help for people who can’t afford it.
“I said to myself, the story of Jarrett Adams won’t be remembered as, you know, person wrongfully convicted, got out,” Adams said. “No, the story of Jarrett Adams is going to be a person wrongfully convicted, got out, and worked each and every day ’til he gasped his last breath to change the criminal justice system for the better.”