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When the country seems more divided than ever, here's an inspiring story about one attorney and dozens of big-city and small-town dentists standing up for some of America's most forgotten men and women.
For over 2,500 exonerees, the nightmare of wrongful conviction did not end at the prison gate. Traumatized, broke, and usually without job skills or housing, most exonerees never receive meaningful compensation or reliable re-entry help.
Many exonerees endured stunningly long prison terms under harsh conditions. For many, decades without decent dental care has left them with major problems – including missing teeth and chronic pain— that are a significant barrier to getting back on their feet.
But that's about to change for 102 exonerees across 21 states. Thanks to the efforts of Oakland, CA-based attorney Jon Eldan, founder of exoneree advocacy group After Innocence, and Smile Generation, a national network of independently-owned dental practices, these exonerees will receive more than $250,000 in free care this Saturday.
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Armed with a cell phone, Eldan painstakingly calls exonerees around the country to help them with access to health care and legal services. Some have been out of prison for many years, like Herman Atkins (San Diego, CA – exonerated in 2000 after 12 years) and Michael Austin (Baltimore, MD, exonerated in 2002 after 27 years) and Sabrina Butler Smith (exonerated in 1995 after 5 years on death row).
Others were released recently, like Shaurn Thomas (24 years), Johnny Berry (24 years) and Dwayne Thorpe (10 years), who are carpooling together from Philadelphia for treatment in Springfield, VA, Archie Williams (Concord, CA, exonerated in 2019 after 36 years in prison in Louisiana).
Jon Eldan: "Affordable dental care – especially for people who through no fault of their own need major work – is a major need across the exoneree population. Apart from the physical discomfort and pain, we all know that dental problems can impact how we see ourselves, and how others see us, and get in the way of building self-esteem, relationships, and finding employment."
"Our ultimate goal is to get policies in place that make free, quality healthcare and other support available to people who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit. But until that happens, we've found an incredible partner in Smile Generation. Their national network of dentists have generously taken up the challenge to help people who desperately need their expertise and care. It's a game-changer for many of our exonerees, who would otherwise have continued to go without care."
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After Innocence is an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that provides more than 500 exonerees nationwide with free, one-on-one assistance with getting and using health care and public benefit and legal services, and works for long-term change by advocating for laws that would provide them with meaningful compensation and reliable re-entry help. As featured in: The Marshall Project, HuffPost, Berkeley Law, Vice News.
Individual exonerees and dentists can be quickly made available in major cities in Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington
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