Those on death row suffer unimaginable torture; the inmates who have been wrongly convicted do so even more. Like kidnap victims, those with wrongful convictions have been seized and held against their will; but, unlike kidnap victims, they are not viewed sympathetically by their local community. Indeed, it is their fellow citizens who have wrongly declared them guilty, and subjected them to incarceration and a sentence of death. And for many this must be the hardest to bear.*
Jeffrey Wogenstahl claims he was wrongly convicted by Ohio; there is extensive evidence to support his claim. His suffering would be understood by two exonerated victims of wrongful death penalty convictions, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. Sunny was convicted in Florida, Peter in Ireland.**
Sunny describes how she coped with her wrongful conviction:
“Hopelessness just didn’t appeal to me … they can keep me here, but what goes on within the confines of these walls is mine to create. They cannot imprison my soul!”
Sunny used yoga and meditation to help her maintain a positive mindset on death row, even when her husband was executed, and even after her parents were killed in a plane crash.
For Peter, the challenge was different: he was understandably angry about his wrongful conviction, and needed to calm himself in order to read law and contest his conviction. He, too, found that yoga and meditation helped him.
Sunny and Peter now run a center for victims of wrongful conviction from all over the world. Many of these guests suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); not surprisingly, they are shown the basics of yoga and meditation. The tranquil setting of Sunny and Peter’s house is also beneficial: silence helps PTSD sufferers regain a sense of being safe in the world, and in control of their lives.***
Silence must seem an unimaginable luxury to Jeffrey Wogenstahl, forced as he is to listen to the noise of Ohio’s death row. But perhaps even there he can learn from Sunny and Peter’s experience. We hope he can. He deserves to find peace.
* Professor Gordon Turnbull, consultant psychiatrist at the University of Chester, UK, speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster program, Stories in Sound: Exonerated, at 16:00
**Ireland had the death penalty until 1990.
*** Professor Gordon Turnbull, consultant psychiatrist at the University of Chester, UK, speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster program, Stories in Sound: Exonerated, at 09:55