Rectify is the story of a man who was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, and spent 19 years on death row before getting out. Much like in my own real life case, the local politicians refuse to admit he’s innocent even after DNA testing points towards someone else. In fact, there was so much about this show that mirrored my own life I began to wonder how much of my story had crept into the script.
The writer of the show, Ray McKinnon, was somewhat familiar with my case. His late wife, Lisa Blount was a friend of mine. She and I exchanged letters while I was on death row in Arkansas, and she even sang at a concert in Arkansas, along with Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, and Johnny Depp, to help raise awareness about my plight.
I heard that McKinnon also did research into the cases of other men who had been on death row and had been released or exonerated. It paid off. I can tell you from first hand experience that Rectify is a very realistic show.
The main character is a man named Daniel. When you look at his eyes, you’re looking into the eyes of a man who has seen Hell. There are moments when he looks like he’s about to begin screaming at any second, and never stop. The first time you see this is in episode one, when he’s about to leave the prison. The guard is treating him like a human being, and it’s evident this hasn’t happened in an extremely long time. You see the confusion on his face as he wrestles with suddenly being treated decently by the same people who have treated him like an animal for years. He can’t quite process it. I know that look well. As he’s about to leave the prison, the guard helps him tie his necktie, as he can no longer remember how to do it himself.
It reminded me of my very last day in prison, as I was dressing to leave. I was putting on real clothes for the first time in nearly 20 years, as were the two other men being released — Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley. I looked over to see one of the guards tying Jessie’s tie. He was doing it gently, as if he wanted Jessie to look good on his first day of freedom. It was odd, thinking back on how I’d been beaten, starved, and treated as something sub-human by prison guards for years. Most people have nothing in their frame of reference that would allow them to understand what an impact that has on a person’s psyche — but somehow McKinnon manages to capture it.