On the Outside

A first-person account of getting out of prison after 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit, by Arturo Jimenez, who was freed by the efforts of the Northern California Innocence Project based at Santa Clara Law.

Arturo Jimenez was just 18 years old when he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. It would take 25 years and the efforts of the Northern California Innocence Project, based at Santa Clara University School of Law, to win his release from state prison.

That freedom was celebrated onstage as the Northern California Innocence Project marked its 20th anniversary with a conversation between Jimenez and four other men who had been wrongly convicted and released through NCIP’s work. They shared their stories of incarceration, family reunification, and being released into a world of COVID restrictions and technology that had advanced exponentially since they’d gone in.

Here is Jimenez’s story as shared on that stage, edited for publication.

I’m blessed. You know, despite what I went through, I don’t forget about those that are still inside that we left behind. Those are human lives, too.

I work for a nonprofit, Prisoners of Peace. We conduct workshops in prisons to teach the guys in there about the restorative justice system and our current retributive system, and fundamental listening skills, how to manage strong emotions in themselves and others.

Arturojimenez Nc 02
Arturo Jimenez was photographed at home in Southern California by Nic Coury. You can support the work of the Northern California Innocence Project.

That’s a lot of work. But I also do side jobs in construction, whatever I have to do, you know? I get my hands dirty for some extra money.

My family is pretty good. I’m blessed with a family that was supportive throughout my whole journey of being wrongfully imprisoned.

And it’s funny because I like that prison taught me to appreciate what I have. I know it may sound cliché, but there’s an old saying that you don’t know what you have until you lose it. And in my case, that was the case. I had a lot of cellmates who came from beyond-broken families, and it just made me realize, damn, you know? I have a good family.

Arturo jimenez by Nic Coury

“I kind of saw myself as one of those giant squids that change color to mimic its environment.”

I had to grow up in the system. You have to situate yourself to survive in there. So I grew. At the same time, it also gave me other issues—PTSD and trauma.

You just got to be on survivor mode, you know. I kind of saw myself as one of those giant squids that change color to mimic its environment. I played the part: I got tattoos. I was bald-headed. And, at the same time, I was portraying like I was cool inside, but … I guess it was fake it until you make it, you know?

I was in isolation, just me, myself, and I, for 20 years off and on. But there were other people around—so you do get a sense of community. They have human hearts. As soon as I got there, they would offer me stuff, like their TV. They thought they had to look after me, and whatever little they had, they offered me.

You know, when I first got out, I got a job right away doing deliveries and merchandising and I had to do everything through a company app. And so I was getting lost on the freeway. Technology was definitely one of my challenges.

The other one is I’m making a lot of mistakes that a young man makes dating-wise, you know? That’s been challenging.

The thing is, I’m about to turn 46. I cannot afford to keep making mistakes. I don’t have the luxury of time. You don’t have that leisure anymore to make the mistakes a young man can make.

Epilogue: In the year of my liberty

Some of the things I’ve experienced since my release have been beyond my wildest dreams. I play basketball, swim, scuba, hike, and travel. It’s impossible to make up for the loss of time but I’m aware of how blessed I am to be free, have good health, and actually do the things I could only imag- ine while I was wiggling through the system.

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