PSA: Pitching Innocence

Aside from the thousands of spam emails, scam emails and garbage story pitches that arrive at a blawger’s inbox, there comes an occasional “pitch” from a family for some attention to their wrongly convicted, innocent family member.  They want help. If not legal, then publicity.  They hope to grab attention for their cause.

These concern me, not only because of my natural inclination to be concerned about the wrongfully convicted, but because it’s hard to grab interest in the digital world where we’re constantly deluged with horror stories. We become inured to them, and grow somewhat cold to the “grave injustice” done any individual.  We shouldn’t, but we do.  It’s information overload.

So when a plea for attention arrives, I try to look, to see whether there is something I can and should do.  That’s easier said than done.

The problem is that these pitches arrive in ways that make it very hard, sometimes impossible, to figure out why it’s such a grave injustice, what it is that happened that makes the story worthy of attention.  Most of the time, it’s impossible to figure out what they’re talking about.

One problem is the mass of incomprehensible, meaningless, overly hyperbolic words in a huge block of writing, proclaiming injustice without offering anything remotely resembling a reason why.  These are the ones that contain “MY HUSBAND IS INNOCENT!!! PLEASE SAVE MY HUSBAND, AS HE DID GET NO DUE PROCESS!!!”  followed by another thousand words that are similarly uninformative.

Another is the overly slick email, the one that looks as if it was prepared by a press agent with come-on pitches and calls to action that work best with saving puppies for $1.29 a day, “the price of a coffee.”  If it’s that slick, they don’t need me.

But then there are the pleas for help that strike me as worth some effort to figure out what happened. Not too crazy. Not too slick. They hit the right notes, and capture enough of my interest to seek more information.  So I look.

The problem here is that my effort to figure out whether this is a cause I can get behind is lost in websites with millions of words that either say nothing of substance or require me to read every pleading and brief  in the case to have a clue what’s going on.  Here is the problem: I’m not going to spend a week reading all about your cause in order to figure out whether something terribly wrong happened or it’s just the ordinary injustice of the system.

Yes, this is the center of your universe, and you have so much, so very, very much, to say about it. You want everyone to read everything, to know everything, about every second of the nightmare you went through.  And should I come to agree that a terrible injustice happened, I too will want to have all the details available to me.

But I will never get to the point of agreeing if you think I’m going to dedicate my life to researching and reading your five hundred documents, fifty thousand words, and ultimately depend on your rant as to why everything is all wrong.

Here is my suggestion, and I make this in order to help you to gain the interest you seek because you may very well be right that a grave injustice has happened and your cause is worthy of attention.  Prepare a statement, the shorter the better, but no more than 250 words, explaining in factual, non-hyperbolic language, why this case presents a wrongful conviction.

I will give you five minutes to convince me to spend more time, but no more. You are one of a great many people who seek my attention, and there isn’t enough time in the day to deal with it all.  If you make me work too hard to figure it out, I won’t.  And often, despite how hard I work, I still can’t figure out what the hell you’re talking about because you are too filled with emotion to get to anything substantive.

No one is wrongfully convicted because you proclaim, “he was wrongfully convicted.” Tell me why. Tell me what about the conviction is wrongful.  If there is new evidence, tell me what it is. If there is a procedural glitch that prevents substantive review, tell me what it is. Give me hard information, not how deeply you feel about it. Sorry, but your passion means nothing to me. I need facts.

In the back of my head, I’m sure that I’ve deleted emails from people whose cases deserved attention.  I feel badly about it, but if I can’t figure out what the problem is in five minutes, I quit and move on.  I appreciate that you may not be a professional writer, or may not be well-educated and articulate. I really do, but that doesn’t change the amount of time I can give to your email or website.

And here’s the worst part: you may be absolutely correct that your loved one has been wrongfully convicted and is an innocent person. It happens. We have a deeply flawed system. But that doesn’t mean it can be proven, or that your swearing it’s true or passionate pleas make it a story worth telling.  I realize this seems callous and cruel, but there sometimes there isn’t anything that can be done about it.  I’m sorry for your suffering, but I won’t be able to help.


8 comments on “PSA: Pitching Innocence

  1. william doriss

    All of the above.
    Ten minutes would be better.
    BarleyCorn has the answer.
    OnlyMom will be disappointed-angry.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Obviously, for whatever time you are willing to allocate to help those who have gotten a particularly raw deal, you’d like to spend as small a fraction as possible separating the wheat from the chaff, to give you more time to help the wheat.

    I don’t know anything about how your business works, but I do know there are a few advocacy groups and also people on the government payroll, like public defenders. Would it be possible for you to forge a partnership where you send the crazy emails off to someone with more time and less legal expertise/experience, who could then perform triage and/or reach out and collect more information and distill it down for you?

  3. John Beaty

    There’s a moment in Season 1, Episode 2 of Sherlock, where a woman is strapped to a bomb and Sherlock is trying to figure out the mystery which will free her. Watson angrily asks, “Don’t you feel any emotion for her?”, And Sherlock’s reply: “Will it help her if I do? No? Then I’m glad not to waste my energy on it.”

    It sounds so cold. But all of us who help others, in whatever way we do, have to learn to do what helps, not what feels good. Thank you for helping me learn that hard lesson.

  4. Jim March

    I have helped several people document what went wrong with their cases and invariably they want to include each and every tiny detail, as those details are ingrained into their heads. Getting somebody who is a decent writer to look it all over and strip it down to the bare essentials is a vital first step.

    The very first one I did in 1997 was also what got me into political activism. As a test I’m going to see if I can condense it to 250 words…it’s an interesting case but nothing that needs attention now and the guy at the center of it is probably dead by now.

    Howard Bradley is the victim of a false claim of domestic violence. His ex-common-law wife wanted him out of the house for two reasons: his apparent case of colon cancer and his knowledge of her bank fraud as a mortgage officer. She filed a false claim of DV, got him thrown out and his guns seized by police, then once he was out of the state for treatment declared him dead when he wasn’t in order to raid his assets. She obtained the help of the same officer who served the restraining order in preparing a false judicial order to get Howard’s eight guns in police custody to her as Howard’s “widow” – the paper trail behind the guns is the clearest evidence of the scam but she also went after other assets this way including a 36ft sailboat, again backed with the word of the same cop. We have the complete paper trail behind the guns scanned and online, including a judicial order the judge claims she never signed. Once Howard found out he’d been declared dead he started to provide evidence otherwise while living in California; his ex’s response was to file a false claim of violation of the restraining order and new criminal charges all filed by the same cop who had served the original RO, faked a judicial order and declared Howard dead all over Portland OR. The latest charges are a bad joke. For the paper trail see also

    That block above is 244 words minus the URL per OpenOffice 4.0.1.

    Is this basically what you’re looking for?

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