Anyone who visits a state prison will be amazed at the number of inmates who proclaim their innocence. At first, Ross sounded just like the rest of them. He claimed innocence when he was arrested and when he was sentenced. On Monday, after nearly seven years in prison, he talked about relief.
Freedom, it's something many people take for granted, a state of mind exercised by an act as simple as deciding where and when to go to lunch. At the law office on Monday, Ross was still not taking it for granted. "Man, it's a wonderful thing, you know?" he said. Last Friday, he walked free in clean air for the first time since 2006 after an Alameda County judge set aside his conviction for attempted murder in a West Oakland neighborhood. As it turned out, a witness misidentified a photograph. "It took five years and seven months to win Ronald's freedom," said Linda Starr with the Northern California Innocence Project.
"I'm just like a newborn baby, got to take one step at a time," Ross said. His lawyers describe him as being remarkable in spirit with no anger and no desire to get back at a system that wrongly incarcerated him. Everyone wants to know, will he sue? Ross would not say. Right now, the going rate for wrongful conviction in the state of California is $100 a day, take it or leave it but first, you have to fight for it. "It's terribly unfair," Starr said.
"It's our experience that it isn't that easy to get them to pay because we have to prove that Ronald is innocent," said attorney Elliot Peters at Keker & Van Nest.
"If you've been in prison for that you've done, you are entitled to services of parole. But if you've been in for something that you haven't done, you get nothing, no parole, no services, no anything. And the state should take care of you for that," Starr said.
That's all in the future for Ross who says he wants to spend the rest of his years helping troubled youth. The question now is who, if anyone, will help him? Asked who he sees when he looks in the mirror, he said, "I see a whole different person than I used to be, a whole lot different... I love him, now."
If Ross does choose to ask for that $100 per day for almost seven years, his lawyers say they will do the work pro bono. Ironically, California may spend more money on its lawyers than on the settlement.