Wrongfully Imprisoned Man Is Lucky to Get $25K From State

prisonIt's hard not to feel for Rommain Steven Isham. The Minnesota man was wrongly imprisoned for 10 years on a child sex assault charge in Wisconsin. Now the state says Isham is owed just $25,000 for all his pain and suffering. And here's the kicker: the state might just be right.

Yes, there was an injustice here. No man should sit in a prison cell for something he did not do. But who pays when a little boy lies on the stand and everyone believes him? The child? Not likely. The state? Well, why is it the taxpayer's fault?

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Isham was accused of molestation by the 8-year-old son of his then-girlfriend, a charge prosecutors -- not surprisingly -- took seriously. They convicted him on the merits of what sounded like a pretty awful thing. Isham ended up spending 10 years in prison. Inside, he says life was hellish. Color me not surprised. No one likes someone who hurts kids, least of all criminals. Outside it isn't a heck of a lot better -- no one wants to employ a child molester or befriend one.

But then the child, now a 28-year-old man, found his conscience. He recanted, and explained that his biological father was abusive and pushed him to maintain the lie. The conviction against Isham was vacated. It's no longer on his record. But when he asked the Wisconsin Claims Board for $3.65 million ($1,000 for each day he was in prison), they said no. They allotted him $25,000, the maximum amount allowed without legislative intervention.

As a human being who feels for Isham, I want to say that's wrong. I want him to be set up for life with a nice house on five acres with a white picket fence and a labradoodle. The $25,000 figure sounds like a slap in the face.

But if the state takes the blame here, what does that say about our system?

We're hardwired to take seriously a child's allegations of sexual abuse because kids need to be protected. Their vulnerability makes it hard not to prosecute this kind of case to the fullest extent of the law. The state was right to represent a child presenting a need.

But the sad irony is that their very youth is what makes for cases just like Isham's. A kid can't protect him or herself from a sexual predator. But a kid can't protect him or herself from an abusive adult manipulating them to lie in a courtroom.

In that sense, $25,000 is a gift. Because you can't blame a little boy. You can't really blame the state. So who do you blame?

 

Image via Tim Pearce, Los Gatos/Flickr

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