Karen Brown / NEPR
For 27 years, Mark Schand remained in his prison jail in Massachusetts and traced the retail empire he envisioned well before his arrest.
"I was lying on the bed, eyes wide open, looking at the ceiling, thinking of a color scheme and describing the uniform," Schand said.
Today, five years after the cancellation of the murder conviction by a judge and two years after a highly controversial settlement by the state, Schand may finally call a business man. You can find him behind the counter at his Sweetwater Smoothies Store in New Britain, Connecticut. Some days he receives assistance from his 5-year-old granddaughter.
"Say thank you!" She reminds her then that she brings a smoothie to a customer.
At 54, Schand is heavily tattooed, lean and muscular – a fitness and nutrition enthusiast after three decades in prison. ("The food is awful," he said, "everything is dehydrated.")
This business is supposed to boost a career, said Schand, who was stolen from him at the age of 19. In the months leading up to his arrest, he was preparing to open his first clothing store.
"I signed a lease, I had my LLC," he said. "If I had not been locked up, where would I be now?"
Schand has always insisted that he was nowhere near the 1986 shootout at a disco in Springfield, Mass., Which killed a 25-year-old. For decades, his lawyers have argued that the witnesses were forced. In 2013, new evidence convinced a judge to let him go.
Like many exonerated across the country, Schand was not eligible for any vocational training, tuition assistance or other reintegration services available to people on parole. He was able to get monetary compensation from the state to fuel his smoothies business, but only after a long fight.
He had to accept manual work at UPS and a firearms manufacturer. The work was hard on his back and he was tired of the long hours dictated by a boss. It was not exactly the same as the prison, but it was not different enough.
"I plan to never work for another person again, if I can help," he said.
But to start his own business, Schand needed money and no bank would give him a loan. He sued the cities of Springfield and Hartford, but it could take years.
In Massachusetts, Schand did not obtain reintegration services, but was granted a remedy under a law that allowed compensation for up to $ 500,000 at the time for those who had been wrongfully convicted.
In the beginning, Schand thought that the state would correct his wrong without a fuss. But instead, according to his lawyer John Thompson, the Attorney General's office has chosen to plead his case – and plead hard. "They did as much work and problems as possible," Thompson said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said that she could understand the frustration, but that her office was bound by contradictory law.
"Some might look and say," If the court decides to release that person, then why not just write the check? "Said Healey. "But the law only allows recovery if that person has established – proved – the actual innocence."
As is often the case in many states, the tax-exempt must go back to court to prove that they are not held to technical problems, a process that takes time and money. resources.
"We found that the law was not working as expected," said Patricia Jehlen, a senator from the state of Massachusetts, who co-drafted the compensation law in 2004. Thus, the law last year – partly because of the Schand case – she helped rewrite it.
Now, people wrongfully convicted in Massachusetts can get up to $ 1 million in compensation, as well as training, health care and other reintegration services. Their claims are subject to prompt court proceedings and the state pays the attorney fees.
Massachusetts is one of nine states that have recently expanded or created new laws on compensation, according to the New York-based Innocence Project.
But across the country, pay systems vary widely. Texas is one of the most generous. It offers $ 80,000 a year and an annual payment coming soon. At the other end of the spectrum, New Hampshire caps total compensation at $ 20,000, regardless of the length of incarceration. Montana offers help with education, but no money. Seventeen States still have no restitution law.
"Pushing for monetary compensation for a very small constituency is politically very difficult," said Rebecca Brown, policy director for the Innocence project. "We are competing with other budget items such as pensions and road works."
The Brown organization recommends a "gold standard" of $ 64,000 in compensation per year of incarceration, with more for those illegally detained on death row.
Brown would like at the very least that each state offers cash payment and reinstatement services as soon as an inmate's sentence is rescinded, as well as a less onerous process to obtain full compensation.
"When people come out of jail, they have nothing," Brown said. "So, they are really in this no man's land in limbo, waiting for the most basic sustenance."
Mark Schand did not see a penny of restitution for three years. When his case was finally settled in 2017, he found himself, after the lawyer's fees, with $ 300,000, or about $ 11,000 for each year spent in jail. While this covers the start-up costs of her smoothies business, Schand does not consider payroll as a "start-up" subsidy. He considers this a moral debt.
"They should compensate because they have hurt you," said Schand. "And they can not give you back your years, so pulling me out and incarcerating me for [almost] 30 years, the money they gave me means nothing. "
Schand relies on his business acumen to make a living. Sweetwater has been successful enough for Schand to open a second site last year and is planning a third one.
Meanwhile, he says his past in jail has not hurt trade, and that might even help. His successful smoothie – pineapple, ginger and lemon – called "The Linda and John Thompson", according to the lawyers who helped him get it out of jail. (Another favorite is the "Centurion Freedom" – mango, raspberry and almond milk – in honor of the non-profit organization that advocated for his release.)
Ultimately, he would like to hire ex-inmates who come out of prison – innocent and guilty – as long as they can make good smoothies.