The past few months there is a word–no, actually two words–that have been bothering me: perception and assumption. These words can cause a person’s entire life to be changed forever. I recently heard of an innocent man, Michael Morton, who spent 20 years in prison for the murder of his wife because of perceptions and assumptions.
When the police showed up at the crime scene, Michael wasn’t even there, but being the spouse automatically makes him a suspect. When he arrived home, the police questioned him and he was very co-operative. Shortly after that time, Michael knew they only suspected him and, no matter what he did, they were certain he was guilty.
At his trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to prison. The sad part of the story is that once the Innocence Project got involved and after many years of fighting for evidence to be tested he was found innocent–having spent time in prison, where he should never have been. His son had to grow up without either of his parents, because some officers at his local police department assumed he was guilty–their perception all along was there was no reason to really investigate.
This reminds me of my story, when I was in a similar boat. My brother committed two murders and, when he was arrested, the police assumed that I was also involved. Their perception was that because I was close to my brother and he lived with me, I had to be involved. A certain detective spent years on the case until he managed to get the arrest warrant, because his perception told him that I was guilty.
Fortunately for me, when I went to trial, I was found not guilty–therefore justice was served. However that doesn’t really matter at this point in my life. Because of the assumptions and perceptions by this officer, my life as I knew it is gone. It has taken me over a year to get any kind of job because the internet is the easiest way to find out about anyone. My name is Googled, the story comes out, and perceptions and assumptions begin–what ends is my chance of getting most jobs because prospective employers perceive me as dangerous and lucky to have not ended up in prison.
Innocent until proven guilty is a great concept, however, in my experience it is not how things truly are. It is hard to hold your head high when you wonder if people recognize you and perceive you as a murderer.
If there is one thing I wish that I could teach people, it would be to wait for the facts and not go on your assumptions and perceptions. Remember those two words can ruin a life, and at any time yours could be next. I never dreamed something like this could ever happen to me, but it did.
I hope that Michael Morton can reunite with his son and move on. However for me there will be no reuniting with my family because of these perceptions, and moving on is so very hard. The world will always perceive someone who has been arrested as guilty because the assumption is that cops only arrest those who are guilty. Too bad most Americans just don’t realize how many innocent people are behind bars. Will those people ever get the opportunity for their freedom? I hope and pray so.
I also hope and pray that someday all people leave their perceptions and assumptions behind, and that they look at the facts and search for the truth. Too many lives are changed and ruined because of those two words. I wish my best to Michael Morton and his son, and I hold onto a glimmer of hope that before I die maybe, just maybe, my sister will sit and talk with me.
Perception and assumption ruined what little I have left of my family. I wish that no one else has to experience that.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty From Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty From Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Fear of Our Father – Berkley Books, 2013
Emmy nominated BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame