In honour of Wrongful Conviction Day: one wrongfully convicted person’s story

By Ron Dalton

I have spent the last few days in the presence of two dying relatives and consider it a privilege to have done so. It has been a profoundly moving experience and has given me occasion to refocus on the value of the limited time we all have in life.

Our sense of loss

My experiences as a wrongly convicted individual tend to colour my reflections on the value of every minute of every day. I wish I could say those experiences have given me the clarity of focus to make the most of each precious moment.

However, I can say those experiences have helped to increase my evaluation of life’s moments and sharpen the sense of loss I – and I suspect the sense of loss that most wrongly convicted people – live with each day.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with many wrongfully convicted individuals and share some of our mutual sense of loss over the many days and years lost to injustice.

Trusting my own self-worth

Surprisingly, many of the men and women I have spoken with express the feeling that the experience of wrongful conviction was not entirely negative, although we all agree the overall experience was decidedly so.

Personally, I found when all else was taken from me I learned to appreciate and trust my own sense of self worth. I was truly the only person who knew, with absolute certainty, I was innocent.

I remain extremely grateful to my friends and family members who believed in my innocence and worked tirelessly to help me prove it. Yet I took most solace from the sure and certain knowledge of my innocence that I alone possessed – the truth is a powerful companion in times of darkness.

Honouring my obligation to others

Having endured the fires of wrongful conviction and come out the other side somewhat charred, but nonetheless relatively whole, I feel an obligation to those left behind in similar circumstances. I attempt to honour this obligation – in balance with the demands of family life and working for a living.

The fact of the matter is, I am also limited by the amount of wrongful conviction work my damaged psyche can handle. I find it a combination of well intentioned effort and often unpleasant memories.

As a wrongly convicted individual who has had the good fortune to finally be set free, I feel a need to do what I can to help free others. But I realize I am limited in the abilities I can contribute to such efforts.

Wrong is wrong

I do believe the recognition of the issue we are trying to bring to public attention with Wrongful Conviction Day can assist in raising awareness of the increasingly well-documented problem of wrongful convictions in Canada and elsewhere.

Simply put, wrong is wrong. We all have an obligation to right the wrongs which come to our attention and do what we can to prevent (or at least correct, when they occur) future wrongful convictions which serve to weaken our criminal justice system and lower our collective faith in fundamental truth and justice.

Newfoundlander Ron Dalton spent more than eight years in prison, charged with second-degree murder of his wife. His conviction was based on the findings of a local pathologist with no formal training in forensic pathology. It stole 12 years from his life, and led to two trials, an appeal, a lawsuit a public inquiry into his case, and two other wrongful convictions.