Cornelius Dupree, is a tall, well-built, and articulate. He fiddles with his iPhone enough to know the basics but– like many baby boomers– does not text. He is shy.
His first day out of prison he married Thelma.
“My wife didn’t really know me before I went to prison,” Dupree says. “The AIDS, the crack, the shootings with the gangs. If I had been out, at the rate that I was going, at 19-years-old, I would’ve been affected by some of that or one of those. There’s a strong possibility. And I believe that God preserved me so I can carry on his word, and let people know that God is the reason.”
Dupree’s first six months out of jail were spent on house arrest. He was out on parole and waiting while the DNA samples were retested in order to ensure that his innocence was valid. He, however, believes, it was a good way to adapt to the outside world. It happened gradually. He did laundry, cooked, cleaned the house, and waited for his wife to come home every night. The time spent at home helped him acclimate to organizing his life on the outside. He, for the first time, had the freedom to create his own daily routine.
In June, Dupree will begin to receive the $2.4 million that the state of Texas awarded him as compensation for time spent behind bars per the Tim Cole Compensation Act of Texas. $80,000 for every year spent behind prison. He Dupree will also receive a lifetime annuity in the form of $15,000 to $20,000 a month for the rest of his life.
Dupree attends Texas Southern University, gives speeches, and talks to juveniles–whom he sees himself in; a reflection of sorts. “I never would’ve dreamed that I would be on this side of the spectrum,” he says. “If someone would’ve came and talked to me, that would’ve made a dramatic difference in my life.”
He gives the speeches because he believes they may enlighten people. Dupree looks into the eyes the young men he speaks with and thinks that many of them truly feel the impact of what he says. “When you go to prison, they don’t just hurt you,” Dupree sincerely expresses. “They hurt your family: your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother.”
Fifteen years from now Cornelius dreams of running into some of the boys he speaks with and sees how strong they have become. He wants to see them become men. He wants them to tell him how he was able to impact their lives.
Dupree would not change a single event in his life. It brought out the best in him. It forced him to evaluate himself internally from a different perspective. Adversity was a didactic event for him; Cornelius realized his strengths, how resilient he truly is. “People ask me how did I do it, going 30 years. I can’t explain it,” he says. “And when people say, ‘I don’t think I could do it.’ Well, I say, you’ve never been tested.”
The Innocence Project’s 20th anniversary benefit, A Celebration of Freedom & Justice, is held at the Waldorf Astoria. You are asked to speak. It is May 2012. You are 52-years-old.
You prepare a five-minute speech—which is much longer than it seems– to expose the causes of wrongful convictions and raise public awareness about the faults of the criminal justice system. Citizen participation is an essential factor to getting closer to obtaining justice. There are hundreds of people listening
Selma attends the gala with you. She has an interview with a novelist to share her side of the story; to share her truth. She is the woman of the exonerated. She is your woman. She was once the lover of a rapist. She is now the wife of a hero.
You never stopped dreaming that one day you would get feel the sun on your terms. That day came and went. You aren’t angry, you are grateful. You are resilient. You are a man. You dedicate your time to others. The bad times, when someone else’s version of the truth resonated, is left behind. You are living life; free to take all the walks you want to take, reading all the books you want to read, and seeing all the friends you’d like to see. Life is too short to waste time looking back and demand an explanation. You don’t live in the past. You keep going and make new memories. You stick to your version of the truth.
You are Cornelius Dupree.