When another man confessed to the string of murders for which Davontae Sanford had been convicted, he felt that his long nightmare was over.
Arrested at age 14, Sanford had spent nine years in the Michigan corrections system. Now, with his conviction overturned, it appeared that he could once again return to his community and begin to piece his life together again.
But for Sanford, there remained one major obstacle that threatened to keep him behind bars, despite his revealed innocence.
During his stay in prison, Sanford had amassed $2,500 in legal fees from an incident where he had to be forcibly removed from his cell after indicating that he might attempt to hang himself. As he was being removed, Sanford kicked one of the corrections officers in the wrist and spit on another. He was originally sentenced to two additional years behind bars for assault, but was told that could be revoked if he paid the costs for the public defender and court fees for the subsequent legal proceedings.
Now, after being cleared of all the original charges, these fees were threatening to keep Sanford behind bars.
“I’m saying to myself, I don’t have this money. I can barely afford my bills,” Sanford’s mother, Taminko Sanford, says in an interview with National Public Radio. “How am I going to pay this money to get him out? I want him home. So it was like my back was against the wall.”
Sanford’s commissary account, usually used to purchase things like snacks or soap, or to call home, was being used to pay back the court fees. In the seven years since his charged assault, Sanford had been able to reduce the charges—from $2,500 to $2,145.
Fortunately for Sanford, an anonymous donor familiar with the case paid the court fees, and Sanford is now back at home with his family. And while he has plans to go back to school and to become independent, Sanford still has questions about the process that nearly kept him in jail, even after being exonerated. “I was in prison for a crime I didn’t commit, so if anybody should be paying something, it should be them,” he says.
The need for fair and just sentencing is an ongoing struggle across the country. Prison sentences should be proportionate, with a punishment that fits the crime, and an opportunity for those who have committed crimes to make amends for their wrongdoing. In cases like Davontae Sanford’s, where there has been a miscarriage of justice, every effort should be made to restore those harmed and return them as soon as possible to their communities. Prison Fellowship supports legislation, such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which will make punishment more just, will attempt to fix past injustices, and will better prepare those currently in prison to return to society. To learn more about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and how you can support it, click here.