Prisoners’ rights activist shares his story of wrongful imprisonment

Via Unsplash

Conor Moore | Contributing Writer

On March 30, speaker and advocate for prisoners’ rights Darren Tinker spoke at the Ryder Business Building about his experiences being convicted of a crime he did not commit.

His story was the last to be presented in Truly Free? Mass Incarceration, Prison Education, and Carceral Justice, a series of seminars designed to criticize the criminal justice system in an academic and informative way.

Tinker was joined by friends and fellow ex-convicts Wakan Blake and Oscar Williams, who also shared their experiences.

He began his story as more of a casual conversation, describing his adolescence as that of an average high schooler, working for his father’s company, which involved the foreclosure and selling of property.

However, Tinker would be tasked with menial work, sweeping floors, taking out garbage and running papers as a courier between the offices. 

“As an eighteen year-old, it was all I ever really wanted to do”, he remarked jokingly.

Tinker was then fired by his own father for his own self-admitted, “terrible work ethic. I was lazy.” He later enrolled in trade school as an electrician. With his life on track, everything seemed normal until one morning.

He alongside his family were awoken to the sound of multiple police squadrons surrounding their home. Tinker, his mother and father were arrested. At the county jail during his arraignment, it was revealed he had 163 charges against him. His parents had far more.

Allegedly, his father’s company had committed a scheme in which they committed massive fraud, but in the case of Tinker, he was at best a clerk. 

The only reason as to why he was dragged into the proceedings was because of his status as vice president of the firm, a title that was only given to him by his father because he wanted to keep the Tinker name in the company.

“The only reason the courts kept me around with all those charges was because they saw me as leverage.”

Tinker and his family were homeless for nearly a year while the legal process went on, barely being able to pay for lawyers.

Despite lack of evidence and the state attorneys nearly causing a mistrial, Tinker was sentenced to two consecutive sentences – twenty years in prison and ten with parole, while Tinker’s parents were still in county jail fighting the case.

He was transferred to an isolation cell, as prisoners given 20 years or more are placed on suicide watch temporarily.

“I didn’t know how to feel. In the movies, it’s dramatic, but when you’re in a cell alone for months on end, your mind simply can’t process what’s going on,” said Tinker.

After transferring to a state prison with other inmates, Tinker spoke of adapting to prison life, such as the constant strip-searching, terrible food and violence, but also described camaraderie between prisoners.

“Prisoners are often dehumanized in society. We just forget about them and move on”, he remarked. But he believes there is redemption to be found. 

Tinker talked about forming a step team in prison with his friends Wakan Blake and Oscar Williams, who became a dog trainer and barber, respectively.

Eventually, he was acquitted, but only after a three-year long process delayed by COVID-19 and other factors. You can read his acquittal trial case files here.

About 5% of inmates in the penal system are currently wrongfully convicted. 

When someone asked him how he dealt with being in prison for years, Tinker said, “You just have to deal with it. And make the most of it. You have to find some sort of joy, some sort of passion and find the right people to stick to. But mostly about finding any amount of joy in an environment like that.”

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