Full disclosure: The author of this piece has worked as intern for The Reporters Inc., the journalism nonprofit in charge of the crowdfunding campaign for The Innocent Convicts
What do an ex-TV reporter from the Midwestern United States and a documentary maker from West Africa have in common?
Both were outraged by the Tim Cole story.
Most people aren’t familiar with Tim Cole’s name. Most don’t know that he was a military veteran or a student of Texas Tech University.
Tim Cole was convicted of raping a fellow Texas Tech student in 1986. He would spend the next 13 years in prison before dying there in 1999. Only in 2006 did the truth come out: he didn’t do it.
When Ossy Okoruwa heard the story, he knew he had to do something. Okoruwa moved to the United States from his native Nigeria in 2009 to study media strategies at Texas Tech University, where Tim Cole would have graduated. Okoruwa decided to make a film about Cole’s life and the injustices he suffered.
“Freedom is a precious thing,” Okoruwa said in a recent interview promoting the film. “We must work together to prevent the incarceration of innocent people.” Even independent film is not a truly independent venture. Okoruwa decided to work together with a multimedia nonprofit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota called The Reporters Inc. to raise money for the film. Executive director of The Reporters and former TV reporter for Fox News Chicago, Mark Saxenmeyer, suggested redirecting the film to include the stories of the many people who are estimated to be wrongfully convicted in the United States—1,667, according to The National Registry of Exonerations. This number probably represents only a fraction of those who are actually innocent but remain in jail.
Okoruwa and Saxenmeyer hope the film that they are in the midst of making will illuminate important issues of racial injustice that permeate our criminal justice system. They recently launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, under the banner The Innocent Convicts, to cover some of the costs of the film.
When the money comes in, Okoruwa is ready to continue working on his passion project. As he said in a recent interview: “Film is a powerful tool that can shine a blazing light of hope on every side of our lives darkened by injustice.”