The Problem of Abandoning Those Incarcerated

I recently listened to a Serial podcast in which a boy named Adnan Syed was accused of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Lee. There was much controversy over this case because the victim was a white girl, and the families of Adnan and Hae Lee were vocally unsupportive of the relationship. When Hae Lee went missing, her parents immediately accused Adnan of the murder, yet no one else in the community ever considered this true. Adnan had been a perfect student, athlete, worker, and was popular in the community.  He’s been in prison since 1995, and adamantly claims that he’s innocent.

After Adnan was arrested, he received letters from a girl named Asia, saying that she saw him at the library during the time in which Hae Lee was being murdered. She backed up Adnan’s alibi. Adnan gave these letters to his lawyer, who failed to contact the girl and disregarded the letters. Weeks later, Asia recanted her statement and refused to testify in court to backup Adnan’s alibi. According to her, she didn’t want to help let a murdered go free. Yet, she first claimed that she saw Adnan at the library during the time in which Hae Lee was being murdered. Asia is the only person who could prove Adnan’s innocence, but she refused to bring her information to the court.

After the finale of the Serial podcast, it was never revealed that Adnan Syed didn’t kill Hae Lee for 100% certainty. However, the Innocence Project will continue to pursue the case in court. The biggest issue that they’ve been facing is the unwillingness of the people in Adnan’s life to help him. “Well if it’s not Adnan, who was it?” one of his friends commented. Before Adnan was convicted, the entire community was behind him, protesting for his innocence. He was described as a model student and loyal friend. Yet, as soon as he was convicted, the entire community turned on him. To listen to Adnan’s full story click here.

Adnan is struggling to find justice because so many people who he used to count on for support have left his side. As soon as he was incarcerated in the justice system, even his friends accepted his guilt, which they never before did. At what point in time do we assume that everyone behind bars is guilty? If Adnan is innocent, then are the real guilty people the ones who stopped fighting for him? This connects to the problem of race in the justice system. Once convicted, that person is immediately considered guilty. Do you think this only increases wrongful convictions? Do you guys have thoughts on this?

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One thought on “The Problem of Abandoning Those Incarcerated

  1. So I actually wrote one of my other blog posts on Serial too! (literally such a good podcast I can’t wait to listen to the follow up one they’re coming out with!) Anyway, I had never thought about the idea you bring up and I’m really interested in it. I’ll try to get down some of my thoughts and answers to your questions. Bear with me.

    First of all, I think it’s really hard to break embedded norms. Obviously right? Like even now, after taking this class, when I hear that someone is in jail, I automatically assume that they did something illegal, regardless of race. I think that Americans have such blind faith in the judicial system that when these questions of innocence come up, it’s easier to assume the individual is guilty, rather than the system.

    There’s also this idea of exceptionalism that we’ve touched on in other contexts but I think is also applicable here–maybe under a different term I don’t know. It’s the idea that the one person who is actually innocent is the exception rather than the norm. If Adnan is innocent than he is defying the norm of wrongful conviction and would thus be regarded as a hero and a truly unique individual who had to suffer because of a terrible mistake..but of course the mistake is not the system’s fault. It would be a faulty witness or wrongful evidence but never the system’s fault. I think that because of this, it’s easier for Adnan’s friends to believe in his guilt rather than the system’s faulty set up. Because then the system would remain in tact and Adnan would be the only one who suffers. But when it’s a country wide institutional problem…how do you fix that?

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