Adam Braseel was wrongfully convicted of murder 14 years ago. Though he hasn’t been officially exonerated, he is out of prison now and beginning to put his life back together.
The wrongful imprisonment was caused by sloppy police work, prosecutors bent on victory, and the unhappy coincidence of the actual murderer looking like Braseel and driving the same color car. You can read about the case here, or listen to an excellent podcast here. What caught my attention was something Braseel said in an interview.
As nightmarish as the years in prison were, as much time as he lost, Braseel said his life right now is, well, almost blissful.
“I’m having the best days of my life out here,” he said.
He wasn’t talking about going fishing or taking a vacation or eating non-prison food. He was talking about things which go wrong.
“I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to get stuck in a traffic jam,” he said.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have a car. And to have the opportunity to lose my keys. It’s just a unique perspective on life now that I have.”
Here’s an audio clip, so that you can hear his voice:
What I like about Braseel’s story is that it makes me feel shame. Not the crappy, useless, everyday shame which many of us feel already, but the best kind of shame, the type you feel when contemplating someone who has really been screwed over, but who is not defeated or consumed by it.
When I see the grace and courage of that person, I think, Damn, if he can do that, I can definitely do better with whatever bullshit I’m worried about.
I had a similar feeling watching Love on the Spectrum, a reality TV show about autistic adults dating. I don’t know how the show was received by people with autism (or by those who love them or live with them). But from the outside, I felt awe and, yes, shame. The patience, courage, and good humor of the show’s participants floored me. The compounding awkwardness of dating and being filmed and trying diligently to learn the social cues and customs which may come naturally to others … it was a lot to ask. But the show’s participants kept showing up, kept giving their best effort, kept winning my heart over and over. Watching them, I thought, What the fuck do I have to complain about?
Maybe shame isn’t really the right word. Maybe it’s a mixture of wonder, admiration, and — when you boil it down — love. I feel all those things watching Love on the Spectrum, or listening to Braseel discuss his wrongful imprisonment.
I feel hope, too, because the courage of others reminds me that whatever may happen to me, I still have a choice. I can respond with anger, grievance, isolation, sadness — my favorite responses! — or I can aim higher. I can choose, as Adam Braseel does, radical gratitude.
The Tennessee Parole Board has voted unanimously to recommend exoneration for Braseel, which would remove the felony from his record. The final decision is up to Gov. Bill Lee.
Braseel is now 38. He was imprisoned at age 24.
The audio clip above is from the Criminal podcast, hosted by Phoebe Judge. The episode “Red Hair, Gold Car” aired on Feb. 7, 2020.