This is Julia with Prison: The Hidden Sentence™. I’m here today with Janet from Louisiana and she has a loved one who’s incarcerated. She’s become close with the family while her loved one, Jerome, is incarcerated, and talks about the Faces of Innocence. Janet is going to share with us how she’s been affected by his incarceration, as well as how it affects his children and other family members.
“…they saw their dad coming down the aisle, and he had shackles, and he was chained. His daughter, Rebecca, said, “At that moment, all I could think about was, my dad, my dad, and I got up and ran over there.” Her dad looked at her with tears in his eyes, and he just said, “Baby, don’t worry about it. It’ll be all right.” And she said, “It wasn’t.”
Listen to interview here:
Transcript (edited for readability):
Julia: Janet, could you start with providing us background about how you met Jerome?
Janet: Well, I’ve known his family for about 20 years. I didn’t ever know about him, and I didn’t know him. He’s younger than I am, and I actually met him through my best friend, who was at one time his stepmother, so it’s all confusing. But, yes, she was my best friend, and she introduced me to him one day when we went to visit. And, we just became really good friends, and things just happened. We felt like we were growing stronger and stronger.
Then I started helping him with some of his paperwork and stuff like that. I would bring it home and just file it away. I have about five boxes of files, actually, solid paperwork, dated back since 1992, when he was arrested. I started going through his paperwork. I didn’t know anything about law. I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for to begin with, but somehow it was all laid out. And it’s been a long process. I’ve been working on this for almost three years, not knowing the first thing about law.
But you go with your heart, and you go with your gut. I felt I was just led through all of it. I know that it has become more than just one person. It’s not about just the wrong, but it’s about the thousands of families, and the thousands of others that are incarcerated.
Julia: Just to clarify, Jerome is your loved one that’s incarcerated.
Julia: Could you give us a little background about the family, and maybe what it was like before then?
Janet: He was raised one of many poor children. He had five brothers, one sister. His mom died when he was seven. His dad was a boat captain and was gone most of the time. He just stayed with relatives. They all did after their mom died. They all just went with relatives, boys’ homes, whoever would take them. And even back then, he felt like he was nothing but their workhorse because he always has worked for everything that he has.
The kids were like most kids that lived around them. They didn’t know they were poor because they lived the same way everybody else did. They didn’t know that they were poor or that they didn’t have things until somebody took them and showed them a whole different world. And, it’s just a hard thing, I know for a fact. When everybody goes to school, the first day of school, everybody wears new clothes. He got to wear what was handed down to him. When his shoes were too old to wear, they had gray duct tape around him. And he rode the Little Yellow Bus his whole life, going to school.
I’m really proud of him. When he went to prison he had a third grade reading comprehension. He now holds three college diplomas, numerous certificates, technical licenses. He is a landscape horticulture contractor, which means once he comes home all he has to do is pay for his contractor’s license. He’s worth a whole lot more than the four cents that he makes an hour now, even 26 years later. He’s a mentor at the school that teaches horticulture. He works with students, and he usually takes the ones that are slow and hard to learn because they’re most like him. He has patience. He knows they’re not stupid, and he is able to work with them because of that.
He grows the Louisiana moss grass that’s needed to save our wetlands. He is over the project at the prison, which is the first prison in the United States to have any such program. That coastal wetlands is his baby. He works hard. He brings in a lot of money for the prison, for the college, the school that’s there, and he’s very humble, very, very humble. I don’t think he has a proud bone in his body. He’s taught me a lot.
Julia: What do you think motivated him to do all this coming from where he came from? And then, when you came in and started supporting him, when I say support, I mean, as a person to person, were there any changes or help that you think was provided by you or others? Or, did he self-motivate?
Janet: He was always doing the yards and stuff around the outer camps where he was at. A bishop at the college spoke up for him and got with some of the other individuals that are there, that are in charge. And they agreed for him to be able to move to the main prison, which is where he’s at. And he was able to start school. God knows he was hardheaded. His teacher described him as, like when you’re trying to kill a chicken, how you step on its head and you pull its legs. He said sometimes that’s what it was like.
And he sort of just adopted Jerome, and he was determined that, he knew that he had it in him; Jerome had it in him to do it, and he was not going to give up. He did not give up on him. And he pushed and they would buck heads and just about fistfight, but Mr. B kept him there and kept him straight. And Mr. B is on my speed dial on my phone. He took to Jerome like his own child. And he was determined that that man was going to succeed.
He taught him that he was able to do it. He taught him something about pride, and ability within his self, no matter. He grew up with everybody calling him poor little retarded boy, that he would never amount to nothing. He’s the only one to graduate, the only one with a college degree. And, the rest of them work hard, but he became something. He says all the time, “My dad would be proud because my dad always told me, boy you can do anything you want to. Just a matter of doing it.” And his grandpa and grandma, they worked him hard in the gardens, and he loved what he did. He loves living off the land. That’s what he did before he went in there. It was nothing for him to trap or fish for crabs, shrimp, whatever, to be able to provide for them. He was young, his wife was young. They had four kids in three and-a-half years, and life was hard.
Jerome was convicted of three counts of aggravated rape against his natural children. He was charged, he was arrested, and his wife was also charged and arrested. And, they sat in jail for seven months while the investigations happened. The children went through counseling for a month before any accusations were made. His two oldest children, Rebecca, his daughter, and Christopher, they testified against him in court.
Julia: What were the ages of the children again?
Janet: One, three, four and five.
Julia: So, the four and five-year-old testified?
Janet: Yes, they would have been four and five at that time.
Julia: So, where were the children when both of their parents were taken into custody, what happened to the children? That must have been so horrible for them.
Janet: Well, that’s kind of where it all began. Jerome and his wife separated, and they were each trying to get on their own feet. They were young, 23, 24 years old, and couldn’t neither one of them take care of the four kids. They allowed relatives that were willing to take care of them, which, we all do that down here. I think most people do; I don’t know. Maybe it’s a Cajun thing?
Julia: I understand that Jerome and his wife separated, they were incarcerated, and the children were put with family members. And then the children went through counseling. And then they pressed charges. Was Jerome and his wife, or ex-wife incarcerated then? Or were they out of prison when they pressed the charges?
Janet: Okay, let me start with this. Jerome and his wife [now ex-wife] split up in June of 1991. The children then went to live with grandparents and relatives that agreed to just take the kids for a while until they could get things worked out. While all of this was going on, the relatives had the children, and the great grandmother wanted Jerome’s daughter to live with her, so, she was allowed to do that. That grandmother also allowed her to live with an adoptive family without anyone’s knowledge or permission. They, in turn, told another family about two of the boys, because the baby was already with somebody else in the family. These people came in and they offered to help to take care of the children for a while. They didn’t have any children, and they had room, so Jerome and his ex-wife let them go there.
That’s when they found out that Rebecca had already been living with somebody for a few months. His ex-wife’s grandmother allowed the children to initially go and live with these people. She encouraged the boys to stay with this couple, because they didn’t have any children. They had the room, they had the means. Then we have found recently, with documents, that these three children were all illegally adopted. They were adopted in under 90 days.
Julia: When you say they’re illegally adopted is there a proof to that? Is there anything in the court or is it just something that the family believes that it wasn’t done right?
Janet: No, it’s a document. Pretty much nothing that I say can’t be documented. It all comes straight from the paperwork.
Julia: What I’m still not clear on is, what happened to Jerome? Is he out of prison or is he sitting in jail waiting to go to court while all this is happening?
Janet: All of that happened in 1991. The children were living with grandparents. The charges surfaced in 1992. The adoptions were done in one parish and the parents lived in another. The parents’ rights were terminated before they were ever notified about the adoptions. The adoptions had already been done by the time Jerome and his ex-wife even found out. And Jerome said that he was going to fight the adoptions because he was under the impression that he could have them back within a year’s time and that’s not what happened. They never were, his rights were never terminated by or before a judge with him there, so he was never called for that meeting.
Julia: So, he had already lost his children, and then he was charged with abusing his children?
Janet: Yes. And I mean, and that’s, in my opinion, that’s not even fathomable, because to me, if you take a one-year-old child or even a three-year-old child, and an adult abuses them in that way, that’s bound to tear, scar, if not kill a child that age. That’s not something that, to me, is even possible without severe injury.
Julia: They’re saying there was no physical?
Janet: No. The daughter had a wearing away. Everything else was intact. Come to find out after she got older, it’s a congenital deformity, so there was no evidence there, either.
Julia: When were you able to talk to the children? When did you get close to them again?
Janet: Well, I’ve been there almost four years now. His children were very apprehensive. His daughter is very protective. And I don’t know. Actually, one of the uncles that I know is one of Dwight’s uncles. And he told the daughter that she ought to give me a chance, that maybe I could do something. So she did. And she calls me Mama J.
Julia: I knew you told me that you call him Dwight, also. And so, he, Jerome, maintained a relationship with his children while he was incarcerated even though they were adopted? Or did they get in touch with him later?
Janet: His daughter’s adopted parents never tried to interfere with her going to see them. And so she’s had a relationship ongoing with her dad for, since she was eight years old. She’s 32 now.
Julia: Who went with her, though? I mean, she couldn’t go alone.
Janet: She would go with Jerome’s dad or his brothers. Rebecca’s old enough to remember that part of the family. She remembers her grandpa taking her. She remembers a lot. She’s got quite an affidavit.
Julia: Well, it’s good Jerome had family members visiting, but it must have affected his whole family. Was it in the news?
Janet: Well, the thing is, is that never came out in the news. It never came out in court. His ex-wife and him were under the same indictment. They wanted them to plea and Jerome refused to plea. The lawyers then separated the indictment. When they got her [Jerome’s ex-wife] off to herself, she did take a plea. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in her shoes for anything. She was 24 years old. It’s the first time she’s ever had anything to do with law, and all of a sudden they’re telling her she’s going to die in prison. Louisiana carries a mandatory life sentence for each charge. That’s why Jerome has three counts. He was found, and get this, guilty on three but not guilty on one. How do you convict a man with the same evidence you just used against him to, I’ll say, exonerate him from a situation? I mean, you just said you had proof… I just don’t understand.
Julia: Let’s talk about the children. The daughter has a relationship with him, but what about the other boys? Do they have a relationship with their dad?
Janet: There’s the baby, and then there was Shane, and then Christopher.
I have a very good relationship with them, and Dwight has an excellent relationship with them. Not so much Shane anymore, but with Chris and Rebecca. Chris goes with me to go see him. Rebecca goes to see him when she can and they talk on the phone, email, that kind of stuff. It’s hard for Rebecca to go up there. I don’t think it ever gets easy. Four years, it still isn’t easy, so it’s hard for her to go.
One thing that I want to point out, that I think that most people don’t realize, and I actually think this is most important. People have no idea the damage that they do to these children. These are the faces of innocence. The children of not only wrongfully convicted but of all incarcerated parents. Some people stop at no cost for a conviction. I think personally that the cost is way too high. Jerome’s daughter will tell you, “It does not matter what I try to self-medicate with, nothing will ever take away the pain that I feel. Nothing will ever take away the guilt that I took my dad’s life away, that he’s in prison because I lied.”
And she’s been trying to, since she was eight years old, to get him out. And nobody will listen. She’s got an affidavit that’s about eight pages long, actually. She remembers quite a bit, but as an adult, she’s a functioning dysfunction. Christopher is a vet. He has served two tours in Baghdad, Iraq. He’s seen some horrible things. He says the war that he did there, at least it had a purpose. At least there was a mission. But the war that goes on inside of him every day, that causes this boy to be suicidal, nobody could ever know that.
Nobody will ever know that pain. Nobody will ever know the tears that I spent, the hours crying with these babies. And I know, I met Shane, actually, Shane was in the parish jail here. And he says super mom. I come in and these kids mean the world to me, and no different than my own six. There’s not anything that I wouldn’t do for one that I wouldn’t do for all of them. All my grandkids, all great grandkids. Ah, I got five of them.
Julia: Your home must be filled with love and it’s so great that they have you. And, I just wonder, how their lives would have been different. We just don’t know. My heart just goes out to them. There’s over five million children in the United States that have or had an incarcerated parent. And that’s way too many for these kids. And they’re adults, and people don’t realize that when things happen, or some people probably realize, but when things happen when you’re young, it stays with you, and it affects you.
Janet: It does.
It’s like you can see a homeless person on the street and walk right by them and never know that they’re there. And I think a lot of times, that’s kind of how people do us. Because what we have to say is not something that people would ever dream that could happen to them. This is the United States. If Dwight was so bad, why did the prosecutor offer him down to 10 years? And I tell you, it is, from day one, he said, “I didn’t do this, and I’ll never say that I did.” That’s one of the things that his children are so proud of him for. He’s never wavered on that. And he wouldn’t now. If they came to him and said, “You can go home tomorrow if you said you did this.” That man will die right there where he’s at, because freedom ain’t free.
Julia: And this is just my curiosity, because, and I’m sure you guys have addressed this, now, once the children are 18, what rights do they have to go back to the court to recant or to change or to appeal?
Janet: This has all been sitting before a judge since June of last year. We filed post-conviction release. Rebecca’s been recanting since she’s eight years old. Her first time in court was at nine years old. Whenever they went for the evidentiary hearing, the district attorney says what, “What? You’re going to tell us Rebecca’s recanting again? We already know that.” But, his son had been recanting, too. We just didn’t know that.
Julia: What would help the children? What would help Jerome? What can people do?
Janet: Right now? I spoke with a retired judge, actually. And he said, “This case has two entirely different roads, because you got one road, you got to get him out. Then you got another road if you choose to pursue going after all these people that did it. The most important thing at this point is to get him out.” That judge said that one of the best things that, if it was to come before him, he would like to see a forensic psychologist report on what they’re saying now. To dispute what was said in the other ones, when they were children. I mean, they went to counseling from, was in May of one year, until, Jerome went to court in March of 1993. They had gone from, all that time, from 1992 to 1993, so they had been in counseling at least a year if not more.
In the report, Rebecca says, she’s talking to the therapist, and she was crying. And the therapist asked her, she said, “Well, why are you so upset?” She said, “Because I’m afraid. I don’t want to go to court. I’m afraid I’m not going to remember the big words for the bad stuff.” My opinion is, if they were her words, why wouldn’t she remember them? Of course, none of that was introduced. Nobody’s yet ever even introduced this psychologist’s reports. And in fact, the district attorney in 2004 said, “I’ve never heard of her.” I don’t know how that’s possible since she witnessed the warrant that arrested him in 2013. That was another attorney that was involved.
He has a lot of records that Jerome didn’t know he had. Nobody knew that he had. He filed for a writ of mandamus and got that, so the records were finally released. In 2016 is the first time we saw the files that had been in the sheriff’s office. They weren’t part of the DA file, but unless you specifically ask department by department, please don’t think they’re going to cooperate with you. Because that’s not going to happen. Don’t let anybody be fooled by that. You’re going to get exactly what you asked for, and that’s only because of the Freedom of Information Act.
A lot of people come to me and want advice and stuff like that. I tell them, “I don’t have any way to give no advice. I’m not any kind of legal representative or nothing like that.” But then people want to know, “Well, how do we go about getting their loved one, the media out? Getting the buzz out, so to speak?” And, a lot of people are there, like me, act like they don’t have any other life. But then there are some that, “Oh, you mean, I have to do the work? I have to write Freedom of Information?” Yes. Yes. When you go to court and you are going pro se, your own attorney, that is what you do.
Julia: And one of the things you were saying, and I just got stuck on it and I didn’t want to interrupt you, you said that forensic psychologist?
Janet: Psychologist, yes.
Julia: Is that somebody you have to pay to get that report?
Janet: We don’t know exactly what the fee is. They are pretty expensive because they are experts in the field. I don’t know what the cost would be. We would be looking for, of course, ourselves, we’d be looking for pro bono assistant, because, four cents an hour ain’t going nowhere. Neither is Social Security. It’s not going up. We try to get people to volunteer or to donate or assist. Some people just send a prayer. Great. Some people, that’s what they have, and we take all of it. Some people don’t have $10, but they got 10 fingers, so they pray.
I’ve met some truly amazing people along this journey. We have a fantastic private investigator, and basically, he’s at a standstill until a lawyer would come on board and need his assistance. He can’t go into places that an attorney can. And then this is Louisiana, so that being said, we’re not like most any other place. But, I mean, what are you going to do? I’m one person. I Facebook of followers. It’s over 1,000 people. I have copies of all these files. You have to backups of all this stuff, too.
Julia: When we first started talking, you said you’d learned a lot. And I think you’ve provided some really good information for people, as far as if you need paperwork, that you have to go to each department. That if you do have files, to make sure that you have extra copies in there stored in safe places. And, like you were saying earlier, every day you learn something. I know that it’s hard to just say, “Well, I learned this today or that.” However, looking at what the last couple of weeks have brought, what were things that you learned recently?
Janet: Well, actually, on Friday, I learned that there are two other individuals that are incarcerated with Jerome. They have the same case that Jerome has. All stemming from the same parish. Their children were adopted out. They were incarcerated, accused of child sex abuse. It doesn’t take much to get somebody incarcerated by doing this. And that’s why we say, don’t ever think it can’t happen to you, because I’m here to tell you it can. And I hate the fact that our society has gotten such that sometimes these things change us so much inside, they show you something in life that is real. That these things do happen.
Nobody wins in this. And the kids lose worse than everybody. You just can’t imagine what this does to children. I’ve never seen such broken, just torn apart, dysfunctional, looking for anything to kill some of the pain that they live with day in and day out. And I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down and said, “This is not your fault. You were a child. You believed what an adult told you to believe. They told you a story.”
Julia: And I hear you saying that, is that what they tell you that they were told?
Janet: Oh, yeah. That’s what the affidavits say. And they’ve been recanting their testimonies. It was an article done in The Washington Post, I believe, on Louisiana. Back in the early 1990s, Louisiana was known as the go-to state for adoptions, because we did not have regulations in place. We were the most lax state in the United States about that. And to this day, it still is the easiest place to come and get an adoption.
I don’t know of anywhere in the world adoptions happening in less than 90 days. I didn’t actually think that was possible, and the law says it’s not. That’s another amazing thing: I’m able to read and understand law … I guess it’s just a gift, a talent.
I’ve said some things about how it changed the children. Their mother also did time in state penitentiary. She did take a plea, but she still did 12 years. They charged her on four counts of molestation, and actually during the timeframe they’re saying this happened, the youngest child was not even born. That’s a good one. She didn’t realize that until I showed her the paperwork. The youngest son was not born until 1990, but in 1989, a social worker visited the house and she checked out all four children. The baby was sound asleep. Now the baby was not even a thought, so it just shows that there’s sloppy paperwork. These kids will never be the same. These are the faces of innocence.
Julia: Do they see their mom?
Janet: Yes, they do.
Julia: They have a relationship with her now?
Janet: Not really, not like a mother/child relationship. More like good friends. It’s really strange for her because she wasn’t around them and they weren’t around her. Whereas, Dwight, they were around, they were coming to see more, and stuff like that. I don’t know, from what I understand, she didn’t want to see anybody for a while. And, I, like I say, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in her shoes for nothing, and I sure don’t judge her. That she took a plea. I know a lot of people do.
They say, “Well, she wouldn’t have took a plea if he’d have got off.” Well, you weren’t sitting there with that plea on the table knowing that you were fixing to die in prison. You weren’t 24 years old. You never dealt with these people before, but you were always told to trust them. That’s what we were told. Now, I don’t trust anyone unless I got a video from them. But that’s with just about anybody. It’s just a different world now.
Julia: There’s a lot of people sitting in prison because they wouldn’t take a plea, and there’s a lot of people that are out because they took it for things they didn’t do. And I just want to make a point here. We’re not saying that people shouldn’t be incarcerated, that there are situations where things happen. However, the rate at which people are incarcerated and the amount of people that are incarcerated that are innocent or for minor infractions, is unimaginable. You just don’t know all the stuff that’s going on when police are talking to people. And like you said, you’ve learned a lot the last four years or so. I mean, your eyes must have been just opened wide as to what’s going on here.
Janet: Yeah. I actually had started taking classes because I wanted to get into a justice degree. I started out to do an online course for paralegal. But between all of the stuff that I was finding in the paperwork, trying to keep up with that, and doing other stuff, I found that I already knew what they were trying to show me in school. I don’t know, I almost felt like somebody was laughing at me saying, “I already showed you how to do that.” But that tested me.
I believe in second chances, and that goes for most everybody. Now, I’ll go to a penitentiary where there are some of the worst of the worst. There are some people that should never get out. But the majority of people that are there, they’re not barbarian. They’re not some foreign object or foreign animal. They’re people. I believe people are redeemable, and I think that when you stop thinking that people are redeemable, then what is your point anymore? I don’t know, if you don’t believe in people, then what else do you have?
That’s my opinion on it. The way that this has changed me, I used to be … I mean, I grew up street smart, tough, but I had walls that were built around me my whole life. Self-preservation or whatever you want to call it. But this broke me. This broke me because, if I could go and talk to these men who were so humble and forgiving and it almost makes you feel like you don’t deserve to be in the same room with them. If you come in there thinking that you’re above or better. I’ve met so many that have such a genuine heart and I never ask anybody their story. I just don’t do that. I’m very close to a lot of them, though.
I think I’m one of the few women that when you see go in a penitentiary, “Hello, good morning. Hey, how are you doing?” Smiles, hugs, I mean, everybody likes a hug. And, I see the way that the other people look at me. Like, why would you do that, and stuff? I don’t know. I love it. I think, think that that is what I do. I love what most people think is unlovable. I give until I don’t have anything left, and then I give more.
I told somebody the other day; this is not a job to me. I would never punch a clock, and there’s no amount of money that you could pay me to do this, because this you do with your heart, you do with your soul. And it’s all of you or none of you.
For somebody to say, “Won’t you be glad when Dwight gets out? You won’t ever have to deal with this anymore.” It’s like, I just want to go, “Hello? Wake up. All I did was fix one piece of this great big puzzle.” Which, that’s what it’s become to me. This is not a job. This is a way of life for me. I am more passionate about this than I have been in my whole 60 years of life. I feel a burning desire, I have to do this. I take advice from some of the best people I know, Judges for Justice. And, some of the other people that I’ve encountered on this journey, Kristine Bunch I love her to death. She’s the most humble woman that I know, after 17 years incarcerated for something she did not do.
You hear about this person or that person, but it changes who you are, when you actually listen to that person, or when you actually meet that person. You feel very humbled in front of them. I do. I don’t know that I could ever have done what Dwight has done. I know people that take deals on this kind of thing. It’s the easiest one to make stick, and there’s a lot written on false allegations. People really need to educate themselves on false allegations, and what causes them, and to just be aware of that. Steve, I don’t remember what Steven’s last name is, and Maggie Brucks is her last name. They have both written some wonderful articles. They’ve done research on all of this. And you really don’t think that a child can learn a new memory, but how many times do you remember something that happened in your past? But then realized what you remember is a picture that you saw of it, not actually that you were there?
It’s amazing to know that you can create that image in a child’s mind. In one interrogation, you can create a new memory. These children had over 23 questionings before court, by different people. The story, I know it’s hard to follow me. It’s just very … The story is that way. It’s like sometimes you’re telling one part, but then you have to go back to another part to make that part make sense. I guess that’s why I jump like that. There was just a lot that I wanted to make sure and say, and I guess it’s just kind of … I got a little nervous.
Julia: This kind of stuff is hard to talk about it. And then the more you talk about it, the more clear it is what you want to say, and how you want to say it. To be more clear so people understand.
Julia: Just talking about it, I think, is really important.
I just wonder, what is it that we can do to help? I don’t want to call them the children, they’re adults now. But the children went through this, and what they’re going through now, what can people do, what can we do, what can they do?
Janet: I think it has to start a lot earlier. Of course, with my situation, and even my own situation. I was in therapy for probably 18 years. And the only thing I walked away with was that no matter where I went, I was still going to be there.
Julia: I like that.
Janet: Once I figured out that I was going to carry my problems with me, that that bag was going to eventually arrive, well, yeah. But it took 10 years to learn it. I don’t mean to single out state or government officials, because I know that not all of them are that way. But I think there should be some kind of … When a person is incarcerated, and I think it should be mandatory, that the children, or the family, receive some type of counseling in a sense that these children have to know that it was not their fault. But at the same time, you don’t want to, like and I say to you, you wouldn’t want to encourage, it would be a very tricky thing.
But to me, the thing would be to work on the child’s self-esteem, and their issue of guilt, because children are going to feel guilt. All of them do. Whether it’s because they testify, whether it’s because they were there, children carry the guilt.
Julia: Especially if they take their parents away.
Janet: You know what? Rebecca will tell you today that the biggest vision that she has is, they were sitting in a district attorney’s office waiting to be brought into court. And they saw their dad coming down the aisle, and he had shackles, and he was chained. Rebecca said, “At that moment, all I could think about was, my dad, my dad, and I got up and ran over there.” Her dad looked at her with tears in his eyes, and he just said, “Baby, don’t worry about it. It’ll be all right.” And she said, “It wasn’t.”“
She’s very close to her dad, and him to her. I mean, they were inseparable whenever she was little. The grandmother that they went to live with told her that her parents didn’t want them anymore. They didn’t love them and they didn’t want to be saddled with kids. Rebecca was very angry. Her dad was all she knew, because her mom was never home. Her dad was everything to her. Christopher was very defiant, even during counseling and stuff, he gave them a lot of problems. And he’s always been that way. I don’t know, they say he’s got maladaptive disorder, is what they called it, when he was in therapy. That’s what the therapist there called it.
I don’t know. There’s a lot. It’s just so much, Julia. It’s like I lay down at night at it’s … Sometimes I’m up until 11, 12:00, and I’m studying or I’m doing research. And I’ve had to stop that because when I go to bed, I stop but my mind don’t.
Julia: You need your sleep. You don’t take care of yourself, that’s the other thing, is that balance. You need to keep that balance.
Julia: And that’s really difficult, especially at first.
Janet: Yeah. Now I try, 9:00 or 10:00 at night. I’m usually on with my friend. I was telling you that Steve, he’s our private investigator. He was also the investigator that assisted in bringing Amanda Knox home. Steve is a retired FBI agent, CIA. Him and his wife Michelle, are some wonderful people. I actually met Michelle on Facebook because I had put Dwight’s last name up there. She happened to see it. She was from Baton Rouge, which is right up the road, and she texted me to see if there was any relation to her best friend and Jerome. That’s how we started talking. We talked a little bit about the case, after she told me what they did. And, it was about 10 months or so, after I met her, that she let me know she was going to start doing some investigating into the case. A lot of it has been through Michelle’s investigations and mostly consists of what is actually in the paperwork. We’ve put together the website that we have. It’s jeromedwightbergeron.weebly.com.
Myself and two other ladies, we’re putting together a group, and we’ll apply for 501(c)3. It is for families. It is to help the families of those that have been wrongfully convicted. There are a lot of programs out there for a lot of people, but for a lot of those that are wrongfully convicted, they come out and they have nothing. You think when they get out they give them a big check. That don’t happen and it usually don’t happen for years. In Louisiana, you’ll probably never see it happen. But, believe me, our team is going to work on it.
I have seen more people go home from that penitentiary this year, or in the last two years, than I know they have gone home in the last 30. It’s amazing to see so many of them going home. There’s a lot more that need to go home. One thing that I want people to realize is that, sometimes innocent isn’t enough, and that’s unfortunate. But there’s been several people that have died, and put to death, that were innocent. I mean, we’ve shown that. But the statistics tell you things every day. If taxpayers would just look at the money, our budget for Louisiana last year for prisons, $800 million. But yet, we still got people from the last storm that don’t have their money for their houses here. It’s just Louisiana.
I love Louisiana because of the food.
Julia: Me too.
Janet: I like to cook. And, since I met Dwight, I became a horticulture fanatic, I guess, I don’t know. I have all kinds of plants outside, and I’ve learned how to propagate them and cut them. I was one of those little girls that didn’t get her fingernails dirty. And now, it’s like, I need a file to dig. He’s brought a good side out to me. He’s made me happier than I think I’ve ever been in my life.
Julia: How often do you see him?
Janet: I go to see him twice a month. I’m there from 6:30 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon. We’re very fortunate in Louisiana that we do get to visit like that, because our warden allows that. We try to keep everybody toned down, when you’ve got a little aggravation with the guards or something. Hey, they don’t have to do this. I don’t think I’ve talked this much about different things in the case. There’s a lot of things that I don’t talk about, and they just seem to come out.
Julia: We don’t talk about it and we need to talk about it. But we need to talk about it in a safe place with safe people, so we need to know when we can talk and when we can’t. And that’s why I’m so protective over what I actually do post, because I want to tell people’s stories, but I don’t want anything to come back to anybody. And, most people are anonymous, too, which is kind of sad that we have to be. And one of the reasons, you guys are bringing it out, that this is who we are. And we want people to know. But a lot of people are afraid to say who they are because they’re afraid that there could be ramifications for the loved one that’s inside.
Janet: That’s very true.
Julia: I think that’s good. Some of the things you’ve said I think are so helpful, and so real.
I did have one last thought, or question. I think it’s more of a thought, that when Jerome gets out, could you imagine the hearts of the children? How they’ll open up and how … I’m just imagining how happy and joyful they will be and that their lives could be turned around because they have their daddy out. No matter how old they are, that he’s there.
Janet: Yeah, I agree. I think that the kids think that, “When dad comes home everything’s going to be all right.” When dad comes home, we start on a whole new set of problems.
Julia: It’s a new journey, because somebody comes out after being in for so long, that there is a process.
Janet: Yeah, there is, and Jerome’s lucky because, in the sense that he has a great support system. I mean, there’s nothing that I won’t do and he knows that. His children are there for him, and his family has been for years. But they’ve all gotten old. Some of them are gone. Brothers died. His dad died. Oh, just things in life to happen.
Things are going to be very different. For example, he went to the hospital about a year ago. He said, “You will never guess what I’m calling you on.” And I’m like, I’m thinking cellphone. He’s like, “The phone that’s on the wall and it ain’t got no cord.” Does that tell you?
Julia: I know. People that have been incarcerated five, 10, 15, 25, 30 years. Just think of technology in that timeframe.
Janet: His professor came in the other day, and he showed him Google Earth. And he was like a kid in a candy store. I mean, just so much. He showed him right where he used to live at, the house and everything is still there. It was a WOW moment for him. And then for me to just try to show him the city that we live in and how much it’s grown.
Julia: How often do you get to talk to him?
Janet: Oh, I talk to Dwight every day, at least twice a day. We keep it short, too. We try to keep five minutes on the card. It’s expensive. We do JPay emails. He emails me every single morning. He remembers Mother’s Day, anniversaries, and more. That’s him.
We went to a family reunion Saturday. It’s Jerome’s family, and it’s the fourth time I’ve been. It’s hard because he’s not there. But it was even harder when Rebecca was just crying on me this week, telling me, “My dad should be here.” And I want everybody to understand, yeah, I may know everything that’s in that paperwork, but I have never told of any of them what happened. If they wanted to know I would just tell them, “Look at the paperwork. Make up your own mind.”
Julia: Are there any last words? Any words of advice for somebody that’s going through something like you are?
Janet: Family. Family is everything. Your family can be a harshest critic, but they can be the best thing, because they support you. And, who’s going to love you if you fall on your face besides your family? Dwight and his kids support me. My kids support me. My great grandbabies just moved to town, so I’m just in heaven with that.
So, I’m busy.
I do a lot of research cases and stuff like that. I like case law. I’m learning a lot about how to use it. And how to go through and use it references in cases. I’m trying to reference as many cases as I can, in child sexual accusations. I look at the way that all of the different interrogations are done, as well as how they were supposed to have been done. I think that that’s the only way that we learn how to fix things, is, to work on things that are broken.
I was told not too long ago that I’m probably wasting my time. I would rather be doing what I’m doing now than anything. It’s a long road. Dwight had somebody yesterday that said, “Look, man, I’m innocent. I’ll be out of here in no time.” Dwight said, “How long have you been here?” And he said, “10 years.” And Dwight said, “Well, you know when you’re at home stretch?” He said, “I’m here for the same thing, and I’m here for 26 years now. It doesn’t look like I’m going nowhere unless I get a good attorney, or a good forensic person on there.” He said, “Other than that, I know I go by the grace of God.”
He’s very much about his beliefs. And then we try to practice that as much as we can. We have a strong foundation, a strong belief. Every time I get to the bottom, I don’t know how I’m going to get back up. But somehow there’s always a rope. There’s always another day. Yeah, a rope to climb up or to get to somebody to pull you up, to lend a hand. I’ve met amazing people along this way. I wouldn’t trade what I’ve done for anything. Only to do it better, and I only can do it better the more I do it.
I think the main thing that people need to understand, broken people have sharp edges. You don’t know how to heal a broken person unless you’ve been broken yourself. You don’t mind being cut. There’s a lot of people that do this, that luckily, have never been affected. It’s just a calling. They do it. And then, there are those of us that, we wondered our whole lives, why did I go through all of this? Only to find out now, this is why. Because when I sit down and I say, “I know how you feel.” Yeah, I’ve slept in my car. I’ve eaten out of dumpsters. I’ve been on the road with my kids, had no place to go. I’ve been there. I’ve been in the bars. So, I can’t say that I ain’t been there. I can sense when I sit with somebody and they say, “Oh, honey, I know how you feel.” And they don’t have a clue? Yeah. A book tells them.
I appreciate their empathy but, no, you don’t know how I feel. And I know that when, for the most part, when people talk to me, they know that I’m real. I’ve been there. I’ve been abused. I’ve been through my own hell. But, it made me who I am, and it’s made me stronger for this journey. This journey takes strength. It takes perseverance. And it takes heart.
Julia: Well said.
Janet: And that’s pretty much it. I mean, there’s a whole lot more to the story but you get the gist of it.
To learn more about Jerome’s case go to: jeromedwightbergeron.weebly.com.