We hosted two Exonerees in January who had been with us through the Christmas season, carrying that spirit into the New Year.
Many of our Exoneree guests came to us with potentially serious medical and dental issues. Our local doctor and dentist donated their services to our guests as their contribution to our work.
As a result of the interest generated in the topic of wrongful convictions by the Making a Murderer documentary series, we, and our two Exoneree guests, were interviewed together by Irish National Radio and also the Irish Times newspaper.
We established a telephone dialogue with Exonerees who were unable to attend the Sunny Center, as well as maintaining a continuing remote connection with previous guests, as part of our ongoing outreach program.
Sunny was invited to give a TedX Talk about Forgiveness that is available on YouTube.
We were also gifted the services of Michael D’Andrea, Vice President of Greater Talent Network, in order to further our ability to raise funds for the Center.
A lot of effort went into arranging the schedule of guests for the coming year.
Birmingham City University Law Society invited us to the UK to make a presentation, which was very well received. We traveled from Birmingham to Bristol for a presentation at Bristol City University. While in Bristol, we had the privilege of visiting with some veteran anti-death penalty activists. In London, we addressed potential interns as part of the Amicus training program that prepares interns to work with US lawyers on wrongful conviction cases as well as death penalty in general.
We provided respite for a UK Lawyer who works on wrongful conviction cases in the US and other countries.
Peter, with local help, built some pens for the goats.
We made a presentation for CAPA Global Education Network, an organization that facilitates overseas studies for US students at their London center. We worked with a young man, recording our stories as the basis for what will eventually be a dramatization using puppets, in order to educate people about wrongful convictions and the necessity to end the death penalty.
While in London, we acquired a mobility scooter for Sunny.
We attended the book launch of Poems That Make Grown Women Cry published by Amnesty International, to which Sunny contributed a poem about refugees by Warsan Shire.
It became clear that our work is going to entail more travelling, as we cannot accommodate enough people at the Center. There are over 2000 Exonerees presently in the United States alone. We met with a number of people to talk about expanding our work in the US by being invited to universities and corporations who will then subsidise our work in large cities where there are concentrations of Exonerees.
The year’s planting started with tomatoes, getting them in early. Peter started work on building a milking shed in anticipation of Rosie having her kids and giving us milk. She had twins on Saturday the 26th and the milk is lovely.
Dublin City University Law Society, of which we are lifetime honorary members, invited us to give a talk.
We attended the Innocence Network Conference in San Antonio, Texas, where we met with many Exonerees and were able to inform them about the availability of the Sunny Center as a place of healing and respite. We also made a presentation about our work to the Board of the Innocence Network. The Exoneree Band played at the Conference. After that, we traveled to Pennsylvania, where we made a presentation at East Stroudsburg University raising funds for the Foundation.
We were also very busy in our garden, planting vegetables and edible flowers. As always, it was a pleasure to hear the first calls of the cuckoo.
We attended and made a presentation at the first Irish Innocence Project International Wrongful Conviction Conference and Film Festival at Griffith College Dublin.
We hosted another Human Rights lawyer who required respite.
Peter’s granddaughter spent a week with us as a volunteer on Work Experience for her school. (Bringing in a new generation of future activists!)
We celebrated our first full year at the Sunny Center!
Two Exonerees came to us from the US using air miles that had been donated by a generous anonymous donor. They were able to enjoy the lovely Spring in Connemara. To the extent that they were comfortable, we practiced yoga and meditation together. All of our guests are trained in breathing techniques in order to help deal with PTSD and anxiety.
Along with Anne Driscoll, then Project Manager of the Irish Innocence Project, we did a conversation-style public forum at Griffith College, which is available on YouTube.
We had a number of meetings and interviews concerning the Center, did a remote seminar on Forgiveness, and remotely attended a Board meeting over Skype, which made us feel very tech-savvy.
We hosted two Irish Exonerees, with whom we attended the AFRI Annual Famine Walk in County Mayo, commemorating those lost in the Famine of 1845-1847. We also had a meeting with a woman who is trying to create community among Irish Exonerees.
Again with local help, Peter built a hen run to welcome our new flock of hens.
We had visitors from the community of Sant’Egidio in Italy who have been very supportive of our work and some of our Exonerees.
We also had a visit from a woman who does work with refugees from Eastern Europe, and found that many of the problems that Exonerees face upon release are also faced by refugees.
Our first volunteer arrived from the US. She set the standard by learning to cook and take care of all the animals, and created a strong Internet presence for us. We now have a Facebook page!
We also were interviewed about our work in publications around the globe including the Gulf Times and Die Welt in Germany.
The 6th World Congress to Abolish the Death Penalty invited us to attend and speak at their gathering in Oslo, Norway. There we met with a representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a number of people from various countries who were very enthusiastic about our work. We spoke with representatives of the United Nations, as well as the CEO of the Primo Levi Center Against Torture, concerning the idea of granting Torture Victim status to people who have been wrongfully convicted once they are released. This is an ongoing effort in order to provide help and services to those who have not received compensation and are living in poverty.
We were interviewed for Norwegian television and Oslo newspapers. We also had more interviews at home, providing much-needed publicity for the plight of those who have been wrongfully convicted.
We continued our outreach to former guests. Having discovered that one of our Exonerees was in such dire poverty that he could not afford to keep his phone, we began paying his phone bill monthly so that he could continue communicating with us.
Another Exoneree came to us from the US courtesy of the generosity of our air miles donor.
We also had a visit from a representative of Amnesty International Sweden whom we met in Oslo and was interested in our work. She brought her family and they made a contribution to the Foundation.
Documentary filmmaker Mark McLoughlin started interviewing us and our guests for the making of a documentary about the after-effects of having been wrongly convicted and imprisoned.
We took our guests on sightseeing tours of the area.
We hosted two more US Exonerees who enjoyed the peace and serenity of the countryside.
We were also interviewed by Dagsavisen as well as other interviews.
We sent our volunteer to the Aran Islands for a well-deserved break. She had been instrumental in helping the guests to become comfortable socialising and becoming part of the family unit.
We continued providing moral support to Exonerees who are unable to come.
Over the summer, filming continued, documenting the work we do at the Sunny Center.
Our beekeeper friend gifted us with some of this year’s honey.
Peter was invited to include a spoken-word piece in a publication by The MOTH – a nonprofit storytelling organization based in New York.
We hosted an Exoneree, who was delighted by the beautiful surroundings of the Sunny Center. He enjoyed visiting with some local people and playing music together.
We communicated with John Eldan, who helps Exonerees connect with social services such as Social Security and Medicaid. He will act as the connection for our guests when they return home.
We received word that a man who had been on Death Row for 34 years may be coming to us. After having been so long without family or friends, he was thrilled to know that he would have a new family at the Sunny Center.
We continued our connections concerning designating wrongfully convicted people as victims of torture.
There was more work to be done in the garden, harvesting loads of fruit and vegetables. Organic food for our guests!
We also did a radio documentary about our work which will be aired on BBC4 on January 2.
Communication continued by Skype and telephone with past and future guests, as well as those who are unable to travel.
Two women from the US who work with death row prisoners came to learn about our work, with an emphasis on Survival Yoga.
Our next volunteer arrived, resulting from connections to a website for women who travel in order to do good work.
Our work was featured in the Irish Central publication in America and the Irish Independent in Ireland.
We hosted two people who work with prisoners in the US who said that, upon release, they would send anyone who meets the criteria to the Sunny Center.
We participated in Baking Bread for Peace.
One of our former guests announced that he is getting married! Keeping up with our former guests has become a big part of our work.
There was another radio broadcast focused on the work of the Sunny Center.
We went to New York for Sunny Center Foundation Board meetings. There was also a fundraiser that unfortunately had to be canceled, which led to innovative ideas from our Board. We decided that next year we are going to hold salons. Each salon will feature a famous singer or actor in an intimate setting. We invited two more young members onto the Board. Welcome Amy and Catherine! We feel very fortunate to have such a diverse and dedicated Board.
At Dickinson College in Carlisle PA we enjoyed informing many bright and interested students in the work we do with and for the wrongly convicted.
The Religious Studies department at Yale University in New Haven, CT invited us as guests to give a talk focusing on Forgiveness and the resilience of the human spirit.
Back in New York, we did lots of networking and recorded a podcast, “Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom, Episode 4 – Love is Better than Revenge, The Wrongful Conviction of Sunny Jacobs.” It was the first time Sunny’s daughter participated in an interview with her.
On October 2nd we celebrated the 3rd annual Wrongful Convictions Day.
Our Exoneree guest this month got to help us foster a puppy from the local rescue kennels. It was heartwarming to see the bond forming between them. Animal therapy is so effective for people who have been deprived of love and connection for so many years. Unconditional love is our specialty here at the Sunny Center!
We are always looking for more ways to help our guests. For instance, we experienced a sound bath provided by Sidhe Sound Healing. This is a therapeutic method in which you are immersed in sound, allowing you to find peace and balance. It was deeply relaxing, and we hope to be able to offer the experience to future guests. Another local offered us the opportunity to bring our guest to a drumming session, which helps with spiritual healing. He also offered to come to the Center for private sessions.
We provided opportunities for socialization, as we do with all of our guests. This included both taking our guests into town, and having friends visit the Sunny Center. As our guests came from isolation, it was important for us to introduce them to local people where they could learn to socialize without the tag of being an ex-prisoner.
We had a visit from a California District Attorney who was interested in our work at the Sunny Center.
We had a phone interview with an Australian journalist about the Sunny Center.
We celebrated a former guest’s graduation from a drug rehabilitation program.
Our third volunteer arrived from the US. Each of our volunteers has different skills. This one was an all-around winner – good at everything – and even got to pet our unpettable cat!
Our oldest goat, Babs, spent a night away from home with the wild goats. We are waiting to see if she will have kids in the spring.
The Sunny Center hosted an Exoneree who had spent 35 years in prison and had only been out for 16 months. He enjoyed photographing the hills, lakes and animals. He participated with us in a talk at the Law Society NUI Galway. He attended a storytelling session and told a heartwarming story about his little granddaughter. By the time he left, he began to see himself more as an artist than an Exoneree and will be turning his photos into paintings.
Our Exoneree guest was able to have a Skype consultation with our dedicated psychologist, a world-renowned psychologist/psychiatrist who has treated some of the most famous victims of wrongful imprisonment worldwide.
The Board hired our first Coordinator, Anne Driscoll, former project manager of the Irish Innocence Project, in order to help the Sunny Center grow and function more efficiently.
At Strathclyde University in Scotland, we were part of a panel about the effects of wrongful conviction and its aftermath. We also visited Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO), an organisation to help wrongfully convicted people in Scotland, set up by Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, a well-known case of wrongful conviction in the UK. We stopped off in Bridport where there was an exhibition of Death Row art, and gave a talk highlighting the essential nature of the creative process.
In a continuing dialogue with the professor from Yale, it has transpired that there is a need to connect us with the Ethiopian wrongfully convicted community.
We entertained visitors from Norway who were interested in the work we do here.
The NUI Galway activism class invited us to tell them about the importance of self care in activism.
At the end of the month, we made our annual pilgrimage to work with the community of Sant’Egidio against the death-penalty. This year they sent us to Sicily. We stayed near the base of Mt. Etna, an active volcano and the warm weather provided a nice break. Our 13 talks in 5 days were well attended, by both mafia and monks as well as many students, and we spent our last night in a monastery being well cared for by the brothers.
After a brief stop home to reconnect with our volunteer and all the animals, we went on to NYC to meet with members of our Board. Peter was interviewed for an upcoming podcast episode of “Wrongful Convictions with Jason Flom.” And we did networking on a global scale. We also met with young filmmakers who want to promote the work of the Center, targeted at youth.
Meanwhile, back at the Sunny Center, our volunteer was single-handedly milking goats, collecting eggs, teaching the new puppy not to chase the hens, keeping an eye out for the fox and petting everyone!
Throughout the year, from time to time, we found the need to provide extraordinary services for our guests. These included a heart monitor, doctor’s visits, and a trip to the dentist for a new set of teeth. In one case, upon his return to the States, we provided one man with a bicycle, helmet and light for the bike so he could look for work; and we paid for another to have a telephone so that he wouldn’t be completely isolated. Many of our guests live in complete isolation, so it is very important that we provide a means to continue their connections with us and with others on their return home.
We look forward to 2017, which promises many new developments. This coming year we are expecting our first female Exonerees at the Sunny Center. We look forward to hosting a woman from Uganda in the Spring.
We are grateful for the support and passionate involvement that we have received from our Board and myriad supporters around the world.
We couldn’t do the work without your help.
Every gift matters. Every donation helps us to help others.
Every volunteer makes it easier for us to do what we do best – bringing healing, hope, and love to those from whom it has been so unjustly stolen by having wrongfully convicted and, further, by having received no help from the authorities upon their release.
We thank you for your continued interest and support.
From all of us here at the Sunny Center, and all of those who have been helped by your generosity, we wish you a happy holiday season and healthy New Year!
Peace and Love,
Sunny and Peter