Dear Friends of The Sunny Center,
And now, for some highlights from the year 2017.
While enjoying some downtime between guests, we hosted visitors from Romania, Croatia and the US, and were interviewed by a French journalist for a feature about The Sunny Center in Marie Claire magazine.
We also did a radio documentary called Exonerated, with John Toal, on BBC Radio 4, that raised awareness about the difficulties of life post-exoneration.
We hosted three days of filming with an Italian film crew working on a documentary about people who have been wrongly convicted. The filming included drone footage of The Sunny Center.
We spent three days in the UK doing a talk at the University of Liverpool, two talks in Manchester, two talks in London at a major law firm and a training for young lawyers to work on death penalty cases in the US for Amicus, a non-profit organization.
We were visited by the wild goats from the mountains and hoped it meant new kids in the Spring!
In honor of International Women’s Day, 100 extraordinary women were asked to choose a poem that moved them to tears. Sunny was chosen to be among them and the resulting anthology was published in a book entitled Poems That Make Women Cry. To watch the video of Sunny reading Home by Warsan Shire, visit here.Peter’s interview on Jason Flom’s Wrongful Convictions podcast aired and can still be listened to here.
Sunny and Peter traveled to San Diego, California for the annual Innocence Network Conference, which drew 750 people – the most of any conference as it gets bigger and bigger every year. Sunny’s daughter attended and spoke movingly about how her parents’ wrongful convictions impacted her life. In 2018, we intend to do more outreach to the families of exonerees.
There was also a session for Exonerees and their partners to discuss how it impacts relationships. When Peter and Sunny joined the group, they were applauded. “We want to be like you guys,” they said.
While in California, Sunny and Peter visited a man in LA county jail whose case was recently overturned after 32 years on death row in San Quentin. He was so glad they were there and talked about how wonderful it will be to come to the Sunny Center to heal and recover when he gets out. It’s the first time we’ve been able to work with an exoneree before his release.
Back home, we hosted a group of 14 students from East Stroudsburg University, with their professor, and we all visited the Human Rights Center at the National University of Galway Ireland.
We hosted an Exoneree from Florida who enjoyed walking the dogs, visiting a traditional Galway Bay Hooker sailboat and joining a Salsa dancing class in Galway.
The apple and cherry trees planted by Uriah, one of our former Exoneree Guests, bloomed and bore fruit, and remain a beautiful reminder of his lovely spirit.
Another of our previous Exoneree Guests received a promotion in his job and, as a result, got his own apartment for the first time since his release from prison over three years ago.
A student who had attended our talk at his University decided his contribution would be to build and donate a dog house.
And another supporter, after hearing us on the radio, gifted us two native apple trees.
On Easter Monday, we were part of a program called “Saoirse I Freedom,” hosted by the Trailblazers group at Kilmainham Gaol, a 17th-century jail in Dublin where many of the heroes of the Irish revolution were held and executed.
Sunny introduced the Ropes Literary Magazine at the 2017 Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway and did a reading from her book, Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story as an Innocent Condemned to Death. As part of that same festival, Sunny and Peter unveiled a Haiku plaque by Little John Nee, a famous local playwright, poet and musician.
Sunny and Peter gave the keynote address at an event for the Northwest Innocence Project in Seattle and also hosted the first Exonerees For Exonerees Healing Retreat. We were interviewed on The New Day morning TV show in Seattle. You can watch the video here.
We had a couple visit us from Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation in America and they enjoyed their time experiencing the healing atmosphere of the Sunny Center.
Our newest volunteer Tress arrived and her skills as a nurse were a welcomed resource for the work we do. We all participated in a Talking Circle lead by an 88-year-old Native American healer who invited us to participate in this traditional healing ceremony.
In London, and Sunny and Peter both participated in a performance of The Exonerated at the Middle Temple Hall, which dates back to the mid-1500s, hosted by Amicus, a nonprofit that trains lawyers to work on death penalty cases.
We started working with an organization in the US that is helping us to provide services to our exonerees once they have gone back home. This development also helped to create more networking and a wider community among exonerees, on which we will continue to build in 2018.
Our Lama gave birth to little Louie and is a truly loving mama! And one night our volunteer Georgie made ricotta cheese for dinner. It doesn’t get better than that.
We traveled to Salem, Massachusetts to help commemorate the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem State University hosted a special screening of The Exonerated film, followed by a conversation between Sunny, Peter and Anne Driscoll and a Q&A with the audience. While in Salem, we met with members of the Salem State University social work faculty and our friend Dr. Lloyd Lyter, who is director of the MSW program at East Stroudsberg University in Pennsylvania, to discuss partnering social work programs with exonerees in order to provide support services to ease their post-release transition.
Dean and Pam, our first couple, stayed with us. We all enjoyed each other’s company and learned so much about the importance of connection and communication.
We found an expert in the field of PTSD who has agreed to work with all exonerees free of charge. His work is very successful and only requires one day of the person’s time, with follow up online support. He will be with us at the 2018 conference in Memphis, Tennessee.
A French film crew from the international news program Enquete Exclusive (M6 channel) spent hours with us at the Sunny Center filming a segment on life after death row. The program was aired in France as part of Wrongful Convictions Day on October 2nd. Also on that day, Sunny and Peter were featured on the popular Ray D’Arcy radio show in Ireland and invited listeners to join them in a minute of silence to remember all those innocent prisoners still awaiting justice.
We did another training in the UK for Amicus, and, as a result of our participation in the documentary film Fallout, focusing on the after affects of wrongful conviction, we spoke before the European Union Parliament. There was much discussion about establishing exonerees as Torture Victims, with international status and entitlement to assistance.
We also staged a performance of The Exonerated at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway as a fundraiser for the Sunny Center. It was a very successful event, in which we were able to partner with African immigrant asylum seekers who played the parts of the African-American men in the play. It was a very meaningful partnership, which has developed into a number of friendships. We became aware that there is a parallel between being an immigrant seeking asylum and being an exoneree, as both groups face similar difficulties.
We welcomed a new Exoneree guest from California. He is enjoying meditation and interacting with the animals. And we have one more Exoneree guest coming before the new year!
We are grateful for the support and passionate involvement that we have received from our Board and our supporters around the world.
We couldn’t do the work without your help.
Every gift matters. Every donation helps us to help others. And we hope you will consider the Sunny Center for your year-end giving.
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