Walking free from death row - and into a new nightmare

Walking free from death row - and into a new nightmare
Death row exonerees climb into a school bus to get from their annual meeting to a Philadelphia Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

PHILADELPHIA - Sabrina Butler can lay claim to a dubious honour - she is the only female death row prisoner in the United States to be exonerated.

But while she may finally be free, the stain on her character has proven far harder to erase, while adjusting back into normal life is an everyday struggle. Getting compensation is a whole new battle.

"I get to meet other people that are just like me, you know? Well, the guys, rather, because I'm the only female," Butler said at a meeting in Philadelphia of 30 former death-row convicts who were all exonerated - the victims of false testimonies, judicial errors, wrongful confessions and worse.

"I enjoy these times because I get to see,talk to them, and we've all been through the same thing. We don't have to worry about the judgments and all that when we're together." Butler was a teenaged mother in Mississippi when she was convicted over the death of her baby. It was later ruled that he died in his sleep of a kidney malady. She spent five years on death row.

"I was in a cell 23 hours a day but the hardest thing is that you have your day of death approaching and there's nothing you can do about it," she recalled.

Damon Thibodeaux was released from death row in Louisiana in 2012, having spent 15 years awaiting death for his supposed rape and murder of a 14-year-old cousin.

"You sit in a cell for 15 years and you adapt to living a certain way in a small confined area. Now you walk out into the world and everything is changed in 15 years... there was no Internet in 1997," he told AFP.

"Not having anything to walk out to was probably the hardest part, walking out of there with nothing is like stepping out on a very flimsy cardboard bridge - you don't know if it's going to collapse or if it's going to be strong enough for you to get to the other side. It's been a journey with a lot of unknowns.

"There has been no compensation - sadly, we have to fight for that."

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