As Christmas approached last year, my thoughts were very much with my friend Ed Chapman. Ed spent nearly fifteen years in prison, thirteen of those on death row, wrongfully convicted. He was exonerated five years ago. Exoneration doesn’t involve any restitution or declaration of innocence, they just let you go. In Ed’s case, he had only a few minutes’ notice.
I hoped that Gov. Perdue would pardon Ed before she left office, and I worked hard to that end. I took a petition with hundreds of names on it to the Governor’s office and met with her senior counsel. I spread the word enough that letters to the Governor came in from all over the U.S. and even from Australia and New Zealand.
The morning she was leaving office I was in Montreat, NC speaking to 1200 people at a collegiate conference. As I talked to these students about taking action to address problems they see in the world, I gave them an opportunity to take action right then. I told them some of Ed’s story, gave them the phone number for the Governor’s office and asked them to call. They did. Hundreds and hundreds of them did.
In the end, though, the governor did not pardon Ed. She did some other wonderful things while she was in office, and issued an important pardon for the Wilmington Ten that day, but she missed the boat on this one.
Ed grew up in Hickory, but when he came out of prison, he moved to Asheville to start a new life. Friends he has made there have supported him in creating that new life, and part of that support has taken the form of a benefit concert each year at the Grey Eagle. I’ve had the privilege to play at some of them.
Here’s the good news, as told by my good friend, and friend to Ed, Cecil Bothwell:
Ed Chapman won a civil law suit against the prosecutors who suppressed evidence including the results of a police line-up, and otherwise subverted justice. He received an undisclosed settlement, but it has provided substantial help in getting his life back on track. (After 15 years of wrongful imprisonment, he was released without a penny in his pocket, or any restitution.
The Freedom Ball has been a benefit to help Ed recover from those lost years, but now, Ed wants to give back to the community that welcomed and supported him after his release, and so he wants this Freedom Ball to benefit AshevilleGO which is both a great education and environmental organization, but also a dedicated re-entry program for people exiting prison.
That’s right. Ed is OK now financially and is happy not to need that support. Rather than stop the Freedom Ball, though, he is doing a beautiful thing — re-channeling that energy that has sustained him and helping out some other people by supporting GO (Green Opportunities).
So there’s a lot to party about, and we’ve got the right team, I think. I’ll be playing some music and MC-ing the evening, and the funk and soul will be brought by ‘Free Flow’. Come out and dance, celebrate Ed’s victory and support an organization that is doing excellent work to heal Asheville on several levels.
Join us on April 4 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville. Hope to see you there.