Thomas McGowen was wrongly convicted of burglary of a habitation and aggravated sexual assault in 1985 and served 23 years in prison before being exonerated and being released from prison when he was 49 years old.
Matt Nager is a Denver-based photographer specializing in editorial, documentary and travel photography. Some of his clients include: Mother Jones Magazine, Discover, US News & World Report, AARP, National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Earlier this year L’Express Magazine gave him an assignment to photograph men recently exonerated in Texas. Nager writes:
Many of these guys had been in prison for 15-30 years for crimes they didn’t commit. I can’t even begin to imagine. It’s a story that is has become more and more prevalent as DNA testing becomes cheaper and more accessible for inmates in the prison system. North Texas has seen the largest number of exonerated prisoners in the country. The reason being Dallas DA Craig Watkins. Watkins has been an outspoken supporter of granting DNA testing in the state. It was a refreshing thing to sit with, talk, and photograph a person of power and influence who is actually working for the people.
I only had two days to photograph the guys, so the idea was to take portraits of each man. I felt that doing a close up of each face was the best option, as you can almost feel their stories just by looking into their eyes. After setting up my lights, I had the chance to listen to each of their stories as they spoke with the reporter for L’Express – Philippe Coste. As imagined, each story was heartbreaking. It’s stories like theirs which makes you really realize, and reflect upon your own freedom. It also raises serious questions on the justness of the legal system.
I was able to spend an extra day with one of the guys – Johnnie Lindsey. He was the 19th exoneree in Dallas Country. Johnnie was wrongly convicted of aggravated rape in 1981 and served 26 years in prison before being exonerated and being released from prison on September 19, 2008 when he was 56 years old. He invited me into his home where he showed off his piano skills on his brand new piano. You could see the pride he has in literally owning his freedom. You could also see what 30 years in prison does to a man. When I asked what the strangest thing about being out of prison was, Johnnie told it was strange to hear cars beep at you when you don’t attach a seat belt. This is a story I will remember for some time.