There is a common thread that binds the lives and tragic stories of most men who are incarcerated. Their assertions of innocence echo through a labyrinth of prison corridors and the endless spiral of time. Such claims are compounded by their collective struggles for justice which invariably fall upon deaf or unsympathetic ears—ears that are unwilling to take heed of the facts that could ultimately separate truth from fiction.
The indifference can become a living nightmare that offers no way out of these places—human aviaries for jailed birds that cannot fly on clipped wings. These are victims in their own right because they have been wrongly convicted for a crime they never committed.
When I consider the ramifications of wrongful imprisonment, weighed against the bitter and ugly realities of prison life, it must be a truly miserable, frustrating, and soul-crushing experience. These are people who are being forced to endure being locked inside a box the size of a walk-in closet for the remainder of their lives for crimes for which they are not guilty.
These very circumstances are what occurred in the case of Steve Grant. I have taken the liberty of helping him piece his story together for the sake of demonstrating just how cruel a wrongful conviction can be. . . .
—Mark E. Vigil
In Steve’s Words
I am an innocent man!
I would rather be a homeless man than to live where I am now, incarcerated for life in prison for a crime I could never consider inflicting on any human being for any reason at any time. I repeat and cannot stress enough, I am an innocent man!
This nightmare began back in 1981 when I was a much younger man. I was arrested for the murder of a man who was a deacon in a church—a man of God. He was 67 years old when he lost his life in a brutal robbery that went bad.
His name was William Edwards—a name that will live with me for as long as I live–a name that has haunted me ever since the days when I was first arrested for his death.
Mr. Edwards was burned alive for money he did not have by a callous and petty gang of young men who encountered the victim one night as he was walking back to his car which had run out of gas. It seems that before he was able to make it back to his car, he was confronted by this gang of thugs and pushed around until the gas can Mr. Edwards was carrying was taken from him and used to set him aflame.
Though I was never there that night, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to experience that sort of excruciating pain and suffering.
Had I been present, maybe then I could have somehow helped Mr. Edwards because I could not have stood by to let anyone be attacked that way. I am not that sort of man, yet the circumstances around his death are what have ever since shadowed and condemned my life. It was that night when my life came to a sudden stop!
Thirty-five years later, I am still reliving the horrors done to Mr. Edwards when his life was tragically and senselessly taken and when I was robbed of my own freedom as a result of his death.
Yes, it is said that all prisoners claim their innocence but there really are some—too many—whose claims ring true, and mine is one of them. I understand the suspicion that accompanies such claims, but mine is indisputably one of the exceptions. I have maintained my story from the very beginning, despite the lies and false testimony people have used against me.
I am an innocent man!
Each time I go before the Parole Board, I express the same truths. I had nothing to do with Mr. Edward’s death, but my protestations are never enough. The commissioners do not want to hear the truth. They always want to paint me in the dimmest light they can, and they can do this in good conscience and without guilt because I am not convincing. The fact is, I am not an educated nor an eloquent man who might otherwise be able to end this hell if I could only explain just how I got caught up in a situation that cast doubt on my innocence.
They don’t want to hear the truth!
It seems there exists no currency in the truth. There is only the court record and that record states that I am guilty of this heinous crime. So why should they believe me?!
The people who were arrested and also charged for this crime were Crip gang members. I was 23 years old and they were 16- and 17 year-old boys at the time.
I was never with a street gang. I was neither affiliated with those young men nor did I share their ways of beating and abusing people in and around the neighborhood. We had absolutely nothing in common. In fact, they were from the same gang with whom I had long-standing problems—they had bullied, harassed, and eventually killed my sister in an unrelated earlier crime.
Perhaps there was a plea bargain for a lesser sentence. Perhaps, they implicated me out of some kind of revenge over my sisters’ murder which they had committed—in order to get me out of the way. I don’t know to this day what sentences they received, but I cannot help but believe, to this day, that somehow my own freedom and innocence were swapped over some nefarious compact.
So, initially, I was arrested but let go days later for lack of evidence. Strangely to me, when I got out, I recall people asking me all sorts of questions about my involvement in this crime, but (naïvely) I didn’t give it much thought because I didn’t have anything to do with the crime. I figured things would come out in the wash.
Justice would somehow prevail!
When I was re-arrested, I thought the cops had made another mistake, but this time they turned up the heat and threatened me with hard time. When that failed, they proceeded to beat me up in order to obtain a confession, but even that could not get me to change my story.
So I clung to the truth!
They say, The truth shall set you free, but in my case that has proven not to be the case. Instead, my freedom was taken and I have been subjected to a life where beatings, muggings, and death are commonplace.
The guards and the inmates are all alike. They use and abuse each other and make our world a living hell. As for me, I spent nearly 3 years fighting this case from the Los Angeles County Jail until I was finally convicted and sent to Folsom Prison.
Once there and over time, I saw many men die—some at their own hands! What I witnessed was like shock-and-awe—experiences that always sent chills down my spine and continue to give me nightmares.
In the early ‘80s, Folsom Prison was experiencing a series of race wars between the Blacks and Mexicans that were fueled by hatred, anger, and the need for blood-letting. For those who could not stomach that level of brutality, suicide became a way out. And there I was, in a system that went and stuck me right in the middle of this battlefield of lunatics and mad men!
I have asked myself repeatedly, Why should I take my own life when I was and am an innocent man?!
Over time, I had written numerous suicide notes to various people because I didn’t know what the next day would bring. The pain and sorrow I felt about my predicament was extremely overwhelming. And I could not see any way out. I felt so powerless—hopeless in the face of so much misery. I was a hostage to the bitter realities that kept dragging my body down inside a bottomless pit.
More than anything, I felt the burning sting of the injustice that had been done to me and I would cry out for some sort of mercy, but it would never come.
Suicide seemed like a logical way out of this living hell, a situation that only seemed to get worse by the day. The reason I thought about harming myself is that I couldn’t see being in prison for a crime I did not do and was not involved in at all. Furthermore, I didn’t want to hurt or harm my family any more than they already have been as a result of my seemingly eternal incarceration. There are reasons why I am not dead by my own hands.
But as 5 years turned to 10 and now 35, the more I feel trapped in this unspeakable living hell with absolutely no way of extricating myself.
I am not a lawyer nor do I possess a basic knowledge of how to utilize the law. Knowing that, I began to write anyone who could possibly help me find some form of relief in this matter. I silently hoped someone would come forward and own the truth of what really happened to Mr. Edwards.
But once again, no one bothered to take an interest in my case. I must have written nearly 2000 letters that seemed like messages stuffed in bottles that were never discovered by anyone out there. Instead, they simply drifted out into open waters.
Just as I have floated—adrift at sea for far too long!
For 25 years, I wrote the D. A. and never once did he bother to toss me a lifeline. He eventually went on to become a judge in a broader field of influence and power but, rest assured, that no matter how high up the judicial ladder he rises, he will always be flawed and his judgements questionable due to what he failed to do in the interests of justice for Mr. Edwards and for me.
His name is unimportant. Yet, what he had failed to do is exquisitely telling.
Since receiving yet another denial from the prison board, which took place on December 16, 2015, I find it extremely difficult to sleep. It’s like they keep opening a wound that has never quite had time to heal.
Maybe I would sleep better had I actually committed this crime. Perhaps then the nightmare would be more bearable. But the truth is, I could never have perpetrated this atrocity on another human being—not for any reason!
My family raised me better than that. I just wish they could have prepared me for the daily trauma that I live with. Till this very day, I have never read my trial transcripts because I get so sick each time I attempt to read through them. The lies and countless humiliations hurled against me simply hurt too much.
Maybe now that I have told my story, something good will come of it. Up till now, it has all been a series of perpetual pain and a lifetime lost inside these catacombs. Maybe the next step will see a “new birth of freedom” for me and the many others who have been caught in this same web of cruel distortions and heartless misrepresentations.
Through it all, however, I still ask God for mercy, not just for myself but for the Edwards’ family.
For those doing time for a crime they, like me, never did, I pray their pain will end soon and their freedom will one day be restored.
As for me, I am still waiting!