Clarence Moses-EL: A sweet taste of freedom

A taste of sweet freedom. The cake had 12 candles, one for each grandchild Moses-EL had not met in his 28 years in prison. Photo: Greg Hoenig

The judge handed down her order on December 14th lifting the convictions that had kept Clarence Moses-EL locked up despite his innocence for more than 28 years. It took four days to transfer him from Colorado’s Department of Corrections to Denver’s Jail. Then four more days until his bond hearing on Tuesday morning. And then eight more hours to bond him out because, of all things, a fire alarm at the jail delayed the process. No joke.

But all the stops and starts became history at dusk last night when Moses-EL walked out of the jail — a free man in his suit and tie and ginormous smile embracing the family who have stood by him since his arrest in 1987 for an assault in which police tossed all the DNA evidence in a dumpster and to which another man has confessed.

“Here I am,” he told them, and himself. “I’m really here.”

Mo, 60, had lots of time to think in prison. And time to read and pray and plan the life he’d have someday if only someone in the system would finally hear the truth of his case. He also had time to dream about what freedom would taste like: Pizza with steak and shrimp on top, and banana cream pie.

As it happens, we have a state full of people who were more than happy to bake them up, special order, with their blessings. Whatever Mo wanted. Anything they could do. Pronto.

About an hour after his release last night, Mo walked into our home with his wife, Stephanie, and son, Anthony, and six of the 12 grandchildren he had never met before. He took time with each of them, and with each member of his legal team who not only believe in him, but also admire and love him. He took time with my boys and with the sons and daughters of two of his lawyers, Keyonyu O’Connell and Eric Klein, and with our partners and others who, along with us, had hoped for this day.

Mo was hungry. And all of us were perfectly thrilled to stand around my dining room watching him eat. He went for the pie first, with a swig of grapefruit juice. Then, between toasts and hugs and phone calls with his daughter Tyice and other family members back East, he ate the pizza, slow bite by slow bite, with a grin. Then there was cake – big and white, with extra frosting. “Sweet Freedom,” it read, lit up with 12 candles for each of his grandkids.

“This ain’t nothing like prison food,” he smiled. “Nothing about this whole night is anything like where I’ve been.”

I’ve known Mo for about nine years and have never, ever heard him complain. Not once. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when he said his thin prison mattress had given him a kink in his neck. In a snap last night, that problem was solved by Nicole Terry — an investigator who worked years on his case — who gave him two, jumbo, super-soft pillows to sleep soundly.

“One of those is for me,” Stephanie said, embracing her husband as he joked about the Marvin Gaye tune, “Sexual Healing,” playing on his stereo.

Katie Stevenson, a lawyer who worked for years for Mo’s freedom, gave him a package of warm socks. He had told Katie long ago that, after so many years in chilly state penitentiaries, he worries he may never be able to go barefoot.

That’s what the evening was like. A fire in the fireplace. Kids playing hide and seek throughout the house. A wool coat. A prayer by Pastor Reginald Holmes for Mo, who’s Muslim, and the Christians, Jews, sun-and-moon worshippers and doubters among us who, for that one night, had the good fortune to be there, together, celebrating.

Here are some pictures of the evening before Mo went home with his family to meet the curfew required under his bond. The bond will remain until Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey either takes the case to another trial in May – despite the fact that he has no evidence to win it — or drops it so Mo can get on with his life.

“This is my chance. Finally, my chance,” he told me on his way home last night. “You know, I’m gonna make it count.”

If you’d like to support Clarence Moses-EL, see this page for information.


Photo credit: Greg Hoenig