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The year is 1982. Ivan Henry, 35, a former construction worker with a wife and two little girls, is convicted for a string of sexual assaults across the city. Justice served.
Except every day of his incarceration, Henry professed his innocence. Every day, he wrote petitions, applications. When he ran out of ink, he made his own from old felt pens and kerosene. Nobody listened, of course-one more inmate professing his innocence-until finally, after 26 years, the courts reopened his case and Ivan Henry was acquitted.
One person recalls being struck by his calm manner on the news the night of his release. Joan McEwen, who would turn out to be as tenacious as Henry himself, felt the awakening that evening of a curiosity to know more. In March 2011 the two met, and McEwen, trained as a labour lawyer (criminal law appealed, but she feared the trauma of seeing clients sent away), was captivated.
“I wanted to talk about his life in jail,” McEwen says. “I was working at the time on a novel about a prisoner and a parole officer, and I’d been interviewing inmates, corrections officers, parole officers, parolees, wardens. I was intrigued to talk to a sex offender about that experience as the lowest of the low. But when we met, and he talked about the injustice he’d been through, I was shocked.”
That interview became the first of many, until she’d amassed enough material for
A Question of Innocence, an exposé of Henry’s investigation, trial, and abortive appeals now making the rounds of publishers. The research, plus regular volunteering with other inmates and ex-cons, has become a second full-time job for McEwen. Why do it? Why spend so many hours corresponding with inmates, driving people to and from facilities, inviting parolees into your home? Why shelve a novel to write the story of one man’s wrongful conviction so many years ago? “Imagine,” says McEwen. “You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re arrested, tried, you don’t trust your lawyers so you represent yourself. You’re found guilty and sentenced-railroaded, in fact. You’re pulled out of your normal life and thrown in jail. Nothing makes sense. Nobody explains anything. Life becomes arbitrary. It could happen to any of us-he’s Everyman.”
McEwen’s case for the innocence of Ivan Henry is here.