I remembered just how long Ronnie Rhodes has spent in prison, when I prepared to send him the project we’d published on his 30-year-old case.
Rhodes doesn’t have access to the Internet from prison, so he’d missed many of the blog posts I’d written over the past year. When, Rhodes went to prison computers with 16-bit processors were high tech.
Earlier, Rhodes explained what life was like for him, and I’d put it on a video he couldn’t watch. But it hit me on how secluded he is from real life, as I assembled newspaper clips and computer printouts. I included a letter explaining about blogs and reader comments. I put it all in an envelope and addressed it:
Mr. Ronnie Lee Rhodes: #34538 LCF PO Box 2 Lansing, KS 66403-0002
He can’t imagine what everyone else takes for granted, such as reading news on their cells phones, or having satellites systems in their cars to give them directions.
And gum. Chewing gum.
Two days after our stories on Rhodes ran, the new Esquire arrived. On the cover was the headline “30 Years in Prison for a Crime He Didn’t Commit.” It was the story of Ray Towler, who was exonerated by DNA evidence, showing he didn’t commit a rape. Towler’s freedom came, partially, as a result of an investigation pairing reporters at the Columbus Dispatch with the Ohio Innocence project. Those stories served as an impetus for the Eagle teaming with the Washburn Law School.
As Esquire writer Mike Sager explained, once Towler left prison he found a drastic changes even at the grocery store checkout lane:
“When he went into prison there were, like, two kinds of chewing gum. Now there are a zillion. One of the small gifts he gives himself is trying all the gums. ‘I can spoil myself a little so long as I stay within my means,’ he says.
Rhodes wrote back this week. He said our report included details about his case he’d seen for the first time.
“I did not know about bloody clothing and Bruce Elliott’s bloody hands, if that is his name. I did not know about how they stored my evidence no wonder it can not be found. I did not know that there was a statute which prohibited the destruction of evidence without a court order.”
Rhodes also saw the mug shot we ran of him, taken in 1978, when he was arrested for battery.
“I am not the same person who took that picture then,” he said.