July 4: What Freedom Means For The Wrongly Incarcerated

innocent people in prison who are fighting for their freedom
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Photos: Innocence Project\John Jay

With July Fourth coming up, there’s likely going to be a lot of talk about freedom and its significance for different people. To me and to others who’ve been wrongly incarcerated, freedom has a deeply personal meaning.

Belynda Goff

I was incarcerated for more than 22 years for a crime I didn’t commit, and when I was in prison, I didn’t really have access to a mirror, so I didn’t see my face for a long time. So when I finally got home, one of the shocking things to me was finally seeing how my face had changed over the years.

Some people call these marks of aging on your face wrinkles, but not me. I call them battle scars because freedom comes at a fight, and that’s what I did for 22 years — fight for my freedom.

Take a moment to watch this video I filmed to hear what freedom means to me, someone who was wrongly incarcerated, and then share it with your friends on social media.

It was June 12, 1994, when my husband Stephen was murdered in our home while I was asleep with our 3-year-old son in the other room. When I found him, I immediately called 911, but it was too late.

A neighbor told police that she saw two men with baseball bats parked outside of our apartment the night before Stephen’s murder. My brother told police that my husband was involved in an arson scheme and was afraid that the other men involved might want to kill him. Despite all of this, I still became the main target of the investigation even though no physical evidence pointed to me.

Two years after losing Stephen, I was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. I ended up spending more than 22 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit before finally being released after a Carroll County judge recognized I’d likely be acquitted if I had a new trial.

While I’m glad to be out of prison, I know I’ll never get back those 22 years that were stolen from me. I’ll never be able to make up for the memories I lost with my children — so many missed birthdays, holidays, and celebrations. But now, I celebrate my freedom every day with an attitude of gratitude. When I feel the breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin, I’m reminded not to take one second for granted because I know how quickly freedom can be stripped away.

So while you’re celebrating the Fourth this weekend, I’m asking you to think about all of those innocent people in prison who are fighting for their freedom — watch my video right now and then share it online.

Thank you so much!

Belynda Goff was freed in 2019.

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