Innocent Man Spends 27 Years in Jail for a Crime He Did NOT Commit – Now He’s Going Back for This Reason

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His very personal experience with a corrupt system was the catalyst for one man’s crusade for prison reform.

You would think that being released from prison after a long incarceration would be a joyful event. You would think that it would be, well, freeing. But studies show that the opposite is often true. People who have been incarcerated for long periods of time often feel scared and lost when they’re finally released.

“I didn’t know I was going to walk into unemployment and hunger,” says Clinton Kanu. “I was thrown into the cold wind.”

A Stolen Dream

It had been 27 years since Kanu had felt that cold wind. He had walked into the maximum-security prison an optimistic 27-year-old. Well educated, with a love for crime novels, a car and a good job — Kanu had started investing in real estate. He already owned two residential buildings when his life took a dramatic turn for the worse. 

Twenty-seven years old is when a young man is fully coming into his adult life. But for Kanu, it was when his life ended, at least momentarily. Ironically, the man who loved figuring out mysteries in crime novels and, after studying law and criminology, became a criminologist, ended up on the other side of the prison walls. How did it happen?

Wrongfully Accused

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One day, Kanu was trying to help solve the case of a theft and a dispute over family land. When someone connected to the case died, Kanu was accused of his murder.

In the corrupt Nigerian justice system, it didn’t matter that there was no physical evidence linking him to the scene or that he had an alibi placing him over 100 km away. It didn’t matter that there was only one witness who said he had seen Kanu at the crime scene — and that that witness had ulterior motives. 

Kanu was charged and ripped away from his promising, young life. He spent several years in a small, overcrowded prison awaiting trial. When his case was finally heard, he was sentenced to death by firing squad or hanging. His family was shocked and dismayed.

Crying for Prison Reform

Kanu calls the mishandling of justice “the height of wickedness, the height of crudeness, the height of treachery, the height of judicial murder. Judges here are known to accept bribes. Overzealous law enforcement officers put thousands of people behind bars where they wait years for trial in the backlogged system. The prisons are dirty and overcrowded — in many cases, with innocent people. Prison guards steal money intended for prisoners’ food, and prisoners regularly die from malaria and tuberculosis in the horrific conditions.” There is a startling need for prison reform.

“I was boxed up in a cell that could have killed me,” Kanu remembers. Frustrated and tired, he began to lose hope. His health suffered. At one point, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, he even tried to commit suicide. 

Kanu’s story is one of many. Nigeria has an astonishingly high number of people on death row. Recent estimates put the death row population at over 3,000 inmates.

A Life Lost

Kanu’s many siblings visited him in prison. While he lived for those visits, they were also a constant reminder of everything he was missing.

His niece and nephew were growing up without him. When his mother died in 2014, and he was still in prison, he tried to commit suicide a second time. Then, there was a third attempt.

When his third attempt at suicide failed, Kanu took a step back…and realized that perhaps God wanted him alive. After some soul-searching, he decided that he could help himself by helping others, specifically by helping them to find purpose in confinement and to use their time wisely.

On a Mission

bed in a prison cell

So Kanu wrote letters. He convinced the African College of Christian Education and Seminary to run classes at the prison. Over the next seven years, Kanu worked toward becoming a nondenominational reverend. He spent the long days studying, racking up a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and two doctorate degrees — all in counselling fields.

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said. And while other inmates were also ordained, Kanu was the one who made things happen. The others started to call him “The Bishop”.

But Kanu’s vision extended beyond the prison. For years, he had been working on appealing his death sentence. To pay for the mounting legal fees, he had sold that car and those two residential buildings. He sold everything he owned.

And won. Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled that there was no evidence connecting Kanu to the crime. When he was released, he had only his degrees. What did he do next? Well, the ordained reverend went to church.

A Man, Reformed

Today, Kanu is often a guest speaker at Days of His Awesome Power Church. Sometimes, he leads services. And he prays constantly. While his vision helped move him forward, prayer led him back to the prison and to his next calling: being, as he says, “a voice for the people.” By ‘people’, he means prisoners. These days, Kanu advocates for prison reform.

It was studying and becoming a reverend that saved Kanu. That’s why he pushes for more educational programs in prisons, including trades that would help a prisoner get back on his feet after release. He wants to launch a nonprofit organization that would help prisoners transition to life on the outside. All of that costs money.

So every day, Kanu hits the streets, calling upon government officials and people in power to help him with his ideas for prison reform. The corrupt system left the once successful young man with nothing but dreams. Despite his excellent education and work ethic, he finds himself begging for food and terrified that he won’t be able to pay his rent.

A New Mission: Prison Reform

When Clinton Kanu was released, there were no wife or children waiting for him. Twenty-seven years had passed; the time to make family memories was gone.

Locked away in a maximum-security prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Kanu walked into, as he said, “a cold wind.” Mercifully, he has a small apartment. It’s not much bigger than a walk-in closet, and though he’s not a particularly tall man, Kanu’s head nearly touches the ceiling.

It’s stifling hot in that apartment, so Kanu walks to his sister’s place to share a meal with her and her husband.

Now, over scrambled eggs and bread, Kanu’s sister brings out a family photo album. She’ll help him reconstruct that family history. And he’ll hit the streets tomorrow, spending the rest of his days fighting for prisoners who are losing theirs.

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