Sorry if I am not head over heels happy that Nevest Coleman has his old job back after spending more than two decades in prison doing hard time for a crime he didn’t commit.
Coleman, now 49, was the belle of the press on Monday when he returned to his old job as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox, a job he gave up in 1994. That year, the then-25-year old was charged with and convicted for the rape and murder of 20-year-old Antwinica Bridgeman.
In November, after spending 23 years in jail, he was exonerated by DNA evidence that vacated his sentence. The Chicago Tribune reports that a Cook County, Ill., judge granted him a certificate of innocence this month, clearing his name.
The outlet reports that Coleman marveled at how much the stadium had changed since the early ’90s (including the name—it went from Comiskey Park to U.S. Cellular Field and is now Guaranteed Rate Field). Legendary head groundskeeper Roger “the Sodfather” Bossard came over to give him a big hug.
“I saved your spot for you,” Bossard said. “I knew you’d be back.”
As Coleman approached Gate 4 at Guaranteed Rate Field, his old buddy Harry Smith remarked, “He got a little fatter, but that’s him.”
The two men hugged each other and went inside, where Coleman and his former colleagues Smith and Jerry Powe (now Coleman’s supervisor) shared a private moment in the tunnel before taking to the field. (In 1997, prosecutors sought the death penalty for Coleman, but a long line of character witnesses stood up for him at his sentencing hearing, including Smith and Powe.)
“Glad to see him out. Glad to see him back,” Powe said. “I’m so happy for him, me and the White Sox.”
The Tribune reports that after about an hour reuniting with his friends, Coleman changed into a yellow rubber suit, gloves and goggles and then took up a power washer to spray the ground.
After his release in November, Coleman often mentioned the White Sox.
“I want to sit back for a while, get to know my family and, when the time comes around, go back to Comiskey Park,” Coleman recalled saying.
The White Sox heard his story and gave him an interview, where he regained his old job (though he got no seniority for the time away).
“We’re grateful that after more than two decades, justice has been carried out for Nevest,” the team said in a statement. “It has been a long time, but we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to welcome him back to the White Sox family. We’re looking forward to having Nevest back on Opening Day at home in our ballpark.”
When the team won the 2005 World Series, Coleman heard about it from his cell after he heard a roar emanating from the jail. He said he was happy.
I mean, I know this is supposedly a feel-good story about a man who spent 23 years of his life jailed and who now has a job cleaning a field, but I can’t help feeling sadness wrapped in anger over how many black men are unjustly and wrongly jailed for crimes they didn’t commit, railroaded by a system that often presumes their guilt out of the gate, while lying-ass cops and prosecutors look to make a name for themselves on the backs of incarcerated black men, sending a rippling effect through black communities for generations to come.
According to the Innocence Project, Coleman, who had never been arrested, was called a “lying ass nigger” and was physically abused by detectives who interrogated him—detectives who lied and told him that if he confessed, he would be allowed to go home. These detectives were later involved in obtaining false confessions from other subjects. In fact, Chicago is known as the “false confession capital of the world.”
But eh, I guess it could have been worse—prosecutors could have killed the now-grandfather of three. So there’s that.