In 1976, Ronnie Long was accused of raping a white woman and sentenced to life in prison. Long would spend 44 years in prison despite evidence collected at the scene that would have proved his innocence never being shared. In August 2020 Long was freed, but the damage had been done. Long lost his freedom for 44 years. He lost both his parents while in prison. For 44 Christmases, Long stayed in jail longing to be free.
North Carolina recently awarded Long a check for $750,000. It works out to be $50,000 for every year that Long was incarcerated. It caps at 15 years. So 29 years that Long spent waiting to be free goes unchecked, and more importantly uncompensated.
“You took my 20s, my 30s, my 40s and my 50s and you still talking about this is worth that?” Long told USA Today.
It’s not. And the state knows it’s not, but who are we kidding? Long is a Black man who spent more time in prison than he did as a free man and the state deems that worth $750,000. That’s it.
“He entered prison healthy and left broken. His ongoing financial security is the least he deserves after so much was taken over those 44 years,” Long’s criminal attorney Jamie Lau said in a statement to USA Today.
See, some states have caps on the amount of money that they will pay an unjustly incarcerated individual, and unfortunately for Long, North Carolina is one of those states. It could’ve been worse. Long could’ve been falsely imprisoned in Mississippi and would’ve only received $500,000 or $50,000 for 10 years.
Remember Curtis Flowers, the man who spent 23 years on death row for reportedly killing four people despite mounds of evidence proving he wasn’t even there? Remember he was retried some six times with each trial ending in a mistrial or his conviction being overturned? Well, he was released in 2020 and in March he received his maximum compensation: $500,000.
But Long isn’t just fighting to make his case right, he’s fighting to change a system that puts a cap on reimbursement money but not prison sentences.
“We’re grateful the pardon was issued and that he had some means of financial security. Of course, $750,000 is a meager sum when you think of 44 years of your life,” Lau said, WCNC reports. “That cap is completely inadequate when you can consider people losing so much time in their lives.”
And get this shit: Despite being wrongly incarcerated, Long wouldn’t have received a penny if North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper didn’t issue a pardon.
“It’s time to revisit this amount since we are learning the magnitude of the harm caused by wrongful convictions in North Carolina,” Lau said. “It’s also time to revisit the compensation statute as a whole, as the governor should not have full authority over who does and does not receive compensation.”
Long is still trying to piece together what’s left of the life he has. He still believes that he’s blessed to be free and he and his wife Ashleigh are looking for a home. But if you ask him about money, money to make up for 44 years of his life in prison, he will tell you that what he’s been given is not nearly enough.