It’s the longest wrongful imprisonment in American history. But Richard Phillips is not bitter about the 45 years that were taken from his life.
“Believe it or not, it was a historic decision because I am the longest-serving prisoner to be exonerated in the history of the United States … it’s nothing to be proud of but it’s a fact,” Phillips told KIRO Nights. “No one has ever served that much time having done nothing wrong to deserve it.”
Phillips spoke with Gee Scott and Zak Burns on KIRO Nights about his 45 years in prison and how much things have changed since he was last a free man. Phillips was exonerated last week after a judge threw out his murder conviction.
Two men were charged with the murder in 1971. Phillips explains that the judge presiding over the trial told the jury that they had to find both defendants guilty or not guilty. It was both or nothing. But recently, the co-defendant admitted to a parole board that Phillips had nothing to do with the crime.
“I had given up,” Phillips said. “I figured I was going to die in prison.”
“… my will to survive and my belief in God,” he said. “Those were the two most important factors in my life at the time I was going through all this. I had to have a strong faith in God and a strong will to live. I had to tell myself every day to keep getting up, keep getting up. Make another day. Make another day. As it turned out, it ended up being about 17,000 days. But I never gave up.”
Richard Phillips: Times have changed
Phillips is out now. He is eligible to receive more than $2 million under Michigan’s wrongful conviction law. He describes all the things that have changed or didn’t even previously exist before he went to jail.
“Everything has changed,” he said. “I was looking on the cars the other day, I haven’t even seen a hood ornament on a car. All the cars are aerodynamic … there’s a lot of other little things I’ve had to adjust to. I don’t know how to use a phone that well. Going to a supermarket, you don’t even have to go through the line anymore. You can go over to the side and push a button, run it across a scanner, and put it in the bag and walk out the store. You don’t even have to see a cashier.”
“They didn’t even have rap music when I was on the street,” he said. “Richard Nixon was the president when I left the street. The music was crazy. Times change. You have to change with the times.”
“Believe it or not, I kind of like Facebook,” he added.
Phillips says he wants to live his new life to the fullest. At 72, the only thing he asks for is good health and 20 or 30 years to enjoy all the things that he missed.
Listen to KIRO Night’s entire interview with Richard Phillips here.