I encountered a slight feeling of guilt watching what was perhaps a documentary I should not be watching. As a wee lad we had a cottage in Vermont which was just over an hour from our home in Montreal. Inevitably there would be some horrific car accident on the road to or from our cottage and there were crowds standing by the wrecks gawking at the blood and gore. Boy did my parents let those gawkers have it. Staring at pain and misery like some type of spectator sport was morally unacceptable. I had the same feeling watching “Lovely Jackson”. I felt like I was gawking at the misery of black American Rickey Jackson wrongfully convicted of the murder of a 58-year-old money order collector in Cleveland on May 19,1975. He was sent to Death Row but later as Ohio abolished capital punishment his sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
Jackson claims he was beaten senseless by members of the Cleveland police force and never read his rights. His conviction was based on the inconsistent and contradictory evidence of a 12-year-old Edward Vernon a paper boy who allegedly drove by the shooting incident is his bicycle. Vernon was harassed and threatened by the Cleveland police if not coerced into pointing the finger at Jackson. The testimony of another eyewitness was ignored and that witness said Jackson was not the killer.
I wondered what could be so “lovely” about this horrific miscarriage of justice? Nothing really but “Lovely” as you will see was a beginning to a new life that Jackson was robbed of.
39 years of false imprisonment (two and a half years of it on Death Row) would enrage just about anyone but I would say it was “lovely” that Jackson simply marched on day after day from a beginning in Death Row to the end of the nightmare by his conviction being overturned. He bore this frightful experience with grace, dignity and even forgiveness.
It was the Ohio Innocence Project that championed for Jackson forcefully pointing out the inconsistent testimony of Edward Vernon and the lack of attention paid to the eyewitness who stated Jackson was not the killer. Vernon recanted his testimony. Suddenly 39 years later Jackson is released without a job, money or place to live. In a world he has been deprived of for almost 4 decades. Despite Ohio having a wrongfully accused compensation fund it took three years of fighting by Jackson to get $2.6 million on compensation. As a lawyer cognizant of how damages are awarded in civil suits $2.6 million is a sick joke for 39 years of being unable to live a life he was entitled to. While Jackson may had been compensated for his loss of income while being in prison the $2.6 million should have been augmented by a sizeable amount of punitive damages.
For the time of incarceration, the documentary is filmed in black and white and upon obtaining freedom in colour.
Although you may be gawking in disbelief watching the documentary it is a story that must be told. You may feel anger and disgust as you should but Jackson has turned hell into a second chance at a life he should have had. The recreation of his life in prison was shot in the actual prison where he was incarcerated. A brutal mind-numbing place.
The parole process is unmasked here as slanted against those who insist their innocence. Like blind bloodhounds the parole board members hunger for admissions of guilt and repentance as browning points for freedom. Jackson refused to give them these hollow statements and was further penalized for his claims of innocence knowing well he could have played the game and been out of jail sooner.
The documentary had its world premiere on June 17th at the American Black Film Festival. After that I would expect it will make the festival circuit and eventually be shown on television and available on VOD.
You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/716874497/1fdd2d6413
RKS Film Rating 86/100.