When I was college, I got the opportunity to act as a man named David Keaton in a stage production of “The Exonerated.” The play was about real people who had been wrongfully convicted of various crimes and sentenced to death. It followed accounts of circumstances leading up to the indictment and conviction, life in prison, and life after release (and in some cases their deaths).
Despite my various opinions about the US Criminal Justice System, today’s piece will focus on something very different and perhaps seasonally appropriate: Love. You see, in the last few months, I’ve become enamored with a show on NPR called Snap Judgment. Their latest episode entitled, Joy and Pain, follows the various ups and downs of people in relationships. One of the segments on the episode featured the story of Sunny Jacobs, whose story was also told in the play. She and her husband, Jesse Tafero, were sentenced to death for the murders of Officer Phillip Black and Donald Irwin. Jesse was executed after fifteen years in jail, and Sunny was released two years later.
The thing about acting in a play like “The Exonerated,” is that you rarely forget the experience. I have always found the lives of Jesse Tafero and Sunny Jacobs particularly endearing because of their strength, devotion and love for each other over those years in prison. They shared the kind of spiritual bond that fairy tales and love songs are written about. Understanding how deep their love and compassion was for each other made it that much more painful to learn that Jesse was wrongfully executed.
Losing someone you love is no easy thing. I had always wondered how Sunny must have felt in the days, months, and years after Jesse’s death. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories about people who have been exonerated and didn’t fare well afterwards. I’m glad that Sunny’s doing alright. Her character always seemed pretty strong and resolute. I guess that’s why I burst into tears as she told the part of her story that I was familiar with. I’m especially glad that she found love again. This time, it’s with an Irishman named Peter Pringle, who had also been exonerated in Ireland.
The experience of “The Exonerated,” and in particular, the story of Sunny and Jesse, taught me a lot about finding love, joy, and happiness even life’s darkest moments. There’s plenty of darkness in the world, but there’s also an equal, if not, grater amount of beauty to it. I don’t know if I will ever have the kind of deep bond that Sunny and Jesse shared with someone of my own. I’m not certain that I would ever love again if lost the person I shared that kind of bond with. However, if Sunny’s life is any indication, then it’s certainly a possibility.
Peace, Love, Many Blessings