'You can't give up hope,' local man works to end wrongful convictions
The Neon Movie Theatre in Dayton will host a sold-out screening and presentation titled "The Scourge of Wrongful Convictions in our Own Backyard" on Thursday, January 18.
WYSO’s Mary Evans sat down with Gillispie to discuss how regional organizations helped him win his case and how he maintained hope through his artwork during his wrongful imprisonment.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity)
Mary Evans: Wrongfully convicted for 20 years, Dean Gillespie was exonerated and has been on a mission to share his story, journey, and art with the world since being released.
As a justice-impacted individual myself, Dean exemplifies change and hope.
He could have become bitter and resentful of his injustice. Instead, he is letting his soul shine bright to bring awareness to the problem of wrongful convictions.
Dean Gillispie: I just got my artwork back Friday; the New York show finally closed. It's been unbelievable. That's unreal, from making art in prison to showing my work at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
Mary: How did you obtain the materials for your artwork in prison? Because you had some amazing pieces.
Dean: Well, it's all trash. It was pop cans turned inside out...when did you go to prison?
Mary: I went in 2010.
Dean: Okay, so back in the day, smoking was allowed in prison; they had the bugler, the roll-your-own cigarette stuff in their tobacco. And inside those packs were these big pieces of paper-backed foil. So, you know, you can't glue aluminum foil with just regular glue. So, the paper-backed foil was what I used. Anything in my artwork that isn't metal was that paperback foil from those bugler packs.
Mary: And then the metal was just recyclable pop cans?
Dean: Yeah, it was metal pop cans turned inside out. Then I'd crease them with a pencil to give the detail to it.
The cars were made out of paper maché. I made a little mold out of wood, wrapped it in Saran wrap, and then just started making the bodies on that mold and customized them with that paper maché. That's papier maché on cellophane.
When I started making that stuff, they were confiscated. It was considered contraband.
Mary: How did you connect with Mark Godsey, the director of the Ohio Innocence Project?
Dean: My mom was fighting like crazy to find somebody to listen to us and take my case.
A guy by the name of Bill Gallagher was trying to push to get an Innocence Project opened up in Cincinnati, and finally, he had some movement. There was an article in the paper that day that he was going to have a little fundraising thing and talk about it.
My mom's friends saw it, and they ran down there and started talking to Mark and basically made him take my case, which was the first case they took before they were even opened. They opened officially in 2003, and Mark agreed to take my case at the end of 2002.
I was ultimately the 14th person out of the 43 who the Innocence Project has released. Today, we're hitting about 900 years of total time incarcerated for people wrongfully convicted who were later exonerated with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project.
I also want to give a shout-out to Judge Dankof, who is setting all this up and raising awareness for the Ohio Innocence Project.
This guy is a leader in the Dayton area as far as wrongful convictions go.
He is pushing and helping to promote our project and this problem of wrongful incarcerations. Nobody else is doing this right now in this area, and to be a judge helping support our program that's what we want. We want fair judges. We want things to be fair.
Mary: What happened to the detective who mishandled your case?
Dean: Nothing. He is retired. In 2022, I had a civil suit, and he was part of that.
Mary: If someone is incarcerated and they know that they were wrongly convicted and they didn't know where to start, what kind of advice would you give them?
Dean: My number one thing that happened to me when my world turned upside-down was doing my artwork, and a buddy of mine came over and gave me an Allman Brothers cassette tape.
I love the Allman Brothers, and there's a song on there, "Soul Shine,' and that song talks about:
'When the candle lights of home burn so far away, when the moon ain't shining bright and you can't find your way, when the stars ain't shining, you got to let your soul shine.'
You have to let your inner soul shine brighter than anything around you. You can't give up hope, no matter how badly you're getting beaten down in this whole deal. You got to just keep pushing on.
If you weren't able to get tickets for this week's screening at The Neon, you can catch Dean Gillespie on February 29th, 2024, at 7 p.m. at the Victoria Theater in Dayton for a special "Evening for Justice" event.
The special that will be honoring the late Judge Michael Krumholtz. Special guests are Amanda Knox and Gilbert King and the event is a benefit for the Ohio Innocence Project