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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

EXCLUSIVE: WYSO interviews Amanda Knox ahead of her event in Dayton

Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox

Note from the producer: Amanda Knox made international headlines and had a Netflix series made about her after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her roommate. Knox spent close to four years in prison before she was acquitted. She is now an advocate and is coming to Dayton this week to speak at an event for the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), a local nonprofit whose mission is to free every innocent person convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. In a preview of the upcoming season of my series ReEntry Stories, I spoke with Knox.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity)

Mary Evans: How do you feel about how the media has portrayed you?

Amanda Knox: It's one thing to do an interview promoting an Innocence Project event that will be incredibly powerful and useful for the local community. I'm so happy to lend my voice to that kind of thing. But yeah, I've grown to be very wary and intentional about how I interact with media because of how badly I've been treated. I'd need hours to talk to you about how it went; it was just horribly wrong in the media.

The major thing was that before I was ever a person and had a voice, I was depicted as a monster globally based on zero evidence whatsoever. Knowing that is a reality that can take place makes me very mindful and cautious when it comes to media in general.

Mary: So why have you decided to do this work and bring your message to places like Ohio?

Amanda: When I was going through my own wrongful conviction experience, I had zero education about the criminal justice system.

I was raised in the suburbs of Seattle. I was raised to trust police officers, my experience with them was them coming into our school and telling us about stranger danger and telling us about D.A.R.E.. They were the good guys. It never occurred to me that they would betray me and that I would be a victim of the criminal justice system. It was just beyond my comprehension, and when that was happening to me, I was shocked to realize that things are more complicated than this black-and-white idea of the criminal justice system I was raised to believe in.

When I came home and encountered other wrongfully convicted people who had gone through their experience here in the United States, that really solidified for me the realization that there wasn't enough understanding in the broader public that these sorts of things take place and that could they could impact any person, any single person can be wrongly convicted.

I've realized that there was this need to bridge the gap between the communities aware of this issue and those that are not, and since I came from a community that is not aware of these issues, I felt like my job, and my purpose could be bridging that gap. So when I was invited to come to Ohio for this event, it really was in the spirit of building bridges between communities that know this deep in their hearts and those that care about the world and care about people but may just be coming from a place of ignorance.

Mary: Why do you think organizations like the Ohio Innocence Project are important?

Amanda: Oh my God, if innocence projects didn't exist, I don't think anybody would be doing this work in a broadly impactful way.

Of course, there are going to be individual attorneys who have learned what the system looks like who knows how the sausage gets made, and knows that there are innocent people who are being wronged in the process, and so might dedicate themselves individually to pro bono cases. But I think that when this is limited to individual lawyers who are trying to do the right thing in their own spare time, we're not addressing the big systemic issues that are the causes of wrongful convictions.

So I think that the really important purpose of an Innocence Project, like the one that I'm going to be visiting very soon in Ohio, is multiple. First, they are taking on cases. They're helping free innocent people on the individual level. Second, they are addressing systemic problems and common causes of wrongful convictions by addressing a legislature, trying to get laws changed, and trying to put protections in place that will help people in the future. And third, they're offering inadvertently, I don't think this was intended with innocence projects, but it's arisen as offering a safe community for wrongfully convicted people to find each other. Because I think one of the things that is sad is that when you've been isolated, when you've been wrongly accused, when you've been rendered a monster in the media or in the criminal justice system, and you're innocent, you feel estranged from the rest of humanity. You no longer feel like you belong and so one of the most healing things that's ever happened to me was attending one of these events and coming into contact with other wrongfully convicted people and realizing that I'm not just this isolated person, I am a part of a family. I am part of a movement. And I'm understood, and I belong again to humanity. And it's made me feel more comfortable with other people who have not been through this experience because I have found that connection.

Mary: What can we expect from this event that's going to be happening here in Dayton?

Amanda: Well, I think that those who would like to attend should expect it not to be your typical sort of event.

It's not just a bunch of humdrum people talking about things that only matter to them in a weird, little hived-away sort of echo chamber. I think the Innocence Project is really special in that it is very open and it is very vulnerable.

One of the biggest things that we're dealing with in these cases is the worst experience of someone's life, and it is a prolonged trauma. It's not just like a trauma that happened in a day or in an instant. It is years of people's lives that were stolen from them, and it's the work that it's taken to try to give them some kind of vindication. It is torturous work. It breaks the hearts of everyone who is involved. So, as a result of that, it lends itself to a community that is really heartfelt and really vulnerable. So not only will the event be very interesting in the sense that it's really revelatory about human nature and the justice system, but it's also deeply moving and personal.

So I really welcome anyone who's even just curious about these issues to know that they are welcome and that when they arrive, they should expect to really feel personally connected to everything that's happening, even if it seems like it's a drastic, extraordinary case.

Knox’s event will be held tonight Thursday, February 29th, at 7 pm at the Victoria Theater in Dayton. Tickets are still available at DaytonLive dot org

Mary Evans is a Dayton, Ohio-based activist, abolitionist, and journalist. She holds a BA in the Business of Interdisciplinary Media Arts from Antioch College. In 2022 she was awarded the Bob and Norma Ross Outstanding Leadership Award at the 71st Dayton NAACP Hall of Freedom Awards. She has been a Community Voices producer at WYSO since 2018. Her projects include: Re Entry Stories, a series giving space to system-impacted individuals and West Dayton Stories, a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant West Side. Mary is also the co-founder of the Journalism Lab and helps folks in the Miami Valley that are interested in freelance journalism reach some of their reporting goals.
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