Kirk Bloodsworth spent nearly nine years in prison, sentenced to die for a crime he didn't commit.
Bloodsworth had no criminal record when he was convicted in 1984 of murdering a 9-year-old girl. "They were wrong. They got the wrong man," he says. "Just a mistake of identity from the start."
His conviction, he says, completely wiped away the man he once was. "I was now Kirk Bloodsworth, the child killer and convicted murderer, and also sentenced to die a condemned man," he remembers. "It was just a mistake of identity from the very start. And I paid the price with it and so did society … Not only was there an innocent man in prison and on death row, but there was a killer free."
Dream Come True
But Bloodsworth was not executed, nor did he die in prison, as DNA evidence proved his innocence in 1993. After being confined for so many years, he now chooses to live his life in the outdoors. "I missed seeing the night sky when I was in prison," says Bloodsworth, who now works as a commercial crabber on the Eastern Shore of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.
"Jeannette's Pearl, is my dream come true," says Bloodsworth of his cedar boat, named after his mother and grandmother. "It symbolizes everything that I feel that freedom is … being on your own, being out in the open and smelling the salt air."
On a usual day, he and his wife of three years, Brenda, are out in the pitch-black outdoors by 4 a.m. Though Bloodsworth says he doesn't always turn a profit, he is still living out his dream, and considers every day a successful one.
"Crabbing to me is just a way that I can get my thoughts together of what happened to me," he says, "and try to put it all in its perspective, and enjoy what I do."
Fighting for Change
When he's not crabbing, Bloodsworth works as a passionate and vocal advocate for prisoners' rights.
"Innocent people should always be protected," he says, explaining why he got involved with the Justice Project in Washington D.C., a group of military veterans fighting for criminal justice reform. "We need competent good lawyers to handle these cases. We also need DNA testing across the board. This is what the Innocent Protection Act would afford for people," he says of legislation that has been supported across party lines. The reform is aimed at reducing the risk that innocent people may be executed, improving the quality of legal representation, and affording greater access to DNA testing by convicted offenders.
"I don't want this to ever happen to anybody else," he says.
During his years in prison, Bloodsworth says, "My dreams were of Jeanette's Pearl and of being free … sailing out this creek or sailing somewhere. Going deer hunting or … just eating a bunch of crabs with my friends or fishing … or just enjoy life. You know, duck hunting and a place for Thanksgiving."
Now, he says, "I work hard and I try to live out all these dreams every day."