Inside the Life of Ray Towler, Wrongly Imprisoned for 30 Years

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Esquire has a terrific profile of Ray Towler in this month's issue. Towler spent thirty years in Ohio prisons for a crime he didn't commit. Not until assistance arrived from The Columbus Dispatch and The Innocence Project did Towler's case get a fair shot, specifically because of advances in DNA technology that showed conclusively that the DNA found on the victim was not his.

The piece, "The Someone You're Not," traces those three decades, from the day of the alleged rape in the Rocky River Reservation in the Metroparks, to the days after when Towler is arrested, to his trial, to his grueling life behind bars, and finally, his vindication. It's worth every minute of your time.

Here's a small excerpt, but once again, do yourself a favor and dive in to the full story at Esquire.

Years pass. He sees a couple guys have heart attacks. He sees a few guys get killed — they're lying there bleeding, you know, you just keep moving. He sees beat-downs, beefs, hassles, rapes. He watches a cellie die slowly of a heart blockage — a decent older man who'd shot a guy for messing with his daughter. Towler is locked down in solitary twice. The first, a ninety-day stint, follows a routine shakedown: His cellie has a shiv fashioned from a spoon he bullied Towler into bringing back from the kitchen. The second stint follows the death of his mother, in 1984. He is allowed to go to the funeral; he wears shackles. When he returns, he asks to be put in solitary — he just wants to be alone. Over the years, most of the prisons in which he is housed are far from home — one is on the border with Kentucky. After the funeral, the only relative who visits is his sister Deborah.

From the very beginning, he draws portraits of guys, amazingly realistic likenesses with a number-2 pencil, on the back of an envelope or on a sheet of plain paper, something very special an inmate can send to his mom, his woman, his kids. Ray sells the portraits for cash or other valuables. His talent grants him a certain respect within the prison community, despite the mark of his despicable crime, which is written at the very top of his file and all of his paperwork, along with his prison number, 164681. His offense follows him everywhere. There is no escape. He says he feels like the actor Chuck Connors on that old TV show Branded. The theme song plays over and over in his head: What do you do when you're branded, and you know you're a man?

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