Jimmie C. Garder, an African American man who was imprisoned for nearly 3 decades for a crime he did not commit, is now a well-known motivational speaker and advocate for other wrongfully imprisoned men and women.
In 1989, Gardner was accused of the 1987 sexual assault of two elderly white women in Charleston, West Virginia. During that time, Gardner had a bright future waiting for him as he was in college studying business management and playing minor league basketball with the Charleston Wheelers.
But it was cut short when the police apparently targeted him. Gardner, who was then living in Tampa, Florida with his great aunt, was questioned by Charleston police about the crime.
“They asked [me] for fingerprints, photographs, saliva, urine and blood. I readily gave it because I didn’t do the crime and I wanted to prove that I did not do the crime. That’s something that I tell everyone not to do today — never give up your forensic characteristics,” Gardner told Rolling Out.
He was later arrested and charged with two separate counts of robbery and sexual assault, as well as burglary and assault during the commission of a felony. He was put on trial where he was assigned with an incompetent public defendant. He has since maintained his innocence but he was found guilty and was sentenced to 110 years in prison in 1990.
It was only in 2016 — about 27 years later — when it was determined that there was no forensic evidence connecting him to the crime nor did he match the description of the attacker. It was found that the assigned chief serologist in the case falsified forensic evidence to have him convicted.
Gardner was then released from custody and his convictions were overturned. He has also reached a $175,000 settlement with the city of Charleston. Despite that, the emotional distress his wrongful conviction caused him and his family still remains.
Since his release, Gardner has been an advocate for the wrongfully imprisoned and over-incarcerated. With his firsthand experience of injustice in the legal system, he is fighting for prison reform and inmates’ rights in the country.
“We should make it so everyone has an opportunity to receive proper representation. That’s something that I did not have,” said Gardner. “We should also try to come together to eradicate some of these archaic laws throughout the United States of America and some of the prison punishments. I believe that judges, prosecutors and lawyers should be held accountable for their actions and not be given full immunity. We need to stop sending these young men and women like myself to prison with these exponential amounts of time in years. We need to stop this now.”
Moreover, he is a motivational speaker, delivers messages of hope, encouragement, and positive thinking at schools, churches, and some prisons in the country. He is also currently developing the Gardner House, a re-entry home for formerly incarcerated people which aims to help them make a successful return to society.
“I am for second chances because everyone can change if given the opportunity,” he said.