In 1988, Jacques Rivera, Sr., (no relation to Juan Rivera) was accused of murdering a 16-year-old boy. He spent 21 years in prison, wrongfully convicted based on an eyewitness misidentification, and was released in October of 2011. Before going to prison, Rivera was part of a gang and involved in drugs. Since then, he has found his religious faith and is a strong advocate for keeping children out of gangs.
I WAS GOING AROUND TELLING THE TRUTH
[In prison]I backed out of the gang and started mentoring young men and other guys from the same gang in prison. The gang didn’t like that, so they sent a guy at me, telling me that they respect and they honor my decision to back out. They said I couldn’t be mentoring to these younger guys because I was discouraging them. They’re out here fighting each other on the streets and killing each other, but then when they get to the prison they come together, and it blew my mind. I was like, so what is your purpose, why we out there killing and fighting each other if we’re coming to prison to be cool with one another? What I came to realize was that they weren’t telling us the truth. I told the guy that came at me, you think I’m discouraging them or do you think I’m telling them something that should have been told to me and you a long time ago? He said, “What’s that?” I said, the truth. I was going around telling the truth to these guys.
THEY DESERVE TO KNOW THE TRUTH
So in May of 2011, Jane Raley, my attorney, came out, and said, “Well, I didn’t want to bring this to you but the state asked me to—they offered me a deal.” If I would plead guilty to it, they would let me go. I didn’t take it, well, basically because of my faith in the Lord, but I also had to think about the victim’s family. Twenty-three years they had been told that I killed their son. And for me just to get my freedom, not knowing I didn’t do it, saying, man forget that, I don’t care about, you know, I want to get out there with my kids. I want my freedom, man, I plead guilty to it. I told them, no, I can’t do that. I told them I can’t take that deal. Only for the purposes of the victim’s family. They need to know the truth and they deserve to know the truth so I said, if I need to come back to do another 19 years then so be it, but I’m not going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do and they deserve to know the truth.
It was like my third day out, and to be honest with you, I wanted to go back. I really did, man. By the third day it was just too much. Maybe your moms have the little knife holders in the kitchen? My mom’s biggest one, the butcher knife, I slept with it for almost a month. I used to get up and one morning she asked, “Hey, did you see my big knife?” I said, “What big knife?” She goes, “My butcher knife, the one that’s in the thing?” I go, “Oh, this one here?” She said, “Well, what are you doing with it?” I locked all the windows—she lives on the second floor and I’m locking all the windows and she’s like, “What are you doing that for?” So nobody can climb up here and climb in the window. And she’s goes, “Why would somebody want to do that for?” I said, “I don’t know!” I felt secure, man, so I locked all the doors, locked all the windows, and you know, I was scared.