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My name is Elijah Gerald Reed. I’m the son of Armanda Shackelford, and I was just released from prison after serving 31 years for a crime that I didn’t commit.

In 1990, I was told the Chicago police were looking for me for a crime committed a year earlier. I knew I had nothing to do with it so I went willingly to the police station to straighten things out. When I went, I was arrested at the station and then taken to Area 3 Homicide.

I was held overnight. All through the night, detectives asked me the same questions over and over again. I refused to answer. I wanted my phone call and I wanted a lawyer. Whenever I did answer, telling them I had no knowledge of what I was being accused of, they were unhappy.

That was when the intimidation went from being verbal to physical. I was in their hands — this was their place. I was in they house. Anything they wanted to do to me they could. And they did. I was beaten on by the detectives. I was beaten so badly, that a metal rod that was in my thigh, surgically placed there following a gunshot wound from years before, was snapped, with the screws shaking out of place. 

I got beat on a lot coming up, but I could handle that. What made me break was when they talked about my momma.

“You’re gonna send your mom to an early grave,” they told me. “She’s gonna die, and it’ll be your fault.”

I would do anything for my momma. Her death was not something I could live with. So, under extreme physical and psychological duress, I signed a false confession. 

They used that document and their own testimony to convict me of a double murder that I had no part in whatsoever. I was sentenced to natural life. I didn’t know if I would ever breathe free air again. I was 26 years old.

As it turns out, I was not the only one subjected to this treatment.

There are many survivors of police torture in the state of Illinois. Jon Burge was a detective and a police commander from 1972 to 1991. In that time, he taught officers how to use torture to extract confessions from innocent people so the Chicago Police Department (CPD) could tell the public they were solving murders.

But the torture is much broader than Jon Burge and his Midnight Crew. Police regularly used intimidation — whether physical, mental or emotional — to get people to falsely confess or to accuse others of things that they know did not happen.

The city of Chicago publicly apologized for Jon Burge’s use of torture when they passed the reparations ordinance in 2015. However, there was still no pathway for survivors’ prompt release from prison. An ongoing research project by the Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture estimates hundreds of survivors, many of whom are still in prison — more than 30 years after many of them endured torture.

The Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) was established in 2009 to “gather evidence about a claim of torture occurring in Cook County, and then determine whether there is sufficient credible evidence of torture to merit judicial review.” Its purpose is right there in the name: relief. The commission is supposed to provide relief to the tortured, innocent men and women behind prison walls. 

In 2018, Judge Thomas Gainer used the “credible claim” of torture in his decision to overturn my conviction. It’s not just the courts. TIRC claims give legitimacy to someone’s claim of torture. It can help with their clemency or even help them have their sentence pardoned or commuted by the governor — which is how I was eventually able to finally get out of prison. My sentence was commuted, and I’m still in court fighting to prove my innocence.

But because of the limitations of the TIRC Act, there are many men and women who will never be able to get credible claims on technicalities alone. The TIRC’s definition of torture is much more narrow than the definition of torture given by the United Nations — a definition which the United States has signed on to. 

For example, if someone is tortured into accusing you of a crime you didn’t commit, by the UN definition, you have been tortured. 

The more narrow TIRC definition is more likely to leave those with credible claims in prison. It’s time to update the TIRC definition so that the falsely accused and tortured don’t fall through the cracks.

TIRC, unfortunately, has limited resources. It took six years for them to process my claim. Others have been waiting up to a decade. A person could easily be innocent and sit in prison for years. Having to wait all that time just to finally get your case “dismissed” on some technicalities could tear a person apart. Most people in prison don’t have a momma like mine — Armanda Shackelford — outside of prison always advocating for them. This is their one chance to see some justice. 

The main aspect that set me apart from many still in prison was that my momma was in my corner for years making the case for me and making sure that my case and I weren’t forgotten. Justice shouldn’t depend on my good fortune that my momma was a fighter willing to go up against a corrupt system.

I am home after doing 31 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. I achieved my freedom. But am I free? No. I’m not free because of the people I left behind. That’s why I’m using my time to fight for the TIRC amendments. 

I urge the people of our city to support the TIRC amendments to avoid more miscarriages of justice carried out in the name of the people of Chicago.