The final Thursdays in July event was held at the Salem Visitor Center on July 27, wrapping up a three-event series centered on the theme of social justice. The forums were held in conjunction with the inaugural Salem State Social Justice Institute Series.
The final event – The Exonerated – gave the audience a chilling look at what life is like for the wrongfully convicted when two former death row inmates, now exonerees, took the stage to tell their stories.
Sunny Jacobs was a young mother and wife when she entered prison and 17 years later, she left her cell a widow and grandmother. She served time for the murder of two police officers, murders she did not commit.
And Peter Pringle was also accused of murdering two police officers on the other side of the Atlantic in his native land of Ireland. He served 15 years on death row.
The two met at an Amnesty International conference years after their respective releases and fell in love. They are now married living in Ireland and open their home as a sanctuary to exonerees.
Prior to the interview with Sunny and Peter conducted by Anne Driscoll, Salem Award recipient, the audience viewed the film “The Exonerated,” which is the film version of the play of the same name featuring a character version of Sunny.
“The most important thing the film did for us was gave us a voice that we never would have had without that film and gave us a certain respectability that is very precious and very important on a personal level,” Sunny said.
“The main purpose [of the film] was to make people aware that this type of thing does happen and that even though a person is finally declared innocent of a crime that they were convicted of, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of their struggle. Actually, it’s only the beginning of another struggle for which one is totally unprepared,” she added.
The couple vehemently advocated against the death penalty and urged the United States to be a leader on the issue.
In Ireland, Sunny and Peter started The Sunny Center, a 501[c]3 charity, which welcomes exonerees to their home to help them cope with their life outside of prison. They offer to cover travel and living expenses, as needed, and are there to listen. Peter says he and Sunny don’t give advice or therapy, but help in their own way by sharing their struggles and journey.
“When [Peter and I] got together, we became part of each other’s healing and as a result, people wanted what we have,” Sunny said of the center.
Peter informed the audience that there are over 2,000 exonerees in the United States and less than 4 percent receive compensation. This leaves them to live in poverty, which the couple hope to help combat. They urge people to offer their skills or services to help the exonerees be welcomed back into the society. For example, dentists, doctors, lawyers, optometrists, etc. can offer their services pro-bono and the help goes a long way.
Visit thesunnycenter.com for more information about Sunny and Peter’s organization.