Fabian Santiago

Fabian Santiago

“I was arrested and framed for murder four days after turning 16 years old. I have an ongoing multimillion-dollar lawsuit.”

“To this day, the U.S. Attorney’s office hasn’t produced one criminal prosecution of this crew, but at the time in Humboldt Park there was a group of detectives who were basically running as a criminal enterprise. They were taking bribes from the biggest drug dealers and gang chiefs to look for patsies for low-level gang members.”

“I ultimately received a 100-year prison sentence. I was sentenced to die in prison as a teenage kid, much less for a murder I never committed.”

“As decades of my life passed by, laws at the federal level began to change. The Supreme Court handed down a decision basically saying you can’t sentence a juvenile to natural life unless he’s determined to be incorrigible.”

“I came out of prison on Jan. 12, 2022. I was gone for such an incredible amount of time, almost three decades.”

“You’re not ever going to get back what you lost. When you’re in my situation and you’ve been incarcerated for extended periods of time, you want to live 20 years in one day and it’s not possible.”

“My mother and my only brother had passed away. I had to go to a homeless shelter and I didn’t have anyone to pick me up at the prison. My attorneys got one of their other exonerated clients to pick me up.”

“The homeless shelter was just as bad as, if not worse than the prison. I kept my prison cell clean. [The shelter] was dirty. There were rats, mice and roaches all over the place. The place looked like a crack house and it was disgusting. I was there for a few days and someone stole my food. I wasn’t looking to go right back to prison for getting into a physical altercation.”

“Fortunately, I didn’t stay there very long. I went into temporary housing which an organization was able to provide. I stayed there for approximately five months and was able to secure a voucher for my own apartment.”

“Even after I got exonerated, I couldn’t find employment. I found a little odd jobs here and there, for a couple days or a couple of weeks or whatever the case may have been. But having found reliable, good employment was incredibly difficult even after my case was dropped by the state.”

“There was no criminal conviction, but there was still the charges of homicide and you could still see that on my record. Nothing showed up as a criminal conviction, but there were arrests.”

“I drove all the way to Arlington Heights – an hour – to get a job. After I went to the interview, they hired me. The boss handed me a schedule and he goes, ‘Fabian, I just have to ask, you wouldn’t happen to have any priors, would you?’”

“I explained to him, ‘Legally, I don’t because I’ve been exonerated. But I was incarcerated for a homicide that I never committed.’ And I even showed him the news report on my case. And he cringed, told me, ‘I’m sorry, this is not the job for you.’ He fired me actually within a matter of minutes of hiring me.”

“Some people might claim, ‘Well, you know what? The law prevents discrimination and employers can’t ask you about that because you have, you know, all these pieces of legislation that don’t require you to disclose.’ But the laws don’t mean nothing in that context because they’re not being enforced.”

“I don’t have any job training, real world job training or educational. I educated myself in the prison system, but I didn’t have any formal education. And that’s what everyone was looking for. Certificates or diplomas, bachelors, whatever the position required.”

“And then there was the fact that I had been gone up for not three months or three years, but practically three decades. How do you explain three decades of being gone to people? How do you tell an employer, ‘I have no experience whatsoever’ when you’re an older man?”

“And it’s crushing because you do everything you can. At least I did everything I could within my ability to obtain some type of meaningful employment.”

“I was finally able to get a job in advocacy. I ended up working for Life Impacters with Harry Pena. Ironically, my experience was a benefit to me in that position, because I had been incarcerated. I worked with at-risk youth and people who were in need of services as far as employment, housing, anything in those fields. I worked there five or six months and then ended up where I am now, at Focus Fairies Mentoring.”

“I work with case management. We network with real estate agencies or employers to help people coming out of jail obtain financial stability and cover their cost of living and housing. You’ve got a lot of great people who want to do good and better themselves. They simply need that opportunity.”

“You need organizations like Focus Fairies Mentoring, not just to aid reentry but for the community as a whole. You have a lot of these areas of poverty that have just been devastated by drug and gang violence. And so much of it can be curtailed.”

“People who are poor want something out of life. And when you have debilitating economic struggles, that’s fuel for destruction.”

Fabian Santiago
Case manager, Focus Fairies Mentoring
Chicago, Illinois

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