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Ricky Kidd using his experience to help fellow exoneree Kevin Strickland reintegrate

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 Ricky Kidd on the day of his release from prison in August.
Andrea Tudhope
/
KCUR
Ricky Kidd on the day of his release from prison in August 2019. Kidd now works for the Midwest Innocence Project raising awareness about wrongful convictions.

The two became acquainted while in Western Missouri Correctional Center. Now Kidd works to help Strickland with the challenges of adjusting to life on the outside.

Ricky Kidd and Kevin Strickland’s stories are very similar. Both were given decades-long sentences for murders they didn’t commit, spent most of their adult lives in prison and, once exonerated, were given no assistance from the state that took their freedom.

"We understand each other," Kidd said of Strickland.

Sentenced to life in prison for a 1996 double murder he didn't commit, Ricky Kidd was exonerated in August of 2019, but remained in contact with Kevin.

After serving the longest sentence of any wrongfully convicted person in Missouri’s history, Strickland was released from prison on November 23, 2021.

Kidd was present for the release and said he fell into a slump in the days that followed. “I began to relive everything of the 23-year torture.”

He says he’s doing better now, and has made contact with Strickland who he said, "is doing as best as one can,” experiencing his first month of freedom after 43 years behind bars.

Under Missouri’s exoneree compensation law neither victim is eligible for payment from the state for their wrongful incarceration. Across the state line in Kansas, the payout would have amounted to more than a million dollars in each case.

But Missouri requires innocence be proven through DNA evidence which was not the case for Kidd or Strickland. Additionally, because the men were not released on parole or probation they don’t qualify for state-run programs or counseling meant to help with reintegration.

Where the state is failing the exonerees, community members, family and nonprofits often step in to help with the many tasks associated with reentry.

Obtaining a driver license, transportation, bank account and housing are among the long list of things that exonerees often must establish once freed, but for Kidd it was re-establishing relationships that posed the greatest challenge.

"I knew of them and they knew of me, but I did not know who they really were anymore, or they did not know who I really was anymore," Kidd recalled.

"Then, just the expectations that you're here, forget what you've gone through, let's pick up, from right here," Kidd explained. "It really became challenging. I could not live up to what their expectations were as far as how I interact with them."

Finding a therapist equipped to help with the unique life circumstances of an exoneree was something Kidd struggled to find.

"I wasn't just being defiant for two years,” Kidd said, “I couldn't find somebody who I think is qualified."

Nearly two years after his release, Kidd is receiving therapy and will eventually progress into family therapy. Another reason he says delayed mental health care was he suppressed his feelings of anger and bitterness.

“I didn’t want to be,” he said. “But I could not escape it. And I don't think any of us who's been wronged by the state in a situation like this can forget or not have some type of ill feeling about it.”

In August, Governor Parson declined to pardon Strickland and has offered no apology to either men for their wrongful confinement.

“I think I speak for Kevin,” Kidd said. “No amount of apology from the state or Parson, no letter of sort, again of course it wouldn't happen, but if it did, the damage is too deep and the years are too many.”

Kidd, who works for the Midwest Innocence Project, wants to see legislative action to prevent others from going through what he’s experienced.

“What they can do is perhaps get their act together,” Kidd said. “Pass a fair compensation bill in Missouri for exonerees coming home, and then look at some policies and procedures that can help prevent wrongful convictions in the first place."

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz
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