After finally being released from prison, Lawrence Bartley made a decision that left most people floored. Here's a look back at the inspiring chain of events that led him to where he is today.
A Tough Upbringing
Born in New York City, Lawrence Bartley didn't always have things easy. Growing up, he lived in disadvantaged communities, which was one reason why he took a not-so-favorable path later on in his life.
"It was a community wrought with the typical symbols of urban ghettos," Lawrence once opened up about his childhood living in Jamaica, Queens. "Sneakers strung on telephone lines... paraphernalia-littered streets, and barely kept apartment buildings."
As he started to get older, Bartley needed to fend for himself. But instead of doing the legal thing and getting a job at a local shop, he chose a different solution. Despite the often illegal situations they'd call for, the teenager continued to take on random gigs to get a few bucks.
While for a while, he was doing okay with avoiding any trouble, it didn't take long before his actions caught up with him. Soon enough, Bartley was forced to face the consequences. Little did he know how the events that happened next would change his life for the better.
In 1999, when Bartley was 17 years old, he was going about his usual routine, hanging out on the streets of New York. Sadly, the teenager had no idea what would happen next. As he was sitting at the intersection of 150th Street and 89th Avenue, an unfamiliar motorcycle passed by.
The vehicle made its way around the corner when all of a sudden, the mysterious person riding the bike pulled out a weapon. Unfortunately, they aimed at the young man and shot him four times. Immediately he was rushed to the hospital. Although he managed to recover, the mental effects of the injury would stay with him forever.
Living In Fear
After suffering the traumatic event of being attacked by a stranger, Bartley was terrified of walking the city streets again. “Because my assailant had no name, face, or reason, he had every name, every face, and every reason,” he wrote in a 2018 piece for The Marshall Project. He was living in a dark cloud of fear.
Eventually, instead of walking around feeling helpless, the teen decided to go out and purchase a firearm that he could walk around town with. While he had no plans of using it, the weapon made Bartley feel safe as he roamed the streets carrying it on him at all times.
Horror at the Cinema
Since he was still a teenager, Bartley often spent his nights with friends. One evening his crew went out to catch the movie Godfather III, but as they were starting to get comfortable in their seats, another loud group of boys made their way into the quiet movie theater.
Insults began to be passed between the boys. Other movie goer's shushed the obnoxious group, but that only made things worse. Tensions were rising when all of a sudden, one of the boys from the troublesome group made their way to Bartley and his friends. Quickly the pleasant evening spent with pals turned into a horrific scene.
Out of nowhere, in the midst of all the chaos, somebody in the movie theater pulled out a fatal weapon and began shooting at the others. In an attempt to defend himself and others, Bartley pulled out his very own weapon, and he too started to fire back.
It was difficult to see, as the lights in the room had all been turned off, and people were yelling and running all over the place. Everything happened so fast. And before he knew it, the terrified 17-year-old took his weapon, fled the Sunrise Cinema, and found his way back home.
A Never-Ending Nightmare
Although Bartley thought everything from the previous night was behind him, he sadly couldn't have been more wrong. The following day after the cinema incident, the 17-year-old boy woke up to shocking news: four people were severely injured by the shots fired.
While three of the four were wounded by other people, there was one victim who Bartlet struck named Tremain Hall. Unfortunately, Hall didn't survive - a few hours after the tragic event, he had passed away. And just like that, the situation turned Bartley into a murderer. At least in the eyes of the judicial system...
It didn't take long for the news of what happened at the movie theater to reach law enforcement. And just two days later, Bartley was arrested and charged with murder. After a trial was held, a judge made a decision to sentence him to 27 years to life behind bars.
Although he wasn't yet 18 years old, his future was suddenly gone. And for the next two decades, Bartley called the Sing Sing Correctional facility his home. One impulse decision that he had made out with a night with friends, unfortunately, cost the young man nearly all of his life.
Life Behind Bars
Bartley quickly got used to his new life, not only did he settle into his cell, but he became familiar with what it was like to be under strict supervision and even stricter rules. But, despite the sad circumstances he was in, Bartley never let the fact that he was stuck behind four walls get him into a slump.
Instead, he chose to make the best situation out of all the spare time he was going to have for 27 years. Since he was still a teenager, he had not yet had the opportunity to attend college. So while in prison, he studied hard and managed not just to get a bachelor's degree but also his master's.
More Good Behavior
While the majority of his time was focused on self-improvement and bettering himself as a man, Bartley couldn't forget about his community. He spent many hours volunteering in community service and doing his part. But, of course, since he was a prisoner who could get parole, his motives were also to possibly help him get out.
Unfortunately, the parole board wasn't impressed. No matter how much he put in or how much good behavior he demonstrated, the people in charge still saw Bartley as the man who took the innocent life of a 15-year-old boy. Although he understood the reasoning, he was hurt by their decision.
Goodbye Prison, Hello World
One rejection from the parole board didn't stop Bartley from trying once again. He knew he was capable of hopefully getting out because, after all, he had been a pretty good prisoner who kept his down and stayed out of trouble for many years. And he wasn't wrong.
After appealing the original rejection, the board took another look at his request, and low and behold, they changed their mind! After almost three decades spent locked up, in April 2018, Bartley finally got the news that he was going to be a free man.
Life On The Outside
It had been so long since he had stepped foot outside the Sing Sing Correctional Facility that Bartley felt many mixed emotions about being out in the world. While he was looking forward to being out, he also felt timid and uneasy about life on the outside.
After so long, he was finally able to be in charge of his own decisions. And just like when he was a teenager, Bartley was a hustler who didn't let anything hold him back from being a success. Not long after he was released, he got a brilliant idea for his next business endeavor.
The Marshall Project
Although his ideas when he was younger weren't always the finest ones, this new plan wouldn't just be beneficial for him - but also for other people. It seemed like Bartley had truly grown and learned a lot during his time in prison. And now that he was out, he was gonna put his knowledge to good use.
The newly released prisoner had ended up getting a position with The Marshall Project, which describe itself as "a nonprofit news organization focused on criminal justice issues." The goal of working there was to be able to help out other previously convicted felons, just like himself.
Taking More Action
He was getting a lot done at The Marshall Project, but still, Bartley felt like he had the ability to do more. So that's when he decided he would create a special type of magazine dedicated to convicted criminals. The News Inside Magazine would cover criminal justice news for prisoners to learn from.
Since he himself had been in a position that current prisoners were in, he knew how difficult it was to keep up with daily news. And even more so, how hard it was to know about the things happening in the world of law and justice. His plan was for this magazine to hopefully close that gap.
A Second Chance at Life
The idea for the magazine came from various different things. “If I could let the guys read this and the girls and the children on the inside, I knew it would change their life because I know what they care about,” Bartley discussed one of the biggest reasons as to why he had started the publication.
Yet there were still a few other motives... while he did want those stuck on the inside to be aware of the outside world, he also wanted to show the inmates that, in life, people can always have a second chance. His very own story was an example of that.
A New Life
Even though he was sentenced to be placed in prison at 17 and spent almost 30 behind bars, Bartley was able to do something good when he was released. He explained, "Now that part of my life is over, and now it's my turn to do something that is that is positive."
"I can rebound from where I came from, and other people can rebound." Bartley was an inspiration to hundreds of prisoners. It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when a person has been behind bars for so many years. But his story showed others that it's possible to live a full life even post-prison.
Throughout his journey, Bartley came to learn that there were thousands of people wrongly convicted. It was sad for him to learn this, especially when he discovered the truth about one lady named Annie Dookhan. She was responsible for placing many innocent people in prison.
Dookhan's story begins in Trinidad, where she was born, before moving to Massachusetts as a young girl with her family. Growing up, she was always an advanced child, who no matter what she was class or program she was placed in, she always was one of the top students.
A Promising Career
Dookhan's high school years were spent behind the walls of a prestige school called Boston Latin. After being a gifted girl all her life, it came as no surprise when she was accepted into the University of Massachusetts, where she was going to major in biochemistry.
During her time in school, she was just a regular student. Little did her classmates know that the future of the biochemist would potentially lead many innocent lives to be sentenced to time in prison. After graduating from university, Dookhan went on to land her first real job.
Sure enough, Dookhan soon became the proud owner of a bachelor's degree. And the first thing she did with her newfound education was land a gig at the Hinton State Lab. Her position required her to test narcotics in the lab. If only the people who hired her had known what would come of this...
At the beginning of her new career, Dookham was once again excelling. Her supervisors took notice of her proficient skills, with one even labeling her "superwoman" thanks to the fact that she could manage a ton of work while still working efficiently.
Her Time in the Lab
It had already been an entire year since Dookhan first landed her job working with narcotics. And the title of "Superwoman" that was previously given to her still held momentum because the biochemist's numbers had surpassed many of her colleagues at Hinton.
It was said that Dookhan was able to test roughly 9,000 drugs sampled during her time with the lab. That number was monumental since it was nearly three times the amount of narcotics that any of her other co-workers had been testing. Talk about a fast learner!
Somehow - despite already showing exceptionally high numbers - Dookhan managed to become even better at her job. By the second year working at the lab, her stats had increased. When compared to the second-best employee at the company, she was testing 4 times more than them.
While her managers were in awe at her hard work and dedication, the sudden influx of productivity did begin to get people curious about how she was able to test so many drugs in such a small amount of time. It didn't take long before more questions formed, and suspicions about the biochemist began.
Dookhan's high numbers seemed incredibly unlikely. Even though she always came in early and left the lab later than everyone else, it just seemed impossible. That's when Hinton decided they would conduct an audit to see if their "perfect" employee was being honest.
Luckily for her, the results of the audits suggested that everything was normal. And the suspicions that were previously made were squashed. But what they didn't know was that there was more to learn about Dookhan. And a Supreme Court case was about to reveal just that.
Going to the Supreme Court
In 2008, Melendiaz Diaz was caught selling a white powder in a little plastic bag. After being arrested for illegal activity, the police sent the alleged contraband for chemical testing. The results that came back showed that the powder found on the scene was, in fact, an illegal substance.
In 2009 the Melendiaz-Diaz v. Massachusetts case was being held at the Supreme Court. They ruled that the defendant (Melendiaz-Diaz) had the legal right to have the chemist who tested the narcotics questioned in court. And that's when the Hinton lab came into play...
Back at the Hinton lab, many of the chemists were kept extremely busy. So much so that the average number of 400 had dramatically dropped to 200. Yet there was one worker whose numbers somehow remained the same. Dookhan's monthly average was at a steady 800 drug samples.
Of course, the supervisors once again started to raise concerns about her integrity. And on top of all that, Dookhan was caught forging another colleague's signature in 2011. At this point, the Hinton lab managers were tired of the deception. And after many years, they finally decided to do something about it.
The Dark Truth
After setting off an official investigation into Dookhan, all of her previous samples were retested to see their accuracy. The outcome of the test had jaws on the floors. After looking back at all her work, the lab discovered that she had been lying about what samples were actually narcotics.
It was said that many of the substances she had labeled as drugs were actually not drugs at all... The Hinton supervisors were in shock at what Dookhan had done. When they approached her with the results of the investigation, she revealed yet another revelation.
Facing the Facts
Dookhan had confessed that through her years working for the lab, she had been conducting something known as "dry labbing." This meant that rather than actually testing out the narcotics, she simply just looked at them with her eyes to determine what they were.
She admitted that she had been assigned nearly 60,000 drug samples but had only actually tested a fifth of that large number. The investigators wanted to understand why she had been lying to everyone for so long. What was her motive for fake testing so many samples?
Questioning Her Past
After more digging, the investigators on the Dookhan case discovered that she wasn't a substance user herself. Instead, the only reason she was deceiving everyone in the lab and claiming to have high sample numbers was to appear more successful than she really was. Apparently, lying was something she had always done.
Her resume had also been fabricated. Dookhan claimed that she graduated magna cum laude from high school, meaning she was an honor student. But as it turned out, the school didn't even have that option. It was also revealed that she told her co-workers she was getting a Ph.D. at Harvard… which, of course, was also a lie.
Lying about which university a person went to is one thing, but lying about what drug samples are actually narcotics is another. The decision that the chemist made about lying led to many harmful consequences that affected hundreds of innocent people's lives.
Unfortunately, since she labeled thousands of plain substances as drugs, the people who were trialed were sent to prison, despite the fact that they were wrongly convicted. So after the truth about what she had done came out, the state of Massachusetts decided to take action.
As they saw it, it was only fair that those who had been placed behind bars because of what Dookhan had done should be released from prison. Justice needed to be served - both for those who spent many years looking up - and also for the chemist who put these individuals there.
Over her career, Dookhan had worked on 21,587 drug cases. The court eventually made the decision to throw out all of those convictions and finally set those who were locked up free. Nevertheless, these innocent victims of Dookhan's crime had lost many years of their lives.
Ultimately Dookhan was put on trial, and she was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and tampering with evidence. The ruling sentenced her up to five years in prison. She was paroled back in 2016. Yet still, many haven't forgotten the crimes she had committed, including Bartley.
His own story, along with Dookhans' story and her victims, inspired Bartley to create a program to help out the thousands of innocent inmates that should have never been placed behind bars. Even though he is finally free from prison, he dedicated the rest of his life to helping those locked up.