After spending nearly three decades behind bars for a crime that he didn’t commit, a Brooklyn native is turning the pain from his experience into something positive. John Bunn, 41, is advocating for education in prisons and launched a program that provides inmates with books, CNN reported.
In August of 1991—when Bunn was 14-years-old—police officers came to his Crown Heights apartment and took him to the 77th precinct for questioning in relation to the murder of a Rikers Island corrections officer, the news outlet writes. Although Bunn told officers that he had nothing to do with the crime, he was put in a line up with adults, wrongly identified as the individual responsible for the murder, and placed behind bars. He was charged with murder and robbery and sentenced to nine years to life. From that day on, he and his family tirelessly fought for justice.
Going to prison was a tough journey for Bunn. He reportedly dealt with abusive guards who he claims attacked him because of the nature of his case. He developed depression and anxiety. Bunn struggled to communicate with his family while he was imprisoned because he was illiterate. That barrier motivated him to learn how to read and write. He started reading children’s books and dictionaries and worked with teachers to develop his skills. That experience fueled his passion for education and he then went on to get his GED in prison. Reading became an escape from his situation.
“I wrote my mother one day … and I said, “They can lock my body, but they can’t trap my mind,” he told CNN. “The power of reading made me feel that way. I felt trapped without a voice for so long, but the power of reading could take my imagination, and take me to anywhere in this universe.”
In May 2018—with the help of a non-profit called the Exoneration Initiative—he was exonerated. Shortly after being released from prison, Bunn launched his own non-profit called A Voice 4 The Unheard. Through the organization, he’s focusing on growing the libraries at Riker’s Island and putting literature into underserved schools. His organization has donated over 20,000 books.
“There’s no greater feeling than me feeling like I’m existing for a purpose, and this is what gives my life purpose right now. Through my nightmare, I found my dream,” he said. Organization’s like Bunn’s are needed. According to the Literacy Project Foundation, three out of five people in U.S. prisons have trouble reading.