My best friend and I have known each other since May of 2011. It's fair to say that he knows me better than anyone, except perhaps my husband. My friend lives in Indiana, so our relationship is maintained through letters, emails, and phone calls. When I shuffle through the day's mail and see his familiar script scrawled on the back of an envelope, I'm always excited. We have been through a lot together--the death of my first love, the prolonged illness and death of his brother, break-ups, make-ups, moves across states, and career changes. When my husband and I were robbed, my best friend sent money to help us recoup our losses. It wasn't much, but he sent all he had. When I found out I was pregnant, he taught himself to crochet, expressly for the purpose of making my son his first baby blanket. Typical best friend stuff, I'm sure you're thinking. But our friendship has one unique and important difference.
My best friend, Shannon Agofsky, is on death row in USP Terre Haute. He is a wrongfully convicted inmate, and for the last five years, I (along with many others) have been researching his case, conducting interviews, and pushing for a new trial. His case is a complex one, that spans three states and multiple investigative agencies. It has a cast of characters to rival most Hollywood blockbusters--with guest appearances from psychics, eccentric detectives, money-launderers, hardened criminals, conspiracy theorists, and a drug-ring allegedly associated with the Clintons (yes, those Clintons) in good old Mena, Arkansas. That barely even scratches the surface. There are hundreds of files I haven't touched yet; the floor of my study is largely obscured by boxes of witness statements, court testimony, and evidence reports. There is much of Shannon's story left to discover--and it's a story that I am excited to have a part in.
Each week, I will be writing about a different facet of Shannon's case. Article by article, I hope to disentangle facts from fiction, exposing the difference between the real story and the story that was told to the public. Legally, there is much I cannot share. Some evidence is still under seal, and revealing it could hurt my friend's case rather than help it. But every darkened corner I can shed light into, I will. Shannon's story is one that effects all of us whether we realize it or not, and it's one that needs to be told.
In the meantime, I would ask that you keep an open mind. Even a novice Google detective will be able to find questionable--and even negative--opinions on the internet about Shannon. From the years I have known him, he has always been a brutally honest man, sometimes to the point of callousness. He would be the first to tell you, he is not an angel--but does that make him guilty of the things he was accused of? I encourage everyone to do research, to look at all the facts available, to read and consider the story I have to tell and ask--was justice really served here?
When I first met Shannon, even I had my doubts about him. When we started corresponding I was only twenty-years-old, and I knew that I had to proceed with a certain amount of objectivity and caution. I had decided to write to an inmate after the urging of one of my college professors, who had worked extensively with inmates himself. He felt it would be beneficial to me--an antisocial academic more interested in studying people than befriending them--and beneficial to the inmate as well. I eventually agreed, on two conditions--whoever I wrote to had to be similar to myself in terms of interest and temperament, and they had to be in jail for life. I didn't relish the thought of my pen-pal being released and showing up at my doorstep. Shannon fit the bill. His original inmate profile quoted one of my favorite Keats' poems, and I decided it was fate.
For the first couple of months, we wrote each other nearly every day, but never discussed his case. I wanted to get to know him as a person first--and also to try and gauge whether or not he wanted anything from me. I'd been warned that many prisoners rarely want friendship but instead seek out prey. I can say with all honesty that Shannon never asked me for anything then, and still hasn't to this day. That isn't to say that he has never asked anyone for money or favors. He certainly has, by his own admission. But our relationship has always been one built on mutual respect and admiration. We spent our earliest letters writing about books, music, art, and bonding over our similar dark senses of humor. It wasn't until some time after my twenty-first birthday that I decided to ask about why he was in prison. I avoided researching it myself, instead waiting to absorb what he had to say. Asking about his case ended up being one of the most largely important questions of my life, and has led me on quite an adventure. An adventure that is ongoing, and one that I would like to invite you to take also, dear reader, should you accept. The story begins, as so many often do, on a dark and stormy night.
Please, be sure to check back next week for "Part I of Black Swan Books: A Story of Corruption, Cover-ups, and Calumny." Questions and comments can be emailed to email@example.com.