Man freed from prison adjusts to life

October 25, 2011 3:32:20 AM PDT
A man who spent 21 years in prison for a crime it now appears someone else committed is adjusting to life on the outside.

Jacques Rivera was freed earlier this month. Rivera missed a lot during those two decades behind bars. His three kids grew up without a father. His wife divorced him. While he knows he can't make up for lost time, he is trying.

His family's home might be the cleanest in the neighborhood. Rivera says he worked most every day in prison cleaning. And now that he's out he has lots of time on his hands and nobody telling him what to do.

"I got up this morning and cleaned my mother's whole house. I washed the dishes. It's part of my routine. That's all you do in the prison is clean," Rivera told ABC7.

"I got a maid now...It's great to have him out," said Gwen Rivera, mother.

Gwen Rivera spoke with her son every Sunday when he was in prison. They did bible study together and they both kept faith he would be free eventually. She and Rivera's three children, now adults, were on hand as he walked out of the Cook County Jail earlier this month a free man when prosecutors dropped charges. It was an exciting night for Rivera and his family.

Now that the excitement has died down, the reality is starting to sink in. He's 46 years old, living in his mother's house. He's a high school drop-out with no job who has spent nearly half of his life behind bars.

"I'm still nervous. I'm still nervous about where I walk and where I go and asking people constantly, can I do this, can I do that," said Rivera.

He's still trying to learn how to use his cell phone. It's the first one he has ever had. And he's still getting used to being able to walk outside and go for a walk in the neighborhood whenever he wants. But he says he still thinks often of 16-year-old Felix Valentin, the Humboldt Park boy he was convicted of murdering. His family is now once again looking for answers.

"I pray for the Valentin family. I pray for their strength. I pray the truth will be revealed to them," Rivera said.

Orlando Lopez, the lone witness who recanted his story, is now 35 years old and living in Ohio. Rivera is planning to meet and thank him sometime soon.

As far as a possible lawsuit against police, Rivera says he is not worried about it. He will leave that up to his attorneys.

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