The Paideia School

Pi Innocence Club Spreads Awareness of Wrongful Conviction

By Reggie Moorman

For the last five years, forensics teacher Rick Goldstein has been taking students to the National Innocence Network Conference. This year, he and John Capute took 12 students to New Orleans, Louisiana from March 21 to 24. For some, it was a fun school trip where they could meet new friends and experience a different culture. For others, it was a learning experience – a three day lesson where they get to truly understand the politics of the incarceration system. In some cases, it was a watershed moment in student’s lives that opened up a new world that they had never considered before. 

Innocence project

I had the opportunity to sit down with three students who resonated with each outlook during their time at the conference, the leaders of the Innocence Club at Paideia: Maia Pope ’24, Ali Riley ’24 and Emma Edge ’25. I asked them some questions about their experience working with the Innocence Project and how that inspired them to start the Innocence Club at Paideia.

Q: Could you all explain what the Innocence Project is?

Edge: The Innocence Network is built of a bunch of different, smaller networks in each state that help free wrongfully convicted felons, and  spread their story.

Riley: They specifically use DNA evidence to prove their innocence.

Q: What is the Innocence Club and how did the Innocence Network inspire you?

Riley: Mainly we wanted to generate more awareness.

Edge: The Innocence Conference, where you actually get to meet wrongfully convicted victims, it’s very emotional. It’s one thing to read about it online, but it is another thing to actually see it in person.

Riley: Since it does not really concern us on a daily basis, kids at Paideia do not really know about this. The only reason we knew about wrongful conviction was because we took Rick’s forensics class. We wanted to pull more Paideia kids into this world.

Q: Would you say that in particular is why you started the club?

Edge: We really want other people to have the mind-opening experience we had and really understand this is what’s happening in the world, and we don’t always see it. We can’t really do anything about it yet because we are only in high school, but awareness goes a long way.

Riley: This is also a way for me to find out what I want to do in the future, going into justice and criminology, so we want to provide that space for other kids as well.

Pope: The Innocence Project is a bunch of small networks or projects all working together to exonerate people who are wrongfully convicted. The network works with lawyers, DA officers advocates, exonerees and more to exonerate people. Oftentimes, these are done pro bono, which means they are not being paid for this work. So we started the Pi Innocence Club to educate our smaller community of Paideia, which probably doesn’t know about the Innocence Network. A lot of us are going to end up being advocates, so to learn about it now, we can do some work that will help out the Innocence Network in the future.

Q: What about the Innocence Project experience made you feel like it was necessary to start the club?

Pope: We were in one of the big conferences and were listening to a group of exonerees who were wrongly convicted because of their sexuality, and they shared their stories. The three of us were sitting there in tears listening to their stories, and we were like “we need to bring this back to Paideia so we can start some change.”

Q: What one moment struck you the most while you were on the trip?

Riley: In the forensics class last year we did a project where we researched someone who has been wrongfully convicted and exonerated. When I went on the trip I was able to meet the person who I researched for my project. I was able to walk up to this man and say ‘I did a project on you.” I met his family, and realized that this is a real thing – not just a story on a screen. It’s happening to people who have loved ones and lives.

Edge: Mine is very similar. I was inspired by Richard Phillips. He had spent the longest amount of time wrongfully convicted, which was 46 years. When I went to the conference for the very first time as a freshman, I got to talk to him, hear his story, and the fact that he was in prison for 46 years for something he did not do stuck out to me. I wrote my paper about him. We have grown this really close connection. Although exonerees have gone through trauma, they are just regular people like the rest of us. 

Riley: Yeah, I had this random moment where we all just bonded over boiled peanuts.

*All laugh*

Edge: Because we are the youngest people out there, they are over the moon when they find out that high school students at such a young age want to learn about this.

Pope: There was this guy named Dennis. He was like a teddy bear and he came up to us shaking our hands and said “Oh my gosh! You guys are the younger generation.” He started crying and told us, “I’m so thankful that you guys are here, so you can share this to the rest of the world, because you guys will be the future.”

Q: What impact do you think this club could have on Paideia?

Riley: I think it can get Paideia out of its shell. I think it can expose Paideia to the real world. Not that we do not already live in the real world, but this is a topic that very few people know about, yet it is very devastating and tragic. I think introducing this to the Paideia community just brings awareness,especially because we are in a metro area, whereas most of these cases happen in rural areas, so that is another reason why we don’t hear so much about them.

Pope: I think it is opening the eyes of our community, letting people know that these injustices are happening.

Q: Why would you encourage people to join?

Riley: Me personally, I would encourage people because I found my passion through it. Through the Innocence Network I found what I am gonna to go to college for and I found what I want to do with my life. It makes you more aware of social justice and empowerment.

Edge: Yeah, I think it is really that there are so many things in the world that you don't know about if you haven't had an experience with it on your own. If you've never had a family member or someone you know going through this, you'll never know the struggles people are going through. Even if you've never heard of a wrongful conviction, coming to the club and educating yourself, even if you only go to one meeting and learn about one piece, is better than never learning about it at all. I feel like every person needs to learn about it.

Riley: And one more thing about joining, you build these connections with exonerees—

Edge: People that you are gonna have connections with for the rest of your life, it’s not a one time thing.

Riley: I have moments with exonerees that I think about all the time. I think about stories, you get so invested and I think about connections that I make. A lot happens in this club.

Edge: Even if you don't realize it as a member of the club, as the leaders we put in so much research and spend so much time talking to people that a lot of people don’t realize.

Riley: I’m excited to see where it goes.

Pope: Me too.If they want to be one step closer to change, one step closer to getting an innocent person out of prison. Even though we are at a PWI we still have a lot of students of color, and people of color are oftentimes the ones being wrongfully convicted, so us spreading this word, whether it is at SDLI or Day of Dialogue, helps out the greater good.

Emma, along with Drew Hilimire ‘25 and Salem Cassoobhoy ‘25, will be leading the club and plan to bring in more exonerees. This year, they did many presentations, but Emma says that nothing matches the experience of actually meeting an exoneree in person. She also wants the Innocence Club to become a major part of Paideia. For example, she would love it if people showed their awareness by simply coming up to her and saying that they saw the Innocence Project on the news. And, ideally, like Ali, someone might even find their life’s passion in the club.

Innocence project