Usually when a person in their 40s says, “I want to give something back”, it means they have been given a blessed life. When John Bunn says it, I wonder what he could possibly owe.
At age 14, he was wrongly convicted of murder. He was found guilty of shooting two men before stealing their car. The men were off-duty corrections officers. One died and the man who survived was the only witness.
Bunn served 17 years in prison. We can only imagine how he was treated by the correction officers. He was paroled in 2009. In May 2018, he was exonerated. He held the judge’s hand and wept.
It was found that unlawful evidence had been gathered in the investigation led by a detective named Louis Scarcella. The detective has since been discredited and disgraced. Several other cases he was involved with have also been overturned.
What struck me about this story is not only the injustice, but the tool John used to not only stay sane, but to protect his humanity. John used books. He learnt to read at age 16, in prison.
Reading changed my life. Reading changed my mentality as a person. I wrote my mother one day and I said, “They can lock my body but they can’t trap my mind…The power of reading can take me to my imagination, to any place in the universe and I don’t feel like I’m trapped no more.”
John Bunn has devoted his life to a literacy program that he started called A Voice 4 The Unheard. He started a library in the prison on Rikers Island and has sourced over 20,000 books. He hopes that literacy and those books can save other prisoners. He is also a speaker in schools and youth detention centres, connecting with at-risk youth.
John Bunn is a warrior. That’s how he describes himself. I think he is also a teacher. He is a living lesson in resilience and optimism and gratitude and the power of reading.