I’m sure, spending any amount of time behind bars can not only be stressful but also come with a lot of mental and physical anguish. Unfortunately, the prison’s in America are filled with young black and brown men and women who come from economically impoverished neighborhoods and have made bad decisions solely based on survival and not having a clear understanding of how the system works.
In some cases, your freedom can be determined by your ability to obtain the right representation and usually, that comes down to one thing….money. During our latest interview, we had the opportunity to speak with Saquan Bostick, who is all too familiar with the injustices of the criminal justice system after spending over 3,000 days incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.
During the interview, we spoke about the unfortunate situation that led to his incarceration, his relationship with his parents, his views on the criminal justice system & what led to him ultimately being exonerated of all charges.
Ok, so talk to us about the dynamics of your household growing up. Were you raised with your mother and father in the home?
My biological father was not in my life, but I had a stepfather that was there and that was a unique story. He took care of four children that were not his biological kids and raised us like his own. In my opinion, we came out pretty good because he was a good man. He was pro-black and owned a business and he taught us as much as he could. As kids, we didn’t understand that it was a struggle for him trying to be a father to children that was not his.
Growing up in the projects, my mother didn’t appropriately teach us how to respect this man for basically coming into our lives and helping out. My mother grew up with her father in the home so she should have known the importance of us having a healthy relationship our step-father. There’s definitely a way she could have made us respect him. When my mother met him, I was 11 years old and my sister was around 8 years old.
We weren’t disrespectful children, but we didn’t respect him as a man stepping in for us. A lot of graduation’s and birthdays wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for him. He took us places and we traveled state to state on vacations. Ultimately, my mom didn’t appreciate him for the man that he was, considering the task he had to take on. He also became a sick man when he was diagnosed with cancer. My mother inherited a fortune after he passed away.
You mentioned your step-father but you haven’t said much about your biological father. Was he involved in your life at all when you were growing up?
He was on drugs really bad and was very popular with the ladies. He ended up getting stabbed to death at 33 years old. He made a lot of promises that he never kept, and he definitely could have done a better job helping my mom out while he was alive. However, it’s important that I say this. Sometimes in our community, a black mother could be doing a terrible job raising a child and no one will really say anything to her.
If the father does the same thing, he gets beat down by society for not handling his responsibilities. I’m not saying the father shouldn’t be held accountable but it’s important that both parents assume responsibility. There were things my mother did when we were children that she should definitely take responsibility for and we could have been better kids too. So, I’m not going to hold that against my mom because for the majority of the time, she was a decent mother.
That’s a good point you made. Both parents should definitely be held accountable. How did losing your biological father affect you as a child?
My mom and dad weren’t really in a relationship and he was never a part of my household growing up. He would just come by and see me every now and again, tell me he loved me, then disappear for a few more months. So, we really didn’t have a relationship. Growing up, my mom use to tell me I looked like my dad a lot and she would tell me “You lie so much just like your daddy, if you keep lying your going to get killed just like your daddy” Now that I’m a father I’ve learned there are certain things you just don’t say to your kids.
As I got older, it became very important to make it past the age of 33 years old because of all the things my mother told me. Her words had such a big effect on me that on my 33rd birthday, I didn’t want to do anything. I was scared something was going to happen to me. The only thing that helped me with that situation was building a close relationship with God. I had to come to the understanding that my mother was a single parent who had her own problems.
I see exactly what you’re saying. It’s important that parents watch what they say to their children because you never know how it will affect them. Have you been able to speak to your mother about any of these things?
Yes, I’ve absolutely been able to speak to her about it and my mother really accepts no accountability. None whatsoever. We had a conversation with her about why it took her so many times to find the right man and she just said, “She was looking for love in all the wrong places”
That’s what she told me and my brothers. I have four siblings. Two brothers and two sisters. I’m part of a big family and I have nine other aunties. My mother thinks because she wasn’t on drugs while she was raising us, like some of my aunts were, she did a better job of parenting.
I think a lot of mothers that raise their children in economically deprived areas have that same mentality. It’s definitely something we don’t talk about enough as a community.
The racism and classism that permeates the current system that we live in play a large part in that as well. Speaking of the system, talk to us about your personal experience with the criminal justice system before that unfortunate event took place in South Carolina.
Besides the situation that happened, I’ve managed to stay out of their way. I don’t have any felonies and really no misdemeanors, so I didn’t have much direct contact with the police. I always understood what I needed to say to keep me out of situations. Now, don’t get me wrong I’ve done my share of dirt, I just didn’t get caught.
So, I heard about people being mistreated by the police and it was definitely upsetting, but it never really happened to me personally. I’m in Alabama now but I’m from New York City. The whole stop-and-frisk thing in New York was real. I’m a revolutionary-minded brother so I participated in the marches and protest that were going on around the city. I was a part of that whole movement.
I remember reading about stop-and-frisk and how it was directed primarily at black males. It’s unfortunate that this type of unfair treatment still takes place today. Now, staying on the topic of unfair treatment. Talk to us about the situation that transpired with the little girl in South Carolina?
First off, this whole situation was blown out of proportion. I was 26 years old at the time. I decided to get away from New York City and moved to Aiken, South Carolina. I heard about how hospitable it was in the south and I wanted to see for myself. So, I got on a bus and I went to Aiken, South Carolina.
Once I got down there, I met this girl named Dana and I was really in love with her. She had a daughter named Makaylia who was 1 1/2 years old at the time. We had a good relationship and we’re about to get married, so we decided to get a little apartment together and everything was going good. We had a one-bedroom apartment and the baby’s crib was too small so we would let her sleep with us then put her in her bed when she fell asleep.
The second day in the apartment, Dana went to work that morning and I gave the baby a bottle and laid her down next to me, when she finally went to sleep, I put her in the crib. I went back to sleep and when I woke up, she was on the floor. I assumed she was just sleeping but when I went to pick her up, there was blood on her teeth and her lip was busted a little bit. I picked her up and held her in my arms. While I was holding her, I shook her little to make sure she was conscious. Well, when I told the police I shook her… that’s what got me arrested.
At the time, I had no idea how the law worked, I knew nothing about Shaking Baby Syndrome. In the interrogation room, they used that against me. The detective would ask me “So, you shook the baby, right?” and of course I said yes, but I had no idea what they were really implying. The interesting thing is, the first hospital she went to just said it looked like she had a nasty fall. They eventually transferred her to a different hospital and once she got there, they said Makaylia looked like she’s been shaken. After that it was a wrap, they locked me up and my face was on the news from Maine to Florida.
Wow! That’s definitely a lot to deal with, especially when you know you are innocent. What lead up to you eventually being exonerated of all charges?
In my heart, I knew that I didn’t violently shake her. However, I was so emotionally torn up about the situation that I started telling myself that I hurt the baby. I even begin telling my mother and my family that I shook her. They had to tell me to stop saying that over the phone. I kept saying to myself, “I want to make things right with God”. I also began to listen to people around me who would say “You did say you shook the baby?” or “Why don’t you just be honest about it?” Shaken Baby Syndrome is actually shaking a baby at 40 miles per hour, and that’s something I definitely didn’t do.
There was no proof that I beat her, and she didn’t have any bruises on her either. Up to that point, it was evident my public defender was trying to railroad me, so I fired him. One day, this 60-year-old white man comes to visit me. His name was Richard Miley. He explained to me that he was a retired attorney, but he was willing to come out of retirement to work on my case. He let me know that he had been following my case since day one and he thought I was innocent. When he said those words, I just looked at him, I thought it was a joke. I told him I didn’t have any money and he didn’t want any.
He advised me that he would cover all the expenses. The courts gave him $10,000 and he covered everything beyond that. He had a team helping him which consisted of his daughter and his wife. They got on it right away. What really helped me was the testimony from two doctors, John Plunkett and, Suzanne Margulis who specialized in diagnosing babies with the Shaken Baby Syndrome. Both doctors agreed that the cause of her injuries were clearly from a traumatic fall and not Shaken Baby Syndrome. After it was all said and done, the verdict came back not guilty.
That’s an amazing story. I’m happy to see everything worked out for you. It’s unfortunate we live in a system that would allow that to happen. Even though that incident took place several years ago, I’m sure it still affects you to this day?
Yes, it does. There’s a lot of discrimination in the mental health system towards African-Americans. They would not allow me to get the correct counseling that I needed after being exonerated. Just being accused of such a thing was tough on me mentally. I spent a total of 3,169 days in Aiken County Detention for a crime I didn’t commit, and the whole experience was like a movie. It was amazing to see that after a while, everyone in the jail began to see that I was telling the truth.
How do you feel about the criminal justice system after going through your situation?
Well, going into that situation I just assumed that the truth was going to come out. As we moved forward, I begin to notice that’s not what they were really focusing on. So, my assessment of the criminal justice system is they’re just looking for a conviction, not the truth. And in my situation, I realized that being a black man in the south, the cards were stacked against me.
With everything you had to go through in that particular situation. What advice would you offer someone going through something similar?
It’s really important to remain calm and get the best understanding of the rights you have pertaining to your situation. If you don’t remain calm and level-headed you can literally drive yourself crazy. It’s important for brothers to invest time into working on their own cases instead of allowing your lawyer or public defender to do the work for you. While I was in there, if I would have allowed my emotions to carry me throughout my time, I could have gotten really hurt or hurt someone. If you don’t know what’s going on this system will politely hang you.