“I went to jail a mother, a daughter and a wife, by the time I came out I was a grandmother, an orphan and a widow.”
That was the heartbreaking reality of a life stolen from Sonia ‘Sunny’ Jacobs, who was imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit.
Sunny was accused of killing two police officers at a highway service area in Florida and sentenced to the electric chair.
She was later exonerated, but not before spending more than 15 years in prison.
When Sunny was released, she found the outside world tough to adjust to – and has now dedicated her life to making the transition through exoneration more manageable for others.
Along with her husband, Peter Pringle, – who she met while giving a talk about her death-row experience – Sunny runs a retreat for other victims of wrongful conviction.
Peter was able to empathise with Sunny when he met her at the talk in 1998 – as he had had a remarkably similar experience of wrongful conviction.
He also spent many years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, accused of killing two police officers, this time in rural Ireland in a botched bank robbery.
He too was exonerated after 15 years in prison.
Peter is from Dublin, a tall, thin man with a white beard, a former fisherman and lifelong republican.
Sunny is American, she’s frail and birdlike but has a real spark behind her eyes.
They live happily with a menagerie of goats and cats and dogs, eating fresh home-grown food and open their home to other exonerees from around the world as a halfway house, to help their ‘guests,’ as they call them, find their place in society again.
It’s a place you would never find by accident, in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht, amid stone walls, lakes and hills, along roads that twist, turn, rise and fall.
When you eventually arrive at the house Peter and Sunny share, you understand that you’re meeting two people who want to be removed from the world – which is understandable given what they’ve both been through.
Stories in Sound: Exonerated, will be on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday 29 January at 12:30.