Woman exonerated from prison with help from EHS students pays a visit

Published 12:53 am Tuesday, June 7, 2022

A woman exonerated from a California women’s prison recently with the help of a class of Elizabethton High School students paid a visit to Elizabethton on Monday afternoon.

Suzanne Johnson was released from Central California Women’s Facility on April 3, 2020, after spending 21 years in prison for a crime that she maintained that she had not committed.

“I was telling someone else that just being able to open the door myself and walk in and out, riding in the front seat of a car – freedom means so many things,” said Johnson in her visit to The Coffee Company on Monday. “When I was getting out was when the pandemic started and for me it was freedom and for you, it was a lockup. So you were experiencing a totally different kind of lockup but at the same time, everything was so restrictive whereas I didn’t feel that way. I felt as though I was given this beautiful gift of freedom in so many ways – eating when I wanted to, sleeping when I wanted to, getting up when I wanted to, and using the shower.”

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Johnson was able to meet and talk with some of the students who worked hard to help her gain her freedom from criminal accusations that ended with her being placed in prison.

One of those students was Dane Cannon who was a freshman when the project began.

“It’s such a good feeling and it was such a big deal for me at the time,” said Cannon. “For me to graduate and not even a month later revisit something that really important to me is so nice. It’s very sweet and a very good feeling.”

Mr. Alex Campbell, a sociology teacher at the time the project began, was instrumental in getting the project rolling but it didn’t take long for the class to buy into helping Johnson.

“It really goes to show that not just young people, but if all people get together and try to accomplish things it will work out,” said Cannon. “It’s very impressive but it’s a good example to set for classes like this to be able to experience because you can impact people’s lives in positive ways. It’s way beyond the scope of school and it is truly something that is very impactful. That class went far beyond a Sociology class.”

For Johnson, it was a trip that she had been looking forward to since getting released.

“For me, it’s just surreal,” said Johnson. “Meeting these kids was high on my priority list and I got off parole in January and I said I’m going. It says to me that these kids are not going to end up in a place like I did. They are all good kids who are headed in the right direction. They are focused and what they did for me was unbelievable and I will never not believe they had a very big part in me getting released.”