Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Embracing a new life

September 30, 2013 09:09 AM

By Sarah Gioe

In the church, we talk a lot about new life. But Eric Glisson, member at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, really knows what it means to experience new life. Convicted of murdering a cab driver in the Bronx in 1995, Glisson spent 17 years in prison, maintaining his innocence the whole time.

While in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Glisson, who went to jail with a sixth grade education, studied the law extensively so that he could continue to fight his case. "I lost all of my appeals," he says. "But I kept fighting. Ultimately, I realized I couldn’t do it on my own. I decided to put everything in God’s hands and asked him to take this burden from me. I was inspired to write a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office." Shortly afterwards, the case was reviewed: the killers confessed and Glisson was exonerated.

A member of Glisson’s legal team who also participates in St. John’s coffee house ministry knew that Glisson would need a place to go once he was released; she inquired about a small apartment at the church. His grandmother who raised him had died while he was incarcerated and he had nowhere to go. St. John’s congregation council met and decided to open up the studio apartment to Glisson last fall. He ended up staying for a little over a month before finding more permanent housing. "Eric enjoyed the community that was here," says Pastor Mark Erson. "He enjoyed the jazz mass so much he asked to become a member."

Reacclimating to society after 17 years away turned out to be easy for Glisson because of the support system he had. "I felt support in the Lutheran church, especially with Mark [Erson] and Scott [Jordan, Erson’s husband]," says Glisson. "Besides my attorney, they were the primary people who I turned to for assistance when I was released. I’ve become a member of the church; they’ve received me. You think everyone is going to think you’re an outcast―I found that not to be true."

Glisson credits putting God first in his life as the way he stayed positive during nearly two decades in jail. He didn’t waste any time there, either. In addition to furthering his education, Glisson participated in a theater program; volunteered extensively; learned computer repair, electrician training, and plumbing; and earned his paralegal certificate. He came out a few credits shy of a college degree at Mercy College and was back in the classroom two days after being released, graduating this spring.

Because of Glisson’s legal work, three other wrongfully imprisoned people have since been exonerated as well. He has vowed to continue working on behalf of those who are wrongly imprisoned. "Eric came out and said, ‘I’m not going to be bitter. It won’t help me,’" says Pr. Erson. "He came out ready to embrace a new life. He’s very inspirational."

How does it feel to have a new lease on life? "I have to enjoy every single breath I take. I have to enjoy this freedom," says Glisson. "It’s kind of strange to be walking down the street, smiling all the time. Inside you’re overwhelmed with happiness."





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