Perry Lott was sentenced to 300 years in prison for the November 1987 rape and robbery of an Ada woman. Lott maintained his innocence throughout his trial and three decades of incarceration. With the assistance of The Innocence Project, he was released from prison in July 2018.
Under an agreement made with the Pontotoc County District Attorney’s office, Lott will be on unsupervised probation for the rest of his life. He is also ineligible for financial compensation.
In an Oklahoma Watch feature “A Mile In Another’s Shoes,” an initiative to amplify voices we aren’t always hearing or call attention to the plight of those affected by public policy, Lott discusses his mindset while incarcerated and ongoing efforts to rebuild his life.
I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. Born in 1962 to parents Jacob and Ida Mae. I had 14 siblings including myself.
Life was poor. But I never knew one day of hunger, I never knew one day of homelessness. I had a very good life even though it was financially poor. It was spiritually rich, very rich in love and awareness. I had very strict parents, not my mom but my dad. He was the ruler, what he said goes. I thought for a very long time I hated him. That may be the beginning of my folly.
I entered the 12th grade and was removed from school. That was 1980, and I went directly into the Navy. Didn’t finish that, I got an honorable discharge from the Navy. Lived in California for a little while, came back to Racine, and went directly to jail after getting back with the same companions.
I went to jail for the first time for snatching a purse. What’s weird is that when I snatched the purse, I had a pretty good job. But I had these friends who were a pretty big influence, and I didn’t know I had a right to say no to them.
Not long after serving that first year, I committed another crime. My mom had passed away and that made me very vulnerable to suggestions. A good friend of mine suggested I rob a store. He showed me a handgun and I said ‘okay, let’s go do this.’ Right in my own neighborhood, not too far from where I live.
I went to prison for the first time in my life. I was sentenced to five years. I think that’s when I really started realizing that I had to depend on myself and I had to learn how to walk this walk. I joined the education program in the prison and got my GED. Went directly to welding and blueprint making and became certified.
I came to Oklahoma unaware of how deep racism can go. I never experienced what my parents had experienced. I arrived here on July 2, 1987. By Nov. 5, 1987, I was in jail for rape, robbery, burglary and a bomb threat, and all I could say was I didn’t do it.
A police officer confronts me as I’m sitting in my car. He asks, “What are you doing here?’ I said I’m waiting on my girlfriend. He says, “Who are you, do you have an ID?” I told him my ID was at my job, I was just on my lunch break. He said he was going to run a check on me. I had just gotten off parole in Wisconsin, and I told him that. Then everything changed. … He knew he had a criminal.
The next day, after they search and question me, a police officer comes to my job. He asked “Do you mind being in a lineup?” I said of course I’ll help. I never left that lineup, never seen the broad light of day after that for 31 years.
The police were sure they had the right guy because of a gold tooth. I had a partially gold tooth at the time. There was no way I could convince them I didn’t do the crime, even though the longer I stayed in jail the more evidence I had that I didn’t do the crime.
MORE FROM The SERIES ‘A Mile In Another’s Shoes’
My lawyer and the prosecutor were in a meeting at the back of the courtroom. They came out like they were best friends. My lawyer did not vigorously defend me. He could have won that case with a few questions, but I’m just thinking it’s part of the process.
I couldn’t bring anyone as a character witness. All my family was in Wisconsin. The woman I was engaged to be married to at the time had no idea who I really was because our relationship was long-distance until I came to Oklahoma. She couldn’t really say who I was and who I was not.
I decided I was not going to die in prison as an innocent man and my life mean nothing to anyone. I changed my whole mindset, I said I’m done living for myself and I’m going to pour everything I got into these young men. Maybe one of them will turn out decent and my legacy will live on.
I never expected The Innocence Project to take me as a client. I was writing them for 25 years and didn’t get any results. Eventually, they took my case, and I had a lawyer who I knew was vigorously fighting for me. Her name was Karen Thompson. She told me all the stuff I had filed was excellent work, but the court doesn’t have to respect me because I’m not a bonafide attorney. They just rubber-stamped it. We went a different angle with the DNA evidence and got me out of prison.
I made a big decision over the phone with my lawyer and her supervisors. It was a Friday, they gave me these three options and I ended up taking an Alford plea (whereby the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges the likelihood of a conviction if the case went to trial.) I didn’t know at the time, but it’s basically a no-contest. I agreed to not seek compensation if they agreed to release me. I ended up getting the rape conviction taken off, but the other three crimes I’m still held responsible for.
I’ve been out for four years now. As people, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others. I see people with families, homes, jobs. I want part of that. I’m not saying anybody owes me anything, but there’s a certain part of the law called justice and mercy. I could use a nice home, a stable financial environment. Let me die in peace. Don’t make me die like this, waking up every day waiting for a paycheck at the end of the month.
I work at a place called West Town Apartments, where people who are homeless can rent an apartment and sustain themselves. I work there as a door keep, desk clerk. I do some cleaning and a lot of opening doors. I’m pretty much there to keep everyone protected.
I’ve gotten into poetry, art and public speaking. I’m also always promoting God and the movement against injustice. It’s not Black against white, Mexican against Indian, anyone against anyone, it’s everyone against discrimination and injustice. That’s our enemy, we’re not each other’s enemy.
I’ve made peace with it, but it hasn’t made peace with me. After 31 years in prison, I came out of nowhere. My own brothers and sisters don’t even know me anymore. It’s a detachment that occurred and nobody can do anything about it.
Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers prison conditions and criminal justice issues for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss