Free to speak, now he’s fighting for freedom: New documentary on Vernon T. Bateman

“If you doing something positive, you bring it to the light. If you doing something negative you keep it in the dark… I’m trying to bring my case to the light.” – Vernon T. Bateman

After decades in prison with a hand over his mouth, Vernon T. Bateman is free to speak. More people of diverse backgrounds from across the country are now listening as he fights to bring the truth of his case into the light.

This brief, new Indianapolis Liberation Center documentary about the history and present status of Bateman’s struggle is part of that effort. With your help, we can get this innocent man exonerated immediately! Sign the petition to free Vernon once and for all and, to read more about the case, check out this article.

This video was written, directed, edited, and produced by the Indianapolis Liberation Center and, in particular, Center volunteer organizers Aubrey Whiteman, Jay Grillo, Bridget O’Reilly, and Derek Ford. Special thanks to Vernon, Nora, Bro, Leon Benson, and the growing community that supports this campaign. Please share this with everyone you know. Everyone needs to hear what Vernon has to say!

“26 years too long: Vernon T. Bateman’s fight for freedom”


Vernon T. Bateman from Prison: “I have fought for my innocence as well as my freedom since 1998. At this point of my struggle, as I strive, I truly believe that DNA will show and reveal the light of my innocence.”

Derek Ford‘s Narration: Vernon T. Bateman is many things: he’s a father and a grandfather he’s a talented children’s book author and a prolific one at that he’s a talented artist a muralist and a brilliant and kind human being. He’s also somebody who, for the last 26 years, has been fighting relentlessly against an unjust conviction, a wrongful incarceration, and what is ultimately a grave miscarriage of the criminal justice system in the United States.

In 1998, in Gary Indiana where he grew up, he was accused and convicted of rape, criminal conduct, and confinement. This was based on false testimony, a lack of evidence, and ultimately the corruption within the Gary Police Department. In fact, in 2003 the alleged victim recanted her testimony. In 2004, in a case trial, she again – under oath – verified that she had never before seen Vernon T. Bateman until Detective Mary Banks of the Gary PD pointed him out and said that is him. Since then, she has pleaded for his release, as has the rest of her family, including her brother. Saron Foley, who was a co-defendant in Batman’s case but was never called as an eyewitness, has also recanted his alleged testimony, and admitted that the same detective had coerced him as she had coerced the alleged victim.

Saron Foley from prison: “I made a false statement against someone that um got them convicted of a crime I know they didn’t commit.”

Ford: This is just the beginning of the story. The rape kit was never entered into evidence and, in fact, when Vernon and his lawyers submitted a request for the evidence to be presented at trial, it was denied. This is because the rape kit was destroyed. However, there are medical notes from the doctor who performed the rape kit that affirmed that the victim did not have any evidence of rape, let alone intercourse, when he examined her. Again, this was known as early as 2003, and yet it wasn’t until last year that Vernon was released from bars.

He still, however, isn’t free. He lives under intense conditions of house arrest. Ultimately, he’s forced to wear an ankle monitor; he has a tight curfew; his parole officer and the sheriff visit his house regularly; he cannot see his own grandson; he cannot be around children; he cannot even enter into a relationship or think about kissing a woman without notifying the state. Even outside of prison, Vernon isn’t free, and we must do everything that we can to help this innocent man be exonerated.

He spent over 10 years in solitary confinement. That’s where he learned to draw. He started writing children’s books because the mother of his child was killed by a drunk driver and he needed to parent his child.

Bateman from prison: “Hello my name is Vernon T. Bateman from Gary, Indiana. I’m the author of the children’s book, ‘They Can’t Hurt Me No More.’ The book entails a real life event story about a bullying situation a victim in the book was bullied and decided the best way out was suicide.”

Ford: He had people smuggle in crays and supplies so that he could do this. This is what being a father is to Vernon. His innocence is indisputable and we must do everything we can to get him exonerated immediately. I had the privilege of sitting down with Vernon himself to hear about what the case and what his exoneration mean to him.

The first question, which is very difficult to ask Vernon, was how he has retained his optimism, because everybody at the Indianapolis Liberation Center and who comes into contact with him is immediately struck by his humility, and his patience, and his belief that the human spirit will prevail.

Ford: You know, how have your thoughts and feelings about this terrible injustice evolved over time, or have you always had this optimism?

Bateman: I had to, like, rebuild it. Like, I had to rebuild everything: from my faith in God, and everything. But I know at the end of it God had the last words, you know? So that’s why. And I know it’s a lot of people that’s, like, not articulated enough like to do things like this and to express theirself, and they dealing with that type of pain. And they just dealing with it, and hoping, and having faith. Faith without work ain’t no good, so I know I got to put the work in.

Ford: It’s important to understand the context of the prison system in the United States. We’re supposedly the most free and Democratic Society in the world, but we are, in fact, the most heavily incarcerated society and country on the planet. The United States has about 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Russia, for example, (which has about less than half the population of the United States) has around 500,000 people in jail. In fact, if you were to add up the number of Black men alone in U.S. jails and prisons, it would exceed the entire number of Russia’s prison population.

Yet, despite the fact that it’s so widespread and everybody has or knows someone who has experience with the “Criminal Justice System,” there are many people that still believe this narrative that bad people are in prison, and the prisons are there to protect us. So, I asked Vernon what he would say to somebody whose only knowledge of prison comes from the media, and TV shows, and other forms of entertainment.

Bateman: You got to think of it: it’s extortion. It’s all extortion, you know, to the highest degree. You going to pay 15 cent an hour… that’s like inhumane, you know. But uh, and you surviving off of it, and your family is getting extorted and things like that. Not to say (that there aren’t) people that don’t fit the crimes and need to get punished, but it’s a lot of innocent people that’s in prison.

It’s people like, you got counties that got five public defenders with 300-some clients, or 600-some clients, and it’s only eight public defenders, you know? So how can you really put full focus on the case of a individual? For me, I had a public defender. I knew it was, it was a lot of negligence; there was a lot of, uh, misrepresentation, ineffective assistance of counsel, you know? So, I was trying to express it the best that I could, and, for me, the knowledge I needed to learn I had to learn myself, and educate myself. And a lot of people don’t understand until it hit home and somebody in their family that’s don’t get the justice that they deserve, you know?”

Ford narrating: Evidence of Vernon’s innocence emerged in 2003 and began cascading from then, so I asked him why is taken so long, and why he still is not exonerated, and, most importantly, what the community can do to support him.

Ford: Why is it taking so long, and what can the community do to help you fight for your exoneration?

Bateman: At this point, like, I’m trying to put… uh, the community, uh, can really help and reach out to me through a petition that the Liberation Center put together for me. And I salute the Liberation Center. I really appreciate that, because we need more people liberated, like from this system.

Like, the Liberation Center inspired me to do more; to keep going; and, it’s platforms like that, you like, y’alls platform: it gave me opportunity to get a hand off my mouth; to be heard. Cause listen, you’d be surprised, like, if you hurt… if you doing something positive, you bring it to the light; if you doing something negative, you keep it in the dark. For me, I’m trying to bring my case to the light, and different people is gravitating to it to see it. And that’s my whole agenda right now.

And trying to look for…trying to be heard. I’ve been in prison for so long, and had a hand over my mouth, so I’m trying to fight to be heard, you know? And the time frame of it taking so long: a lot of people don’t want to be held accountable, and people got titles and people don’t want to say, ‘look that was wrong,’ you know? And it takes somebody to say this was wrong, you know?

Ford: Finally, I asked Vernon what he imagines life to be like when he’s exonerated. For example, what the first thing he wants to do is?

Bateman: The first thing I want to make a Vernon Bateman Law, cause I don’t want this to happen to nobody, you know? And I want to… I don’t know, man… build a school, man…help educate our kids and our youth, man. Cause, a lot of people washing their hands on our youth; it’s time. They need to see somebody that been in the fire, that came out the fire, to tell you don’t go back in it.”

Bateman: “The first thing I want to make a Vernon Bateman law cause I don’t want this to happen to nobody, you know? And I want to… I don’t know, man… build a school, man…help educate our kids and our youth, man. Cause, a lot of people washing their hands on our youth; it’s time. They need to see somebody that been in the fire, that came out the fire, to tell you don’t go back in it.

Ford narrating: Vernon has been struggling for decades to prove his innocence, while his innocence has already been proven. We don’t need to wait another decade—or even another year—until he’s exonerated and free to live as he should be. That is, of course, if the community comes out and supports him.

And, there are many ways that you can do so: first go to the Indy Liberation Center website and be sure to sign the petition for Vernon’s immediate exoneration. You can also check out Vernon’s project: Baby 22 Gun Safety, LLC, which is one of his many ventures (and) where you can find out more information about Vernon, as well as the various projects he’s engaged in.

And finally, please share this. Please share Vernon’s story with everybody that you know, because nobody deserves to be heard like a man who was silenced for decades.

Bateman: “Bullying comes in many different forms. I was bullied out of my freedom by ones in position(s) of authority. Through enduring pain and a real struggle, God gave me a gift to reach out and a story to tell to help preserve the innocence of our children.”

Featured photo: Vernon T. Bateman and Derek Ford speaking in front of one of Bateman’s three eclipse murals outside The District Theatre on Mass Ave. in Indianapolis on March 29. Credit: Indianapolis Liberation Center.