How much is a life worth?

I found myself pondering that question this week after reading the story of a Georgia man who spent 30 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Authorities freed him in 2007 after DNA exonerated him.

To compensate John Jerome White for life unjustly lost behind bars, the Georgia legislature approved – and Gov. Sonny Perdue this week signed – a bill giving him $500,000.

Only $500,000 for roughly half a human life.

White would have gotten $709,000, but Georgia lawmakers reduced the amount after learning that he had an unrelated burglary conviction. Critics argued that the state shouldn’t reward a “career criminal.”

This won’t surprise most who know me, but I’m about as law-and-order as a black man gets. I have little patience for those who argue that the “industrial prison complex” is simply a means for keeping black men down.

Spend any day hugging a police scanner and you’ll quickly hear who’s committing the crimes in your town.

Still, the White case makes me angry. How dare someone suggest that he deserves less because of a prior case? Truth is, he spent three decades behind bars for something he didn’t do. Period. (Ironically, the real rapist shared a lineup with White but apparently was overlooked by the victim.)

I think of all I would have missed had someone stolen the last 30 years of my life — college, early career, marriage, fatherhood and so much more. I would have missed the three decades that shaped me into the man I have become and the older man I pray to one day be.

Those years were priceless, and no amount of money can compensate a man for time unjustly taken from him.

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Glenn H. Burkins is editor/publisher of

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