Tuesday 27 September 2016

Former Death Row inmate delivers moving speech to Irish students - 'I had a choice between hope and hopelessness'

Sasha Brady

Published 17/02/2016 | 13:24

Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs speaks to students at NUI Galway about the power of forgiveness and mindfulness in powerful TED Talk. Photo: TED Talk.
Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs speaks to students at NUI Galway about the power of forgiveness and mindfulness in powerful TED Talk. Photo: TED Talk.

A former Death Row inmate - wrongfully convicted of a crime - has delivered a speech to Irish people about the power of forgiveness and mindfulness in a moving TED Talk.

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"It was the sound of the door slamming behind me that really brought the reality of my situation into sharp focus," said Sunny as she opened her speech.

Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs (64) was sentenced to death at the age of 28 for the murder of two police officers in Florida. She was 28 at the time and the mother of two young children. Her son was nine-years-old and her daughter was just ten-months old when was sentenced to death.

A self-confessed hippy, Sunny was about "peace and love" and couldn't understand how she was convicted of such a heinous crime.

"I had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a crime that I did not commit and found myself being locked in a cell, completely made of concrete... small... windowless," she told the audience at her powerful TED Talk.

The talk, held at NUI Galway, was open to students and locals alike.

Sunny was kept in complete isolation in a women's maximum security prison. Nobody was allowed to speak to her, not even the guards.

Her tiny cell contained a toilet and sink combination that was six steps from the door and a thin metal shelf with a thin mattress that was intended to be her bed.

With nothing to do and nobody to communicate with, Sunny mostly paced back and forth in her cell "in anger, fear and confusion" as she tried to make sense of her situation.

However, the mother-of-two soon decided that she still had a choice left before "2,400 volts of electricity" passed through her body and she was pronounced dead.

"I realised that until they figured out they realised they had made a mistake and let me go home to my children - or they did take my life for some comic reason that I didn't understand - that my life still belonged to me and I could still decide how it would be until that time.

"Now they could keep me there, they could keep me locked up in that little cell and I couldn't be where I wanted to be or with whom I wanted to be with, but within the space that was allocated to me, in my little world, I could decide.

She chose not to live her days in fear, misery and anger and worked on her spiritual side.

In her speech, the 64-year-old told her listeners that "every challenge is an opportunity".

"I had a choice between hope and hopelessness... actually, I learned more about freedom than I ever had before."

Nearly 17 years after her arrest, Sunny’s conviction was overturned on appeal as one juror "refused to be bullied" into following the beliefs of the rest of the jury.

Watch below to see how she embraced her situation, always choosing to believe in hope. In her emotional and powerful story, Sunny shares her thoughts on how to achieve ultimate liberation... simply by changing your perspective.

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