I'm 39 years old. I was just released from prison a little bit over a year ago. I did 23 years in prison. Mostly as a result of the pipeline in prison, I was, I grew up in poverty. I was placed in a system at a very early age at the age of six, that started a revolving door of, you know, constant contact with the system and quickly us it into the criminal system.
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That's Andre Jacobs from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I ran across Andre on Instagram in the fall of 2021. He has an energy about him that drew me in. When I found out he had represented himself in court several times and won. I wanted to know more
The fact that you represented yourself and all the things that came about from that, that's what really sparked my eye. Cause I'm like this guy's a change maker. This guy is somebody who's a visionary. Who's going to inspire change in this situation.
I really appreciate you saying that. I don't be wanting, I, I don't wanna always be, wanna be the one to say it, but you know, there was definitely a, a revolution, a revolution thought that I experienced from, you know, being a common street criminal in Harrisburg to, um, learning how to read and write in prison, reading hundreds and hundreds of books and coming to a realization that despite all of the things that I experienced, I still had a choice to decide, uh, how I wanted my life to, to be next and how I wanted to make a contribution to the world.
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I mean, it was mostly circumstance that got me into the law. I was always of fighter is, is, you know, as early as I can remember, I was, I used to box at Sherms boys club when I was, when I was, you know, six or seven years old. So I mean, you know, that fighter spirit was always in me. So when it came to, uh, me witnessing and experiencing the uses and, and deceptions of the system, um, you know, I felt, I felt very powerless and I wanted to do something about it. So once I did learn how to read and write and start learning different policies, prison policies, and laws and things of that in the, um, you know, I filed my first lawsuit. Uh, I, I lost that first lawsuit, but it taught me some things, gave me an understanding of, you know, uh, you know, court procedures and practices and rules of evidence.
And by the time I went in for my next lawsuit, you know, I won, I won, I made history one, the biggest lawsuit in, in Pennsylvania history acting as my own attorney, that lawsuit was about a unit. It was actually a, a, a more like a secret unit that existed. And actually they revamped that unit. Now it's currently at, uh, S sci Phoenix out there in near Philadelphia called the long term segregation unit in what they did with this unit. It was solitary confinement, 23 hours, and one locked in a cell. Um, all the windows were smoked black. It was a high, high level of violence by staff. Um, people constantly being placed in torture chairs, sprayed, starved the food. And I mean, abuse was on a constant level. I mean, I, in all my years in prison, I never experienced a higher level, uh, uh, of abuse and corruption and just, um, you know, just depression. You know, one of the things that, you know, guys decide because the, the, the thing about that unit is that most of the guys there were influential everybody who was in a unit. They, they placed us there because we were influential in one way or another. And the circumstances and the conditions were designed to break us down and make us weak and make us succumb to the adverse side effects of solitary find, which are known and verified by experts.
This reminds me so much of the Kalief Browder story on Netflix only he was at Riker's Island in New York. He was put into solitary confinement too, and talked about how it was used to kill the spirit of men with potential in the world, men who otherwise could be somebody, unfortunately, Kalief wasn't able to escape the depression he experienced and ultimately committed suicide.
Um, so anytime we would try to file lawsuits and file paperwork or generate media attention, uh, about that unit, they would still are, they were still in her outgoing mail. I mean, it was, it was to a point where we had to literally, um, like give mail to people who were being transferred out of the prison, or for some other reason, leaving the prison for us to believe that our mail was actually leaving the facility. So when it came to guys that like myself that were trying to get the word out through lawsuits, by putting some type of protection on our mail, by filing it with the courts, they would, um, you either prevent us from going to the law library, you know, uh, stop us from making copies. When we do send documents out to the library to make copies, they take the material.
Um, and that's what happened in this scenario. I was collaborating with one of the so-called jailhouse lawyers at that prison that was also in the unit. And, you know, he was guide me on some of the steps to take and also providing affidavits and, you know, witness, witness statements to support and things of that nature. And, um, to prevent me from being able to file that lawsuit, they took all of the paperwork, filed, uh, misconduct reports against the us. And, uh, when I, when I sought to try to get those documents back, one of the staff members had already admitted, acknowledged having the documents while another staff member, falsified reports saying that, um, I lied about the amount of documents, um, that they were taken from this other guy and not me and so forth and so on. So I launched a lawsuit against the individuals, the prison guards that were involved, as well as their supervisors pointing out that, um, basically any, um, individual in prison who's trying to bring light to the corruption prison are targeted for abuse, that this is a systematic practice in Pennsylvania and throughout all of the Pennsylvania prisons and that the supervisors support it because they don't want the word getting out about the corruption and the prisons either.
And, um, and I prove that, um, you know, the, the attorney, the attorneys for the, for the defendants and, um, the prison staff were saying, this is absurd. You know, we don't take it personal. We understand that these guys file lawsuits, et cetera, etcetera. But when it came down to it, the jury saw, uh, through, through the witnesses and through the documentation, through all the contradictions and the false testimony that they provided, that everything I said was true.
When Andre won that case, he summarily put a target on his back. It reminds me of the phrase, Brava faccia, which translates from Italian to English as brave face. The phrase in, in English is saving face. Andre had caught the attention of a district attorney who launched case after case, after case against Andre, that would keep him in jail longer than what he was originally in for.
Yeah. So there was a guy, um, a neighbor of mine at the Allegheny county jail. I was at the Allegheny county jail waiting trial on other charges when, um, this, this, uh, district attorney continue to launch cases against me. So, but he would do it through well more so the prison guards at the Allegheny county jail would initiate criminal charges against me in retaliation for me, filing complaints and writing the media about the corruption that, that was existing in that facility and used this same da in every scenario to facilitate these charges and try to get me more time in prison, basically using manipulating the judicial process to retaliate against people that exercised their first amendment. Right? So there was multiple occasions. I was involved in incidents with the prison guards at the Allegheny county jail wherein they would retaliate by filing false criminal charges against me. And, um, I stood trial on, I stood trial on multiple cases, multiple incidents, and was found not guilty every time. Um,
At this point in the interview, I'm dying to know more details, but I didn't want to interrupt Andre's story. I wanted his words to flow naturally, but after the interview, curiosity got the better of me and a simple Google search revealed an article that Andre wrote for the Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism website about criminal justice. I'd like to read you some of this article entitled. I taught myself how to read in prison than I sued the system and won just like the rest of life. Everything about the court system, as a puzzle, I've had to piece together. I entered prison at 15 lost and illiterate. A lot of the guys I knew were too ashamed to admit that they didn't know how to read, but I wasn't. I taught myself how I would take a novel and look up every word that stuck me.
My first year in prison. I read the same book, The Last Don over and over for about nine months. All of that work, learning how to read helped me. When I went back to school while in prison, it's also helped me become a success full jailhouse lawyer, representing myself in court. Over the years, I've won hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state. All thanks to countless hours. I've spent pouring over legal books and documents. I filed my first lawsuit when I was 19 years old, I had been put in solitary and there was this one guard who would walk past my cell and kick my door, call me the N word, play with my food. And then one time he pulled out his Baton and beat me with it. One of the guys on the block sent me a note that said, listen, man, that's a violation of your rights. I can help you with that. He told me to start documenting everything and to get this book called the prisoners self-help litigation manual, which is designed for beginners and allows you to personalized pre-written legal arguments, learning prison, law, and policy was amazed at first, but I found myself in situations where I really believed the guards would kill me. So my life depended on getting it right. There were times when I would spend months reading nothing but legal cases and John Grisham novels.
At this point, it's actually difficult for me to read this article. My heart breaks for the child forced to grow up way too soon and to grow up in the most disadvantaged way imaginable. After 15 years of false archs and more than a dozen pleadings in court, Andre finally won and was awarded financial damages. It's a significant sum of money, but in all honesty, it's not nearly enough.
And one of the cases that, um, clearly showed that there was corruption and involved. Um, they tried to plant a shank in my cell and initially my cell was searched and my cell was clear to contraband. It was on the record that my cell was clear to contraband. They then went and searched other cells and came back to my cell and said that they found a, a 10-inch shank in my cell, initiated criminal charges against me, tried to get me to plea out and accept criminal responsibility for I refused and said I wanted to go. I wanted another trial saw that I wouldn't, uh, agree to any type of offense. They withdrew the case, this same da or Ryan Tutera. So, so five times I was criminally prosecuted by Ryan Tutera. Four times I was found not guilty or the case was withdrawn on the fifth case, which is a guy who wasn't really my case.
It was really the guy next to me, attempted to escape and died. And some guards who were, um, instrumental. And this guy escapement were suspended or had some type of disciplinary action taken against him. And they asked me information about, uh, how he was, how he was carrying this out. If, if I played a role and so forth and so on. And because I didn't give them information that they wanted, they criminally charged me with conspiracy to help this guy escape. Now, when it came trial time, mind you, I already beat this guy at trial four times, I refused to take any type of compromise, any type of criminal responsibility. I demanded another trial. And by this time, um, my attorney, like my attorney, didn't like the fact that I wanted to go to trial. And I felt like, um, like I felt like her and the DA too close.
I mean, I said this to her. I expressed this to her. It got to a point where we were no longer on talking terms and at the jury selection process, um, they were like, the da was picking jurors that, that expressed a bias in the case. And in order to prevent all of that from being on record, they fabricated a document saying that I agreed for the, the, uh, the judge and the stenographer to not be present in the courtroom while the jury selection process was taking place. So everything that happened in the jury selection process is not documented and there's no record, but there is a record of me complaining so much about the process that they had to stop the process and actually go to the judge's courtroom. And there is a small excerpt in the transcript showing that I was complaining about the, um, the jury selection process that I felt that the jury selection process was being corrupted.
So, um, to try to give you a long story short, they fabricated two documents. They fabricated my signature. They forced my signature on two doc, two waiver forms saying that I agree that the judge does not need the judge nor the grapher needs to be present for these proceedings to record these proceedings. Um, which was a lie. I never signed them. So, um, as I continue to argue this over the years, yeah, they continue to say, oh, this is absurd. You're suggesting that one of you're suggesting that one of my staff fors my SI for your signature. And, uh, at one point the judge, when I came back on one of my appeal and was arguing, arguing the case and through, through my testimony, the judge said, um, are you suggesting that someone at that table fors your signature? I said, I'm not suggesting that I'm telling you that somebody at that table definitely fors my signature because there's no other way it would've got there.
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And, you know, we had that, we had that debate for years and they never acknowledged it. They never wanted to, they never wanted to run any type of test on, on my right or look at any of my prior writings to verify or compare. Um, so, um, I hired a expert. I hired a ex, a, a writing, a writing expert who examined, examined my writing, examined the, the, um, the signatures all my prior SS. And she generated a report verifying that, uh, the signatures reflected on those waiver forms are not now when we actually get the documents from another case, we get the documents from another case that Ryan Tutera actually signed and compare 'em to the four signatures on the two documents. It's the exact same handwriting. So in order for them to prevent, to prevent me from filing a lawsuit on about it, the judge is refusing to on the case,
Did you get that? Andre says that he was able to prove it wasn't his signature by testimony from a handwriting expert that he hired. Then when comparing documents signed previously by the da, who has it out for Andre, by the way, it appears that the DA signed Andre's name with this evidence in play. Now, the judge won't rule on the case against Andre, because if the judge rules on it, that means there's a potential lawsuit against the DA for his alleged forgery of Andre's signature.
Now, the, the, the, the evidence at all in evidence that I just told you about that I referenced the four signature, the, uh, the experts report conclude that it's not my, that it's not my signature. Um, and the prior documents that Ryan Tutera had have been in front of the judge right now for, um, over a year. And the judge has not made a rule in saying, Hey, I agree, or I disagree. I mean, say something, but the judge knows that once, once he does acknowledge that, um, my signature was forged, they gotta overturn the case because the whole, the whole trial, the whole trial was corrupted. Cuz the jury selection process was corrupted. And the Commonwealth, before I got the right expert verifying that this wasn't my signature, the Commonwealth submitted to the judge in their, in their papers that there's, without a question, if Mr. Jacobs did not sign these documents, he's entitled to a new trial. So not only would I be entitled to a new trial, I will also be following a lawsuit. But the trick is they know that you cannot file a lawsuit about, um, a criminal case where you were convicted until that conviction has been overturned or otherwise put, uh, placed in question.
Do you think they'll just drop the charges? Nope,
Nope. Nope. Because as they know, if, if they, if they release me from responsibility on that case, I'm going to file a lawsuit. They know that, but so in order to prevent me from doing that, the judge is just not ruling on the case at all.
Isn't there something to do with timing though? Does he not? Does he, can he just not ever rule on the case?
He can't just, he can't do it forever. So what I gotta, I would have to do is file a whole new complaint to a different court saying that this judge is taking too long to room for no reason. And I would like you to order him to rule. But my thing is, why should I have to do all of this? When for all of these years, literally for 10 years, for the 10 years that y'all had me in prison on this case, there's been a question about the authenticity of this writing. So for me to be able to come with an expert and say a expert that is actually used by the courts and respected by the courts is one of the best experts in the Western district of Pennsylvania to verify that this is not my signature, then, um, shouldn't that prompt you in the interests, the justice to say, oh, we should look at this case or we should make a ruling on this case or take a fresh look, you know, put some fresh eye on this case. This should be something, this should be more than enough to prompt you into action. I should not have to go to a whole new court to order you to rule. Why would you not wanna rule?
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That's really messed up because I mean the system is supposed to be there to help protect people. And what they're doing is they are a allowing someone who's not protecting people and potentially creating, you know, these, this alleged wrongdoing with the signatures, it's just messed up. It's really messed up. Why don't we go back a bit? Let's go back to the original part. How did you even get into prison in the first place? What happened and how old were you?
I was 15 years old when I went to prison. I was certified as a adult for nonviolent offenses, uh, drug possession, gun possession, escape from a juvenile facility and resist arrest on the occasion of my arrest. Um, I was sent to, or three years, eight months to 10 years. My maximum was 10 years while I was in prison. I got additional charges. One of 'em being that escape conviction, which added 10 years to my sentence,
Let's get this straight. Andre was convicted of a drug charge, gun possession and resisting arrest. At the age of 15, his sentence was three to 10 years. Then he got 10 more years due to the conspiracy charge to help his neighbor in prison, to escape the one who escaped and died simply because he refused to answer questions about it. Not because he necessarily helped the guy escape.
That just seems messed up. I mean, it's not like you were raping and you know, killing people.
Yeah. I didn't, I didn't have any, I didn't have the only violent offenses that I had it that I had from the time that I was in prison to the time that I got out were incidents that I, that I got in while in prison. But I did not have any violent offenses that put me in prison.
Yeah. And being in prison, you're just trying to survive.
Yeah. I mean, if you gimme the choice, I'm 15 years old, I'm 135 pounds, five foot three, and people will try to take advantage of you, uh, staff. And non-staff. So, you know, you, you got a choice, you got a choice on whether you wanna, um, leave a victim or stand at.
So let's turn this into what actually is happening. Now. You've gotten outta prison a year ago, how you spent 23 years. There just seems mind blowing to me to start from a young age of 15, to go into the system and then to continually be given these circumstances that keep you in prison for longer when you're not in a safe place to begin with. It's not like you were ever given any chance to do good things in the world. And from what I can see, you are now stepping up and trying to make up for all that lost time, because we've got situations out here. Everybody's heard about it. You've got the school to prison pipeline. Obviously that's where, you know, you fit in. Then you've got corruption within the system itself and then be a on that. There is how do you get these prisoners who have served time?
And now they're out in the world, some are on probation, some have finished their sentences, but how do you stop that recidivism that sends them back to prison? How do you get them to be productive members of society? The fact you have gone through this entire thing, I don't think there's any more perfect example of a person who obviously knows the laws, the system you understood what happened with you. You were able to understand your own cases and to get most of that stuff swept away, but still that's 23 years of your life. What happened next? What is the good thing that you're doing to move forward with this, to help society in general, help other people like you?
My main goal in life is to use my story, my setbacks in life, to empower other people, to educate people so that they can see what's on the other side. Because a lot of times what we was, what people was telling us is that, um, yeah, you, you sell drugs and you make money. You go out here, you hustle this and you do that. Uh, if you go to prison, you just go over there. You do time, you come home, but they don't tell you about, you know, all of the moralizing aspects of prison and how prison breaks you down and how, how you, how people get raped and how corrupt the system is. And you know, about your family coming to visit you and the strip searches and all of the other, a real, uh, deeper aspects of prison that, that really do something to your psyche over a period of time. So my goal is to really educate and empower, to give people real information and insight, to also help like really guide a lot of these organizations that are out here, um, pushing these different agendas and putting this information out by pushing these different narratives that are not exactly correct and not exactly on point, um, and just really, um, arm people with the right information and, and, and, and real experiences so that they can really help a lot of people.
So what is it you're doing right now? I, I, I watched you live stream some sort of meeting the other day in Harrisburg and you know, just other things that you're getting involved in within the community. Are you helping individual? Are you getting involved with foundations what's going on?
Oh, well we just, um, I, you know, I still, I still work with attorney Martha Conley. She was somebody who helped me while I was in prison. She's the first, uh, African American woman to graduate, uh, with the law degree outta the Allegheny county, Allegheny county. And, um, I still, well, I I've done a lot of work with her. We've, uh, successfully, uh, overturned the case of, well, basically not overturn, I don't wanna say overturn, cause it hasn't been concluded, but we've uncovered the evidence that will overturn the case of Jerome Coffey has been, uh, wrongfully imprisoned for 28 years for a crime that he didn't commit. And the evidence shows that the crime that, that he did not commit the crime, they knew from the beginning that he didn't commit the crime. Now we actually have discovery materials showing that, you know, um, they described the culprit as a, uh, lighter skin guy, Jerome coffee with six foot four darker skin guy.
Um, so, um, so yeah, I'm, I'm helping individuals. Um, I guide, you know, I got organizations, organizations hire me. I'm also, um, helping right now on the Tremane, the Tremane Wood case out in Oklahoma, the death penalty case, they want me to testify in that case to basically save this man's life about the ability to change and the most important thing that I want people to know, no matter what they been through, rape, lot to Rob beat down, whatever happened in their life that, um, they still have power, still have the ability to make change and make and bring something great into the world or turn that pain into power. So that's really my message. That's what I learned. That was the most important thing I learned through everything that I experienced through all of the beat downs, all of the corruptions, all of the, all of the, you know, everything that happened to me is that I always had the power
At the end of our interview. I encouraged Andre to write a book about his experiences and little did. I know that he already had written several books immediately after this. I asked him to join me in an author collaboration to promote several books by various authors who were helping people in the world to overcome all kinds of challenges. His participation in the project was a tremendous success and I greatly appreciate his contribution. So definitely check him out on Amazon for titles, such as The Money Handbook, War and Litigation, The Business Resource Handbook, The Power Handbook. Be sure to check out the show notes as well for links to his social media and his website.
It's more of a decision in one's mind to prevail and to persevere. And as long as you tell yourself that you can win and you believe that you can win in the end, you're going win.
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I thank you for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at ShoutYourCause.com.