Brighton Magazine

The Brighton Magazine

Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Monday 25 July 2022

University of Brighton Honours Justice Campaigner Once Wrongfully Convicted & Sentenced To Death

Sunny Jacobs is to receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Brighton on 26 July, in recognition of her major contribution to the rehabilitation and reintegration of those who have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. 

She has been a tireless campaigner for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide for over 20 years - having been sentenced to death herself in the United States.

In 1976, Sunny Jacobs and her partner Jesse Tafero were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Florida USA. 

As the only woman in America at the time facing execution, Sunny was held in solitary confinement for nearly 5 years, before having her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. 

Tafero, however, was put to death in the electric chair in 1990 in a horrifically botched execution.

In 1992, Jacobs was finally released from prison based on evidence that would also have exonerated Tafero. 

During her long years in custody for a crime she did not commit, Sunny also lost both her parents in a plane crash, as well as missing crucial years of her children's childhood. 

Her life as a campaigner began in 1998 when Jacobs was speaking in Ireland with Amnesty International for the abolition of the death penalty, and met Peter Pringle - who had himself been wrongfully convicted and spent 15 years in prison in Ireland.

As a couple, they have established the Sunny Centre in Connemara in Ireland, where they work to rehabilitate those who have been wrongfully convicted. 

Their work spotlights shocking facets of the criminal (in)justice system, including the way people released having been wrongfully convicted receive no assistance from the state – assistance which is available to those released after serving a sentence for crimes they did commit.

In her Honorary degree acceptance speech to graduating law students at University of Brighton, Jacobs says: 

"You are people who have not yet normalised the injustices of the system in which you will be working. 

"That is why I can say that, even though I have had to live through, and live with, the effects of many deep losses and traumas in my life as a result of a wrongful conviction... I can say I wouldn't change it.

"All put together, those experiences enabled me to be here today to encourage you, whether you become a public defender or a prosecutor or a corporate lawyer, to do what's right. 

"In the end, all you have is your integrity. That's all I had when I went into prison; that's all I had when I left prison; and that's all I have now, in the latter years of my life."  

In her acceptance speech, Jacobs also speaks of how she turned around her own feelings in the face of a terrible - and seemingly hopeless - situation. 

"Justice doesn't begin in the court room; justice begins in your heart. And then it travels to your brain and it is spread to your actions and your words.... When I was sentenced to death and put in solitary confinement... all I was told that was where I was to wait for them to decide when to take my life. And they had all the power and I had none, so I had to believe them."

"But, one day I realised that, until they realised that they made a mistake, and sent me home to my two young children - or they did take my life - my life still belonged to me, and I could decide what happened inside of me. That's where you live. 

"It doesn't matter where you are or who you're with. It matters what happens inside."

"So, I proceeded to turn my cell into a sanctuary in order to do my spiritual work in the time that I had left. Be it long or be it short. 

"For me that meant doing yoga, meditation and prayer. It meant being true to myself, regardless of what anyone else said or didn't say, or did or didn't do. 

"So that, in the end, whether they did take my life or realise they made a mistake and sent me home to my children, I wouldn't be a bitter, miserable, broken and beaten human being." 

Sunny Jacobs has pioneered a caring approach to assist those who have been exonerated try to deal with their trauma and reintegrate into society. 

Approaches include yoga and meditation to tackle spiritual harm, allied to crucial assistance with the practicalities facing those who have just been released from prison, such as possible civil lawsuits, housing, welfare, health and education issues.

Sunny is active in educating law students about wrongful convictions, including speaking at University of Brighton in 2015. 

She and Peter are also heavily involved in Amicus and the worldwide networks of Innocence Projects.

Jacobs has published a book based on her time in prison - Stolen Time – which provided the inspiration for the film The Exonerated, with Susan Sarandon playing her role. 

Sunny continues to work tirelessly to highlight the prevalence of wrongful convictions and the difficulties facing those who are subsequently released.

by: Mike Cobley


Credit Raymond Briggs

Though born in London, Raymond Briggs - creator of illustrations as diverse as The Snowman and When The Wind Blows, who has died at the age of 88 - became a long-time resident of Sussex, and forged strong links with the University of Brighton.

Sonics 2022 is a three-day festival of ground-breaking experimental, electronic, and underground culture taking place in the newly renovated space, The Observer Building, Hastings, across the weekend of 21/22/23 October 2022.
Credit Rory Ryan

Every once in a while, a record comes along seemingly from nowhere that is so perfectly formed it almost beggars belief. Honeycomb by Oisin Mod is precisely one of those records. 

An Eastbourne woman says she faces being 'double stigmatised' and is backing calls from Alzheimer's Society for better support for LGBTQ+ people living with dementia.
Credit Steve Glashier

Isle Of Wight power pop specialist Lauran Hibberd is to play Brighton Resident just days after releasing her debut album Garageband Superstar.
Linda Milnes

Martlets is calling for daring people to walk barefoot over hot coals and raise funds for life-changing hospice care in our community this October. 

The Specials and Fun Boy Three singer Neville Staple will headline a special concert to launch a Rock Against Racism exhibition in Hastings on Saturday 27 August, with support from reggae-jungle mash-up maestros Dub Pistols and local all-girl punk heroes Hot Wax. 
Credit: Edward Cooke

Scottish indie rock band The Snuts have risen from school playground to playing the likes of Glastonbury Festival, and now comes news of The Rodeo, the band's fourth taste from their forthcoming album, Burn The Empire.

Three aspiring young football fans have described their experiences as they took centre stage at this year's UEFA Women's EURO 2022 tournament as referee mascots on the pitch in Brighton. 
Credit Derek D’Souza

Thousands flocked to the first week of This Is The Modern World - the largest exhibition ever of memorabilia from The Jam And The Style Council, plus, talks, live concerts, film screenings at Valley Gardens, Brighton. 
Credit Bohemia Media

After fifty long years in the business, Mr. David Raven is still shaking his sequins as Maisie Trollette, Britain's oldest working drag artiste.

To add some pizzazz to travel messages ahead of next weekend's Brighton and Hove Pride, Govia Thameslink Railway has enlisted the help of two of Brighton's most iconic drag queens.
Leila Eskandary-Miles

University of Brighton students are tackling fashion industry waste by making clothes from surplus fabric supplied to them by global fashion house Burberry.

An Honorary degree of Doctor of Arts has been awarded by the University of Brighton to Turner Prize-winning artist Helen Cammock, who has carved out a unique career uniting creative arts and social care - as well as championing the vital role of creative arts in society generally.

Organising a conference or event in Brighton?
See our Brighton Conference section.
Brighton web design by ...ntd