Sunny Jacobs is an activist who uses her gentle yet powerful voice to help those who have been convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. In her speeches, she shares her own unthinkable story with grace, wisdom, and even a little humor.
The day her life changed forever
In 1976, when Sunny was just 28 years old, she and her husband were sentenced to death for the murder of two policemen. The couple relentlessly fought to prove their innocence, but they were sentenced to death.
Sunny and her husband spent the next five years of their lives in solitary confinement, awaiting the day of their execution. Sunny could do nothing but pace back in forth in her minuscule cell, confused and angry, worrying about her children and asking herself how God could allow this injustice to happen.
One day, she read in the Bible that no one had the power to decide when she died. It made her realize that until her final day, her life still belonged to her. She could still decide how to use the time she had. At that moment, Sunny was faced with a choice between hope and hopelessness.
She chose hope.
Choosing hope, over and over again
Sunny began to use her time to build her spiritual self. She turned her cell into a sanctuary and practiced yoga, prayer, and meditation. She learned to forgive those who had wrongly accused her. Sunny came to understand more about freedom while on death row than ever before. Although she couldn’t leave her cell, she felt that her spirit was free.
After five years, her sentence was changed to life when one juror refused to believe the evidence stacked against her. Sadly, her husband’s sentence remained the same. Seven years later, he was sent to the electric chair, where he died in the worst possible circumstances. The chair malfunctioned and his body burst into flames. It took him 13 and a half minutes to die.
After her husband’s horrific execution, a friend who was with the couple at the time of the incident confessed to shooting the two policemen back in Florida.
By then, Sunny was out of solitary confinement and in general prison. She could call her children, but they barely knew who she was. During one of those calls, she discovered that her daughter had attempted suicide after hearing about the traumatic death of her father.
Sunny later found that her parents had been killed in a plane crash, which sent her children into foster care. Sunny was devastated, but could only pray while she waited for her next court date.
Life after prison
In 1992, Sunny’s pro-bono lawyers finally managed to set her free. She was released into a world she no longer knew, with no money, no job, and no place to call home. At 45, she had to re-learn how to live all over again. She felt lost. When Sunny entered prison, she was a wife, mother, and daughter. After 17 years, she had left prison as a widow, grandmother, and an orphan.
But Sunny went back to what she had learned in prison and began to teach yoga and meditation for a living. She slowly discovered the wonders of the modern world, and rebuilt the bond with her estranged children and unknown grandchildren.
Today, she is a brave speaker, author, and founder of The Sunny Center — a sanctuary where she and her new husband (who was also unfairly incarcerated) are dedicated to healing former prisoners after their wrongful convictions. She teaches them peace, forgiveness, and how to move on with their lives with love and hope.
Even after losing so much during her confinement, Sunny maintains that everything in life has a purpose, and that her haunting experience helped her find her own.
Everyone gets challenged in life and you can either spend the rest of your life looking backwards, or you can make a decision to keep going.
– Sunny Jacobs
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