Gary Drinkard 

Gary Drinkard spent six years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

“Yeah, I still have nightmares about walking to the death chamber. Being set afire by that electric chair. I wake up at night, it’s cold sweats. I’ve got my own little death row in that house that I stay. I’ve got a recliner. Hell, I stay in the recliner. I sleep in it most of the time. Every once in a while, I go to bed, but I got a TV up there. I stay in that recliner, I’ll go to the kitchen and eat, I go to the bathroom, use the bathroom, I’ll take my little dog outside, and I’ll come back and watch TV. I’ll take him outside later and eat, I’ll come back and watch TV. That’s my daily routine. That’s my little death row at home. But I’m free. I can do what I want to. So hell, it ain’t bad.”

With the help of Bryan Stevenson ‘s team at the Equal Justice Initiative, he won his appeal and was granted a new trial. The Southern Center for Human Rights and a team of attorneys and investigators won his acquittal in 2001. Gary contributes his compassionate and candid voice as a speaker in the movement to abolish the death penalty, sharing his story of violent arrest, wrongful conviction and incarceration. His audiences include students and church congregations as well as judges, prosecutors and police officers who participate in Witness to Innocence’s Accuracy and Justice program. Gary lobbies for reform before state legislatures across the country.

Writing poetry, reading and human contact through visitors and pen-pals helped Gary survive death row. “I would live through my pen pals. They would be telling me stories, send me photos and I would be at therapy, at their home with them eating dinner, going places… taking pictures. Or when I was reading a book, I would be inside that book, wherever that was.”

“The system is broken,” he says. “I don’t think the death penalty is appropriate for anyone. God is the only one who has the right to take a life.

© 2024 Martin Schoeller
Death Row Exonerees

︎Moving Portraits
︎Short Documentaries

Through partnership with Witness to Innocence, Martin photographed, interviewed, and filmed death row exonerees, recording and sharing their stories of how they were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.* 

I have been living in the US for 25 years and, as a German national raised in the shadow of the Nazi regime, remain appalled by state-sponsored murder. In this series I partnered with Witness to Innocence, the organization founded by activist Sister Helen Prejan and death row exoneree, Ray Krone.  As they fight to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. and to shine a harsh light on the profound, damning flaws in the ways these laws are applied, 189 women and men that were sentenced to die have been exonerated.

I wanted to present viewers with a harrowing, interactive account of the stories of innocent people forced to endure government-sanctioned horror.  These women and men bear dignified witness to the unacceptable costs of a misguided system of laws in desperate need of revision and a prison system that focuses on retaliation and rehabilitation.
– Martin Schoeller

*individual texts courtesy of Witness to Innocence

2020, Death Row Exonerees, Fotografiska, New York, New York, USA
2020, Works, NRW Forum, Berlin, Germany

Selected Press
Sentenced to death, but innocent: These are stories of justice gone wrong, National Geographic, USA
Martin Schoeller: Moving Portraits, Witness to Innocence, USA
Martin Schoeller: Death Row Exonerees, Air Mail Arts Intel, USA
Death Row Exonerees, ArtForum, USA
Martin Schoeller/Death Row Exonerees, Flaunt Magazine, USA
Interview: Martin Schoeller at Fotografiska New York Re-Opening, Musée Magazine, USA
Death Row Exonerees: behind a powerful photo project on injustice, The Guardian, USA
Martin Schoeller: ‘I am trying to show a humanity I think we all share’, TimeOut Shanghai, China
Death Row Exonerees Exhibit Featured in the Guardian, Witness to Innocence, USA