Occasionally, we come across stories that defy credulity to the point where we can't quite believe what we're seeing. And when these stories involve good people getting railroaded and losing huge parts of their lives for no good reason ... well, it's hard to know what to think.
That's our reaction to Brian Banks' story, and we aren't even living it. One struggles to imagine what he's been through. Banks is a former star high-school football recruit who lost any shot at his dream of college football -- and just about anything else -- as a result of a casual "make-out" session with 15-year-old Wanetta Gibson. The two Polytechnic High students from Long Beach did not have sex, but Gibson accused Banks of rape nonetheless. Despite a lack of DNA evidence, Banks' lawyer -- who won't be winning any Perry Mason awards any time soon -- advised his client to take a plea against his own innocence.
According to the Sporting News, the attorney was hardly an advocate. "She told me I was a big black teenager," Banks said, "and no jury would believe anything I said."
Eventually, Banks served five years and two months in prison and spent another five years on probation. When he was released from prison, he had to register as a sex offender and wear an ankle bracelet. Any shot he had of making a go of football was gone -- now, it was just about survival under unimaginable circumstances. How do you live life as the worst sort of person when you're not? And how do you get past losing that much of your life for something you didn't do?
The story gets even stranger. Gibson sued the school district for not providing a safe environment, and was awarded $1.5 million. Last year, she had the nerve to contact Banks through Facebook and ask to be "friends." Most people would have bombed that friend request with all the appropriate obscene verbiage, but Banks had something else in mind.
"I stopped what I was doing," he said, "and got down on my knees and prayed to God to help me play my cards right." Banks set up a couple of meetings with Gibson, who said that she'd try to help Banks clear his name with one caveat -- she couldn't talk to prosecutors, you see, because she might lose that $1.5 million award. Banks secretly recorded conversations in which Gibson admitted that the charges were bogus, and took those recordings to the California Innocence Project, a program at California Western School of Law.
Attorneys brought the case back to the judge who convicted and sentenced Banks, and on Thursday, his name was finally cleared.
"There are no words in any language, no gesture in any culture that can explain or describe what I have been through," he said.
Gibson didn't attend the hearing -- no doubt she was spending time under a rock somewhere -- and the local D.A. says that she won't likely be charged for falsely accusing Banks, because the case is 10 years old, and she was only 15 years old at the time. That's bad enough, but I'd really like to know what the D.A. -- or any other local official -- plans to do about that $1.5 million. it's tough to reconcile that concept after watching her glibly admit that the charges were false.
As for Banks, he has lost 50 pounds since he started working out in earnest last October, and the former star linebacker is trying to move on and give his football dream one more chance.
"Let me show you what I can produce," Banks recently told the Today Show. "I think that any team that gives me an opportunity will be really impressed with what I can do."
Even if Banks can't pass that particular test anymore, there's no question any team would be impressed with who he is.
As for you, Ms. Gibson? You've got one hellacious karmic debt to pay.
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