It was 1985, and David McCallum was just 16 years old when he says he and a friend, William Stuckey, were forced into falsely confessing to a murder in Brooklyn that they did not commit. Mr. Stuckey died in prison in 2001. But Mr. McCallum spent 29 years in jail until his conviction was reviewed and overturned last October. Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, who died last year, had championed his cause from his deathbed and a 2014 documentary about his case, David & Me, by two rookie Canadian filmmakers, Ray Klonsky and Marc Lamy, also played a role. On Wednesday night, Mr. McCallum was in Toronto to see the film – recut with footage of his release – for the first time at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema. It is also viewable at TVO.org.
What has it been like adjusting to life on the outside?
Mostly it has been pretty good, just being with my family, spending time with them. Just being in the neighbourhood I grew up in, which is of course vastly different from the neighbourhood that I knew 29 years ago. Technology, of course, is vastly different. … There is some trauma associated with this, too, and I realize and I have been able to get some help with that. So I am slowly but surely getting there, but I have a ways to go.
What's the biggest change? Obviously Brooklyn has changed a lot in 30 years, with gentrification.
One of the very first things I noticed about my community, particularly when I was coming from the courthouse, was there is no more vacant lots in my neighbourhood. I know when it was back in 1985, when I was outside, there were many, many vacant lots. Now, I am not sure I have seen one. … I never saw a cellphone before that time [going to prison in 1985] – in fact, never held one. I had to be really tutored how to do some of the most basic things with it. But for me, when I was incarcerated, that was part of the experience that I would dream about.
It must be bittersweet coming to Toronto for this event and not finding Rubin (Hurricane) Carter here.
Most definitely. Rubin will always have a special place in my heart and is really somebody that I will never forget. I made some commitments and some promises to him that I'm actually going to keep. Not to be able to share this moment with him, at least physically, it's something that I think about all the time.
What's the advice that he gave you?
One of the things that really stood out for me that he said to me was, 'David, when you get out, you are going to have to live a pristine life,' to use his exact words. Which means that, of course, I am going to have to lead a clean life, because there is going to be some work being put in for you and the very least you can do is do the right thing with the remainder of your life, however you decide to do it.
Is the false confession issue hard for people to understand?
I think people, with confessions, they automatically assume that the person's guilty of the crime. And quite frankly, looking at things in hindsight, I can understand why they feel that way. Because many confessions that are made are believable. But what the public doesn't sometimes understand is a lot of the times when people falsely confess to crimes, it is with information that is fed to them by law enforcement. Look, as a kid at the time, Willie and I, we were beaten up by the detective in the case, and made to falsely confess, one pointing the finger at the other. Here was a 16-year-old kid, being kept from his family, didn't understand my Miranda rights, although they were read to me, briefly. So when you factor all of these things into the equation, not being able to eat, I succumbed to the pressure of the police, and I made the worst mistake of my life.
Are you excited about seeing the film?
I am, for the first time. I really didn't want to see it while I was incarcerated because I didn't think that it would have the same impact as I am sure it will have tonight, with all the emotion and all the other stuff that goes into that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.