Connect with us

Exclusive

Ryan Ferguson Is a Total Savage When It Comes To Schooling Us About Wrongful Convictions on MTV

Photo Courtesy MTV

Published

on

No matter how hard of a boner you have for police — or how bitter the taste in your mouth is following recent headline-making actions by authorities — the story of Ryan Ferguson will likely open your eyes to the harsh reality of a flawed justice system in America. Over the past ten years, one person every hour went to prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

In 2004, Ferguson was a college student in Missouri when he was arrested for the 2001 murder of a newspaper’s sports editor named Kent Heiholt. He was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison, missing holidays with his loved ones and opportunities to hug his mom for more than two seconds without getting reprimanded by an abrasive security guard.

He eventually proved his innocence and was released in 2013, after nearly a decade locked in a cage.

Now, the 31-year old is spreading awareness of the crooked steps often taken when convicting a murderer by exploring cases of people who claim to be wrongfully convicted, along with Exoneration Project investigator Eva Nagao, on the new MTV show, “Unlocking the Truth.”

Better than the Weekend had the chance to speak with both of them, as well as the show’s executive producer, Adam Kassen, before the August 17 premiere, where we discovered some terrifying truths.

MTV_Unlocking The Truth_S1_11

Photo Courtesy MTV

Better than the Weekend: After spending nearly a decade fighting behind bars for your freedom, why would you want to involve yourself with the legal system again by doing this show?

Ryan Ferguson: It’s not what I want to do, it’s what I have to do. The fact is, I lost ten years of my life for no reason at all. I learned that this is happening to a lot of people. This can happen to anyone, at any time, for no reason whatsoever. Unless I can use my voice to help bring about awareness and stop this from happening to other people, those ten years of my life will have happened for nothing. I can’t accept that.

Eva, what inspired you to investigate wrongful convictions?

Eva Nagao: My grandparents were Japanese immigrants. They met in internment camp in Manzanar during World War II, so I think their has been this common thread of awareness of incarceration in my family that’s changed how we view the world. That really lead me to the legal profession, in particular wrongful convictions.

Why are so many people wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn’t commit?

Ferguson: The job of law enforcement — police and prosecutors — is not to determine guilt or innocence. Their job is to build a case and let a jury decide that. That means hiding evidence, creating evidence, manipulating evidence to build a case and get convictions. They can do that and not have the fear of getting in trouble for that. That’s wrong. That’s leading to people losing their lives. That is leading to a victim not getting their justice.

Nagao: We have a country that is disproportionally incarcerating, convicting, investigating and charging black men and women, and then we also have a system where people are able to turn a blind eye. There’s so much prosecutory power. A prosecutor can charge you with a crime excessively. They can give you a huge sentence. What’s a reasonable person going to do? Even an innocent person is going to take a deal and plead guilty based with a choice like that. They’re going to want to see their family again one day. For that reason, there are actually so many more wrongful convictions we will never, never hear about.

How can the justice system be improved?

Ferguson: Awareness. If a prosector manipulates evidence, if they get people to lie, if they know someone is perjuring themselves, they should get in trouble. Once we’re aware of it, we can stand up and make a difference by demanding accountability. We’re well on our way, but it’s still going to be a long fight.

Ryan Ferguson Eva Nagao

Photo Courtesy MTV

It takes a lot of faith in humanity to believe someone convicted of a crime is innocent. Do you struggle with the thought of someone not being innocent?

Nagao: Absolutely. You develop a real bond with someone when you’re struggling in the trenches with people who are fighting for their life. The thought that they are being disingenuous with you is heartbreaking. But I think on the other side of that, you understand that people are doing what they can to survive. The important thing to me is showing the path to people being wrongfully convicted. Guilty people can be wrongfully convicted. No person who is wrongfully convicted should be in prison.

That’s a bold statement.

Nagao: If we want the legal system to work, in order to give us and our community justice, then we have to hold it to its highest standard. That means if people cheat and people lie and if the evidence is wrong — even if that person is guilty — it still means that they don’t belong in prison.

“Unlocking the Truth” is coming out during a time when people are divided about trusting law enforcement. Ryan, after your experience, do you trust law enforcement or do you live in fear that they can arrest you again for a crime you didn’t commit? 

Ferguson: We should all be afraid of the police. They have far too much power and no accountability and that’s a frightening thing. There are great authorities out there, but I don’t think anyone should believe the authorities will properly handle their case. In an interrogation, their goal is to get a confession, not to find the truth.

MTV_Unlocking The Truth_S1_6

Photo Courtesy MTV

Adam, has producing this show affected your view on law enforcement?

Adam Kassen: This is not a show at all about bashing cops or bashing prosecutors, but it is trying to take a hard look at some real problems we have in our justice system, and we have a great example with Ryan. Really, if it can happen to Ryan, it can happen to any one. There’s a lot of conversation and anger on both sides about police abuse and the way police are being treated. This show will give a thoughtful conversation on why people get convicted and what are the things we can do to prevent that, like accountability for the prosecutors and training.

How will the show look at these alleged wrongful conviction cases differently than the first time they were under investigation?

Kassen: This project really highlights that when you’re accusing someone of committing a serious, violent crime that is going to take away that person’s life, you really need to look at all the facts. If the people watching see the facts as Ryan and Eva explored, hopefully this will be some kind of call to action.

Ferguson: We don’t go in trying to build a case of innocence, we try to determine the facts of the case and see if we come up with a different conclusion. We’re doing what he hope the authorities would have done.

“Unlocking the Truth” airs Wednesday nights at 11 p.m. from August 17 through September 28. 

 

Exclusive

These Brooklyn Roommates Started a Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Museum in their Hallway

Published

on

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

Bert and Ernie may appear to be the epitome of roommate goals, but their moment was outdone the day best friends Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen turned their apartment’s hallway into a museum tributing Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

Sorry, Bert. Sorry, Ernie.

GIPHY

To this day, their has never been an incident like Tonya and Nancy’s in the history of sports. On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked with a baton to the knee — the day before a championship that would decide who qualified to move on to the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. It turned out the assaulter was hired by Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of her opponent, Tonya Harding.

GIPHY

Though Tonya claims her innocence in the premeditation of the violent attack, the court of public opinion has been questioning her involvement for more than 20 years — solidifying the scandal’s impression on popular culture.

Matt and Viviana told Better than the Weekend the idea of curating a museum centered around Tonya and Nancy started as a joke.

“We had just watched a documentary called The Price of Gold,” Matt said.

“We both had a memory of what had happened, but both remember Nancy Kerrigan portrayed by the media as this ice princess and Tonya as this white trash,” Viviana added.

The documentary featured interviews with Tonya, portraying the skater as a sympathetic, working-class girl with an alcoholic mother, strong work ethic and record-breaking talent.

After watching the doc, their perspective of the incident changed and they were reminded Tonya and Nancy were fascinating aside from the scandal.

“We wanted to highlight them as strong female athletes, because when it comes down to it, that’s what they are,” Viviana said.

The project started with a Kickstarter asking for $75 to help them blow up pictures of the Olympians. But then people started reaching out with artifacts and fan art.

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

More than 20 artifacts were collected for the exhibit, including scoring sheets from the arena where Nancy was attacked, signed head shots of the skaters purchased on eBay and a TV Guide featuring an interview with Nancy that was signed by the interviewer. There’s even decoupaged Wheaties boxes with Tonya plastered on them, which were supposed to be sold but were never released due to the incident.

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

Matt and Viviana welcomed more than 1,000 spectators into their apartment between 2015 to 2017 to witness the unique exhibit before moving the project to a storefront deemed the THNK1994 Museum.

What started out as a joke evolved into a full-time career path of turning tabloid stories into works of art.

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

“We try to focus on exhibits that look at women who are really confident and torn down about that and celebrate them while also giving a platform to LGBT artists,” Viviana said.

The THNK1994 Museum has also featured exhibits on the Olsen twins hiding from the paparazzi, Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ, Kim Cattrall, and The Real Housewives pointing fingers. 

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

General admission to the Brooklyn museum is $6 per person, $3 for students. Year-long memberships start at only $30.

Matt says it’s necessary for the besties to show the world that just because something seems funny and absurd doesn’t mean it can’t be taken seriously.

Amen to that!

Courtesy THNK1994 Museum

Continue Reading

Exclusive

Why Camp No Counselors Founder Adam Tichauer Is the Godfather of Adulting

Published

on

PHOTO COURTESY CAMP NO COUNSELORS

Adam Tichauer is the dude who will make you want to adult today.

Adam Tichauer, founder of Camp No Counselors.

Remember that wholesome face in case you ever see him out in public. If you happen to, you need to buy him a drink and shake his hand. Here’s why. He’s the founder of Camp No Counselors, a sleep-away camp for grown-ups, which turned a nostalgic adolescent experience into perhaps the most genius startup operation of the decade. Just imagine a remote place in the mountains where sex, bottomless booze, sports, lip-sync battles and late-night partying is not only welcomed, it’s celebrated with a fucking high-five and chest bump. Sounds like heaven, right?

GIPHY

In just three years, Camp No Counselors has seen breakneck success at such a remarkable rate that Adam boldly turned down an investment offer from Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank.” Almost 10,000 adults experienced Adam’s wonderland of epic fun at more than 40 camps across the USA and Canada — including Better than the Weekend’s staff — and business is only expanding. Camp No Counselors’s recently rang in 2018 with its first-ever New Year’s Eve warm-weather getaway camp in Malibu, complete with a wine-tasting safari ride, surf lessons, goat yoga, and a ton of liquor, duh!

Photo courtesy Camp No Counselors

Photo courtesy Camp No Counselors

Adam told Better than the Weekend his legendary creation happened by accident. It was 2013 and the then 30-year-old was running a music tech company in New York. When the grind consumed him to the point where he realized he hadn’t connected with some of his closest friends in months, he decided to do something gnarly about it.

“I found myself working on July 4th weekend. The Fourth of July is about getting out of the city and barbecuing and having some beers with your friends and just forgetting about work, but I was doing the exact opposite,” Adam said. “So, for the next long weekend, which was Labor Day weekend, I wanted to organize some kind of event where we would get out of the city and I would see my friends and we would barbecue and have some beers and forget about work.”

Adam figured out the perfect outlet to let off some steam — summer camp! Growing up, camp was the time of year he’d look forward to the most. So, he called around and found a camp only a few hours north of Manhattan that would allow him and his closest friends to stay and experience the same fun he had at camp as a kid, with a lot more freedom! The weekend was such a success, that his friends, and there friends, and there friends’ friends, had a winter camp at a ski lodge in Vermont.

“Some fairly influential people in the tech world were there and they asked, ‘Hey, this was the best weekend of our lives. Can you organize one of these in the summer for me and my friends?'” Adam said. “That’s when the lightbulb went off. If cutting-edge people want me to organize one of these for them and their influential friends, then maybe this is a service people really need and they would pay for and value.”

Photo courtesy Camp No Counselors

And people are valuing the lively separation from reality — but you’ll never know what they’re escaping. The only rule that stands strong is to not talk about what you do for a living. (So no need for a disguise.)

GIPHY

“As a thirty-something, you meet someone at a bar and you say, ‘What do you do?’ And then you think, ‘Okay, I get you. I know who you are because of what you do’,” Adam noted. “I found when you remove your work identity, you are able to become whoever you want to become, and then you can make friends based on your interests like when you were a kid — not your preconceived notion of what an investment banker likes to do on his free time. As a kid, you didn’t do anything for a living, except have fun and make friends based on similar interests.”

I know, that quote has me thinking Adam Tichauer 2020, too.

GIPHY

Disconnecting from who you are is perhaps more important now than ever.

“Back in the day, when you didn’t have the newspaper in front of you, you didn’t think about what was going on in the world. When you weren’t at work, you didn’t have to think about work,” Adam said. “Now, we’re getting constant real-time notifications of what’s going on in the world, or e-mails from your boss, even if it’s after work hours. There’s very few times you can shut that off and just have space and not have to worry about what real-time, negative notifications are coming through your phone next.”

Thank God, whoever he or she may be, for the godfather of adulting.

Registration for this year’s camps is now open. Just click right here and thank us later!

We’ll see you there! (We just won’t tell you what we do. Too many cups of beer to chug and flip!)

Load More
Something is wrong. Response takes too long or there is JS error. Press Ctrl+Shift+J or Cmd+Shift+J on a Mac.

Continue Reading

Exclusive

Let’s help the Scranton PA Fire Dept. build state’s first fallen firefighter memorial

Published

on

While Americans are divided about whether or not the government should build a wall around the Mexican border, because, you know, “Americans are dreamers, too,” Scranton, Pennsylvania firefighters seem to have their priorities in check. The brave first responders of the Scranton Fire Department are working overtime to help construct the first-ever memorial in the state of Pennsylvania to honor the professional firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

They recently stopped by Better than the Weekend HQ for a livestreamed interview to share how everyone can help their mission, proving instantly why they’re more than just people who fight fires. They’re also heroes.

Here’s the link (right here) to help out in any way you can. Now share this with everyone you know to help this project reach fruition.

Continue Reading

Most Popular