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  • Jan Flynn

What If You Were Wrongly Imprisoned?

Meet the podcast guest who might be your best hope

I’m privileged to be one of the rotating hosts on the Crow’s Feet: Life As We Age podcast — a show that considers the journey through life from a range of perspectives. All of us are aging, and if we’re lucky we get to do it for a good long time — so it’s worth exploring how to do it fully and whole-heartedly.

Our newest show releases on January 24. I’m the host for this episode, and I’m delighted to invite you to meet a present-day Renaissance man. I interview Dr. Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University and a foremost expert on DNA. 

Dr. Hampikian is an expert in advanced forensic DNA technology and is a co-founder of the Idaho Innocence Project.

Our talk touches on a wide range of topics. In addition to his research, advocacy, and teaching, he’s also an inventor, a playwright, a novelist, and an essayist.

But our conversation kept returning to the human tragedy of people serving time for crimes they did not commit.

For those of us in our later years or decades, the thought of spending the time we have left separated from all we love is especially poignant.

That sense of urgency combined with empathy, as well as his zest for living fully as he ages, informs Dr. Hampikian’s work.

He’s never served time in prison, but he knows many who have

And some of them were wrongly convicted — demonstrably so according to forensic evidence that may have been unavailable or unacknowledged at the time of their trials. Hence his mission to restore their freedom.

He’s best known in the media for helping secure the freedom of Amanda Knox after she’d served four years of a life sentence in an Italian prison on a wrongful conviction of murder.

He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t do this work alone. His team has helped free over three dozen people who were wrongfully convicted — and helped police identify new suspects in six of those cases.

Besides the Idaho Innocence Project, he and his colleagues were also instrumental in establishing the Georgia Innocence Project, the Irish Innocence Project, and Innocence Project France.

Sometimes his team can get wrongful convictions reversed — and sometimes they can’t, no matter how hard they try or how much evidence it seems is clearly on their side.

In the interview, Dr. Hampikian describes having to walk one of the people whose freedom he’d helped secure back into prison after the man’s conviction was overturned by one court and then reinstated by another.

The criminal justice system can be a frustrating, confounding, and impersonal institution, one that sometimes seems like a juggernaut; yet, Hampikian maintains a clear-eyed enthusiasm.

He communicates a sense of wonder and appreciation for life that is strengthened by his awareness of reaching its later chapters.

His wealth of other interests sustains him

He’s a contributor to scientific journals, which you might expect of a biology professor — but he’s also written for magazines and newspapers . On the podcast we touch on two of his most popular and ironic pieces for the New York Times: “Men: Who Needs Them” and one he penned at at time when the Idaho Legislature, in its wisdom, was considering a law allowing open-carry guns on college campuses: “When May I Shoot A Student?”

He’s also been inducted as a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. His inventions range from a magnetic shape memory alloy micro-pump (don’t ask me to explain) to a forensic DNA labeling kit that prevents contamination of samples given to law enforcement (that one I can get my head around, and I applaud).

He’s been featured on television numerous times in news networks including CNN and BBC. He is co-authored the book Exit to Freedom, a story of the life and wrongful conviction of Calvin C. Johnson Jr., who spent seventeen years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

He’s a modest guy who’s more focused on his current pursuits than on touting past accomplishments.

But at one point, he does casually mention that he’s a playwright.

And if that’s not enough, his Wikipedia page ends with, “Hampikian is also an amateur folk singer and songwriter.”

I hope you’ll join me for a truly stimulating conversation with Dr. Greg Hampikian on the Crow’s Feet: Life As We Age podcast, launching on January 24 — available wherever you get your podcasts.

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