Melendez was sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of a Florida hairdresser, although he denied knowing the victim and no physical evidence linked him to the crime. He was exonerated in 2002 after his attorneys found evidence in the original trial record that another man had confessed to the murder.

“I spent 17 years, eight months and one day on death row,” Melendez said. “I was with the ‘worst of the worst’ in prison. And it was the ‘worst of the worst’—the ones the prosecutors call monsters—who taught me to read and write, and to speak English. If they hadn’t taught me, I wouldn’t have survived that place. I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with my lawyers.”

Melendez described becoming close friends with another prisoner, who one day “was snatched out of his cell, and I know what’s going to happen: they’re going to kill him, and I can’t stop it.” He said he still hears the buzz of the electric chair. He could tell when the lights flickered that his friend’s life was over.

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