FINALLY FREE AND OPEN FOR BIZ: These 2 men spent decades in prison convicted of murders they did not commit. Today they are free and they just opened a new restaurant in #Brooklyn. PIX 11
Posted by Ayana Harry on Thursday, January 12, 2017
After spending 27 years and 6 months in jail on a false murder charge, Shabaka Shakur has been able to reinvent himself. Along with Derrick Hamilton, who Shakur met while in prison also doing time on a false murder charge – the two men have opened the Brownstone restaurant and bar in Downtown Brooklyn. Located at 277 Gold St., the restaurant serves up tuna tartare, crab cakes, and sirloins.
The men ended up behind bars because of disgraced former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella who allegedly coerced witnesses, fabricated evidence, and concealed proof of defendants’ innocence. So far, SIX men have had their convictions overturned because of Scarcella’s misconduct.
While in jail, both men became self-taught lawyers at Auburn Correctional Facility in Central New York. They worked relentlessly to have their false convictions overturned. In 1992, Hamilton was convicted of murder for shooting a man in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He spent 20 years behind bars and was released in 2011 after being exonerated. Shakur on the other hand spent 27 years in jail after a jury found him guilty in 1989 of a double homicide.
The men were forced to spend their time fighting for survival in jail, while simultaneously writing letters to lawyers and just about anyone who would read them. Despite the grave injustices, they show no evidence of being bitter or resentful.
During an interview, Shakur said, “I believe in people. I knew it was a matter of time before someone who really cared about the justice system would do something about it. It was a waiting game.”
The Brownstone pays homage to Brooklyn with a large mural of the Brooklyn bridge leading into the dining room with the welcoming words: “Come in as a stranger, leave as a friend.” During an interview with the New York Daily News, Hamilton said, “I had somebody tell me they thought I would be in the restaurant business and I told them they were crazy.”
Understanding the difficulty of transitioning from prison to a life of freedom, the two men are giving former inmates a chance to rebuild their lives. They currently have three former inmates as employees at the restaurant. Hamilton said, “We want to give these guys an opportunity. They’ve been our hardest workers.”
Before being sent to prison, Hamilton worked as a mechanic’s assistant and Shakur worked registering deeds and mortgages. The only food service experience they had was working in a prison commissary. Hamilton said, “I never got past the serving line.” While Shakur started off scrubbing pots and pans, and worked his way up to cooking quick meals like burgers and chili in the kitchen.
In regards to opening their restaurant, Shakur said, “I feel like Jay Z when he brought Barclays to Brooklyn. Even as owners we have washed dishes, we carried plates out here, we swept and mopped. We’ve done everything.”