‘Freedom, family, getting some of that dignity back:’ Joseph Jefferson Dust reflects on celebrating holidays post-release

Joseph Jefferson-Dust (far right) with his little brothers at Christmas

“Family is a foundation. [The State] tries to break that foundation, and the holidays get hit the most because they’re what help people stay stable and keep families connected.”

That is Lydina Big Man reflecting on her son Joseph Jefferson-Dust’s wrongful incarceration during the holidays.

Joe is the Montana Innocence Project’s newest client. He was released from Yellowstone County Jail in August following the dismissal of his probation revocation. Joe has spent his last six Thanksgivings and Christmases wrongfully held in jail or a pre-release center. 

“In jail, they do have holiday meals, but it’s nothing like home cooked meals,” Joe said. “Aside from that, just a phone call. That’s usually how it goes or how it went for me being incarcerated on the holidays. …I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I think missing out on family events, on the holidays especially, was a huge contributor to that.”

Lydina has always loved the holidays because she gets to cook for her three boys and have them all together. She said it wasn’t the same without “Joe Joe” home.

“Usually, I have all my sons around me; it was heartbreaking not to,” Lydina said. “Being a single parent and trying to make life a little more stable for me and my sons, it’s like they took a part of me away on the holidays. … It’s like the system was invading our home.”

Joe and Lydina said this year will be different—thanks to Joe’s release from jail and his post-conviction relief case moving forward. We are still awaiting the final order regarding Joe’s wrongful conviction, but this year, Joe and Lydina said their hope is restored. Joe said he is looking forward to feeling more like himself this holiday season.

“Freedom, family, getting some of that dignity back—some of that confidence back,” Joe said. “I was always so defeated by the system that I just felt like I was going through the motions, but now that I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like a human again.”

The light that Joe feels exists because of you!

We are beyond grateful for your continued dedication to freeing innocent people like Joe and giving moms like Lydina their family back.

The Montana Innocence Project is wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday season and a very happy new year.