For nearly sixteen years Innocence Project Exoneree Kirstin “Blaise” Lobato spent wrongfully incarcerated, she suffered countless indignities within the prison system. She longed for her freedom and the control that comes with it: the ability to choose where you are, who you are with and how you appear in the world.
At her December 2017 evidentiary hearing, for example, Blaise was forced to wear communal underwear; she was denied access to her daily medication; and she was made to sleep on the floor of a crowded cell, all before heading into the courtroom. Walking into each day of her week-long hearing—a hearing that would decide her freedom, where she would be judged by her demeanor and all eyes would be on her—Blaise had no control over either her health or her physical appearance and was not offered the basic human necessities she needed to present her best self.
Fortunately, as a result of that hearing, Blaise was exonerated on December 29th, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. After 16 years, her name was finally cleared. But when she walked out of prison January 3, 2018, she was only taking the very first steps on the long road to healing.
For people like Blaise who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, the ability to present your best self is a basic right that is lost. A recent TODAY segment featuring Blaise explored what it takes to regain one’s confidence and self-determination after so many years of trauma.
Related: Brooklyn Suit-Maker Dresses the Wrongfully Convicted For What Lies Ahead
TODAY met Blaise in her hometown of Las Vegas and followed her to New York City for the Innocence Project’s annual gala on May 8. Before attending the gala, Glam4Good, founded by CEO Mary Alice Stephenson, provided her with a head-to-toe makeover, and so much more.
Glam4Good is an organization that, according to their website, “harnesses the healing power, joy and attention fashion and beauty bring to bolster self-esteem, promote positivity, and celebrate courage and perseverance.” Upon hearing Blaise’s story, Glam4Good wanted to provide Blaise with some of the tools she needed to help foster the autonomy she had lost for those 16 years of her life. In addition to hair styling and makeup, Glam4Good provided Blaise a new wardrobe, aimed at getting her ready to enter the workforce, and connected her with needed services, like an eye examination.
Photo by Sioux Nesi.
Blaise thoroughly enjoyed her experience with Glam4Good and all the support she received. However, while she attended the cocktail reception, she found the gala—with over 1000 attendees—too overwhelming. After so many years of isolation and dehumanization within the prison system, it is taking time for Blaise to find her confidence and feeling of security, especially around strangers.
“I don’t know how to navigate life at all,” Lobato tearfully told TODAY about not attending the event. “I am doing the best that I can and sometimes I just can’t do it and this was one of those times.”
Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project, told TODAY: “Blaise is so strong and in many ways hit the ground running after her exoneration that it’s easy to look at the woman before us and forget all that she endured. We can’t see it on the outside, but there are psychological scars that run deep…so it makes sense that this would be overwhelming to Blaise just months after her release.”
Lobato’s story exemplifies how there are so many facets to what is, ultimately, a long healing and rebuilding process for exonerees. As Lobato explained to TODAY, “In some ways, it’s like I’ve only been free for five minutes, I’m still learning how to function in the world as an adult.”
Today, Blaise is back in Las Vegas and working hard to rebuild her life from the inside out. Soon, she will be moving into her first apartment. You can help support her on that path here.