Anyone who watched the video could see the emotion. A day later Maya Moore — relieved, exhausted, exhilarated — remembers racing to the prison where Jonathan Irons was about to emerge, watching him walk through the doors that had kept him, being overcome.
“Well, apparently, I couldn’t keep standing,” Moore joked Thursday in a national video conference call. “I fell to my knees. It felt so surreal to watch him walking on the other side of those doors.”
It was like winning a championship, said Moore, who should know. The former NCAA and Olympic champion helped lead the Lynx to four WNBA titles.
And now, another victory.
All the work she, her family and her legal team did trying to get Irons’ conviction on robbery and assault overturned, all the sacrifice made by Moore, who stepped away from her WNBA career more than a year ago, came to fruition when the 40-year-old Irons — convicted at age 18 — walked through the doors of the Jefferson City (Mo.) Correction Facility.
“Just relief and gratitude, when I saw him walking out,” she said. “In this journey there is so much to my life that I just do privately. … I don’t really make it a huge priority to tell every single thing that I do every single day about my life. But one of the things I have wanted to share is the work in the criminal justice reform space, sharing and talking about Jonathan’s life.”
Moore will continue to fight for prosecutorial reform. She and Irons intend to tell his story, hoping to spur others to join the cause for reform of a criminal justice system that, she said, dehumanizes people of color.
But not right away. This was another huge win in Moore’s life. Her biggest, easily. But it exacted a toll.
“It’s the next-day exhaustion of, we just went to the mountaintop, and now our bodies are exhausted. Our hearts and minds are exhausted,” she said. “We’re walking around like zombies today. In a good way.”
So, first, recovery. Any long-term talk, including basketball, can wait.
“I feel like our family needs to enter into a new season of rest for a little while,” she said. “I still am very much talking about another full year of just being more rooted at home.”
Lynx coach/General Manager Cheryl Reeve, in a statement released by the team, also talked of feeling overwhelmed watching the scene Wednesday. “I am overcome with joy that Maya and all involved were able to reach their goal of Jonathan’s exoneration,” Reeve said.
Reeve said she was angry that Moore had to leave her profession to engage in the fight against the “two-tiered criminal justice system that over polices, wrongfully convicts and over sentences Black and brown communities.”
It’s not over, Moore said. She will continue to work for criminal justice reform, focusing on prosecutorial misconduct. In a lengthy question-and-answer period with reporters, Moore touched on many subjects, including:
• The legacy of Irons’ exoneration: “That real change happens through relationships. This journey was deep. We were invested. Jonathan was invested. If you’re not committed to being deeply committed and investing over time? That’s not how legacies are made. … Hopefully our story, at the very minimum, can be a foundation for people who want to get started and do something.”
• How Irons’ case and the response to George Floyd’s killing has created the possibility for historic change: “Because we’re starting to talk more about the roots of systemic racism, we can start to weed out the dehumanizing practices through these systems. Changing systems doesn’t make sense until you get to the heart behind that system. By saying George Floyd was a human being. And all the lives we don’t have time to talk about are human beings.”
• How Irons’ release after spending more than two decades of a 50-year sentence feels like a rebirth. “We were driving, racing, to the prison to get him. And I was like, ‘This is what expectant fathers must be feeling as they’re driving to the hospital and the baby’s coming.’ Everything is just so new. So I’m looking at him like a newborn in a way, of needing that time to just breathe and rest and grow and enjoy.
“But he’s going to grow fast, and I know his heart is for helping people. Our family has been spoiled having him all to ourselves. … He’s going to talk and speak and share and write. He has such a wealth of experience he’ll be able to share. So I’m looking forward to helping him do that.”