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A New York man was jailed for a decade and a half for a murder he maintained he didn’t commit—and finally, after years of legal work behind bars, he was vindicated. The Wall Street Journal tells the story of a feat “so unbelievably hard…that it’s almost impossible” to describe it, says an expert. Jabbar Collins worked tirelessly to prove his innocence.

When you’re in the position he was, the “only way you’re going to get out is to become your own lawyer,” Collins says. So he did. After repeated denials, he managed to get information from and about those who’d testified against him. His quest—which included, at one point, adopting a false persona—revealed that prosecutors had given witnesses ulterior motives to support their case. Now, Collins is free, and putting his experience to use: he’s become a paralegal.