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Wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years, Nevest Coleman returns to job with White Sox

Nevest Coleman returns to the Chicago White Sox and prepares for his first home opener in 23 years.

Nevest Coleman returns to the Chicago White Sox and prepares for his first home opener in 23 years.

On this particular day in April 1994, Nevest Coleman could remember only the weather.

“I know it was kind of chilly,” he said.

That day would end up being his last at Comiskey Park before he was arrested in connection with the brutal murder of 20-year-old Antwinica Bridgman. Coleman, then 25 and in his third year working for the White Sox, had two young children and no criminal background.

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One wrongful conviction took it all away in an instant.

“All of a sudden, I didn’t see it again,” Coleman said. “I didn’t see the park, I didn’t see nobody else, that was it.”

Two Chicago Police detectives brutalized Coleman during a 12-hour interrogation that led to a forced confession.

After his conviction, 23 years would pass before Coleman would regain his life. The moments he missed with his son (2 years old at the time of his arrest) and daughter (three months old), the loss of family members while behind bars and the thought he would never have his name cleared kept Coleman up at night.

“Some days, I would sit back and wonder how I got into this situation,” Coleman said. “I would wonder if I’d ever make it home, but I had to keep fighting.”

Released from prison after DNA evidence discovered in 2016 proved his innocence, Coleman just wanted a second chance at life. He never imagined that life would bring him back to the South Side and the ballpark he used to call home.

A few things had changed in the near quarter-century Coleman had spent behind bars. The Sox’ ballpark is now called Guaranteed Rate Field — its second name change since Coleman called Comiskey home. Despite the changes, two friends remain the same.

Former coworkers Jerry Powe and Harry Smith waited outside Guaranteed Rate Field on March 26 to greet Coleman on his first day back on the job.

“You got big, boy,” Smith told Coleman as he wrapped his arms around his old friend. It was a reunion all three had been waiting for, and the smiles and hugs looked like they were 23 years overdue.

Shortly after Coleman’s release Dec. 1, 2017, Coleman’s lawyer, Russell Ainsworth, contacted the Sox. Ainsworth expressed Coleman’s desire to return. Not long after, Coleman got a phone call from Powe, who asked him to come in for an interview.

“At first, I thought he was playing,” Coleman said. “He actually said, ‘Man, come on down. It’s Jerry.’ I said, ‘Are you for real?’ ”

There was no joking around with Powe, who said hiring Coleman back was an easy decision. He had all the qualifications in 1994, and he still has them today.

On Thursday, for the Sox’ home opener, Coleman will be back at the park he used to call home with the coworkers he calls family, and he might be the only one hoping for a little rain.

“I don’t need that much,” he said. “Just enough to get on the field again to pull the tarp out.”