INKSTER, Mich. (WXYZ) — When Kevin Harrington called loved ones from prison, he used the words "blessed and highly favored" as the recording used to identify inmates when making collect calls.
"I was sentenced to natural life with no possibility of parole," Harrington said. "I wanted them to know that I'd be out of that situation soon and home with them."
And in April 2020, Harrington was released from prison after the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit determined he had been wrongfully convicted in the murder of a man in Inkster.
Harrington walked out of prison a free man and into a life of giving, using money out of his own pocket and securing donations to offer free coats and meals to people in need as well as toys for their children.
"I was taught as a young child to dispel anger and bitterness and stuff that's wrongful to people like we were wrongfully convicted. You have to combat that with love," Harrington told 7 Action News Thursday as he stood shoulder to shoulder with several other men who were also wrongfully convicted in Wayne County.
The men are part of what Harrington calls the "village" — a collection of ordinary people, nonprofit organizations, corporations and even a judge to help bring joy to children and their parents for the holidays.
And together they set up inside and outside a community center in Inkster to give thousands of gifts to children for Christmas.
It's the second annual toy giveaway Harrington has been behind since his release from prison. Two weeks ago, he organized a coat giveaway. And for Thanksgiving, it was free meals to those who may not have enjoyed a holiday feast.
Harrington setup a nonprofit to offer much of what's needed in lower income communities like Inkster and he named his organization Blessed & Highly Favored Always to remember where the idea of offering hope and joy was born — behind bars.
Harrington recalled conversations he had with Kenneth Nixon, whom the Wayne County CIU determined had been wrongfully convicted in a deadly firebombing in Detroit. Their conversations took place while in the prison yard.
"It would be a blizzard," Harrington said. "We would just talk about when we get free and doing things like this. It's a surreal moment for us. We knew it would happen."
"There are mothers and fathers that couldn't provide for their kids this year and we made a way for that to happen," Nixon said.
"It's just an awesome feeling to have this freedom and be a part of this," said Larry Smith, one of about 30 men the CIU has so far determined were wrongfully convicted.
In February 2003, Harrington and his co-defendant George Clark were convicted in the September 2002 murder of a man in Inkster.
"There was no evidence that Harrington and Clark knew each other beyond name or reputation," according to the National Registry of Exonerations that detailed the work of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit.
"When I got convicted and everybody was like, 'You got natural life and you're talking about what you're going to do when you get out here.' I never gave up the faith. Faith was the key to my whole situation."
The men were granted relief because of what the CIU called police misconduct and new evidence that the witness gave false testimony.
The witness repeatedly said they saw nothing but that that they were coerced by the detective into implicating Harrington and Clark. Other witnesses also claimed they were threatened and coerced by the detective.
In the video player above, hear from others participating in Thursday's toy giveaway and from a mother who said without the generosity of everyone involved, her children wouldn't have had much for Christmas.
Harrington said the toy donations were made possible by so many including companies and organizations like Growth Works, Community First Tax Service in Southfield, Macy's and ordinary people who have done the greatest things.