Midwest Innocence Project leader Tricia Rojo Bushnell shares her perfect day in KC

Photography by Natalea Bonjour

Tricia Rojo Bushnell thought she’d go into immigration law. She’s Mexican-American, born in California, and the first in her family to attend college. Working for migrant justice resonated with her—until her last semester of college, when she found herself working the case of Emanuel Gissendanner, an Alabama man wrongfully convicted and on death row. That was the start of a career working to free innocent people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

Bushnell worked Gissendanner’s case all the way through to his release from prison in 2019, nearly two decades after he was wrongly convicted. Today, she’s the executive director at the Midwest Innocence Project, headquartered in Kansas City. In addition to supporting the exoneration and release of wrongfully convicted people, Bushnell leads the organization in advocating for policy changes that ensure individuals aren’t arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Bushnell says that for the system to change, more people need to get involved. Helping can be as simple as staying informed and sending an email. “When we’re trying to bring someone home, it’s a political act,” Bushnell says. “The prosecutor who is elected decides what justice is in our system, and those incarcerated innocent people who are seeking justice are powerless without the support of the community.”

When she’s not fighting for justice, Bushnell spends her time cycling around the city (she’s a retired roller derby player and stays active). A self-professed nerd, her guilty pleasures include video games (“Breath of the Wild” and “Persona 5”), fantasy and young adult fiction, and pop culture.

Perfect Day

Morning Stroll: “I live in Midtown. The first thing I do is get up and walk my dog around the city. I love walking around Westport in the morning when it’s quiet and seeing folks cleaning up after what happened the night before. And I’d stop at Café Corazon for coffee—they have great Latin American coffees and tamales. For me, it’s a little bit of home.”

The Happiest Hour: “Swordfish Tom’s is where I went on October 13, 2017, when Lamonte McIntyre was exonerated. It’s been a special place for me since. I love their Little Black Book Club membership program, where you get to try limited edition spirits.”

Taco Town: “I love eating tacos in KCK, and my favorite place is a place called Tacos el Tio. It’s cash only, and I love taking people there. When they have the first bite of their taco, they forget the conversation and they’re just experiencing that taco. The carnitas are my favorite taco there, hands down.”

Chocolate Necessities: “I always take visiting folks to Andre’s because I spent two years in Switzerland and I love going there. And you have to do Christopher Elbow, too. Funny story: For my ten-year law school reunion in New York City, at this fancy party, they served us Christopher Elbow chocolates.”

Later Nights: “One of the things I miss about our pre-Covid days is the Mutual Musicians Foundation in 18th and Vine. I loved going to listen to some jazz, and then if you ran into someone you know there, it was always that awkward moment where you’re recognizing that you’re out at an obscene hour of the night. I miss that awkward moment a lot.”

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