Jason Fagone unfurls the saga of Hamid Hayat, an American citizen who turned 19 the day before the September 11 attacks, was sentenced to prison on his 25th birthday after being wrongfully convicted of terrorism, and walked free a month before he turned 36.

Hamid barely reacted [to his guilty verdict], remaining calm, as he had throughout the two months of arguments. Sitting at the defense table, he had observed it all with detachment. He told me he had often felt an urge to laugh out loud in court: The government’s narrative about him seemed melodramatic, cheesy, like something “from a movie,” he said. He had become a spectator to his own life, a character in a story America was telling itself.