RICHMOND, Va. — For author Terry Robinson, finding that his favorite form of expression was writing was a discovery made later on in his life.
The then 30-year-old was jailed and sentenced to death in North Carolina for a murder he says he didn't commit.
“Being innocent on death row is soulfully depressing, granting little peace of mind. It is my fight to hold on to the hope I deserve when the culpability isn’t mine to bear," said Robinson. "My innocence is no more relevant than the next man’s guilt when the ink on our status reads the same – and yet, what does it matter, guilt or innocence, in a nation such as our own, where both are punishable by death."
After almost 20 years on death row, Robinson received an opportunity to share his story with the world through the nonprofit Walk in Those Shoes.
“All people are deserving of life, you know. All people deserve to have their stories told," said Robinson.
The group gives inmates a chance to share their experiences in the hopes their personal stories and unique perspective will serve as therapy for both the reader and the author.
“Where there is rehabilitation, there's insight, you know, there's education in these stories. So I hope people can start to read my stories and be forgiving, you know, be understanding,” Robinson said.
Robinson says he's always been passionate about learning and is grateful for Walk in Those Shoes' work in prison reform.
“I've always been interested in trying to excel and trying to grow in areas, and writing was just one of them," he explained. “The reality is that a lot of people in prison aren't being educated. Men come to prison, and we learn to perpetuate our bad behaviors, where it becomes even worse so that we almost definitely come back to prison.”
Stories like Robinson's inspired Henrico resident Kimberly Carter to start the non-profit and push forward with its mission.
“In 2015, I had seen the story on the news about Michael Mitchell. And he had essentially, what they call, wasted to death in a Hampton Roads jail," Carter said. “Writing was my outlet and a way that I helped to keep sane during rough times. So I sort of put the two together, it didn't start out that way, but eventually, it became writers in prison sharing their stories.”
Carter said she learned so much from a group many often write off and hopes Walk in Those Shoes continues to restore confidence in the inmates and the society they felt had given up.
“It reinstated my sense of faith in society," Robinson said. "I owe it to myself to be as genuine with my writing as possible. I write for myself because I realized that it could very well be the last thing that the world remembers me for."
Find more stories like Robinson's and ways to help the group on their website.