For Terrance Lewis, the last year has been "breathtaking," yet part of him still feels like he’s just left a funeral.
"It’s similar to after leaving a loved one’s funeral and getting into a car. Although that suffering and pain is put behind you, yet still you have that sense of loss that still lingers," Lewis said.
For 21 years, Lewis spent his life behind bars, incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit. But last year, at age 40, he finally walked out of a Chester County prison after a judge ruled that he had been denied due process during his original trial.
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On Tuesday, he and the City of Philadelphia, where the murder occurred, reached a $6.25 million settlement.
"I’m hopeful that this will result in there being less individuals who are wrongfully convicted and more reparation for those who have suffered the terrors of wrongful imprisonment," one of Lewis’ lawyers, Kevin Harden, said.
Like other Pennsylvania exonerees, Lewis left prison in a state that offers no money or services for those wrongfully convicted.
"Right now for an exoneree in the state of Pennsylvania, there’s nothing, no compensation, no immediate automatic help and assistance financially," he said. "There’s no housing. You come from jail and you’re straight to the streets, and if you don’t have that family support, that friend support, then you’re forced to rely on society assisting you with a GoFund me or something of that nature."
Lewis had to rely on crowdfunding campaigns to help him get back on his feet after initially being released, but he’s made strides in the year since then.
Right now he works at a homeless shelter, and he’s been enjoying the "gift" that is time spent with his family, including his son, who was born a month after Lewis went to prison.
"Just me having the opportunity to really enjoy this time freely with my family and not be behind a prison wall, not behind Plexiglas in a prison visiting room – that alone is breathtaking," Lewis said.
He hopes he can use some of the settlement money to provide a better life for his son and allow him to continue pursuing his education, but Lewis isn’t planning to leave the fight for justice.
Instead of harboring anger and resentment toward those who wronged him, Lewis has set up the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, which seeks to help those wrongfully convicted, as well as provide resources for those who have been released and advocate for prison reform.
For those still wrongfully locked up, Lewis has a message: "Don’t lose hope. Keep the faith, keep the iron in the fire. Continue to pound on the doors. The doors are now open."