Friday, December 26, 2014

Ryan Ferguson on his first year of freedom: Man wrongly jailed for TEN YEARS

In just one year, Ryan Ferguson has crisscrossed the country from coast to coast, appeared on national television, published one book, started writing a second, got certified as a personal trainer, moved in with his girlfriend, left his hometown, adopted a puppy and celebrated his 30th birthday.

If it sounds like Mr Ferguson is making up for lost time, he definitely is.

The former Missouri college student was released from prison a year ago after serving nearly a decade of hard time for a murder authorities now say he didn't commit.

‘I have to be doing something positive. If I’m not moving forward, then what am I doing? I missed my entire 20s in prison. I can’t stand still in life right now. I've already missed enough of it,’ he said.

Mr Ferguson has already published a book, which he wrote during his final months in prison. Stronger, Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Your Most Powerful Body is one part fitness manual, one part self help book and one part prison memoir.

One year after gaining hard-won freedom, Mr Ferguson opened up to, about how his burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend, who was his prison pen pal, has helped him adjust to life on the outside.

The love of his life, Myka Cain, spoke exclusively to about what made her decide to leave her hometown in central Missouri to follow Mr Ferguson after his release.

Mr Ferguson spoke of the struggles of learning to be a free man again and how he is still coping with lasting physical and psychological effects of life in prison.

He also talked for the first time about his hellish ordeal in solitary confinement and how he had to rely on being physically fit to survive in a maximum-security prison.

Despite this hardship, Mr Ferguson maintains the studied optimism of a motivational speaker. ‘I say yes to all opportunities that I can. Don’t be a watcher, man. Be a doer. I am continually trying to create. I’m always reading, I’m always studying,' he said.

‘It’s all helping to let it not be in vain. That is my mission statement. Let ten years in prison not be in vain. Everything I do is to take advantage of the opportunities I have with the amazing supporters that I have. ‘It will help me deal with what I’ve had to deal with psychologically.’

Wrongful conviction

Mr Ferguson was convicted of the brutal November 2001 murder of a newspaper editor in Columbia, Missouri, after his own friend took the stand and testified against him.

A review of the trial later revealed that police coerced and coached key witnesses - including his friend Charles Erickson, who gave a detailed account of how Kent Heitholt died, despite admitting he had no memory of the night of the killing due to mixing alcohol and a cocktail of drugs.

No physical evidence connected Mr Ferguson to the crime. A judge also ruled that prosecutors and detectives withheld key evidence from Mr Ferguson’s defense team that could have exonerated him.

Mr Ferguson was convicted in the fall of 2005 and sentenced to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder and robbery.

In November 2013, an appeals court vacated the conviction and freed Mr Ferguson. After a review, the Missouri Attorney General announced that he would not re-file charges.

Mr Heithholt’s murder remains unsolved. Erickson remains in prison, though Mr Ferguson has said he believes his former friend should be released, as well.

Mr Ferguson said he believes he was railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor and detectives who stepped over the line. He says that as he sat in jail for a crime he did not commit, he was felt powerless as detectives built a case against him with little regard for the facts of what really happened.

‘As the evidence started to come back that pointed to the fact that I didn't do it, they just didn't care,’ he said.

'I gave up on society for many years and I was very fortunate that the facts started to get out.'

After his release, his attorney filed a $100million civil rights lawsuit against the state of Missouri. The outcome of that case is still pending.

Mr Ferguson says the love of his life has helped him to adjust to life on the outside

Prison love story

When Mr Ferguson emerged from prison into the public eye last year, many where shocked to see a pretty brunette at his side in his first press conference.

Mr Ferguson and Myka Cain, 26, met and fell in love while he was still in prison. More than a year later, they are still going strong.

He says that she has been instrumental in helping him adjust to freedom after ten years behind bars. 'She’s been very patient and very understanding,' he said.

'Coming back out into the real world without her, I think life would be a lot more difficult for me. She’s an incredible woman and I love her and appreciate her so much.'

Miss Cain was one of 20 of people who wrote to Mr Ferguson while he was behind bars. She says they had known each other for years before he went away and reconnected while he was locked up.

Somewhere - amid 20-page soul-baring letters - they became something more than friends and their relationship turned to romance.

It was weeks before he saw the first picture of her. They started talking on the phone every day - sometimes three or four times.

She drove to the Jefferson City Correctional Center, the maximum-security prison where Mr Ferguson was housed, every Sunday for years.

Prison visitation, Mr Fergson recalled, is no way to carry on a relationship. 'On visits we were allowed to have a hug when you leave and then a kiss on the lips. You could reach over the table and hold each other's hand,' he said.

'If you hugged for more than two seconds, they would yell at you. If you tried to slip her the tongue when you kissed, they would put it in lockdown.' 'If you tried to touch her under the table, they would put you in lockdown. You had to be very careful.'

Miss Cain, who was working at a car dealership in her hometown of Rolla, Missouri, says she wasn't sure whether Mr Ferguson was ever going to get out of prison when she started her relationship with him in 2013. 'There were times where I would think that this would never work,' she said.

She gets uncomfortable when asked about why she decided to write to Mr Ferguson in prison and what motivated her to carry on a relationship with a man who could have been locked up until she was an old woman.

'We have known each other for a long time. We reconnected and we started to talk by writing,' is all she will say.

Miss Cain took up Mr Ferguson's cause - rebooting his website, starting the social media campaign and trying to generate attention to his cause.

She was also instrumental in helping him write his book. Every week, he sent her dozens of pages in his handwritten chicken scratch.

She would then type up whatever she could decipher and mail him back the type-written pages so he could edit them.

When he was released in November 2013, their love was in full bloom. She says she never thought twice about staying with him and trying to carry on their relationship.

'Relationships out here, you don’t typically learn about people until you're already deep within in the relationship. By the time Ryan got out, we felt like we already knew so much about each other,' she said.

The couple have moved four times since last November - finally settling down together in Fort Myers, Florida, where Mr Ferguson's mother lives.

They both admit that it's been difficult maintaining a relationship while he adjusts to living as a free man. He's had to re-learn how to relate to people now that he gets to choose who he wants to spend time with. No more learning to live with cellmates with violent pasts. 'I’m his cellmate now,' Miss Cain laughs.

Stronger, Faster, Smarter

Mr Ferguson says he was into fitness and keeping himself healthy before he was locked up. After he went away, it became a matter of survival.

He started working out every single day and playing basketball to keep in shape. His goal was to get big and keep healthy. Because the bigger he was, the harder it would be for somebody to take advantage of him,

'Sometimes the only thing that was stopping them from doing certain things to me was the fact that I was larger than them and I was psychically more dominant,' he said.

'It saved my life. I feel like there was situations where I could have been raped. I know there are guys that I was locked up with that were capable of that thing.'

After a few years inside, Mr Ferguson's fellow inmates realized that he was ripped. He seemed to be getting a lot more out of his gym time than they were. So they started asking him about his routine.

Pretty soon, he says, half of the guys on his wing were on his fitness regimen. He says there was a run on chocolate milk and peanut butter and honey sandwiches in the prison lunch line - his recommended post-workout meal.

His book Stronger, Faster, Smarter started as a one-page fitness regimen that he wrote up for his fellow prisoners.

Then it grew by pages and pages. Over the course of his last five months in prison, he found himself writing a book.

Now, after prison, he finds solace in his own workout regime. It's a way for him to maintain discipline an routine now that every aspect of his life is not dictated to him by corrections officers, he says.

Life in the hole

Mr Ferguson also opened up for the first time about the hardest part of his decade behind bars - his nearly yearlong ordeal in solitary confinement and lockdown.

In September 2007, during a search of his cell, corrections officers found razor blades. To this day, Mr Ferguson maintains that the weapons did not belong to him or his cellmate. He says they were planted.

As punishment, Mr Ferguson was sent into solitary confinement.

'I was set up. It was the worst thing. I’m in prison for a crime I didn't commit and then I ended up going to the hole for something I didn't have anything to do with,' he said.

It's the most frightening place a person can be because when you're in isolation, there’s nothing to deal with except your mind. You basically go crazy in there. There's no stimulation. No nothing. You come out and you're different.'

For three months, Mr Ferguson spent nearly every waking moment in a box with just his thoughts and a book. Nobody to talk to, nothing to do except read..'

He is still dealing with the effects of his time in solitary confinement.

He says he can no longer lift nearly as much weight as he could when he went in. And he has breathing problems - he declines to call them panic attacks - when he gets short of breath and cannot calm himself down.

'My body certainly doesn't cooperate with me. I got put in the hole for a year, almost. When I went into the hole, I was in the best shape of my life. When I got out, I wasn't the same,' he said.

He's working on a second book now. And a new documentary about his ordeal. He also hinted at a possible scripted reality TV show that will highlight cases of people being falsely convicted of crimes.

Miss Cain confesses that sometimes she worries he's moving too fast and needs to slow down.

He says he can't stop now, he's got too much to catch up on. 'After everything I lost, I'm still very far behind,' he said.

Original report here

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