Man Jailed for Years for Murder He Didn't Commit Has Bittersweet Taste of Freedom

Ryan FergusonA 29-year-old Missouri man just went out for probably the best beer he's ever tasted. After all, for nearly 10 years, Ryan Ferguson has been stuck in prison, serving a sentence for a crime he didn't commit. Ferguson was convicted of murdering a man when he was just a teenager. But now both witnesses who put him at the scene have recanted, and with no physical evidence indicating he killed Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt, Ferguson is a free man in more ways than one.

You see, Ferguson was first arrested in 2004 for the 2001 murder. Then came his 2005 conviction and a sentence of 25 years. He's never really been a "man" out in the world. Imagine trying to figure out how to be an adult at 29?

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As he told CBS:

I know what it is to be a teenager, I don't know what it is to be an adult in the real world, as nearly a 30-year-old. I look forward to finding myself out and learning what it is I enjoy and what I love about life and finding what my passion is and acting on it.

I admire Ferguson's attitude, but I'm doubly glad to read that he has a band of supporters around him, including his girlfriend right now. It's going to be hard, really, really hard. 

Just think about prison: as much as it is a punishment for criminals, it's also got a lot in common with adolescence. Someone tells you when to eat, when to go to sleep. Someone pays for the roof over your head and the heat to keep you warm.

Your responsibilities are minimal.

Now this poor guy has to deal not only with having lost nearly 10 years of his life, but with doing all that most folks do at 19 or 20 as a full-fledge adult. Ferguson has to make those mistakes when they should be a decade behind him. He has to figure out who he wants to be, and he has no time to waste. Ten years have already been wasted for him by the people who wrongfully testified that he was involved in a murder he did not commit.

This week is an amazing one for Ryan Ferguson -- seeing his family again, his girlfriend, just being a normal guy who gets to go out for a beer. But it's bittersweet too.

I wish him nothing but the best of luck today, and I have a feeling he's going to need it.

Remember what it was like figuring out how to be an adult? What was the biggest mistake you made?


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