Tyra Patterson Gives Back
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series focusing on Tyra Patterson’s journey to freedom and her life beyond bars.
You may recognize her from the 2016 #IAmTyraPatterson campaign, but Tyra Patterson is more than just a name. She is a woman, a paralegal, a community outreach specialist, a youth mentor and an inspiration to never lose hope.
Patterson served 23 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. At the time of her initial incarceration, Patterson was a middle school dropout. She didn’t know how to read or write. During her time behind bars, she began educating herself. Once Patterson learned basic literacy, she became interested in prison policy and procedure. She wanted to understand her rights.
Patterson soon became an inmate advocate and created a community outreach newspaper within the prison system. She wanted everyone to become aware of the resources available to them. And she didn’t stop there. Patterson participated in art therapy and she earned an engineer license. But, her main passion remained policy and procedure, and eventually, Patterson received her paralegal certificate.
“I didn’t become a product of the environment,” Patterson says, “I gave myself a platform to utilize so I could become a better person once I returned to society. Since I equipped myself, I was able to get the job I have now.”
Patterson now works as a paralegal and community outreach specialist at The Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), the law firm that helped free her.
After 18 years behind bars, Patterson met David Singleton, an executive director of OJPC. During their meeting, Singleton learned about the absent evidence during Patterson’s trial, including her passed polygraph tests and the recording of her 911-call.
After Patterson was denied parole, Singleton gathered a large group of people from all backgrounds to meet with Patterson. He wanted people to humanize her and give her a chance. That’s when the #IAmTyraPatterson campaign was built.
“Honestly, every time someone said ‘I am Tyra Patterson’ or signed my campaign, it gave me another breath of life,” Patterson says. “I was hanging on by a string after 23 years. I was tired, and I was ready to give up.”
The support from OJPC and the surrounding community made Patterson feel like she had a voice again. Up until that point, she maintained hope through her religion, art therapy, book reading, and working as an inmate advocate.
Patterson’s advice to anyone locked up is to surround yourself with people and activities that will challenge you.
“Don’t start your life once you’re home; start it while you’re there. Read and collect materials that are helpful, and use your time in a constructive manner. Believe in yourself so someone else can believe in you.”
Through her work with OJPC, Patterson now goes into institutions to represent her clients and bring them hope. She also speaks to students around the nation about the importance of staying in school, while educating community members about reentry resources.
Patterson is also working an OJPC reentry program which will provide mentors for individuals reentering the community.
“I remain humbled and I push through what I feel is good for someone else,” she says. “The impact is worth it.”