Recently I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with a friend of some 20 years. Tyrone Werts is a wise man, a leader, an inspiration to many, who has spent years organizing and helping to sustain others. He has long been actively engaged in efforts to reduce violence in society.
Tyrone Werts, early 1990s
His picture is on the front cover of my book “Doing Life” because he has been serving a life sentence – in Pennsylvania, this means life without possibility of parole.
On several occasions, I’ve had prison officers comment that if he were outside, with his relational and leadership skills, he would be CEO of a company. For years he served as president of the lifer’s organization in Graterford prison.
Then, by some miracle (and lots of support from key community figures), after 37 years in prison, Tyrone’s sentence was commuted and he was released last year. This is an exceedingly rare occurrence in Pennsylvania
Tyrone Werts 2012
What must it be like to be free after 37 years inside? Tyrone says that he hasn’t had an unhappy day since he got out. He is working part time as a consultant for the public defender’s office, part time with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University that brings college students into prison to study together with prisoners. He has a nice car. He looks great. He is on email. He skypes. He says the weirdest part is being with friends like me who he only knew on the inside.
Tyrone met me at a judges’ conference in Philadelphia where I had just spoken and he seemed to fit right in. He then took me to a conference where we were on a panel together. He seemed to know everyone and the people he didn’t know, he reached out to. He laughed when I told him he had the same relational skills and style outside that I had observed inside the walls.
Reflecting back, Tyrone commented that when he was convicted, he was considered a sociopath. What a sobering reminder of the dangers of labels and stereotypes.
I look forward to the time when he is free to travel and he will be available as a speaker for other communities. He has so much to offer.
Podcast interview with Tyrone here.