Meet Betty Tyson. When she was arrested in 1963 the mug shot showed her eyes blurry and bloated, her head downcast and distraught, her demeanor that of a long-time heroin addict and street prostitute. She stood before the camera in shackles, accused of the strangulation of a businessman, apparently seeking services. Behind the tangled hair and slumped shoulders however, there was a remarkable person hiding. After 25 years of incarceration, she has finally won a reversal of her conviction of murder on the grounds of suppressed evidence at the time of the original trial, plus a current District Attorney who has chosen not to retry, but has reiterated his belief in her guilt.
So, how've ya been these last 25 years, Betty? "I am a totally different person," she stated, now 49. "If I'd stayed out in the street I probably would have ended up dead -- that doesn't mean I 'm grateful to have been in prison all this time, but I have turned a negative into a positive. And, I have found out who Betty Tyson really is."
During her term in jail (the longest of any female in the New York System) she has earned a High School Degree, counseled prisoners with AIDS, won national prizes for her photography, become an accomplished and acclaimed chef, and taught exercise classes with such expertise that she is known as the "Jane Fonda" of the prison.
She stated that the anger and bitterness of knowing her own innocence was, at first, eating her alive, until she began to study religion. She had been convicted with no physical evidence of any kind and a group of supporters never gave up on her appeal and her innocence. The basis of her conviction was her own confession, which she stated was reamed out her after beatings and threats of more beatings. One of the witnesses recanted his account and then things began to speed up.
Now, finally free, Ms. Tyson has stated: "They can keep you there physically, but not mentally. You escape in your mind. When you look out the window, you have to look past the bars and razor wire and see the trees." That could be true for many of us, not just inmates in prison. Take a moment, today, now, and "see the trees." And think of Betty walking out for the first time.