TAMPA (FOX 13) - When he was exonerated and released after 20 years in prison, he struggled to rejoin society. Now, thanks to the Sunny Center, he's in Tampa to get the fresh start he was dreaming of.
Derek Jamison's life was stolen at just 23 years old. He was sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit.
"It was hell," Jamison said. "On earth."
Jamison was sentenced to death in 1985, charged with the robbery and murder of a bartender at a restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jamison says an acquaintance who carried out the robbery lied to police, telling them Jamison was his accomplice.
Now, DNA evidence has set him free.
His years behind bars, however, will be difficult to forget.
"I wasn't just suffering," Jamison said. "My family was suffering with me."
He was forced to grieve the deaths of multiple family members while in prison, including his mother. He got the news from a prison guard.
"The only thing I could think about was my mom laying in that morgue," Jamison said. "This is the things I would think about. I know what killed my mom. The death penalty didn't kill me, but it destroyed my family."
Even though he was released in 2005, his struggles have continued. For the last 13 years, he's been struggling to find a permanent place to live and way to make a living.
Now he will be the first person to be part of a pilot program helping recent exonerees find a place to stay and make a living.
Thanks to the Ireland-based Sunny Center, Jamison was able to pack up his belongings and his pooch, Lucky, and move into a new home in Tampa.
"We try to help them reorganize their life," exoneree support coordinator Dorothy Bort said. "Learn life skills that they were never able to learn."
Bort is now spear-heading the new exoneree housing pilot program, exclusive to Tampa, which helps finds housing for recent exonerees.
Jamison is the program's first member. He's now making it his mission to help free the wrongfully accused and help them reclaim a life once stolen.
"By them helping me, I can help other exonerees," Jamison said. "And other people because that's what I do."
Jamison is set to receive compensation from the state of Ohio for his wrongful imprisonment but his lawsuit is still pending.
He says the biggest issue for recent exonerees is having money when they first get out. He hopes to create a compensation fund for people just like him.
LINK: For more information on the Sunny Center, visit thesunnycenter.com.