Lessons learned from fighting 160-year prison sentence

After being sentenced to 160 years behind bars in the U.S. for non-violent break and enters and serving nearly 30, Derek Twyman says he doesn't hold a grudge.

Derek Twyman served nearly 30 years of the sentence for non-violent break and enters

Derek Twyman was sentenced to 160 years in a U.S. prison — until the justice system took an unexpected turn. (David Donnelly/CBC)

After being sentenced to 160 years behind bars in the U.S. for non-violent break and enters and serving nearly 30, Derek Twyman says he doesn't hold a grudge.

Twyman, originally from Oakville, Ont., spent most of his teen years in North Carolina, and was in Nova Scotia this week to speak to university students and ex-offenders about his experience with the justice system.

"If I'm helping somebody along the way, if I'm inspiring them, I'll continue to talk about it," said Twyman.

Moving forward

"Most of the people feel that I should be resentful or vengeful ... against the judge or the system or whatever, but it's like I keep telling everybody, you can't live in the past," he said. 

When he spoke to Saint Mary's University criminology students, he said their questions focused on rehabilitation in prison.

"All they've read about is what's in law books," said Twyman. "But in North Carolina, there's really no such thing as rehabilitation. It has to be something that you want. You have to want to better yourself."

When he spoke to the 7th Step Society of Canada, a group that helps offenders reintegrate into society, Twyman said their questions were about how he resists the urge to break the law.

"I told them, 'No, that's all in the past.' After 30 years in prison you're not thinking about ... even spitting on the sidewalk to go back," Twyman said.

Legal help

Twyman also took time this week to thank some of the legal minds in Halifax — although there were many on both sides of the border — who helped free him from prison.

Halifax lawyer Mark Knox told CBC News in December that he got involved after Twyman left him a message in 2016 outlining his case.

After hearing the details, Knox got to work recruiting pro bono lawyers, volunteers from Dalhousie University and a retired, but influential, judge from Newfoundland to fight Twyman's sentence.

Support network

Meanwhile, University of New Brunswick student Shane Martinez had spent years lobbying and raising awareness on Twyman's behalf.

"They got me released. It was Dalhousie law students, local senators, a federal judge, Mark Knox, any number of people in town. I'm probably forgetting names," Twyman said.

A friend of a Dalhousie law student has been letting him stay at his apartment in Toronto.

"I've been staying there for about three months. Started out to be a week, ended up being three months. He's a pretty good guy," said Twyman.

He said he's still looking for employment and his own place to live.

With files from Elizabeth Chiu