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Life Inside

I Was Sentenced to Die in Prison. But After 27 Years, I’m Finally Free

When I went to jail in 1995, I had never used the internet. As I play catchup, the simplest things are everything.

An illustration shows Bobby Bostic, a Black man, opening a refrigerator door.  Light shines out of the refrigerator.  Photos of family are on the side of the refrigerator.  A white dove flies above, and the background shows a pattern of leaves and plants.

For almost three decades, my life as a Missouri state prisoner was a matter of numbers. I was only 16 when I took part in robberies that resulted in 17 felony convictions. I was just released on parole a little over three months ago, at age 43. And one thing I can honestly say is that life is beautiful on this side of the fence.

Without the tyranny of the numbers, the simplest things make me feel liberated, like being able to reach into an ice box and choose what I want to drink. It’s a celebration every time I open the refrigerator door and see the light shining on all the food inside. Then there’s the joy of getting up and taking a bath with no time restrictions. I even hear birds chirping in the morning.

I can fully appreciate how precious everyday moments are because I lost my freedom so long ago. No one was killed or seriously injured in my crimes, but they took place in 1995, during the youth “superpredator” panic. Among my 17 felonies were first degree robbery, attempted robbery and armed criminal action. I will never forget the moment at my sentencing hearing when the judge told me, “...Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections.” I was 18.

Technically speaking, I didn’t get the death penalty, or even life in prison — a sentence that would have made me eligible for parole in 15 years. Instead, the judge ruled that I would serve my sentences consecutively, for a total of 241 years. As if it mattered. I wouldn’t be able to even apply for parole until age 112.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen: In 2021, the Missouri state legislature passed a law inspired by my case that gives people who committed their crimes before age 18 a better chance at parole. They did so with the blessing of the judge in my case, who had retired and apologized for imposing such a long sentence on a teenager.

I walked out of Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Missouri, on Nov. 9, 2022 — exactly one year after my successful parole hearing. The weather was great, and my family was waiting for me. So were my attorneys and Evelyn Baker, the retired judge who had sentenced me.

Although I’m out of prison, I’m not totally free. I lost my final appeal in 2018, so I still have to serve the remainder of my sentence. I will probably be on parole for the rest of my life.

But prison taught me to never take anything for granted. For instance, I love seeing my 2-year-old greatniece running around, and I listen closely to her chatter. I can’t understand her words, but we are still able to communicate with one another. I often think about how her mother — my niece — wasn’t even born when I was arrested.

Another one of my greatnieces just had a daughter of her own, named Miracle.

Because almost everything in the world is new to me, sometimes I feel like I’m the newborn. Many of the places where I used to live or hang out have been torn down or stand vacant. I’ve lost count of how many of my peers are dead or incarcerated. The little kids I babysat before prison have children taller than me.

It might be hard to imagine, but when I went to prison, I had never used the internet or a cellular phone. I still don’t know how to swipe my credit card without someone’s help. Things like GPS and Alexa also leave me dumbfounded. While prison slows everything down, time flies in the free world. I can feel my perception of time shifting. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done.

I am not complaining; I’m grateful for my full days. I have my own one-bedroom apartment, and I drive myself everywhere I need to go in the car that I purchased. I work at Dear Mama, an organization that provides basic needs to poor mothers, which I co-founded with my sister. I am also a motivational speaker, a published author, and I own a publishing company called Mind Diamonds, LLC.

Now that I know how to use the internet, I run the Instagram and Twitter accounts my loved ones started when I was in prison. Besides the human body itself, the internet is the most amazing creation I have ever seen. I can’t believe how much easier it has made life on earth. Soon, I will release a new book, “Humbled to the Dust: Still I Rise.” It’s a fitting title for a memoir by a man who is living in gratitude, a man who is finally in the free world.

Bobby Bostic, a St. Louis native, was released on parole in November 2022. During the 27 years he spent in prison, he wrote 13 books, including “Dear Mama: The Life and Struggles of a Single Mother” and “Life Goes on Inside Prison.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram using @FreeBobbyBostic.