The Guardian tells the story of Tyra Patterson, Ohio prisoner 037737, who was has been locked up for 21 years. Today, the 7,787th behind bars for Patterson, one out of every 110 adult Americans lives under the lock and key of the planet's largest jailer. Patterson is black; in Ohio, the ratio of incarcerated black people to the general African-American population is almost six times the equivalent ratio for white people. Nationally, one in 18 black women can expect to be imprisoned at some point, a quotient that rises for black men to one in three.
Patterson proclaims her innocence in crimes that have taken her away from her family and the outside world since the age of 19. Now 40, she has been gathering new evidence she believes will clear her in the murder of a 15-year-old girl, Michelle Lai, in 1994. The Guardian has been exploring Patterson's life story, tracking her journey from elementary school dropout in poverty-stricken Dayton, Ohio, to a life sentence in the city's female prison. The story that emerges is one woman's struggle to have her claim of innocence heard within a system resistant to listening anymore. “A tragedy happened in this case: Michelle Lai didn't get to live her life,” said law Prof. David Singleton, Patterson’s attorney and director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. “Tyra Patterson is alive, but she has been branded a murderer and her life has been taken away from her. The greatest tragedy of Tyra's case is that she had a story of innocence to tell, and it never got told.”