Q&A with newly freed Lamonte McIntyre: ‘Happiness is something you have to choose’

Lamonte McIntyre talks about freedom after 23 years behind bars

The day after his exoneration, Lamonte McIntyre wore a new T-shirt, a gift from one of those who fought for his release from prison.
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The day after his exoneration, Lamonte McIntyre wore a new T-shirt, a gift from one of those who fought for his release from prison.

Lamonte McIntyre slept behind bars for 23 years. When he slept, if he slept, it was fitful. He heard screams at night.

On Friday, McIntyre, now 41, was finally set free — released in shockingly unexpected fashion on the second day of a Wyandotte County District Court hearing to consider his exoneration. McIntyre had been arrested in 1994 at age 17 for a double-murder he steadfastly held he never committed.

In releasing McIntyre to his jubilant family, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree conceded that McIntyre had endured a “manifest injustice.” Dupree, McIntyre said, privately apologized to him inside the courtroom.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry it took so long,’ ” McIntyre said Saturday.

How does a newly freed man spend his first hours of freedom? What goes through his mind? Speaking outside his grandmother’s Kansas City, Kan. home, McIntyre answered.

You slept imprisoned for 23 years — how did you sleep last night?

“I did no sleeping last night. At all. Period. I just couldn’t. I just lay there. I lay in the dark mostly. And when I couldn’t sleep, I just turned the TV on. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the day. It just wouldn’t leave my head, because it was so unexpected. It’s not something I prepared for. It’s not something I looked forward to. It was just something that kind of happened. So, I didn’t sleep at all. Period.

“… I never slept in prison either. But, right now, I know it’s excitement, you know? I’m just so excited to be free. I’m excited to have my life back. I know it’s excitement now. I don’t worry about nothing. I don’t have nothing to worry about, I don’t have nothing hanging over my head. I can come and go as I like.”

Who were you with last night?

“My wife.”

I didn’t know you were married.

“I got married in 2003. She’s private. She is just someone who’s supported me and been with me for a long time, been around me a long time ... before I had anybody here to help me. She was just somebody who was always close by me and always stuck with me.”

(McIntyre went on to say that he and and his wife were married and then got divorced during the years he questioned whether he might one day be released. But they always remained together, and he considers them married still. They spent McIntyre’s first night of freedom in a hotel.)

On Friday, after your release, you said you were going to get something to eat or take a bath. What did you actually do?

“Me and my legal team went to eat. It was a nice establishment in Missouri. I don’t know the name of it, but they shut it down for us, you know. It was just us and my family and friends there. So we had a good time. It was jovial. It was a nice time. ... I ordered, for the first time, blackened catfish — my first meal. It was good, too. I ate some chicken. I drank some apple cider, sparking apple cider. I don’t drink, so.”

Being released: Is it exciting, disorienting, both?

“Everything seems smaller to me. This place, right now — my grandmother’s house, being around, it just seems smaller to me. I’m thinking that’s because when I left, I was smaller. I was younger. I was smaller. So now everything seems smaller. So I seem bigger than everything around me. Everything just seems shrunk and I don’t know why. But it’s still a nice feeling because I get to come and go as I like.”

Do you have any concerns? You spent more time in prison than when you were free.

“I have no reservations about life. I fear, I fear not living more than I fear living. So I’d rather choose to live. That’s what I choose to do. So there’s no fear there for me to live. I want to live my life like everybody else, so there’s no fear there. I had a fear of not being able to live my life, but that fear’s gone. I’m free now, so I don’t bring that with me. I knew I was going to be free. I knew one day the truth would come out. I knew that one day that all of this stuff would blow over like it’s meant to blow over.”

You told me that over your first years in prison you had a lot of anger, but that since then you developed a philosophy of life.

“For the first three, four years, I was angry. I was mad. I was mad at the system, mainly. I was very upset because no one understood or listened to what I had to say. No one understood that I was a person in a horrible situation, and I didn’t cause that situation for me to be there. I didn’t know how to process my emotions at the time. Me being angry was only hurting me. The moment I matured enough to understand that, I had to get rid of that. Anger was not doing me any good. So I had to live a different kind of way. I did that by educating myself.”

Do you have a philosophy you live by, if any?

“Every day is a new one. Every day is a new one. I can make a new one. And happiness is something you have to choose. And I had to choose that for myself. If not, that place would destroy me. Life will destroy anybody if they don’t choose to be happy. So I made a choice. That was my choice. Was it difficult? It was difficult every day of it. It is not something I would ever want to repeat.

“Whatever lessons I had to learn from that one experience, I had to get it because I will never go back in that situation again.”

You can make any choices you want now. What do you want to do?

“I want to enjoy my journey. I want to stop and smell the roses. I don’t want to rush through life. I don’t want to take nothing for granted. I just want to enjoy and celebrate my freedom.”

What sustains you?

“My Christianity. My spirituality. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me focused. When things get too rough, that’s what I always had to rely on. ... Fear’s not something I live with. We all have a small fear of something. But I’ve been in such a bad place for so long, and fear is something that cripples you. I can’t be crippled. I would rather just live.”

How did you occupy yourself for those 23 years?

“I worked out my mind, my body and my spirit. I took care of my body by exercising. I took care of my mind by educating myself and I took care of my spirit by having a relationship with God. I became philosophical. I became intellectual by reading and studying — Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy, that was my escape, like a freedom for me. I couldn’t find it there, so I had to find freedom for myself through education.

“I read Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, William Blake, Victor Hugo, Robert Frost. I had a team of people, my lawyers sent me most of them. I had a small library. I keep it with me.”

Any idea of what vocation you might want to go into?

“I’m a barber, right? But I think I want to do something more than that. I think I want to do something with podcasting. I just want to be able to impact someone’s life in a way that will help them grow as individuals, help them get through difficult times in their lives. Because when it comes to something difficult, I know all about that.

“Anything I can do to help people understand that life has meaning and there is another day after the worst day you could ever have, I just want to be a voice for those people, if I could.”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler