Tyrone Werts served nearly 37 years of a life sentence in Pennsylvania’s Graterford prison after being convicted of second degree murder. In 2010 his sentence was commuted and he was released on March 14, 2011. While he was in prison, Tyrone says he was shown acts of compassion by people who took an interest in him, which set him on a transformational path which eventually led him to become the person his mother and father had raised him to be.
“Although I had the life sentence, it was important to me that I leave a legacy because I had a daughter and I had siblings. And I wanted them to know that although I was in prison, I was a good person.”
Tyrone Werts full podcast:
APOMM behind the scenes:
I met Tyrone through photographer friend and peace activist Howard Zehr who was a professor at Eastern Mennonite University and is known as the grandfather of the restorative justice movement. When I told Howard I would be near Philadelphia gathering new stories, he suggested I contact Tyrone, who he had interviewed and photographed in the 90s for his own book, Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences. Tyrone had recently had his sentence commuted, he was released, and was now working with young people to make sure they didn’t make the same mistakes he had made in his own youth.
We did the interview at Temple University, where Tyrone had an office. It was a small space with plain walls and when we finished I said, “Tyrone, I don’t think I can make a very interesting portrait here…we’ll have to think of something else.” Tyrone had worn a suit and tie to the interview. We talked about options and finally I said “How about this…I think it could be an interesting visual contrast to photograph your reformed self…wearing your suit and tie…out in front of the house where the murder happened.” Tyrone agreed, and that’s what we did.
- Werts discusses two transformational moments in his life. What has been a transformational moment in your life?
- What legacy do you want to leave behind?
- Werts discusses acts of compassion that greatly impacted his life. Describe a time when someone showed you compassion even though you may not have deserved it.
- Life is full of assessments and tests. What else are you besides the test scores? What skills do you have that you feel are not addressed through testing?
- Who has been an important mentor in your life? What guidance did they provide?
- How do you work to create a great life for yourself in your environment?
- How do you see yourself in relation to your environment?
- What perspective do we lose when we only focus on ourselves?
- In what ways do you get caught up in things that “aren’t real”? How do you remind yourself of the things that are truly important?
- What kind of life are you modeling for the generation growing up after you?
- What things are harmonious in your life? How do you deal with the things that aren’t?
- Was there ever a time in your life when you had to reconsider and possibly change your values? What sparked it?