Gregory Taylor's first day of freedom is a whirlwind
Posted February 18, 2010
Updated February 19, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — For his first full day of freedom in more than 16 years, Greg Taylor woke up and hit the gym for the same upper-body workout he did every Thursday in his cell.
Then he shook off the one thing he believes publicly branded him as a former prisoner: his eyewear.
After breakfast and a shower, he went to an eyeglass store in Durham to replace the thick, tortoise-shell frames given to prisoners with a pair of oval-shaped, chocolate-colored wire frames that more suit his long, narrow face.
It wasn't just that the glasses were unfashionable, he said.
It's what they said about him and his conviction in the beating death of a prostitute in Raleigh in 1991. Three judges decided Wednesday he was innocent of that crime and released him from his life sentence.
"People can look at them and say, 'he just got out of prison,'" Taylor said. "I want to get rid of these."
Taylor spoke to reporters while holding the hand of his 26-year-old daughter, Kristen Puryear, and pushing a stroller carrying his 23-month-old grandson, Charles.
He counted off all the loved ones he lost while behind bars: a grandmother, a sister, three uncles, a cousin, a dog and two cats. But it was when he discussed the happy events he missed that he choked up.
"Her 10th birthday party," he said of his daughter.
"Her high school graduation was a big one," he said. "These are the things you can't get back."
He also went back to prison – the Johnston County Correctional Center – to collect his personal belongings, some money in a prison trust fund and a $45 gate check that all prisoners who've served two years or more receive when they leave.
For Taylor, the trip was definitely different – after spending the last nine years beyond the facility's barbed-wire fence.
"It's a different perspective, that's for sure," he said. "I'm looking at the same fence, but from the other side, it doesn't look familiar at all."
Taylor also met with someone who was part of the chain of events leading to his exoneration: former state Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., who launched the study panel that led to creating the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.
Taylor's case was the first exoneration to result from the work of the commission, which is the only state-run agency in the country dedicated to proving a convicted person's innocence.
If the governor grants Taylor a pardon, he can apply for compensation from the state Industrial Commission for $50,000 a year up to a maximum of $750,000.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind catching up to a world that changed quickly in the time he was locked away.
In the gym, he found a spacious room with a wall of mirrors, banks of exercise equipment and state-of-the-art weights instead of an outdoor space with a view of a guard tower.
Before a technician examined his eyes at the store in Durham, Taylor had to sign his name on a computer screen. "I don't understand," he said before figuring it out.
Although he has read numerous books on computer programming, Taylor saw the Internet for the first time Wednesday night when his daughter gave him a brief tutorial on his laptop.
She updated his wardrobe with jeans, a black polo shirt and boxer-briefs, which he had never worn. He could only surmise that she didn't know if he preferred boxers or briefs, so she split the difference.
When a friend tried to explain how a thumb drive would extend the storage space of his newly purchased digital camera, Taylor responded: "Oh, so it's like film?"
His lack of knowledge about cell phones - he saw his first one this week - overwhelmed the sales clerk. "Wow. I don't even know where to start," she said.
All the bright and shiny newness seemed to take a toll on Taylor. "Everything has been smell and see and hear - no thoughts," he said.
He slept with a light on Wednesday night, not so much a reaction to brightly lit prison cells, but because he wanted to be able to see the new surroundings of his daughter's house if he woke up during the night. And it felt strange to shower in his bare feet after wearing flip-flops in the shower for so long.
"Do you wear shoes in the shower?" he asked two reporters.