Breaking the cycle: Woman using personal lessons to change justice system

Breaking the cycle: Woman using personal lessons to change justice system
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 4:36 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - After spending more than two decades in prison, a woman is using her second chance at freedom to change the system for others returning from incarceration.

Tyra Patterson is a Community Outreach Strategist for the Ohio Justice Policy Center. It’s a job she says was meant for her.

Patterson is fighting to break the cycle of mass incarcerations and the stigma that comes to those who have served time in prison through community outreach with the Ohio Justice Policy Center.

Her work includes talking to kids and anyone who will listen about their legal rights.

“What I do is I go inside the schools and share my story in hopes that our younger generation knows their rights, knows how to respond to incidents that may occur,” Patterson explains.

It’s the type of support that she says could have saved her.

After experiencing chronic homelessness as a child and dropping out of elementary school at the age of 11, life became even tougher.

In 199,4 Patterson says she heard gunshots that led to the murder of Michelle Lai during a robbery in Dayton.

Patterson found the victim’s necklace and called 911 that night to help.

A call for help later turned her into a suspect.

After hours of interrogation and not knowing her rights, Patterson says she was tricked into a confession of robbery and was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery at the age of 19.

She was sentenced to 43 years to life.

“When I went to trial, and they said guilty, that was the lowest moment,” Patterson recalls.

However, she used that time in prison to reshape her life, studying to become a paralegal while also turning to art as an outlet which continues today.

This social justice mural that can be found on Main Street in Downtown Cincinnati was designed by Patterson.

“I spent more than half my life inside the institution,” Patterson said. “While I was there, I had become an advocate for the younger women who were there, and I noticed that a lot of women were criminalized for abuse and trauma, so I started the art space because we needed a mental outlet.”

Patterson says her freedom eventually came when the victim’s sister, who was there at the time of the murder, pleaded for her release from prison saying she was innocent.

The call for Patterson’s release led to the launch of the “I am Tyra Campaign” with the jurors and celebrities pleading for her release.

“That was the first time I had experienced anyone fighting for my life,” Patterson said. “I know I was hanging on by a string after 23 years. I was ready to give up.”

Now, she lends her strength to others in similar circumstances.

Fighting for equal pay and housing along with guiding women who are trying to begin a new life after incarceration.

As soon as she was released, the Ohio Justice Policy Center offered her a job.

She says she was turned away when she tried to open a bank account after they learned that she was a former inmate.

Within 24 hours, with the help of OJPC, they were able to get that policy changed.

A documentary about her life is in the works and it is expected to debut on Netflix later this year.

Breaking Through Series

This story is part of a weekly segment called Breaking Through.

FOX19 NOW will be highlighting those who are stepping forward to pave the way for a better future.

If you know a woman making a difference in the community, whether it’s a business, teaching, or volunteering, we want to hear from you.

Call 513-421-1919 or send an email to with “Breaking Through” in the subject line.

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