When TJ walked into Stateville at age 17, he was a boy among men. Gang leaders had a lot of power in the penitentiary in the late ‘90s. They were the ones that assigned TJ a cell. He learned the rules of prison and became a cog in the gang bureaucracy. But he kept getting in trouble with the guards and was moved to another prison where he experienced just how low you can go. He was alone in cell for 23 hours a day and it nearly broke his spirit. Then he was transferred to a medium-security place where he took college courses and had a job.
In 2009, he was exonerated after spending 16 years in prison. It was a fresh start. But could he handle the trauma of prison that was festering inside of him?
Motive extra features
Get a look at the real-life people and places covered in this episode of “Motive.” Meet T.J., his mother Victoria and the family members, friends and lawyers who tell his story.
TJ flashing Royals gang sign
Here is TJ flashing showing how he flashed a Simon City Royals gang sign at a school bus on a Chicago street corner in 1993. He would have thrown up the same gang sign when he entered prison on a murder conviction at age 17. This photo is taken from a 2010 deposition in his wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city of Chicago.
While he was in prison, TJ would dream of family gatherings at Montrose Beach on the North Side of Chicago.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
TJ wasn’t into fiction. In prison, he liked to read the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
TJ only had $19 in “gate money” in his pocket when he walked out of prison. He worked at a few Sonic restaurants (this one is in Crest Hill) as a cook and janitor before he was awarded $25 million in his lawsuit.