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A thank-you visit from a man who faced a 160-year prison sentence

Derek Twyman built a strong connection with lawyers and students in Halifax

Derek Twyman speaks at Dalhousie University about his battle with the U.S. justice system.   Nermeen Ramadan

A man who was sentenced to 160 years in a U.S. prison was in Halifax on Wednesday to thank those who helped with his release.

Derek Twyman, 54, served 30 years before being released last November.

“I came to meet Mark Knox (my lawyer) because he had helped me with the case and some of the Dalhousie law students (did too) … so I really came just to see them and really to thank them for the help they did,” Twyman told The Signal.

On Wednesday, he addressed a large crowd at the Weldon Law Building in Dalhousie University.

Twyman, originally from Oakville, Ont., moved with his mother, father and three siblings to North Carolina when he was 15. At the age of 26, in 1989, he was convicted of non-violent burglaries.

The judge sentenced him to 160 years in prison.

Lawyer Mark Knox introduced  Derek Twyman before Twyman took the podium for his talk at Dalhousie.   Nermeen Ramadan

Knox, a Halifax lawyer, helped advocate Twyman’s case by writing letters to Canadian Senators and members of Parliament in 2016.

Tywman also received help from 7th Step Society of Canada, a society that helps inmates in and out of prison reintegrate into society.

“It’s a very compelling case; someone with that type of sentence, with those types of charges and being a Canadian in the U.S., is very attractive to us to help,” Knox, who is also a volunteer with 7th Step, told The Signal.

Knox was at Twyman’s talk on Wednesday. Another of Twyman’s helpers, Dalhousie law student Ashley Hill, was also there.

“This was a unique opportunity to work with someone you actually get to see go on and have a life that you didn’t expect, so to be able to be a part of that in whatever small way has been really rewarding,” Hill said.

Ashley Hill, a third-year law student at Dalhousie University, helped Twyman in his case.   Nermeen Ramadan

Not everyone who assisted Twyman could be there, including Shane Martinez, a student who attended the University of New Brunswick at the time. He heard about Twyman’s case on a website where inmates can describe their situations and look for help. Martinez reached out to Twyman and they exchanged letters back and forth for several years before his release.

“The first thing I was looking for was the Canadian flag, to make sure they didn’t turn around the plane. After I saw the Canadian flag I was good,” Twyman told The Signal. 

Twyman is currently living in Toronto with one of Hill’s friends and slowly adapting to his new life. 

“I look at it as moving into a new town,” Twyman said.

His future plans are to visit more restaurants and go back to school to further his studies. He hopes to become a paralegal.