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Exonerated man, freed from prison after 28 years, meets pen pal who wrote to him for two decades

Lamar Johnson spent 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. However, he had a pen pal, Ginny Schrappen, who provided him with the strength he needed during this time.

Exonerated man, freed from prison after 28 years, meets pen pal who wrote to him for two decades
Image Source: Twitter | @peterschrappen1

Having someone who believes in you can make all the difference in overcoming obstacles. This person can be a source of inspiration, encouragement and strength during difficult times. For Lamar Johnson, a pen pal named Ginny Schrappen, was his ray of hope while he spent 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. "It felt like 28 years of weight was slowly being lifted," Johnson, who is now 49 years old, told The Washington Post after a Missouri judge reversed his first-degree murder conviction. It was Schrappen's letters that stopped him from losing hope for about 25 years.


The story of their friendship started a quarter-century ago when a clergyman at Schrappen's St. Louis area church passed her a letter written by a prisoner who had reached out to the diocese with the hope of receiving a reply. The inmate happened to be Lamar Johnson, who was then serving a life sentence in a Missouri correctional facility. She told CBS News, "He was in prison for murder. I've been accused of being naïve before, and that's OK. I wasn't worried. He's not going to come and get me."


Having struck up a fast friendship, Schrappen and Johnson corresponded continuously for the next two decades. According to Schrappen, she knew from the outset that Johnson was innocent of the murder charge. Confirming Schrappen's intuition, Missouri state declared Johnson innocent following the Midwest Innocence Project's intervention and the confession of the real murderer. Johnson was exonerated and freed from prison.


Despite being a mother of three and eventually a grandmother of two, Schrappen consistently wrote letters to Johson in advance of his court appeal dates promising to be there for him. She periodically visited him in prison, which gave her a sensation of happiness that she described as "almost out of my skin." It required years of activism on the part of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that looks into closed cases, to have Johnson's murder charges overturned. 


After being released from prison at the age of 49, Johnson finally had the opportunity to do things he had longed for while in confinement, such as traveling to see his close friend for the first time. When Johnson arrived at Schrappen's home, he was warmly welcomed and given a tour, a box of his favorite cereal and a final letter from Schrappen. According to Johnson, the most valuable thing his friend gave him was the belief in himself.

He said, "Especially when somebody is innocent, you want someone to believe in you. Because when you have people who believe in you and they won't give up on you, then it makes it harder for you to give up on yourself."

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