After 22 years, Tyrone Hood is out of prison, but his life is far from being back to normal

By: Patrick M. O’Connell, Chicago Tribune: March 23rd, 2015

Standing at the window of his niece’s split-level home in south suburban Dolton, Tyrone Hood popped Skittles into his mouth as he peered across the street.

Two men lugged construction supplies and debris into a pickup truck, wrapping up rehab work for the day on a boarded-up house.

“If I didn’t have this on,” Hood said, gesturing at the electronic monitoring device around his ankle, “I could walk over there right now and ask them for a job.”

That was in January — when for nearly a month after his prison sentence was commuted by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn, Hood remained convicted of a 1993 murder, a distinction that both sullied his reputation and slowed his adjustment to an outside world changed by technology and time.

Parole restrictions were lifted and the ankle bracelet was removed in February, but Hood’s quest for redemption is not yet complete.

As he rebuilds his life piece by piece, Hood seeks steady employment and a clean criminal record in the eyes of the state.

After two decades behind bars, Hood savored his favorite candy, a comfortable mattress, his sister’s homemade chili, a step outside for fresh air without supervision.

Still, frustration and exasperation often choked off the relief of life outside of prison.

The next piece may arrive Wednesday, when the exonerated Hood again steps before a judge, this time to hear whether his petition for a certificate of innocence has been granted, a move that would completely sever a connection to a murder he insists he did not commit.

“Patience,” Hood said. “That word carries a lot of weight.”

‘I didn’t kill this guy’

Hood was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1993 shooting death of Marshall Morgan Jr., an Illinois Institute of Technology basketball standout whose body was found in his mother’s abandoned car. Even before he went to trial, Hood’s attorneys worked to show that he did not kill Morgan Jr., and that the more likely killer was Morgan’s father.

Marshall Sr. was struggling financially in the months before his son was killed and took out a life insurance policy on him. He also became a suspect two years later in the killing of his fiancee, whose life he also insured. The father was questioned about both slayings, but authorities never charged him.

He later was charged and convicted in the 2001 shooting death of a girlfriend and is serving a 75-year sentence.

Hood’s attorneys remained steadfast, bringing evidence of his innocence to prosecutors as they developed it.

“I did everything I could to get these people to realize I didn’t kill this guy,” he said. “You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to solve this case.”

The first few months of freedom — especially the four weeks on electronic monitoring — were a test of persistence, sensory adjustment and the jarring recalibration from the repetitive, regimented existence of prison.

Parole rules and electronic monitoring restricted his movements to the point where, Hood said, “I feel like I’m locked up again.”

The conditions of his release were only a part of the challenges of Hood’s first days out of prison. He also was trying to adjust to a more computerized and fast-paced world, and he operated deliberately to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Remembering how to perform even simple tasks after 20 years took time. Crossing the street safely. Stepping on an escalator. Choosing what clothes to wear. Making his own decisions.

“Tyrone’s doing as well as can be expected for someone who just stepped out of a time machine and had his life fast-forwarded two decades,” said Gayle Horn, one of Hood’s attorneys.

Too wired to sleep, Hood forced himself to go to bed at 2:30 a.m. but often awoke two hours later because he was worried about falling into a deep slumber and dreaming his commutation wasn’t real. In prison, Hood said he eventually dreamed only of life on the inside. Dreams about the “free world” stopped.

“If I sleep too long, that dream could come back, and I’d think I’m still in prison,” he said. “I’m so afraid of this, of waking up and realizing you were never out, that this isn’t real, that you never got out.”

A test of patience

Inside a community center on 79th Street, Hood sat in the front row at a parole-ordered anger management session surrounded by ex-convicts and parolees.

He wore work boots, maroon jeans and a maroon polo shirt, his hands clasped in front of him, holding his plain blue ball cap between his palms.

Hood, 51, who had to attend the sessions before his conviction was vacated, listened to the speakers, smiling when they said something that resonated.

Then it was his turn to address the crowd.

“I did 22 years for a crime I didn’t commit,” Hood said. “Why do I need anger management?”

Alfred “A.J.” Jackson, who works at the community center, met Hood a few days after he was released from prison, and said that he was inspired by Hood’s determination and quiet perseverance.

“The level of humility he has for what he’s gone through, it’s amazing,” Jackson said.

The tightly packed room made Hood uncomfortable, people brushing up against him and shaking his hand. More than that, Hood wondered why he had to attend the session at all, whether any of the material was relevant for him. As the speakers talked about their crimes, and several mentioned repeated prison stints, the sense of feeling out of place gnawed at Hood.

“Why am I here? I’m not supposed to be here if I’m innocent. I don’t have an anger problem. I never did.”

Trying to catch up

Upon his release from the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois, Hood moved in with his niece’s family in Dolton. Friends and family stopped by, including frequent visits from his brother Thomas.

The two enjoyed eating jerk chicken together and simply hanging out, talking. They made a trip to Jewel for groceries, an experience Hood described as “like I jumped into a pool of piranhas. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Thomas Hood said his brother told him one of the best things about being out of prison is the ability to wear his own clothes.

“He’s doing things at his own pace,” Thomas Hood said. “It seems like society is moving a lot faster than he’s used to. He’s just got to catch up.”

Before he went to prison, Tyrone Hood worked repairing cars and rehabbing buildings, so he was laser-focused on clearing his name so he could find a job and get a place of his own. He also hoped to repair the connections with his three adult children, which have frayed during his two decades behind bars.

“I can’t get upset at them drifting away from me,” Hood said. “It wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t theirs. Whatever they needed to do, to focus on their personal life, OK. I’m not going to hold that against you.”

On a mission

A few days later, at the K&G Fashion Superstore on 95th Street in Evergreen Park, Hood’s niece Angela Jordan helped him pick out a shirt and tie for an upcoming court hearing. The trip to court was expected to be a perfunctory status check, but Hood remained hopeful his conviction would be wiped away, ending his parole and erasing his criminal record.

Jordan pulled differently colored ties from hooks and held them up against shirts.

“I’m out of touch with putting stuff together,” Hood said. “Without her, I would have looked like a rainbow.”

Hood said he was looking forward to attending a court hearing without a prison jumpsuit, handcuffs and shackles around his legs.

“This time,” he said, “I can walk right through the front door.”

The next stop on his errand list was a Bank of America in Calumet City. An employee helped him deposit a check he received in the mail from a woman in Germany who was moved by his story. Hood also signed up for a debit card for his savings account, where he had been depositing money — usually $200 a month — he earned making T-shirts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, socks and hats in the prison knit shop.

“I’m on a mission,” Hood told the employee.

“For what?” she asked.

“To get my life back,” Hood said.

“You’ve got it back,” she said.

“But not all of it,” he said.

The future awaits

The morning of Feb. 9 was cold and woolen, as if the sky was going to spit snow at any time. Hood’s court hearing was two hours away, but the news was out: Prosecutors were going to recommend to the judge that his conviction be set aside.

Hood, dressed in the clothes his niece picked out, stood on the front stoop of the house in Dolton. He sipped coffee from a plastic mug, his body more at ease.

“I still can’t believe it,” Hood said. “I’ve been going through so many denials. I’ll wait until I get in front of the judge to make it real. Right now it’s not registering.”

His attorneys arrived, bringing with them wide smiles and laughter and hugs. Hood embraced them. He was not wearing a jacket.

“The weather, as far as it being cold,” Hood said, “I’m not even feeling it really.”

Hood climbed into the front passenger seat for the trip to the courthouse, where the judge vacated his conviction during a short, unceremonious proceeding attended by a few of Hood’s family members, a smattering of reporters and bewildered onlookers there for other cases.

“Good luck to you, sir,” the judge said.

“Thank you,” Hood replied.

Two days later, Hood received authorization from his parole agent to remove the electronic monitoring bracelet. Parole was over. His niece helped him cut off the bracelet.

Hood went outside. Then he walked across the street.