Freedom surfaced in the small, everyday moments for Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter on their first days outside of prison this week.
For Carpenter, it was a crisp, striped polo shirt, khaki cargo shorts and Nike tennis shoes he picked out on his own Tuesday at Ross.
Scott marveled at the myriad cereal choices on a Walmart aisle: He bought Cap’n Crunch, with only the berries.
Both men were gleefully savoring new experiences Tuesday, their first full day of freedom after being imprisoned since 1994 for a drive-by killing they did not commit.
Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes threw out their life sentences Monday following a January hearing during which nearly all witnesses recanted their prior testimony. Holmes made a ruling of “actual innocence,” citing a lack of remaining evidence and testimony by witnesses they were coerced by police.
The Frontier tagged along with Scott and Carpenter, both 39, as they began adjusting to life outside prison walls Monday and Tuesday. The two also talked to The Frontier’s media partner, NewsOn6, about their new lives.
Entering prison at 19 in 1995 and emerging in 2016 was almost a form of time travel for Carpenter and Scott. Everything has changed: silverware, clothes, televisions, furniture, even cereal. They marveled at all the “new” cars passing by on the street and waved at school kids on a bus.
Walking out of jail
After facing a crush of cameras, lights, microphones and reporters Monday evening, Carpenter and Scott headed over to Albert G’s barbecue less than half a mile away from the David L. Moss Detention Center.
On the way, Attorney Josh Lee asks Siri a question on his iPhone. Lee tries to explain to Scott who Siri is.. They’re amazed that a tiny TV screen in the car’s dashboard displaying obstacles behind the car while Lee parks.
About 30 friends, relatives and supporters of both men gather for the celebration dinner at Albert G’s. Seated near the end of a giant U-shaped table, Scott can’t figure out which of the half dozen bottles of BBQ sauce he should use on his meal. He asks his mom about the sauce, stealing a bite from her plate.
The middle child of 10 siblings, Scott is looking forward to getting reacquainted with his mom, brothers and sisters.
Carpenter has a sister and brother in addition to his fiancee and her daughters. He worries about his 60-year-old mother, who needs a kidney transplant. Carpenter hopes he can donate one of his, if he’s a match.
Nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and friends all come by their table to hug, shake hands and congratulate the men. They talk about others they know who also claim innocence but remain in prison.
Talking to friends at dinner, Scott feels coins jingling in his pocket. His friends aren’t too impressed with his pocket change until they realize that coins, like so many other things, aren’t allowed in prison.
The hands-free faucet paper towel and soap dispensers in the bathroom are a puzzle for both men at first.
“I didn’t know how to make any of it work,” Carpenter says.
After dinner, they head out to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where Scott and Carpenter have rooms reserved by their attorneys. The desk clerk hands them paper envelopes, which are supposed to contain room keys.
“Excuse me, I don’t think there’s a key in here,” Scott says to the desk clerk.
“That is your key. That card right there is your key,” the clerk responds politely.
Scott later says he was a little embarrassed that he didn’t know plastic cards now open hotel doors. It’s one more thing he can laugh about later with Carpenter.
The day after their release presents a series of new discoveries for Scott and Carpenter, everyday conveniences people outside of prison take for granted.
The men cannot get over the huge, thin TV embedded into the wall of their rooms. They’re told that the 48-inch TV isn’t considered that big anymore.
“They say that’s not that big, but it looked like I was at the movies,” Scott says.
Later that night, Scott makes a late-night run with a friend to WalMart for some batteries, but the cereal aisle catches his eye.
“I’ve always been a big cereal fan, but I only like the sweet cereals, the kiddie-type cereals. … That’s my cheater right there,” Scott says, grinning widely.
He has the muscled physique of someone who knows how to eat and work out with discipline, even in a concrete prison yard.
“I just see a wonderful, wonderland of cereal and I just froze. And I was like, ‘When did those come out? Are those good?’ “
At the hotel, neither Carpenter nor Scott can figure out how to use the cordless phone. They plan on getting cell phones tomorrow anyway.
After a night filled with calls and visits from friends, supporters and relatives, Scott and Carpenter try to get some sleep in their hotel rooms.
The beds are amazing, especially after 20 years of sleeping on what Scott described as a “wrestling mat” in prison. Still, neither can sleep.
Carpenter later says he watched his fiancee, Brandy Guest, sleep instead. They dated when they were teenagers, before Carpenter and Scott, both 17 at the time of the shooting, were shipped off to prison.
Six years ago, Guest reached out to Carpenter in prison and began to visit.
“She supported me and came to visit me every weekend. She’s my everything now.”
‘Not bitter’ about past
The Hard Rock’s breakfast buffet has so many choices, they have trouble deciding. Scott devours a pecan Belgian waffle.
After breakfast, the men head out to shop for new clothes and shoes with Joyce Mayer, a legal assistant with the Oklahoma Innocence Project at Oklahoma City University’s Law School. Attorneys with the OIP, along with Lee and attorney Ken Sue Doerful, have worked on the innocence claim for the past five years.
Because Scott and Carpenter weren’t discharged from prison but instead set free, the two have no property, no ID and only the clothes their attorneys brought for a press conference after they walked out of the David L. Moss Jail Monday.
After stops at Ross and Famous Footwear, Carpenter and Scott have a few shirts, a pair of shorts for Carpenter, jeans for Scott and both have new Nikes. At the law office of an attorney who is helping the pair navigate all the red tape, they’re eager to change into their new clothes.
There’s a lot to sort out. Finding the right people at DOC to retrieve their birth certificates and Social Security cards. Making temporary and long-term living arrangements, opening bank accounts and getting cell phones.
They both have a few hundred in their prison savings accounts but getting that out may take time. In the meantime, Mayer is researching how to access a short-term fund, up to $2,000 each, to help exonorees get on their feet.
Late Tuesday afternoon, two “burner” cell phones arrive for them, a temporary solution.
Scott says when they went into prison, “only the richest people” had cell phones, huge, boxy models with a large antenna.
Carpenter insists he wants a flip phone, because it’s simple and all he needs. He says he doesn’t know what an app is anyway. Within minutes of powering up their new phones, the exonerees look the part of any adult in 2016: faces turned down into glowing screens.
Both men are enjoying the media interviews and public attention. A shopper at Ross recognized Carpenter from news coverage and wanted a photo with him.
Everyone wants to know what’s next? How do you build a life for yourself after 20 years behind bars?
Carpenter has a friend he can stay with for two months until he finds more permanent housing. He plans to find a job and live his life “not being bitter about the past, moving forward and enjoying life.”
Scott wants to buy an African grey parrot as a pet, he wants to travel and he wants his own place so he doesn’t have to impose on family.
“My mother is one of my major champions …. Out of everyone who has been through this journey with me, she was stronger than me sometimes. when I would say. ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ She’d say, ‘Son, you are going to do it, because God helps those who help themselves.’”
His freedom has allowed Scott “to finally have a chance to exhale, to breathe again, to know, I’m going to have a second chance at life. Not many people get a second chance at life after a situation like this.”
Asked if they plan to stay in touch, Carpenter and Scott don’t hesitate to answer..
“When you went through what me and him had went through together? We are family,” Scott says emphatically. “We are blood. You know what I’m saying? This is my brother.”
“If you need anything, call me,” Carpenter answers, smiling broadly. “Don’t hesitate.”