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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Her journey to freedom through faith

ReEntry Stories Auria Morales.jpg

We meet Auria Morales, who found a helping hand at the Fringe Coffee House in Hamilton, when she got out of prison a year ago.

(Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited lightly for length and clarity.)

Mary Evans: Aria Morales was imprisoned for 14 years. While in there, she took part in Scars and Bars Music Art Therapy program started by Patrick Davis, co-founder of the Fringe Coffee House. With the help of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, director David Singleton and Tyra Patterson, who was falsely convicted of murder and released by the governor of Ohio in 2020, Auria's sentence was overturned April 15th, 2021, and she was immediately released. She started working at the Fringe Coffeehouse soon after. Auria's journey to freedom was anything but easy.

Auria Morales: Going in the transition was like numbing, overwhelming, very depressing. And I felt like I had to start to, like, go into this survival mode because I've never been there before. It was a lot. I was fighting since day one, you know, going through the process, what me and my mother, being in a courtroom and getting judged and, you know, and people being biased because of, you know, who I am, my skin color, you know, not enough money. And I think all that plays a part when you deal with the court system. I was in Marysville from like 2007 until 2011 and we started hearing about people being able to go to DCI - Dayton Correctional - because it used to be a men's facility. So I'm like, Well, maybe I qualify - it's close to my mother. Oh my God, I'm in Cincinnati area. You know, I was sentenced with a fifteen to life sentence. So I didn't think I qualified for anything because like they told me, oh, you'll never be a level one. You'll never be able to go to DCI. Everything that they said was the totally opposite when I got to DCI.

So it started in Marysville, actually we had The Innocence Project working on my case. When I got Tyra Patterson, I'd seen her in Marysville. She said, Oh, I'm not going to forget about you. We had a small conversation. We used to have visits together with our mothers and we've get connected to people's family. So Tyra Patterson started the footwork with David Singleton putting a word in. And then when we got to Marysville I mean, this guy, she always said, I will never forget you. I'm not going to leave you in here. You know, she always said that. And, you know, sometimes you're like, okay, yeah. And so I'm like, not thinking I'm that important for somebody to be in a position I am to actually really remember me. Because, you know, once they get out, it's like, hey, I'm out. And I'm thinking, nobody's going to help me. No person's going to help me except my mom. My mom passed away last year. She was my advocate. She didn't just fight for me. She fought for everybody who who was either wrongfully convicted, who was, you know, getting treated unfair in there, whatever she did, whatever voice she wanted to be, that's what she did.

When my mom passed, that was it. I was like, 'Okay, I was ready to give up."

I was done. I said, I got a fifteen to life sentence, I don't have an out date. I started speaking things negative. David said I'm stepping up. He would see my mother and that day that my mother was at hospice, she said, 'Please get my baby out of prison.' And he never forgot me. Tyra Patterson was there with my mother! She was. She was on Skype with my mom. Tyra Patterson was there. Michelle Robertson, she was there. That's my mentor. She was there. We all had life sentences. We're all home.

And I didn't ever see this day. So David Singleton, he would come see me and you know, even when he come see Tyra Patterson, when she was there, he would stop and just say, hey, I'm just checking in, make sure you're okay. He never gave up on me. He said, your mom, you know, he tried to get me out and then Covid stopped everything.

Mary Evans: With COVID interfering. It did not slow down the process. Auria remained hopeful and continued to see herself on the other side of the gates.

Auria Morales: I plan on becoming an ordained minister. I want to do that, but I don't want to be your typical ordained minister. I'm still me. I want people to be comfortable with knowing God's love for real, not just something fabricated based on opinionated preacher. I want to be there for people who are homeless and have a nonprofit organization, for people that are struggling with addiction, that are homeless out there, the people that are forgot about.

Mary Evans: Auria is no longer employed at the Fringe, but still remains involved with the organization, especially the Fringe Church. She has exceeded some of her goals. Auria completed clergy classes through Omega Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio's Urban Leadership Academy, and is now an ordained minister. She is currently attending more youth ministry classes. It is a license driver and the owner of two new cars for reentry stories. I'm Mary Evans.

ReEntry Stories comes from the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.