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Tyra Patterson Imagines A Future With Her Best Friend, A Cat Named Fancy

Women's Voices dayton correctional institution
Juliet Fromholt

Tyra Patterson was arrested at age 19 in a high-profile murder case in Dayton—15-year-old Michelle Lai was shot and killed during a scuffle between two groups of teenagers, some of whom Patterson was acquainted with.

She pled not guilty to a murder charge, and later said she gave a confession under duress.

She participated in WYSO’s Community Voices class inside Dayton Correctional Institution this winter, and the story she chose to tell is about her best friend on the inside: a cat named Fancy. She was interviewed by fellow DCI resident Aimee Wissman.

Tyra Patterson’s story has been covered by the Dayton Daily News, and recently investigated by the Guardian, which argues that her case is a typical example of the failure of the U.S. justice system.

Over the last few years, several jurors in her case have said they’d reverse her conviction if they could do it again; the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office maintains she is guilty. Regardless, it’s widely acknowledged that Tyra Patterson didn’t pull the trigger in the murder of Michelle Lai—the woman who pulled the trigger is inside DCI with her, and also says Tyra is innocent. Patterson is now awaiting the results of a clemency request that could be granted by Governor John Kasich.

Tyra Patterson was illiterate when she entered prison; she’d dropped out of school at age 11. She’s since taught herself to read and write, and taken classes and set goals for her future.

WYSO did not interview Tyra Patterson about her case or ask her to discuss it. The purpose of our project at DCI was to focus on the participants' life stories, not their criminal convictions.

Highlights from the audio:

“She doesn’t trust anyone and that she’s left in the cold by herself and no one feeds her so she has to fend for herself. So she’s a survivor on her own.”

“I’m in love with this cat. I tell her my secrets. You know in prison you don’t have anyone to trust and you can’t talk to anyone...With my cat Ms. Fancy, I tell her anything in the world, and you better know it goes nowhere. I love her. She means the world to me.”

“My ultimate goal is to go home, and have the animal shelter come back inside this prison and capture her and give her her shots, and put her inside my home...and leave the door open so she can come and go, and she don’t feel captured.”

Women’s Voices from Dayton Correctional Institution is a series of stories based on WYSO’s Community Voices class at the prison on the west side. WYSO selected 10 incarcerated women through a competitive application process, and taught them interviewing, storytelling and recording skills. The series is produced and mixed by managing editor Lewis Wallace and Community Voices producer Renee Wilde, with volunteer support from Community Voices graduate Dr. Venita Kelley and editorial input from general manager Neenah Ellis.

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