“Reach out to somebody that might need a friend, it could mean more than you know.”

Those are powerful words from Ginny Schrappen, a kind-hearted woman who sought out — and believed — in the truth.

Being imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit is one of the worst things that could happen. It’s a nightmare akin to being buried alive or lost at sea.

However, in those nightmare scenarios, there is no system against you, no appeals available that could save you from certain death. 

For Lamar Johnson, this nightmare was a reality for 28 years

The Man Who Was in Jail For Almost Three Decades After Wrongful Conviction

Courtesy of Ginny Schrappen (via: The Washington Post)

Lamar was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his best friend, Marcus Boyd, in 1994. At the time, Lamar was in his early twenties and had a solid alibi. He had been with his girlfriend at the time — but the state had an eyewitness who identified him as the killer, and his fate was sealed. 

Then in 1996, and again in 2002, the men responsible for the murder came forward and admitted that Johnson had nothing to do with the crime. Despite this revelation, he was denied an appeal.

Nevertheless, Johnson never gave up his optimistic attitude.

He fought for his freedom day after day and made efforts to stay connected to the world outside of his prison walls.

His sister and mother stayed in touch frequently, but Johnson wanted even more human connection. He took action, reaching out to churches in search of a pen pal who could offer him friendship and support. 

He found a loyal friend in Ginny Schrappen.

They stayed in touch for decades

Schrappen, a retired St. Louis teacher, never doubted her friend’s innocence

When she first got Johnson’s letter from her church Deacon, the first thing that stood out to her was his penmanship.

“I was blown away by his handwriting. His cursive just put me to shame.”

The two hit it off in their correspondence and opened up to each other about everything they were dealing with in life. Schrappen could tell right away that Lamar was sensitive and intelligent– his personality shone through his letters. 

“[Schrappen] shared a lot about what was going on in her life, [I felt I could] lean on her and express how I was feeling about my situation. That drew us closer, because we had honest conversations and not surface conversations. We just connected so well.”

After a few years of letters, the two graduated to correspond via telephone, and then to in-person visits. Two other members of Schrappen’s congregation frequently joined her on her visits to the prison, and they all became like family. 

“I remember the first time, to see somebody in person, to hug them and sit across the table from them, which is what we did, I was almost out of my skin.”

Throughout all of this, Johnson was fighting hard for his freedom, and eventually a new revelation came to light that the justice system just could not ignore. 

Evidence against Lamar was falsified

Courtesy of Ginny Schrappen (via: The Washington Post)

In 2019, it was revealed that law enforcement had falsified evidence against Lamar. Police and prosecutors had lied on reports and paid the only eyewitness against him for their testimony. 

The innocence project took on Lamar’s case, and he was eventually released. The organization spent years investigating the case and advocating for his release. They also raised more than $570,500 for Johnson’s post-prison life. 

Schrappen was right there when he was released

Courtesy of Ginny Schrappen (via: The Washington Post)

Over the years, Schrappen was present at all of Johnson’s legal proceedings. 

“I always told him, ‘Lamar, I’ll be there,’ I was one of the people that kept him connected to the world.” – Grace Schrappen

She was also right there when he was released and they were able to hug, and he thanked her for being a lifeline all of these years. The human connection he got from his friend kept him feeling grateful.

“If you hold onto anger, you’re just going to swap one prison for another. As much as there were a lot of setbacks over the years, there is a lot to be happy and grateful for.”

Their differences didn’t stop them from being friends

Courtesy of Ginny Schrappen (via: The Washington Post)

Both Johnson and Schrappen hope their story inspires others to look past first impressions and dig deeper when meeting people– you never know the impact your connection could have. 

“Reach out to somebody that might need a friend. It could mean more than you know.”

When is the last time you’ve trusted your gut and reached out to somebody that might need a shoulder to lean on?

You never know what type of impact it can have.