Robert “Rider” Dewey spent 17 long years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. During that time, he endured constant legal setbacks and personal tragedies. This is how he made it to the other side.

September 2013

There are no colors in prison. Almost everything is gray and grim, metal or concrete. Rough edges are left unsmoothed. A cement cell at the Limon Correctional Facility is less than seven feet wide by 12 feet long. If you reach your arms out, you can almost touch both sides of the narrow rectangle at once. You can’t pace in it. A steely toilet sits on one side of the room. A cot rests against the back wall beneath a narrow sliver of bulletproof glass. At night, far away, you can see the lights of civilization casting off an illuminated haze, a constant reminder that somewhere out there, just out of reach, life is happening. On the right side of the cell is a small metal platform that serves as a desk. It’s a place to write letters to your son, a teenager who’ll be a grown man long before you’re out; to your mother, who has never once doubted and never will doubt your innocence; to your wife, who’ll leave you long before this is all over. With a life sentence, time stops. Minutes feel like an eternity. Everything operates on the same rigid schedule: roll call. Breakfast. Work. Lockdown. Roll call. Lunch. Recreation. Cell time. Dinner. Roll call. It’s always the same—unless a fight breaks out. You walk into the chow hall and the violence just erupts. Prisoners scrap in fiery and glorious ways, using whatever weapons they can smuggle in or fashion. A shank can be made out of anything. Aluminum bars bracing a speaker? Rip them off, smash the ends, file ’em sharp: Voilà, a shank. Rapists are often the most targeted and tormented of all inmates, other than child molesters, and have to constantly watch for people who might want to attack them. Your name is Robert Dewey, and on October 16, 1996, you were found guilty of rape and murder. Natural life is your sentence. How will you survive?