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Kevin Strickland reflects on 1 year of freedom after exoneration

Kevin Strickland
Posted at 5:19 PM, Dec 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-08 19:47:40-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Strickland left behind a world of gray concrete and iron one year ago, exonerated after spending 43 years, most of his life, in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

"The year doesn't seem like a year, but I know it's very real," Strickland said.

He is free to come and go as he pleases now, but there's one piece of his old life he can't shake.

"I wrassled with concrete and iron in the penitentiary for many years, so I'm not comfortable unless I'm moving iron around," he said.


Easing into life outside the barbed wire fences starts at the gym, Strickland's "comfort zone." His dedication has led him to spend up to four hours working out at a time.

"Going up against that iron, you can never beat it," Strickland said. "So it's like a challenge thing, and just atmosphere and weightlifting and going up against something I know I can't win."

His thoughts on going up against a force he knew he couldn't overtake prompted KSHB 41 I-Team reporter Sarah Plake to ask Strickland about how that feeling translated to him being incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit.

Plake: "Well, that's interesting. Because when you were in prison, I'm sure you felt that way, that you were going up against not only the iron but the ..."

Strickland: "System."

Plake: "And you won."

Strickland: "In the end, some people call it a victory. I do, too. I'm glad to be out. I'm tickled to death to be out."

When Strickland entered the prison system, he was 18. When he was exonerated, he was 62 years old.

kevin strickland young.jpeg
Kevin Strickland was about 19 years old here, after he'd already been arrested for a triple murder he didn't commit. That's him with his daughter.

He learned his nightmare was over in late November 2021 when his legal team and friend Ricky Kidd, who was also exonerated from prison, came to tell him he'd leave a free man.

Kevin Strickland exonerated
This is the day Kevin Strickland realized he would be leaving the prison doors a free man, exonerated in a crime he didn't commit.

When Strickland was released, he told reporters outside of the Cameron, Missouri, prison he "didn't think this day was going to come."


Since that day when he was wheeled out to freedom, he has been able to prioritize his health.

He says the gym has allowed him to transform his physical health while soothing his mind.

"Gives me a chance to think about my life and work out the frustration," he said. "I exercise the joys. Messing with that iron, as opposed to another individual. It's just very therapeutic."

In the last year, he has dropped 34 pounds and has made a routine of waking at 4 or 5 a.m.

"I got a ritual," Strickland said. "One cup of coffee, one glass of milk, one glass of orange juice, one can of V8 juice. One behind the other."

Paired with eating more "things that swim" and less junk food, he's been able to shed the wheelchair, too.

"From a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, and I just left the cane behind," Strickland said.

Much of his success he attributes to a hip replacement and back surgery he believes he never would have gotten in prison.

"When people have those big sentences like that, they don't really try to treat them 'cause they figure you're going to die in prison anyway," Strickland said. "That's the way they function."


But moving forward, he says there's more joy than frustration now that he can spend time with kids and grandkids.

"I got a wonderful family — my daughter, my grandkids. They keep me on my toes, teaching me how to communicate out here," he said.

Since his exoneration, he went to a family reunion, seeing faces he hasn't seen in decades.

He even took his first plane ride to Florida with Ricky Kidd to visit his son.

Kevin Strickland on plane
Kevin Strickland got a window seat on his first airplane ride.

It only took about 15 minutes for his fear to subside.

"If I ever fly again, it'll be first class," he said.

During the visit, he saw the ocean and swam in it for the first time.

Kevin Strickland in ocean
This was the first time Kevin Strickland saw the ocean and swam in it.


Many of his experiences have been catching up on everyday activities that those who have never been incarcerated take for granted.

Like driving.

"A lot of driving. I enjoy driving," he said. "I just go random places and just hang out and soak up life."

After nearly four decades of each day being timed out like clockwork, Strickland is "still looking for a bell to ring" as he takes advantage of exploring.

"The neighborhood where I live, when I come out and I come up to a major street, I turn one way all the time, to the left," he said. "There's a whole area to the right that I haven't even ventured over into to see what's going on over there."

Relearning how to reacclimate to society was not made any easier by the state which did not provide him a penny since the exoneration was not via DNA evidence.

But out of the kindness of community members' hearts, a GoFundMe raised nearly $2 million to help him on his feet.


Over the last year, Strickland says he's learned he has "no patience."

"I can't wait. I need to go. I need to go," he said.

He says he's also learned many people are fascinated with his story, which he doesn't understand.

"I'm not impressed by it, what I'm doing, 'cause I expect a lot out of myself," Strickland said. "I just attribute it to just desiring to do better."

While the memory of the 43 years will never go away, they're in his rearview as he focuses on the journey ahead.

"I have opportunity to be out here and connect and bond with my family, and that's a big deal for me, a real big deal for me," Strickland said. "Things are coming along okay."


Strickland wants to go to the Bahamas, Brazil and Australia — places he used to see on prison TVs.

While he still can’t vote, he's working with his legal team to try to figure something out.