Former death row inmate Ricky Jackson talks freedom and forgiveness after being exonerated

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Ricky Jackson spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit and one of the first things he did when he got out was find the man whose lies put him behind bars.

Jackson wanted to forgive the man.

He's all about "Project Love,"  which he shared with students at John Adams High School Wednesday.

He told them he lost a lot of time being punished for something he did not do.

"39 years, 11 months and 21 days and some seconds to be exact," he said.

But instead of turning back the clock, he's moving forward.

"I determine how my life is gonna be, despite 39 years in prison. I could've came out of here been bitter, resentful, hateful and maybe I had a right to but that's the weak way out. that was the weakling out. I didn't want to hide and I damn sure didn't want to be anyone's victim," Jackson said.

The former death row inmate was exonerated after a witness recanted testimony that Jackson and two other men killed a businessman outside a Cleveland convenience store in 1975. Jackson was 18-years-old when he was imprisoned. He always maintained he was innocent.

When he was released in 2014, Jackson thanked Ohio Innocence Project for setting him free.

"39 years in a box. lost my mother, family memories. no memories of a life with my family. no children. I gave up all that but still I was willing and able to forgive because I determined how I lived. I wanted to be in charge of how I felt," he said.

He encouraged the students to live their best lives now.

"I was Ricky Jackson. I'm not a criminal. I'm not a crook, I'm not a thug, I'm Ricky Jackson. that's who they arrested me as and I was determined to come out as that person, only better," he said.

Jackson plans to share his story at more schools in the state of Ohio.

Since 1994, Project Love programs have trained more than 199,000 students and 3,500 educators and annually impact more than 200 Northeast Ohio schools.

Copyright 2018 WOO. All rights reserved.