Jonathan Montgomery celebrated his first full day of freedom with a pizza party at the Hampton Public Defender’s Office Wednesday.
Tuesday night Montgomery was released from the Greensville Correctional Facility after being granted a conditional pardon from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
After he left, Montgomery stopped at McDonald’s to eat a cheeseburger and then went to Wal-Mart with his mother to buy new clothing – he lost over 100 pounds while he was locked up.
At the Hampton Public Defender’s Office, Montgomery was met with applause from the folks who worked tirelessly over the past four years to free him.
He also reflected on the lessons he learned while behind bars.
“To appreciate everything in life. Every small thing. To be able to call someone when you want to. To be able to eat what you want. To be able to go out in public whenever you want to – all the small things that you don’t know you lost until you actually lose them,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery served 4 years on a 7 and half year prison sentence for sex crimes he didn’t commit.
In late October, his accuser Elizabeth Coast, recanted and admitted to investigators that it was all a lie.
Montgomery remembered the day investigators came to the prison to tell him.
“We’re going to tell you – but you can’t tell nobody. And I know my cellie knew. He knew because he walked in on me when I was in there,” Montgomery said. “I was mad. I was livid. I was crying I was angry all at the same time. He knew something – he knew what was up.”
Montgomery says he won’t waste any more time thinking about Coast; instead, he’s focused on the future.
He wants to write a book about his experience and already has a tentative title: “Innocence.”
He also is going to look for a job.
“At this time, anything is open. I am versatile. In construction, repair, computers, cook – I can do it all,” Montgomery said.
The past 24 hours have been an emotional blur for his mother Mishia Woodruff.
“I had to check with my friend and ask her did we really go get him. Did it really happen. He’s really out. I’m not dreaming – this is for real,” Woodruff said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Montgomery left for North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with his father and family outside of Charlotte.
It will be the first Thanksgiving he’s spent as a free man in four years.
He’s also received permission to live in North Carolina permanently with his father while the process of Writ of Actual Innocence goes through the courts in Virginia.
That process will clear Montgomery’s name once and for all.
Until then, Montgomery is focused on reconnecting with his family and remembers the quote that got him through the hard days in prison.
“If you are going through hell – keep on going.” I looked at it and I said wow. I can’t believe that – and that’s what we are doing,” Montgomery said.