CLEVELAND — At 59 years old, Charles Jackson is finding his voice again, after it was silenced in 1991 when a jury convicted him of killing a man and trying to kill another.
Imagine carrying a label for nearly 30 years you didn't deserve ... you don't have to imagine, if your name is Charles Jackson.
"It's a like a certain type of feeling, humiliation or whatever, to hear, like, 'Convicted murderer' or, you know, 'He's a killer,'" Jackson said.
Year after year, missed birthdays and holidays with his four children. In fact, he missed the birth of his own daughter.
"So, if you don't have your parents, then who's going to love you like your mom and your dad?" Jackson said.
Loved ones passed away. He's haunted by the precious time he missed with them.
"I lost a brother, and shortly after that, my mom passed away. Then it just seemed like just family members just started dying left and right," Jackson said. "When my mom passed away, I felt so hopeless and I cried out to God. Like, 'God, what I'm going to do,' you know what I'm saying? 'Who gonna be here for me?'" Jackson said.
Knowing his situation wasn't going to change, he put his anger aside and did his best to keep moving.
"I'm a funny dude and, and I think my humor (is) what got me through a lot of it. I just wanted to live," Jackson said. "And it doesn't matter where I am. I'm gonna try to live the best life I can live, you know?"
Life before prison was all about family.
"Big family. Spent plenty of time with my family. Like Sundays, we was doing soul food dinners," Jackson said.
As the youngest of 10 children, family is everything to Jackson. And, they were waiting for him with open arms back in 2018, when he was freed thanks to the Ohio Innocence Project.
"The Cleveland murder detectives hid evidence, fabricated evidence, hid witness statements that were completely exculpatory and did improper photo identifications that were very suggestive...just putting pictures of Charles in front of witnesses to get them to identify him. All of that was wholly improper," said Sarah Gelsomino, of Friedman Gilbert + Gerhardstein, one of Jackson's lawyers, said at the time.
A judge agreed with Jackson's representation. In July of 2022, he was officially declared wrongfully imprisoned in court, setting him free for the rest of his life.
"I can't describe the feeling, but it was relief. It was just a flood of, you know, like, all the anxiety and all the pressure on me and everything just like ... just evaporated," Jackson said.
Since then, life has been both a hard adjustment and a blessing.
"It's just crazy when you leave and your kids come back and everybody's ... everything's changed," Jackson said.
But the blessings are what keeps him motivated to keep going.
"Two grandbabies. Two little grandbabies. One is, she'll be two, and one is just turned one," Jackson said proudly.
For years, Jackson worked as a cook in the prison kitchen. After his release, he went to culinary school. These days, he's putting those skills to good use.
But that's not the only thing he's savoring: He's cherishing every day with the love of his life, Trish Suggs.
"We met through my niece," Trish told us.
She says she knew nothing about Jackson's story before she met him and was blown away when she found out.
"Like, unbelievable what he's been through. And, I always ask him, 'How did you survive? Knowing that it was something that you didn't do. I couldn't imagine going through that or having to live through that," Trish said.
A relationship after 27 years in prison isn't without challenges; yet, it's his past which inspires Jackson to love so deeply.
"I prayed for somebody. I ask God, 'Just gimme somebody who I can share my life with,'" Jackson remembered.
His prayers were answered.
"He's amazing. I tell him all the time, like, I've never dated no one like him before, who's like caring and cares about me and a family man. He's a father, he's a brother, he's a friend. You know, he's my best friend," Trish said.
It's healing sharing his life with someone who understands how important it is to enjoy life's simple moments: Sunshine, cold air on his face, a walk through downtown.
Still, Jackson is taking things one day at a time.
"Find something to hold onto. Be God, your children, whatever you love, whoever depended on you still depend on you. But it is just in a different way now. People who love you really love you. They gonna be there for you and they gonna let you know constantly that ... that you're not alone," Jackson said.
A few months ago, state officials approved a payment of $767,445 to Jackson, about half of what state law say he's entitled to.
In fact, according to the law, Jackson should be awarded $56,752.36 for each year he wrongfully spent in behind bars. He's expected to get the second half further along in his legal process.
Jackson's past will always be a part of his story. But today, he's re-writing a new one. This time, leading with hope and love.
Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous report.