Lamonte McIntyre: ‘Staying committed to life is a choice’

He was 17 years old when he was locked up for the shotgun murders of two men he swore he never knew and didn’t kill.

Confusion enveloped Lamonte McIntyre.

“It’s like going to a world you’ve never been a part of,” he said, “a planet you’ve never been on. … It’s a horrible place.”

He has been locked away now for 22 years, 18 of them in the Lansing Correctional Facility.

During an interview on a recent morning in a room secured by steel doors, McIntyre, 40, said he felt somewhat tired and hungry.

“I don’t sleep,” he said. “I don’t sleep, man. I’m up all night.”

Police mug shot of Lamonte McIntyre.

Lansing houses 2,370 inmates in minimum, medium and maximum security units. McIntyre is in medium. Morning chow on his cell block starts at 4:30 a.m. He rarely eats then.

McIntyre said he has long heard people say they don’t think they could survive in prison. Some he’s known haven’t.

He once had a close friend in prison, he said, who he thought was going to make it. They used to talk philosophically about courage and the point of life. Then his buddy’s legal appeals were denied. His wife’s leaving him was the final straw, and he killed himself.

McIntyre said that for his first two years, it was hard to even process where he was. Appeals had been filed on his behalf.

“Every time I heard a phone ring, I’d think it was the county calling to let me go. I thought they’d figure it out. We’d made a (legal) motion. … I stayed hopeful. I have been naive.”

After his third appeal failed in 1998, he knew. “This is not going to go right.” He seethed.

“You become angry,” McIntyre said. “You become frustrated, depressed, sad. Yeah, all kinds of stuff. Suicidal. Not that you want to kill yourself, but you don’t care if you wake up or not. … I lost hope. You feel like you’re the only person going through pain and hurt.”

Were it not for his mother, Rose McIntyre, he said, he’s not sure that he would have made it.

Lamonte McIntyre

Nearly every Friday for 22 years, Rose McIntyre has visited her son in prison. Until the nonprofit Centurion Ministries officially took her son’s case in 2009, she’d spent thousands of dollars she didn’t have to hire lawyers, some of them hucksters and most of whom did nothing on her son’s behalf, she said.

She worked to contact everyone she could, writing to Oprah Winfrey’s television show, Montel Williams’ show, news reporters.

She had nervous breakdowns.

“I tried to go anywhere to prove my son’s innocence,” she said.

In the early days after her son’s arrest, Rose McIntyre said, she would sometimes go out at night onto Quindaro Boulevard as she searched for clues or leads among drugs dealers or prostitutes or anyone who might know who killed the men her son was convicted of killing.

Years passed.

“She was the one who encouraged me to keep going,” Lamonte McIntyre said. “She was the one who always told me to read the Bible and have a relationship with God.”

McIntyre knows that stories of prison conversions are so common as to sound contrived. He says he fought his mother’s advice. Nor does it matter to him if anyone else believes him.

“You find yourself in a hopeless situation,” he said. “When you’re reaching out and no one is reaching back, you’ll find that God is the only one you do have in that situation. … God reached back. At least he did for me.”

Again, McIntyre knows it sounds crazy. He insists he had a moment of spiritual clarity in prison. God’s words, Matthew 6:33, came to him as a voice in his head:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

“I know it sounds spooky,” McIntyre said, “but that was my experience.”

He said he stopped crying after that. “Stopped feeling all broke down and lonely,” he said. “I went from hopeless, depressed, angry and frustrated to becoming focused. … I started reading more and more and more.”

Not just the Bible.

“Theology, Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy, logic,” McIntyre said.

In prison, he earned his GED. He works as a barber. But McIntyre likes to look at himself as someone who thinks deeply. As such, he said, he prefers to read works created by great minds.

His attorney, Cheryl Pilate, and others working on behalf of his exoneration order books for him. Recent works he’s received include Erich Fromm’s “Man for Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserable,” Maya Angelou’s “Rainbow in the Clouds,” the collected stories by William Faulkner, five novels by Ernest Hemingway, “The Poetry of Robert Frost,” “The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson” and William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Also in the group is John Grisham’s nonfiction narrative, “An Innocent Man.”

Prison is hellish, McIntyre said. “You can lose yourself here,” he said.

Unless you refuse. He refuses, he said, to become “institutionalized” and lose his soul and sense of the larger outside world to a prison mindset.

“It’s a choice,” McIntyre said. “Staying committed to life is a choice.”

With appeals and motions for exoneration, people use the term “hope,” he said, and ask him whether he is hopeful.

Hope, he said, is not a wise emotion to harbor in prison on two life sentences. Having hope and then seeing it dashed can crush a spirit, McIntyre said.

“That stuff will kill you,” he said.

Instead, he said, he remains confident that in time, justice and right will win out.

“When I’m out, I’m never coming back. So I better make good use of my time.”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler