Business Class: Ryan Ferguson — Taking FREEDOM seriously
By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News
Monday, July 7, 2014
Each year in July, great fanfare envelopes our nation as we join together in celebration of a basic human right: freedom.
For Ryan Ferguson, the concept of freedom resonates more now than it has in over ten years.
On November 1, 2001, Kent Heitholt, sports editor for the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune was murdered in the newspaper’s parking lot around 2:10 am. Two years later, a young man named Charles Erickson began publicly sharing recurring dreams that he and his former classmate Ryan Ferguson were involved.
What followed was viewed by many as a series of finger-pointing, confusing confessions, questionable police work, awkward eye witnesses and a prosecution team hell-bent on solving the case.
The result: 19-year-old Ryan Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison based almost exclusively on “eye witness” accounts from teenage dreamer Erickson and Tribune janitor Jerry Trump who, at trial, miraculously gained the ability to positively identify Erickson and Ferguson.
Erickson, through a plea bargain, received a 25-year sentence.
Civil rights attorney Kathleen Zellner conducted an evidentiary hearing on Ferguson’s behalf in 2012. She filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Missouri Court of Appeals with all the new evidence her office gathered and obtained from the hearing, including sworn recantations of their trial testimony by Trump and Erickson.
The court granted the petition and vacated Ferguson’s conviction on November 5, 2013. At age 29, Ferguson was released on November 13 after spending almost a decade in prison.
Just like the millions of other Americans who pursue careers, make their own choices and stand by their ideals, Ryan Ferguson had his freedom.
For almost a decade, Erin Moriarty of CBS News’ “48 Hours” has covered the Ferguson case.
“In my mind, there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. There was plenty of physical evidence at the crime scene but none of it belonged to Ryan,” Moriarty said in a telephone interview.
So thin was the case against Ferguson that one could easily wonder to what extent the concept of “show me” applied to the Show-Me State’s judicial system.
Once confined, Ferguson ultimately learned to look inside himself for inspiration: “Though there are many things you cannot control in prison, you do have control over your mind and your body,” said Ferguson.
Words that ring true in so many situations—and in so many metaphorical “prisons.”
He began to focus on physical fitness and became a voracious reader. Some of his favorite (and most influential) titles included: “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson (lesson: accepting change); “Your Erroneous Zones” by Wayne W. Dyer (lesson: conquering negativity and taking control); “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle (lesson: living consciously).
Ferguson is certainly not the first “Business Class” subject to tout the significance of reading as it relates to mental acuity, nor is he the first to promote the correlation between physical and mental fitness.
Moriarty observed: “Having covered these types of cases a long time, I discovered that those who turn out to be innocent never really ‘connect’ to life in prison. They survive by maintaining their own space and own world. That was Ryan.”
Ferguson’s ordeal has been covered by numerous national media including “48 Hours,” “Dateline,” “Anderson Cooper 360,” “Katie” and “Good Morning America” to name a few.
His first book, “Stronger, Faster, Smarter” (Penguin Books), hits bookstores in early 2015 and highlights his self-awareness, healthy living and fitness evolution. “It’s about strength, survival and fearlessly creating your own path in life regardless of your circumstances.”
It would be difficult to experience “circumstances” more dire than those of Ryan Ferguson.
The book title was inspired from advice a 19-year-old jailed Ferguson received from his father, Bill. Words that focused on self-preservation and served as the backbone of Ferguson’s journey of personal (and subsequent professional) growth.
An untitled documentary, produced by filmmaker Andrew Jenks, is also set for release in 2015.
An author, speaker and advocate for the wrongfully convicted, Ferguson is equally passionate about the importance of establishing greater accountability in the judicial system.
Ferguson explains: “I lost 10 years of my life—years that will mean nothing unless I use it to bring about change. If not, it will always haunt me.”
As for Moriarty: “I hope Ryan doesn’t allow himself to always be defined as ‘wrongfully convicted.’ I want him to use everything he has learned: courage and humility, the ability to overcome adversity, and the leadership skills he gained from dealing with different types of people. I just want him to become the best person he can be.”
For many of us, understanding our innate freedom will often become an exercise in bravery. But as Ferguson says, “Without growth, nothing else matters.”
Marketer, publicist, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.
Photos: TOP — Ryan Ferguson; Photo 2 — Ryan Ferguson (giophoto.com); BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.