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After nearly 3 decades in prison, a wrongfully convicted man meets his old pen pal for the first time

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Looking at her there, wrapped up in her crosswords, you’d never guess that 80-year-old retired schoolteacher Ginny Schrapen had a pen pal in a penitentiary—especially not one accused of murder.

Twenty-five years ago, a deacon at Shrappan’s church outside St. Louis handed him a letter from a prisoner who had written the diocese, hoping someone would write back. That inmate was Lamar Johnson, who was serving a life sentence in a Missouri prison.

Ginny Shrappen at home.

Steve Hartman / On The Road

“He was in jail for murder,” Schrapen said. “I’ve been accused of being naïve before, and that’s okay. I wasn’t worried. He’s not going to pick on me.”

The two developed a close friendship and corresponded continuously for the next 20 years. Shrappen says she could tell from the start that Johnson had not committed the murder.

Twenty-eight years later, the state of Missouri confirmed his intuition.

After he joined the Midwest Innocence Project and the real killer confessed, Johnson was acquitted And was released from prison at the age of 49.

Lamar Johnson, center, and his attorneys react Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, after St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason overturned his murder conviction during a hearing in St. Louis, Mo.

Christian Gooden /St. Louis Post-Dispatch Via AP, Poole

He spent the next few weeks doing all the things he couldn’t do in prison, including traveling to see one of his best friends for the first time.

Johnson first went to Shrepen’s home, where he received her warmly. He gave her a tour, a box of her favorite cereal, and one last letter.

Ginny Schrapen and Lamar Johnson meet for the first time.

Steve Hartman / On The Road

Johnson said the biggest gift, though, is the faith his friend instilled in him.

Johnson said, “Especially when someone is innocent, you want someone to believe in you. Because when you have people who believe in you and they don’t give up on you, you’re there for yourself.” It’s going to be hard to let go.” , adding that Shrappen’s faith helped get him through nearly 30 years of injustice.

Now, he said, it inspires him to live the friendship.

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Steve Hartman

Steve Hartman has been a correspondent for CBS News since 1998, serving as a part-time correspondent for the past two years.