MIAMI VALLEY (WKEF/WRGT) - The feeling of freedom is taken for granted, until it's taken away.
In a moment decades in the making, Tyra Patterson stepped out of the car, and into her family's arms. Overwhelmed with emotion, she hugged her sister, her nieces and nephews. Making her way to her mother, Tyra silently held her mother's face in her hands. Jeannie Patterson thanked God for finally answering her prayers.
"I've got all three of my children together," Jeannie said in tears.
On Christmas morning, Tyra was released from a facility in Cleveland, after spending nearly 23 years in prison, on a life sentence. In pictures from the release, Tyra hugs friends and family, then stands with her attorney David Singleton.
"It felt real when I kissed the ground," Tyra told Fox45's Shavon Anderson. "When I kissed my freedom and thanked God, that's when I knew I was free."
At age 19, she was convicted in the 1994 robbery and murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai, in Dayton. From the start, Tyra maintained her innocence. It wasn't until last year, Michelle's sister, Holly Lai Holbrook, came forward to say Tyra wasn't involved.
"If ya'll don't hear nothing else, I'm begging ya'll, she don't need to be in there," Holbrook tells cameras in a previous interview.
Support for Tyra's release came from everywhere, with celebrities, politicians and even former jurors on the case, speaking out.
"Every time someone signed a petition, sent up a prayer... they literally gave me that extra breath to keep moving forward," said Tyra.
In October 2017, Tyra got the news, she'd been granted parole.
"Holly Lai is the hero, and I'm thankful that she was brave to come forward, and even advocate for me," said an emotional Tyra.
"I want her in our family," Jeannie Patterson said of Lai. "She is welcomed in our family."
Tyra's family is also thanking Singleton, who's with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. Singleton's led the charge over the past few years, fighting for Tyra's dream to be home.
"To sit here with my best friend and my mother, is the best part of my Christmas," she said.
For Tyra, time is both a blessing and a curse. So much has already been spent behind bars.
"My Christmases were never fulfilled," said Jeannie. "My birthdays were never fulfilled. I had Tyra, but I couldn't put her in my pocket and take her home."
Now, there's much more to gain, on the other side of a cell.
"I always had hope, and I always knew this day would come forth," said Tyra.
She plans to move into her own apartment in Cincinnati, along with starting her new job at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. It's the same agency that's helped to fight her case. Tyra wants to help others in prison, with similar situations.
While Patterson is out on parole, she hasn't been legally exonerated, though she petitioned the state for clemency.