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the life i refused to surrender

The Life I Refused to Surrender

After I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison, when the earth dropped out from beneath me and global shame rained down on top of me, I had my first ever epiphany.

In November 2007, in Perugia, Italy, an American exchange student named Amanda Knox was accused of having taken part in the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox was accused even though there was zero evidence tying her to the murder, and a great deal of DNA evidence implicating a local burglar for raping and stabbing Kercher to death.

After spending two years in prison, Knox was found guilty in December 2009. She was 22 at the time, and she was sentenced to 26 years behind bars. In 2010, Knox’s lawyers appealed her verdict, and on October 3, 2011, the conviction was overturned. She flew home the next day.

Knox subsequently completed her college degree at the University of Washington and wrote a best-selling book, Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir. She now lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter, and cohosts the podcast “Labyrinths.”

The essay below is based on a recent Twitter thread that moved us deeply. When we asked Amanda what inspired her to write it now, she said this: “The instability of our present moment is real. And we are right to stare that uncertainty in the face. But that doesn’t mean we have to be fatalist. When I hear the doomsaying about our democracy, about civilization, about the planet something feels off to me: a sense of responsibility.”

After I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison, when the earth dropped out from beneath me and global shame rained down on top of me, I had my first ever epiphany.

I didn’t know what an epiphany should feel like, but it was. . . cold. Like a clear breeze blowing in and brushing the back of your neck, making your hair stand up. I knew something deep down that I hadn’t known before, and I spent the next several months peering into that epiphany, trying to consider all of its implications, like watching the ripples spreading out from a drop in a pool of water.

My life had derailed the moment my roommate, Meredith Kercher, was brutally raped and murdered. Five days later, my boyfriend, Raffaele, and I were arrested and charged with her murder. This was based on a police hunch, and on a coerced confession that the police gaslit me into signing—after 53 hours of interrogation over five days, in a foreign language and without a lawyer, after being sleep-deprived and hit and told I had amnesia, they broke me and I signed what they told me to sign.

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But just over a week later the forensic evidence came back, and it implicated a single perpetrator. A local burglar named Rudy Guede had left his DNA all over the crime scene and on Meredith’s body; he left his fingerprints and footprints in her blood. There was not a single trace of me found in that room, and it would not have been possible for me to participate in that violent and bloody struggle without leaving any DNA. So despite all the lies being told about me in the press, despite the prosecution’s insane theory woven out of whole cloth—a sex game gone awry—I believed, as did my lawyers, as did my family, that the adults in the room would eventually clear this whole mess up.

It took two years for this absurd trial to reach verdict day. I truly believed on December 4, 2009, as the judge and jury filed in, that I was just a lost tourist waiting to go home, that my life, which had been derailed, was finally about to get back on track.

And then they convicted me.

The next day, back in the prison—the word colpevole, guilty, echoing in my head—I silently swept a corridor during my work shift. I overheard one guard say to another: Poor thing. She doesn’t understand what just happened. They thought, since I wasn’t hysterically sobbing, that I hadn’t absorbed the fact that I was going to spend the next 26 years trapped in this place.

I was quiet precisely because I was sitting with my epiphany. And it was this: I was not, as I had assumed for the past two years, waiting to get my life back. I was not a lost tourist waiting to go home. I was a prisoner, and prison was my home.

I’d thought I was in limbo, awkwardly positioned between my life (the life that I should have been living), and someone else’s life (the life of a murderer); I wasn’t. I never had been. The conviction, the sentence, the prison—this was my life. There was no other life I should have been living. There was only my life, this life, unfolding before me.

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The epiphany itself didn’t feel good or bad. It just was. If there was a feeling, it was the feeling of clarity: my life was sad. I was in prison for a crime I hadn’t committed. I would be locked away for the best years of my life. I would never fall in love, have children, pursue a career. My world would be so small, trapped within concrete walls and surrounded by traumatized people, many of whom were a danger to themselves and others. This life would inevitably take me further and further down a path that would alienate me from everyone I loved, who, despite their best efforts to be there for me, were on their own paths moving in different directions.

But—and this was the critical thing, the thing I hadn’t been able to see until that moment—no matter how small, cruel, sad, and unfair this life was, it was my life. Mine to make meaning out of, mine to live to the best of my ability. There was no more waiting. There was only now.

I was alone with my epiphany. I tried to explain it to my mom, but she couldn’t hear me. She thought I was depressed and giving up. She could not, and would not, accept that this was my life. She was going to save me, and she just needed me to survive until she did. I told her I would, and it wasn’t a lie. I would survive. I knew that, deep in my bones. But I knew that precisely because I had finally accepted that I was living my life, whether I was eventually found innocent and freed or not.

I allowed myself to begin to imagine alternate realities. What if I had been home that night, not Meredith, and Rudy Guede had killed me instead? What if I were acquitted and freed in five years? In ten? What if I served my entire sentence and came home in my late forties, barren and bereft?

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What if I killed myself?

I imagined all the ways I could do it. One fellow inmate had tried to break a plastic pen into shards and swallow them. There was always drinking bleach. I thought about how to acquire it, and how much I would need to drink. I pictured myself fading away in the shower, wrists slit, the water slowly carrying my life down the drain.

I imagined all of those futures in vivid detail so that they no longer felt like shadows creeping over me from the realm of unconscious nightmares. And that allowed me to see my actual life for what it was, and to ask myself: How do I make that life worth living?

That was a big question, one I couldn’t answer in its grandest sense. But there was a smaller version of that question: how can I make my life worth living today? I could answer that. That was entirely in my power. So I did that. Doing sit-ups, walking laps, writing a letter, reading a book—these things were enough to make a day worth living. I didn’t know if they were enough to make a life worth living, but I remained open to the possibility.

And while my new emotional default setting remained firmly stuck on sad—I woke up sad, spent the entire day sad, and went to sleep sad—it wasn’t a desperate, grasping sadness. It was a sadness brimming with energy beneath the surface, because I was alive with myself and my sanity, and the freeing feeling of seeing reality clearly, however sad that reality was. I was slowly and deliberately walking a tightrope across a bottomless foggy abyss, with no clue where I was going and nothing to hold onto but my strong, instinctual, inner sense of balance.

In many ways, though I’m now free, legally vindicated, a woman with a career in the arts (as I’d always dreamed), an advocate for justice (which I never dreamed), a wife with a loving husband, a mother with a joyous child, I’m still walking that tightrope. The abyss never leaves. It’s always there. And anyone who’s stared into it, as I have, knows the strange comfort of carrying it with you.