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After serving 30 years of a 160 year sentence, Derek Twyman is ‘clicking along’ in Toronto

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Looking around the tidy bachelor apartment in the Junction Triangle in east Toronto, you’d never know it’s the first time Derek Twyman has lived on his own. 

He’s hung up dozens of picture frames on his living room walls.

As he sips a glass of ginger ale, Twyman adjusts the autographed head shots of celebrities, like Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. 

He wrote to them, and dozens more, to anyone who would listen, who he thought could help him get out of prison. They’re also a reminder, he says, of how all those years behind bars in North Carolina have shaped him, though it’s clear they don’t define him. 

“Everything seems to be clicking along pretty good,” he said, with a gentle southern drawl. “This is actually a walk in the park.” 

160 year sentence

Life was anything but when Twyman was younger. At 15, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In his late teens, Twyman fell in with the wrong crowd, trying to fit in after moving from Oakville, Ontario, where he was brought up. 

He and another young man would go on to burglarize homes in an affluent area. They targeted precious metals that could be melted down and sold anonymously to local pawn shops. Police instructed the stores to buy it all, and take down licence plate of whoever sold it. The vehicle registered back to Twyman’s family. His partner in crime implicated Twyman as the mastermind behind all the crimes. 

At age 26, he was sentenced to 160 years—​four consecutive life sentences—​for that spate of non-violent robberies. 

From the time Twyman started his life behind bars, he was tireless in his efforts to raise awareness about his case. 
He wrote thousands of letters, to family and strangers alike. When one of those letters reached a young law student by the name of Shane Martinez, it started a decade-long intervention that featured legal help from Toronto, to Halifax, to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Their efforts finally paid off last year. Twyman flew back to Toronto in November 2017 nearly 30 years after he was first locked up. 

Life after prison 

In the year since, Twyman has been doggedly working to get back on his feet, starting with an apartment and a job. During that time, he lived with the friend of one of the lawyers who helped get him released.

“I was looking everywhere,” he said. 

For six months, he found no success. House hunting proved to be difficult. They were either all too expensive.  In one instance, he found a place by Lake Ontario and had the rental application filled out, but the landlord told him he wouldn’t be comfortable with Twyman living there. “It was ironic because, underneath the unit was a cannabis store,” he said. 

‘I never give up.”– Derek Twyman

Having a 30-year gap in his work experience didn’t lead to success on the job front, either, as he sent out dozens of applications, often never hearing back.

“You have to do it,” he said. “So, I never give up. I’ve been in worse situations before and haven’t given up.” 

Eventually, in March, he found a job in retail, but is reluctant to share any more publicly for fear his past will hinder the present once again. 

He also found the modest apartment that he’s made his own. The only personal photograph displayed is a framed photo of him and a blonde woman he proudly calls his girlfriend who he met at work. He hasn’t yet been able to reunite with his brother, whose bad health doesn’t allow him to travel to Canada just yet. His father recently moved to British Columbia from the States and hasn’t had a chance to visit. Mom died while Twyman was still in prison.

Losing track of time

At age 55, Twyman views his adjustment to life as a free man in mostly practical terms. At first, he got lost on public transit, but quickly learned most buses eventually landed him at a subway stop. He also had to learn how to upload an attachment in emails, and use smartphones.

His biggest challenge has been the cost of living. 

“I could buy a huge house in North Carolina for the rent I pay here,” he said. “You got rent, you have to buy food.” 

When talking about the change from a rigid prison schedule to managing it all on his own, it’s the only time he gets reflective. 

“[In prison] everything is the same, over and over. One day you wake up and 10 years has passed and nothing’s changed,” he said. “Here, it’s the same situation, except you’re in a different situation. You end up losing track of time.” 

Derek Twyman thought he might die in a U.S. prison. Then a N.B. law student took an interest in his bizarre case. 8:46

Still, Twyman keep pushing on. For him, it means saving enough money to pay for a paralegal program at a career college in Toronto.

“It’s an accomplishment, helping someone,” he said. “In the end if you’re making a difference, you’re doing pretty good.” 

The college has already saved him a spot in the new year, but Twyman doesn’t know if he’ll be able to save up enough money to pay for it just yet. He’s not worried, though. 

“I always try to look at the good side of things,” he said. 

“If you look at things that way, life’s just a whole lot smoother. I guess you could say I’m the happiest man in Toronto.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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