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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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Ottawa unveils funding for poultry and egg farmers hurt by free-trade deals

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Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share due to two recent free-trade agreements will soon have access to $691 million in federal cash, Canada’s agriculture minister announced Saturday.

Marie-Claude Bibeau shared details of the long-awaited funds in a virtual news conference.

“Today we position our young farmers for growth and success tomorrow,” she said.

The money follows a previously announced $1.75 billion for the dairy sector linked to free-trade deals with Europe and countries on the Pacific Rim, one that came into effect in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The dairy sector funds were to flow over eight years, and the first $345 million payment was sent out last year.

But on Saturday, Bibeau announced a schedule for the remaining payments that will see the money flow over three years — beginning with $468 million in 2020-21, $469 million in 2021-22 and $468 million in 2022-23.

Bibeau said the most recently announced funds for dairy farmers amount to an average farm of 80 cows receiving a direct payment of $38,000 in the first year.

Payments based on formulas

David Wiens, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said the money will help farms make investments for the future.

“I think particularly for the younger farmers who have really struggled since these agreements have been ratified, they can actually now see opportunities, how they can continue to make those investments on the farm so that they can continue on,” he said.

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Employee of Ottawa Metro store tests positive for COVID-19

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Metro says an employee of its grocery store on Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa has tested positive for COVID-19.

The company says the employee’s positive test result was reported on Nov. 25. The employee had last been at work at the Metro at 50 Beechwood Ave. on Nov. 19.

Earlier this month, Metro reported several cases of COVID-19 at its warehouse on Old Innes Road.

Positive test results were reported on Nov. 2, Nov. 6, Nov. 11, and Nov. 19. The first two employees worked at the produce warehouse at 1184 Old Innes Rd. The other two worked at the distribution centre at the same address.

Metro lists cases of COVID-19 in employees of its stores and warehouses on its website

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Tinseltown: Where 50-year-old ‘tough guys’ become youngsters again

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Audy Czigler wears glitter like a Pennsylvania miner wears coal dust. It’s on his face and hands, in his hair and on his clothing. It’s an occupational hazard that he says he just can’t get rid of.

And when he’s sifting through job applications from people wanting to work at his Tinseltown Christmas Emporium on Somerset Street W. in Hintonburg, the glitter is a consideration. For he’s not looking for people who can simply endure it; no, he’s screening for people who revel and carouse in glitter, for those for whom the 10,000th playing of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is as refreshing as the first, for those who believe that the 12 days of Christmas last 365 days a year. The believers.

Sure, he has heard the voices of skeptical passersby on the sidewalk outside his shop, especially in the summer months when visions of sugarplums have receded from many people’s minds.

“I hear them out there a few times a day,” he says, “wondering how a Christmas store can possibly survive year-round.

“I want to go out and tell them,” he adds, but his voice trails off as a customer approaches and asks about an ornament she saw there recently, of a red cardinal in a white heart. Where is it?

There’s scant room for sidewalk skeptics now, crowded out by the dozens of shoppers who, since October, have regularly lined up outside the store, patiently biding their time (and flocks) as pandemic-induced regulations limit the shop to 18 customers at a time.

Once inside, visitors will be forgiven for not first noticing the glitter, or even the rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside playing on the speakers. For there’s no specific “first thing” you notice. The first thing you notice is EVERYTHING — a floor-to-ceiling cornucopia of festivity, reminiscent perhaps of how the blind man in the Gospel of John may have felt when Jesus rubbed spit and mud in his eyes and gave him sight for the first time.

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/tinseltown-where-50-year-old-tough-guys-become-youngsters-again

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