Anthony Wright walked out of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility late Tuesday afternoon a middle-aged man, holding hands with relatives who were babies when he went away to prison 25 years ago.
"I was taken from a 4-year-old boy," he said in the prison parking lot, standing among friends and family, and next to his son, Anthony Jr. "who's a 28-year-old man today."
Wearing thick glasses and white T-shirt underneath a dark suit, the now-44-year-old Wright stood a free man, able to say whatever he wanted. He chose to talk about the more than 15 people surrounding him.
"Every day I survived on the backs of everyone you see here," he said. "I'm numb. This is the best day of my life."
Wright did not talk about being sent away for a crime a jury decided he did not commit, or about the failures of the criminal justice system, or about the 1991 rape and murder of 77-year-old Louise Talley inside her Nicetown home.
He talked instead about restarting relationships, spending time with family, living the life free people take for granted.
"I want to do whatever my granddaughter wants to do. I want to do whatever my grandson wants to do," he said. "I just want to be Grandpop. I just want to be Dad.
"I just want to be a brother to my brother. I want to be a brother, to my sisters. ... I want to be a son to my mother and father."
A big smile crossed his face.
"And I want cheesecake," he said. "I don't care if it's strawberry or regular. I just want a slice."
His first stop as a free man: Nomad Pizza, 611 S. Seventh St. in Queen Village, for a meal that would not be served on a metal plate by fellow inmates.
He didn't touch much, though.
A half-eaten plate of salad sat on the table while he carried his granddaughter around the restaurant. He moved his chair around the long rectangular table packed family-style with more than 20 family and friends, and his lawyers.
He was telling one of them about what was going through his mind when he heard that the jury had reached a verdict, when suddenly he was interrupted by a friend who put a cellphone up to his ear.
Wright took the call. It was another friend on the line. A big smile crossed Wright's face.
"Yes it is," Wright told his friend. "Free at last."