Travis Orange’s life took a dramatic turn on Feb. 18, 2003, when he agreed to drive friends to Hemingway and ended up in prison for 14 years.
One woman was stabbed to death. Four others were sentenced to prison, where two of them remain.
Orange was driving three others when they stopped at Perry’s Grocery on S.C. 51 in Hemingway around 1 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2003. Orange said he stayed in the car and the next thing he knew the others came running out, jumping in the car and telling him to drive.
Orange was 17 years old when he got locked up. In the years that followed, he survived a brutal beating, riots, prison fights, the death of his grandmother he never saw again and the glares from others who wanted him dead — all because in 2003 he made a bad decision. It’s haunted him ever since.
Make good decisions, Orange warned students in Conway’s Respect Integrity Service Excellence program for vulnerable youth last month.
Orange was released Sept. 1 and is on a mission to make sure his new freedom isn’t wasted.
“Freedom is priceless. Do not lose your freedom … making an irrational decision,” he told the kids at Conway High School. He lost his “all because … I wanted to drive a car for some guys who I thought was friends, homeboys. You have no friends. The streets have no love.”
Tashon Sampson, then 20, and Joseph Wilson, then 24, are serving a life sentence and 30 years, respectively, for the murder of 76-year-old Lila D. Perry, who was alone in the store when she was stabbed multiple times in the neck and back, according to reports of the armed robbery.
Orange said he didn’t know at the time what had happened.
“I had just turned 17 and I didn’t really know what to do in a situation like that so I just took off like they told me to take off,” he said.
Orange and the others were arrested hours later.
Even though he says he didn’t have a weapon or rob anyone that day, Orange was found guilty by association. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
He has lived with the guilt of the decisions he made that day. But another decision turned him around.
Once in prison, Orange said he started running around with a wild crowd and joined a gang to keep others from messing with him.
A couple of years later, a fellow inmate serving a life sentence pulled him to the side and gave him some words of advice.
“He said, ‘You’re going to find yourself in a situation where you’ll have (one of) two things happen to you. … You’re going to end up having more time (in prison) than you already have or you’ll end up dead in the ground,’ ” Orange said.
The 62-year-old man, who had spent the last 38 years of his life in prison, told Orange he had a chance at freedom in his future.
A few days later, Orange saw another inmate pull a lawnmower blade out of his pants and slash another man in the stomach, spilling his guts to the ground, where the man fell dead.
Orange said he ran to get back to his cell, but the doors were locked. The yard was on lockdown.
Orange was trapped in the middle of a prison riot and because he had joined that gang, he said, he had to fight.
But the words of the “old school” lifer echoed in his ears as his days in prison turned to weeks that melted into months – that crept into years.
“Plenty of nights I laid there and thought about what my life could have been,” Orange said.
Then he realized something. “This is not the life for me. My life is better than this. I have greater things out in the world, that’s my freedom,” he said.
Orange got a job wiping rails. I was the “best rail wiper there was,” he said, flashing a bright smile adorned with gold-capped teeth.
Then he got a job in the prison cafeteria and moved up to the role of clerk, assisting the kitchen supervisor.
“I told myself when I get out, if I get the same determination that I have now to work and work hard … then I’ll be able to make it,” he said.
Orange spent two days after his release examining his life and the future he wanted – one he wasn’t sure he’d ever have sitting in prison for 14 years.
“I made me a to-do list of everything I needed to do,” Orange said. “I put God first and then I put get reacquainted with family and then after that I said, find me a job.”
Orange gave himself two weeks to find a job.
“A lot of people say ‘you can’t do this,’ ‘you can’t do that.’ ‘Oh, you a convicted felon, you won’t be able to do this.’ I’ve proved them wrong,” he said.
Orange had two jobs within the first two weeks of his release.
He is now hoping to use his experiences to save others from making the mistakes he made.
“Before someone else goes through what I went through I want to be able to talk to them and give them the full effect through my testimony so they don’t have to go through it physically,” he said.
He’s shared his testimony with students in local schools, with convicts in the solicitor’s intervention program and at churches.
“I will say this: minor setback, major comeback,” Conway police Officer Johnathan Guiles told the RISE program after Orange’s talk to the group. “He made some decisions in his life, life-altering decisions, but he’s coming back from it.”
If Orange could just save one or two, the journey will have been worth it, he says.
“I regret going to prison, but I don’t regret what I had to go through to get where I’m at now,” Orange said. “Prison was like a life experience for me and sometimes the best teachers in life are your own experiences and what you go through.”
Orange is hosting a community cookout with the Grayson Technical Training Institute on Sunday, May 7, at 3410 Church St. in Loris. He plans to one day open a youth center to give kids a positive option for activities.
WHEN: 2 p.m., Sunday, May 7
WHERE: Kingston Lake Center, 3410 Church St., Loris
WHAT: Cookout with motivational speakers, free food and drinks, free health screenings and entertainment
MORE INFORMATION: Contact Travis Orange at 843-877-4749 or firstname.lastname@example.org