The sergeant says, ďPack up.Ē

Glen Edward Chapman has no idea whatís going on. Itís a sunny afternoon in April, and he has just come in from playing basketball with some of the other inmates at the maximum-security state penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. Heís still drying off from his five-minute shower—if you let the water run too long, they extract 10 bucks from your prison account—and heís confused. He knows that a judge has ordered a new trial, but nobodyís said anything about when it will be. Pack up?

ďIíve been packed up for a long time,Ē Chapman says to the sergeant. As one of his small gestures of mental independence, heís never gotten around to arranging his personal items in a neat space under the bed—that would suggest he plans on sticking around. Instead, heís kept everything in a bag for close to 14 years while heís gradually morphed from a wiry and wide-eyed 26-year-old into a stocky, bespectacled 40-year-old. A guard leads him out of Unit III. Chapman expects the two of them to turn right, toward Safekeeping, where prisoners are housed when theyíre awaiting trial, but they turn left, toward Shipping. The guard is as nonchalant as a shopkeeper telling a late-night customer that itís closing time. ďSee you later,Ē he says. ďYouíre going home.Ē

Chapman figures the dude is joking. When a guyís been sitting on death row for 14 years, when he has missed his motherís funeral and his grandmotherís funeral and watching his two sons grow up, letting him go free canít possibly be as perfunctory as dropping off a package at the post office, can it? Chapman stepped out of that shower 10 minutes ago, and now heís trading in his red jumpsuit for a white shirt and black trousers, and now, stunned and silent, heís being placed in a government car and driven by guards to the back exit. And thatís it. One moment Ed Chapman is inside, marked for death by lethal injection. The next, heís out.

Just beyond the gate, one of his lawyers, Jessica Leaven, is waiting for him. Chapman slides into the passenger seat of her green Volkswagen and stares at the scenery as they roll through the streets of Raleigh. She tells him thereís not even going to be a new trial. After the judgeís order in November, the Catawba County district attorneyís office reviewed the files on Chapmanís 1994 murder convictions, decided there wasnít enough evidence to proceed, and threw out the case. He first experiences freedom as a physical sensation: A massive weight seems to shear away from him. He lightens. He can breathe better.

Only temporarily, though, because about 45 minutes later thereís a press conference. The TV cameras and microphones make Chapman so nervous that he removes his eyeglasses. Without them, he canít make out the faces of the reporters, which comes as a comfort. They ask what itís like to walk out of a time capsule and discover cell phones, the Internet, and energy drinks. They want to know how he feels. But how he feels is a complicated matter. Moments after the press conference he borrows a phone and calls his sons, Stacey and Correy, who are 17 and 20. He has tried to stay in touch with them through letters—sometimes heíd get the boysí schoolwork, look it over in his cell, and send it back to them with notes—but he has barely seen their faces since 1994. For a couple of days he canít reach them on the phone. When he finally does, he has a message for each: ďIím sorry that I wasnít able to be there all the time. Anything you want to ask me, go ahead and ask. Donít be afraid. From my experience I hope you will learn what road to take and what not to take.Ē Heís come out of prison with no clothes, no car, no place of his own, and a sum of money—about $160—that would barely buy dinner and a tank of gas. ďI know there are gonna be obstacles in my way,Ē he says a few weeks after getting out. ďI decided a long time ago that Iím gonna make it, hell or high water. If I canít get an apartment, if I got to sleep up under a bridge, Iím gonna get me a box and put some tin on it and Iím gonna have me a good olí nighttime. Beiní on death row was stressful enough.Ē