Ryan Matthews ’19

TWU graduate Ryan Matthews smiles as he stands outside the Denton campus holding his graduation cap and gown.

Seven years of Ryan Matthews’ life was lost to unjust imprisonment after a conviction of first-degree murder in Louisiana. For five of those years, Matthews sat on Louisiana’s death row until 2004, when exoneration gave him a new beginning on his life. Shortly after, another storm battled his future when Matthews and his family were forced to leave their Louisiana home due to Hurricane Katrina. Still facing challenges of his traumatic ordeal even today, Matthews’ grit and determination led to his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and sciences focusing in business, graduating in 2019 from Texas Woman’s University. His passion for education has kept Matthews focused as he pursues his MBA with a concentration in Accounting from TWU. Matthews believes the educational experience provides him with a different perspective on life highlighting the importance of education.

What event has shaped and/or influenced your current professional life? Being wrongfully convicted shaped and influenced my professional life. I have faced several barriers to a successful reintegration process. The Louisiana statute governing wrongful convictions allows exonerees to attend any public university in Louisiana. However, I was unable to take advantage of the “award” due to my family and I being forced to relocate due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which was less than a year following my exoneration. Therefore, I have had to assume school loans and depend on family for financial support.

Why did you come to TWU? I decided to apply to TWU because my sister, Monique Giselle Lee-Coleman BS ‘14, indicated the environment was nurturing. The university embraced me after attending North Central Texas College with a smooth transition. TWU also offered services to facilitate my development and growth as a student. In my last semester, I became ineligible for financial aid and it was going to put another burden on my family. Instead, the Office of Financial Aid was able to assist me, and I never had the opportunity to publicly thank them.

What do you enjoy about your current position/profession? I am a corrugator operator at Georgia Pacific, monitoring and adjusting machinery. Georgia Pacific has facilitated the pursuit of my degree by allowing a flexible schedule, however, I am currently seeking employment within my field of study in business. Unfortunately, there is still an arrest for first-degree murder on my record. Therefore, employers may be apprehensive about hiring me.  I was exonerated from death row in 2004, yet I continue to face unique challenges towards achieving self-sufficiency.

What is your favorite TWU memory? My favorite memory was the university acknowledging my triumph after being wrongfully imprisoned for seven years. Apparently, my sister penned a letter to TWU Chancellor Carine M. Feyten regarding my experience. I was overwhelmed with joy as my mother, sister, father, stepmother, brother, wife and children were able to witness my accomplishment.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? I spend time with family, working out, riding my motorcycle and refurbishing classic vehicles.

What advice do you have for college students hoping to succeed professionally? Don’t give up. Stay determined and focus on your end goal.

Read more about Ryan's journey

Page last updated 11:22 AM, April 21, 2023