Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons share their love story

HAfter eighteen years of a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, Jonathan Irons made a rope. He tore threads from a worn-out sheet, tied them up, and tested so that they would support his weight. For nearly two decades, Irons has lived with the physical and mental assaults of life in a maximum security facility. He fought an injustice with very little to show for it and fell in love with a woman – a WNBA superstar Maya Moore— who he can only hug for two seconds during her occasional visits to see him. But this last indignity, another trip to the “hole”, to solitary confinement, was too much. His cellmate was found with heroin. The irons deny supplying them.

“She never got used to the hole,” Irons writes. Love and justiceAnd A new memoir he co-wrote with Moore, who was instrumental in his conviction on burglary and assault charges after serving nearly 23 years in prison. “The air smelled of body, urine, and feces.” Defeated Irons contemplated suicide. “I couldn’t take the pain anymore,” he writes. “They broke me. Now maybe they would bury me too.”

Iron fell into a deep sleep. Sleep might have saved his life. He got up vowing to keep fighting, and things quickly turned his way. Released from the hole, he continues to exchange letters and other correspondence with Moore, whom he first met in 2007 at Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri, through her godparents, who have taken an interest in his case. Iron was 16 when it was Arrested in 1996 for a non-fatal shooting incident. Although there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Irons was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

When Moore met him, she was about to start her college basketball career at the University of Connecticut. The duo clicked, and after a series of letters—many reprinted in the book—and conversations, they began to develop an intimate bond. Moore funded a team of lawyers who eventually helped get Irons released. She stepped away from basketball in 2019, largely to focus on and bring attention to his cause. The couple married nine days after it was released in July 2020; their first child, Jonathan Hughston Irons Jrborn in February last year.

On Monday, Moore, 33, officially announced her retirement from the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, the team with whom she won four titles. “We knew this story was too deep to keep to ourselves, which could easily have been rationalized, in the sense that Jonathan had been through enough,” Moore told Time magazine during a joint interview with Irons from a New York City hotel room. “He could just crawl in a hole and not talk to anyone, and everyone would understand. But he didn’t. I’m going back to these tough places, he said, because people need to know the truth to prevent things like this from happening again.”

For Irons, now 42, chronicling injustice has proven excruciating at times. “It was very difficult,” Irons tells TIME. “When we first started, I had to take a break and stop a session with my counselors. In fact, I have a hole in my life that was blown wide open. I’m not going to get that material back. It’s been twenty-three and a half years. There were times when I was writing and editing, I had to I connect with Maya and feel her. Or look around the room, and constantly remind myself, It’s over. I’m not in. I’m free.”

Read more: Maya Moore’s fight for justice out of court

for the first six years From their relationship, Moore and Irons developed a sister-like friendship. But as Moore recounts in the book, during a 2013 phone conversation, “I had a joke that made my heart jump in my chest. Resist. This is not something a brother would say to his sister.”

In 2017, Moore spoke about Irons’ case publicly, in an interview Players’ platform. But she did not mention the romance that is blooming between them. The omission was intentional. Moore wanted the media and fans to focus on the merits of the case, such as a fingerprint report that was never shared with Irons’ defense team in the original trial, suggesting that additional people were present at the crime scene – and that Irons was not one of them. She didn’t want anyone to question her intentions.

“There’s a lot going on in today’s attention economy, and I love it, and I’m not wasting any time stealing the thought Jonathan deserves in his fight for freedom,” Moore says. “I had to be very thoughtful and deliberate about what I say publicly. I think introducing Jonathan to the world through the platform and the voice I have, presenting him first as someone who has himself apart from being my lover, has been helpful so that people can establish Jonathan for who he is. And in Later, it’s like, “Oh, it’s getting better. There is more love to celebrate. “

Once the irons were released, she saw that he had the basic necessities, such as shoes and a toothbrush. “I needed to make sure I was well-rested and in a good rhythm so I could be my best for him, and be open to whatever it was like to start healing,” says Moore. “This is me—basketball player preparation. What can I do to make sure I’m ready, and my team is ready, to be the best team for the next challenge? But we didn’t have a scouting report for that challenge.”

Basketball has become secondary for Moore. For example, after winning two national championships, college MVP awards, four titles plus WNBA Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, not to mention a pair of Olympic gold medals, a pair of Euroleague titles, and three championships while playing in China, he didn’t have a Moore anything to accomplish. “I had a ridiculous career,” says Moore.

Plus, even before she veered off hoops to work on her future husband’s case, basketball left Moore a little frazzled. Like many top female players, she had to play overseas in the WNBA off-season to maximize her earnings. The nearly year-round grind took its toll on her body and mind. Moore wrote about having to hose down in a hotel room in China; The water wasn’t even warm.

The last prison of Brittney Griner, Moore’s former teammate at the Russian Club UMMC Yekaterinburg, highlighting the inequalities that compel WNBA players to play in countries with hostile relations with the United States “As long as people who are invested in the industry are trying to push things toward being healthier, fairer and more sustainable, you will see change,” says Moore. “The market is the market, but there is Things we can do to influence this market. And I think being seen and hearing people’s voices and being seen is a big part of making sure the market is as fair as it can be.”

Read more: Brittney Grenier’s fight for freedom

As Moore talks, he rarely irons He looks away from his wife. Jonathan Jr. is about to turn into one. He just started walking this week. “If his mouth is a basket, he’s a basketball player and a half,” Irons says, through Moore’s laughter. “Because he puts everything in his mouth. Right in the hole.”

Since his release, Irons has created a W.F Dog training business, and visited both Disney World and Disneyland. He supported Moore’s work with Earn fair, the nonprofit she founded in 2017 that focuses on judicial process reform. However, the re-acclimation brought difficult moments. “One of the hardest things is that I grew up with men and lived with them into my forties and almost accepted that I would never go home,” Irons says. These men were my friends and brothers. They have committed crimes. But I knew them differently. They were really good guys. And so I get out, it’s like I’m locked in again, having broken up with friends that have been tried and tested for decades.”

While Irons has made new friends over the past two and a half years, the healing process is ongoing. “Man, I will say this,” Hadid says, his eyes tearing up. “Sometimes I’ll have a good time, and then think about all that I’ve lost. Not being able to spend time with my grandmother, old relationships. My friends from growing up, they all have kids graduating high school. I missed it all, man. It’s taken so much out of me.” I can’t definitively say I’m cured. But I’m not where I was when I first came home. I’m free. I can say that. But I still hurt, man. My heart hurts.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or is considering suicide, call or text 988. In an emergency, call 911 or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.

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write to Sean Gregory V

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