From Prison to Prosperity, Against All Odds

Waking Up to a New World

Robbed of nearly two decades of life, McKinney smiled as he threw his prison clothes to the floor and walked toward freedom. It was a life that, at times, had played more like a movie, and now it finally had its Hollywood ending.

"Everybody was just so happy ... so thrilled," he said. "The whole yard just cheered me on. And stood up and just clapped."

January 2000 was the dawn of a new millennium, and a new beginning for McKinney, who said that prison changed him for the better.

"I can't say that I enjoyed doing the time, but because of the time, it made me who I am," he said. "So I don't hold any bitterness."

McKinney believes he succeeded in serving his time in his own way. In the face of consistent hostility and repeated stabbings, he said he responded with acts of kindness and respect. In the end, he believes he made a difference. Now a whole new world, one that he knew little about, lay ahead.

"I used to refer to myself as Rip Van Winkle," he said. "I had been asleep for 20 years."

News of McKinney's wrongful imprisonment made headlines in Southern California, and many people rallied to support him. An investigator who'd worked hard to free McKinney helped him get on his feet. The investigator and his wife took McKinney to buy clothes, get a driver's license, and help him land a job at the University of California in nearby Irvine.

A $1 Million Settlement

Just two years after he landed his first real job, McKinney's life was about to take yet another dramatic turn. He sued the police and others responsible for his wrongful conviction, and walked away with $1 million. At first, he didn't spend any of it.

His restraint shocked his attorney, Jeff Rawitz, a partner with the law firm Jones Day.

"We thought DeWayne was naive and that he was coming out into a whole new world and that people were going to descend on him like vultures," Rawitz said.

McKinney remembers that "they refused to let me leave until I sat down with a lot of financial advisers." McKinney's lawyers were sure he'd blow the money.

Much to everyone's surprise, he neither took the expert financial advice nor spent the money unwisely. He was looking to invest it his way, on his time.

"I didn't really know what I was doing in terms of business, but I wasn't willing to gamble, because what I would be gambling with was 20 years of my life. I thought to put that in jeopardy was unthinkable," McKinney said.

"We really didn't appreciate how savvy and wise he turned out to be," said Rawitz.

When a friend mentioned that the growing ATM business was a low-risk investment that required little capital but had the potential for big returns, the idea stuck with McKinney. Vending machines that spit out cash would become his dream investment.

The Secret to His Success

Forgiveness, integrity, kindness and respect. The lessons McKinney cultivated in prison were now the lessons he'd use in business and in life. He began by forgiving Rackauckas, the Orange County district attorney who had put him away.

"I understood that he was just doing his job," McKinney said. "He was doing the job he was given."

McKinney even campaigned for his re-election as district attorney.

"We had an evening where we went out and knocked on a few doors together," Rackauckas said. "You know a California prison is not an easy place to be, and to become the person he is now is surprising to me."

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