Jeff Mizanskey always insisted he was not selling the six pounds of marijuana that he and a friend were caught with. Either way, he never thought he would be sent to jail for the rest of his life.
But that was 1993 and the crime for which Mr Mizanskey was found guilty was his third drug-related offence. He was sentenced to life without parole, as part of the since-dropped “three strikes rule”.
On Tuesday, a tearful Mr Mizanskey walked free from jail, having served 22 years and following a long struggle to have him released by his family and the intervention of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
“Everybody in there has been asking me and asking me,” he said, according to the KCTV5 news channel. “Even my family asked if I’m nervous. I told them I’ve been trying to keep my feet on the ground.”
His first stop after walking out of the Jefferson City correctional centre was the Towne Grill, where he celebrated with his relatives and supporters.
Mr Mizanskey was released on parole after Mr Nixon commuted his sentence to life with the option of parole. After Mr Nixon's announcement, he then went in front of the parole board.
The board which granted his release after four days, a process that normally takes six to eight weeks.
The move to seek Mr Mizanskey’s release gathered pace after the state dropped the three-strikes rule in 2014. Then a petition organised by his family gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from across the US.
“My father is 61 years old, and has been in prison since he was 41. His parents - my grandparents - have since passed,” wrote Mr Mizanskey’s son, Chris.
“While my dad has been trapped behind bars, generations of kids and grandkids have been born into our family who have never even met the man. The State of Missouri spends roughly $22,000 a year to keep him locked up.
“Meanwhile all my dad wants to do is be a productive part of society, work and pay taxes, be with his family. And I want my dad back.”
In an update on Tuesday, he wrote: “Today my dad walked out of prison a free man for the first time in more than 20 years!
“I cant begin to describe how great this day is for our family. All I can say to you is thank you. Thank you for signing my petition, for making phone calls and sending tweets, and for making donations. You made this happen.”