Rene Lima-Marin, his wife Jasmine, and their sons.

(Courtesy Jasmine Lima-Marin)

For two decades, Rene Lima-Marin has been on a legal and personal journey that reads like a movie script. On the heels of what looks like his final release from custody, he sees the entire story as being led by God.

"I believe that I went to prison to begin with so that I can change, so that I can be someone different," Lima-Marin tells Colorado Matters.

"If I wouldn't have went to prison, I would've been the same dumb, immature person doing crimes and things of that nature."

Over these two decades, Lima-Marin's case became one of the most-watched legal sagas in the state. It started in 1998 when he and a friend robbed two video stores, were caught and convicted, and sentenced to 98 years in prison.

After just 10 years, Lima-Marin was let out by mistake. He married, got a job and bought a house. He adopted his wife's son and together they had another. He'd found his faith in prison and, on the outside, helped other young men who'd been in the criminal justice system become better people and follow God. Lima-Marin also came to grips with his past.

"I hate what I did. I hate who I was. But I was a child. I'm no longer a child. I'm a man of God. I'm somebody completely different," he says.

Six years after his release, the state realized its mistake, and sent him back to prison. He stayed there until last spring, when a judge ruled it was "cruel and unusual punishment" to keep him in custody any longer, given his transformation and the fact that it was the state's error that let him out in the first place. That's when immigration authorities stepped in and tried to deport him to Cuba, but that case also ended in Lima-Marin's favor just last week.

Now Lima-Marin is trying to become a U.S. citizen. The fact that he was released just before Easter -- a holiday about resurrection and rebirth -- is not lost on him. 

"Everything is new for me now. I pretty much have my life back completely, but as a new person," he says.

Highlights From The Interview

On what he's done in his first week of freedom:

"Spent time with my family. That's really all I cared about. That's what I thought about mostly while I was in there, was just getting back to them... [The kids] have been home [on spring break] so we've just been playing games, and wrestling, and doing the things we were doing before... Being a father again. That's what it's about."

On why he robbed the video stores:

"We were dumb kids. All we cared about at the time was looking good, and wanting to have nice things, and cars, and shoes and things of that nature. And that was the way to provide the money for it as quickly as possible. So that's where our mindframe was at... [Inflicting harm on people] was never even an option, so much so that when we entered the stores, we went in with rifles that weren't even loaded."

On what he'd say to one of the men who worked at the video store, and has said he doesn't believe Lima-Marin deserves a second chance:

"I'm sorry that he feels that way. I'm a different person. And it's not just about words: I'm not just saying I'm a different person just to be saying it. I've proven that I'm a different person. My actions speak louder than my words. This isn't just about, 'I'm going to tell you what you want to hear.' "

On his co-defendant, Michael Clifton, who's still serving time in prison:

"The same injustice that took place with me took place with him ... [The original sentence of] 98 years isn't even given to people who've committed murders or rapes and things of that nature ... I'm going to do everything I possibly can to assist him to get out of the situation he's in."