VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The last year has been difficult for many people around the country, but for Travion Blount, it has been nothing short of a blessing.
Saturday marks one year since the now 30-year-old was released from prison.
"It's still unbelievable at times that I'm actually here right now," Blount said.
When he was 15 years old, Blount was convicted of 6 life sentences plus 118 years for a robbery in Norfolk, making him the first juvenile in the United States sentenced this harshly for such a crime.
Years into his sentence, former Governor Bob McDonnell reduced his sentence to 40 years. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe followed that by signing a conditional pardon, reducing his sentence further, which ultimately led to his release from prison.
"I'm glad that [Gov. McAuliffe] took that chance in believing that I could come out here and make it and change and not do the things that I was once doing before. I thank him a lot for that," Blount said.
McAuliffe added,"Everybody is entitled to a second chance, and we are over-criminalizing [and] over-sentencing so many people. People make mistakes and they should pay a price, no question, but they shouldn't have excessive sentencing where they ruin an individual's life."
To ring in the milestone, alongside his advocate who has grown into his "second mother," Monique Santiago, Blount Zoomed with friends, supporters and others who were wrongfully convicted.
"He sent a message to everybody in Virginia today: 'I'm back, I'm a productive member of society.' Ultimately, that's what we want," McAuliffe said.
While the call was centered around Blount, it was also a chance to bring attention to the injustice of excessive sentencing.
Laura Nirider, Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, said, "We believe deeply in second chances for kids, for all kids. We believe deeply that life sentences are discriminatory, are not necessary, are destructive and harmful."
Blount now lives with Santiago, and she has helped him navigate the past year. Blount has been able to secure and maintain a job, enroll in classes and build a relationship with his daughters.
"If people don't get involved, then people like Travion will still be sitting in prison, well, they actually are still sitting in prison," Santiago said. "We are accountable for one another, whether people realize it or not. We really are accountable for one another."
The group plans to continue pushing for criminal justice reform and rehabilitation for those formerly incarcerated.
"No one can tell me you can't do it because [Travion's] living proof of doing it," she said.
As the two embraced, it was clear to see the significance of a strong support system.