By Joel Rubin

It was 1995, and Troy Ketchmore was taking a birthday gift to his infant son who was living with the child’s mother and her new boyfriend at the time. With Troy were two “friends,” all of them armed but with no apparent intention of using the guns. “Where I grew up in Newport News,” says Ketchmore today, “you’d rather get caught with it then without it.”

The boyfriend eyed Troy warily and began following him to the house. “I thought he was going for his weapon,” says Ketchmore, “and I pulled mine and tried to strike him with it to prevent him from pulling his weapon.”  Troy says he took off while being chased and shot at by the boyfriend. “One of my buddies got shot and died, and they charged me with the killing.”  

Ketchmore was found guilty of first-degree murder and given 43 years. He spent 26 and 8 months in a dozen state prisons before earning parole in 2021, the commonwealth’s attorney in Newport News, Howard Gwynn, being one of his advocates.  “I am still contesting my conviction because evidence not presented in court proves there was a bullet shot by another gun that was never presented at trial that caused the death. I’m innocent and want my named cleared.”

Despite his frustration with the system, Troy Ketchmore did something right behind bars, earning a GED and a business degree through a correspondence school.  And with his sister Chanell taking the lead on the outside, she created Ketchmore Kids lnc. in 2005, a program to divert kids away from the gangs and crime and toward honest pursuits. Given the anguish and mayhem youth violence  is causing in Newport News, the city took notice and provided the Ketchmores with a grant to take his message to the streets and classrooms, preaching conflict resolution and other lessons. “The kids do listen to me because I’m a tangible role model who has traveled the road that many of them are traveling,” he says. “I came out of prison a changed person and am trying to make a living doing the right thing.”

His journey has now taken him from Red Onion and other state penitentiaries to the White House. Yes, Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones, City Manager Alan Archer, and Police Chief Steve Drew recently accompanied Troy to Washington to meet with Greg Jackson, a Deputy Director of the nation’s first Office of Gun Violence Prevention. “We hope Newport News can receive more government funding so we can reach more young people,” says Troy, “but also see our program become a national model.”

Troy and Channel’s last name is in their organization’s catchy brand, KetchmoreKids. “We want to Ketchmore Kids than Drugs, Ketchmore Kids than Guns, Ketchmore Kids than Prisons, and Ketchmore Kids than the Streets.” Their mission is to “deliver hope, healing and peace of mind to youth and their families.” Tall order, but Troy feels he’s making progress through six-week educational programs called the Think Tank led by him and colleagues who likewise survived rocky upbringings and now appreciate the long-term consequences of their actions and behaviors. “We want them to think before they do something that would have a negative impact on their lives and others.”

What drives the crime? Peer pressure, says Troy, but also money, or lack of it, as well as social influence. “It’s real,” he says. “When you don’t have your basic needs being met and see many of your peers with more, as soon as an opportunity comes, you take that risk to make it happen.”

The result, and an important teacher, is pain. “It’s a warning, God’s way of getting your attention. If you think about it, I suffered to be where I am. But now I can do something better. It’s not easy, given what today’s children confront and what they believe, that rapping, dealing and balling are their only ways out.” Troy himself has a daughter and two sons, one of whom is in jail. “I hope I can reach him before it’s too late.”

Meanwhile he’s trying to recover mentally from his long stint behind bars, while hoping other ex-cons will follow his lead. “There are more people like me that served their time and want to keep others from doing the same. We must give them a chance.” 

To help Troy continue his crusade, visit