Life looks a lot different now. Robinson is reflective, and he’s accountable. He’s clear about how far he’s come despite the pain of incarceration.

Life looks a lot different now that Zachary Robinson is beyond four prison walls within Tennessee’s infamous Corecivic Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility. He spent the last year of a nine-year prison sentence in a cage, envisioning what he would do with his life once he became a free man.

Today, he’s a student in the prestigious Haslam School of Business at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the founder of a nonprofit based in Oak Ridge that works to reduce disparities in education, health and economic equality.

Just over a decade ago, and just a few months shy of his high school graduation, though, it was practically unthinkable that Robinson would be where he is today.

In 2012, Robinson and a couple of his high school buddies made a decision that changed the trajectory of his young adult life. They broke into a house near the campus of the University of Tennessee and robbed the people who lived there.

They were caught and prosecuted, and Robinson, just 18 years old, had to make a life-changing gamble: Plead guilty to the robbery and go free in nine years, or go to trial and risk spending the next three decades in prison.

“When you are told you are facing a 33-year prison sentence for taking it to trial versus the nine-year deal I was offered, the nine looks pretty good. I’ll take that bid,” Robinson said in a long-ranging conversation with Knox News about how he dealt with incarceration and has refocused his life since gaining his freedom in 2020.