From Prison to Proposal: How a Wrongly Convicted Mother Found Love And Learned How to Trust Again

On the one-year anniversary of her marriage, Rosa reflects on freedom, love, and the challenges of rebuilding her life with her wife.

07.10.24 By Stephen Wentzell

On the one-year anniversary of her marriage, Rosa reflects on freedom, love, and the challenges of rebuilding her life with her wife.

07.10.24 By Stephen Wentzell

Mary Jane Flores and Rosa Jimenez are seen posing for a wedding day portrait.

Mary Jane Flores and Rosa Jimenez are seen posing for a wedding day portrait, along with Rosa's dogs Tequila and Tootsie.

This Saturday, Rosa Jimenez will celebrate a one-year milestone that she never once imagined during her nearly two decades of wrongful incarceration. 

Released in 2021, Ms. Jimenez found herself navigating a vastly changed world. While online dating had existed during her time behind bars, the emergence of dating apps was an entirely novel experience.

It was through Facebook’s dating app that Ms. Jimenez encountered Mary Jane Flores. Their connection was immediate and enduring.

“We started talking,” Ms. Jimenez recalled. “And we never stopped.”

After a few failed attempts to meet each other, Ms. Flores ordered Ms. Jimenez an Uber from Austin to San Antonio for an afternoon visit. Ms. Jimenez remembers how nervous Ms. Flores was, but as they sat down and began discussing their lives, it quickly became clear they had a strong connection.

They bonded over their shared love of dogs: Ms. Flores owns two, while Ms. Jimenez has a pair of Chihuahuas named Tequila and Tootsie. 

“I feel like sometimes we live in a selfish world, and she wasn’t a selfish person,” Ms. Flores said of Ms. Jimenez. “She is a very considerate person and I love that about her.”

About three months into their relationship, Ms. Jimenez told Ms. Flores she had been incarcerated for more than 17 years. Ms. Jimenez wasn’t sure how her new partner would take the news, but as Ms. Flores said, “Everyone has a past.”

“I was just lovestruck by her and it didn’t matter,” Ms. Flores said, adding Ms. Jimenez’s nurturing nature caught her attention right away. “I just wanted to get to know her.”

For Ms. Jimenez, the most challenging part of finding love after being exonerated was learning how to trust again — not just in a partner or a friend, but in a society that hadn’t believed she was innocent.

Ms. Jimenez spent nearly 18 years in a Texas prison for a crime that never took place. She was convicted of murder after a child she was babysitting in 2003 tragically died. Sentenced to 99 years in prison, Ms. Jimenez thought she would spend the rest of her life behind bars.

But in 2021, with the help of the Innocence Project, a judge recommended Ms. Jimenez’s conviction be overturned thanks to new medical evidence showing that the child accidentally choked and no crime had occurred.

While Ms. Jimenez’s relationship with Ms. Flores was becoming more serious, she was reluctant to take the next step, given that she had not yet been fully exonerated.

After being wrongfully convicted and spending 18 years in prison, Ms. Jimenez had lost faith in the criminal legal system and, like so many exonerees, was afraid the same thing could happen again.

“What if I marry Mary Jane and then she has to go see me just through glass in prison?” Ms. Jimenez said. “I didn’t want to put her through a situation where she had to see somebody that she loves go through all this pain again.”

Things changed in the summer of 2023 during a trip to Rockport, a coastal city in southeastern Texas.

One morning, as Ms. Jimenez and Ms. Flores were drinking coffees and watching the waves crash on the beach, the telephone rang.

“I have some news for you,” the voice on the other end of the line said. It was Vanessa Potkin, Ms. Jimenez’s lawyer and the Innocence Project’s director of special litigation. “You are free. You are exonerated.”

For Ms. Jimenez, it was the news she had been waiting two decades for.

“It was just a beautiful thing that you can continue, you can go on with your life with this person that is right next to you, that you love, and you can make plans now,” she said.


It wasn’t long before Ms. Flores popped the question. The couple had chosen downtown San Antonio for a weekend getaway. Ms. Flores surprised Ms. Jimenez with a romantic dinner at a restaurant. Little did Ms. Jimenez know, two more “surprises” awaited her back in their hotel room.

Ms. Jimenez couldn’t believe her eyes when she opened the door to their suite.  Standing in front of her were Tequila and Tootsie, dressed up in fitted shirts adorned with sparkling diamonds. One shirt read “Rosa, will you” and the other “Marry me?”

Tears of joy filled Ms. Jimenez’s eyes — and she said yes without hesitation.

On July 13, the couple married in a Texas courtroom — a setting where once Ms. Jimenez’s freedom was taken away and now marked a new beginning.  

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Marriage is just a paper,’ but it’s not,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s you trusting that other person with your life, trusting that person is not going to betray you or hurt you.”

Less than a month later, Ms. Jimenez appeared virtually in court – this time, for a judge to officially dismiss all charges and declare her actually innocent.

As the couple builds their life together, Ms. Jimenez continues to grapple with the effects of her incarceration, including Stage 5 chronic kidney disease, a condition she developed in prison. She undergoes exhausting dialysis treatments three times a week, while waiting for a kidney transplant which is dependent on whether she can find a donor. 

Finding a living donor is crucial to living a long and healthy life together with Ms. Flores. Ms. Jimenez also wants to continue reconnecting with her two adult children and grandchild who was born on the day of her exoneration. Her daughter was only one-year-old when she went to prison. She gave birth to her son while shackled to a bed in prison and separated from him immediately after the birth. Building relationships has been challenging, but both of her children have been supportive of their mother’s relationship.

“They say as long as I’m happy, they are happy,” Ms. Jimenez said. “And I do believe they see that I’m happy.”

If you are interested in becoming a living donor to help Ms. Jimenez, you can learn more here.

We've helped free more than 240 innocent people from prison. Support our work to strengthen and advance the innocence movement.