Robin Tomczak first went to jail for shoplifting but then racked up assault charges. Here, she is sitting on the bank of the Ohio River at the Neville Island Back Channel, where she used to row. (Photo by Maranie Rae Staab/PublicSource)

How a scholarship athlete ended up in ‘the hole’

Life in a cell

In a pathology lab outside of Pittsburgh, Robin Tomczak looks at the skin of strangers. She examines cells, the building blocks of human life, looks for cancer, separates the malignant from the benign and sends it to doctors for further analysis. Robin is the first door to a cancer diagnosis.

She holds that information in her hands every day, small pieces of people wishing for good news.

Seven years ago, she was holding a needle to her arm. Seven years ago, she was close to not surviving the Allegheny County Jail.


Voices Unlocked is a project telling the stories of Pittsburgh-area residents whose life experiences have been shaped by the penal system.

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