She was not looking for love when Amanda Knox says it crept up on her again.
Following her release six years ago from an Italian prison for a headline-grabbing murder she did not commit, the former study-abroad student returned to Seattle to rebuild what she could of her life, she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue.
“When I first came home, I was afraid that the prosecution’s narrative would forever limit and define me,” says Knox, 30.
She and then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were twice convicted in the 2007 murder of her 21-year-old British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia, Italy, when Knox was 20, and she spent four years in prison during her detention and prosecution.
Italy’s highest court eventually exonerated her and Sollecito in 2015. A third person, Rudy Guede, was also convicted of Kercher’s murder and remains behind bars.
“I was told that my best-case scenario would likely consist of writing my memoir and then disappearing,” Knox says. “Whether I deserved it or not, there was nothing I could do but accept that the story of the girl accused of murdering her roommate would be the frame through which people viewed and consumed me, and through which I had to pass to live my life.”
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am that things didn’t turn out that way,” she says.
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Back in the States, Knox finished college, started writing an arts column for the West Seattle Herald and steadily found her voice as an activist for others facing wrongful convictions.
After breaking from Sollecito, which whom she is still in touch, Knox began another relationship. She was already engaged in May 2015 when she wrote a review of War of the Encyclopaedists, a novel co-written by Seattle poet and author Christopher Robinson, and she later met Robinson at a local book launch.
“I was probably the only person at the party who didn’t really know who she was,” Robinson tells PEOPLE. “I knew [about] Italy and some legal stuff and something that shouldn’t have happened. But I didn’t really know her story.”
Some days later, Knox sat down with Robinson and his co-author at Robinson’s home to interview them. “Then we drank Scotch and watched Star Trek,” he says.
Knox recalls: “When we shook hands goodbye, he said, ‘I think you’re someone I should be friends with.’ ”
It was an “amazing” moment, she says, “because that hadn’t happened to me yet, where I came home and someone I didn’t know — who I admired for their accomplishments but also thought of potentially as a peer — could be my friend.”
By late 2015, she and Robinson were dating. They moved last year into a rented one-bedroom bungalow in Seattle that they share with Knox’s cats — Mr. Screams, Mr. Fats and Emil — and they now talk of a long future together, including kids.
“I don’t want to get married for the sake of getting married. My hope is that I have a partner with whom I can continue to take on the world … and I very much love Chris and feel like he is my partner,” Knox says, “and he would be a wonderful dad and we talk about it all the time.
“So I look forward to that part of my life that I had always taken for granted growing up and then had to let go of in prison.”
• Watch the full episode of People Features: Amanda Knox — My Life After Prison, streaming now on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN or download the app on your favorite streaming device.
Robinson contrasts the Knox he knows now with the woman who appears in the Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary Amanda Knox, in which she participated.
“There’s a playfulness to her that I think seems surprising given how she appears in the documentary,” he says. “When something matters and she cares about it, she doesn’t just let it slide. She puts her foot down and stands up for what she believes is just. But just because she’s that person doesn’t mean that we also don’t swing dance in the kitchen while we’re making dinner. We have a lot of fun together, and we let that whimsy carry us.”
Says Knox: “I imagine Christopher and I will have many conversations with our children over the years, beginning at the beginning.”
“We look forward to traveling abroad with them and instilling in them a more sophisticated understanding of human flaws and vulnerabilities than I had when I was 20,” she explains. “I hope to instill in them the sense that not knowing what to do and asking for help, especially of us, doesn’t mean that they are less capable or less adult.”
“We’ll help each other, and that will be our strength,” she says. “That’s what my family taught me.”