It was a dream destination 10 years ago for Amanda Knox, then a 20-year-old American studying abroad, but the town of Perugia, Italy, became for her a place of fear and terror with her arrest and wrongful conviction for the murder of 21-year-old British roommate Meredith Kercher.
Six years after her release from Italian prison, Knox, 30, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue that she is preparing to go back and reclaim the city on her own terms.
“The only way that I’m going to come full circle is by physically, literally, coming full circle,” she says. “I know that Perugia is probably the least welcome place for me in the entire world. And that’s scary, but it also means a lot to me, not to be afraid of a place and see Perugia through my family’s eyes.”
“My family lived in Perugia for years to support me, and they made relationships,” Knox explains. “I made a relationship with the priest at the prison, and those things still matter to me.”
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Knox served four years in prison after she and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested and then convicted in Kercher’s killing.
When those convictions were reversed on appeal in 2011 and Knox was set free, she returned home to Seattle, where she has found new love and a new mission working as an activist to prevent others confronting potential wrongful convictions like hers.
In 2015, she and Sollecito were exonerated by Italy’s highest court.
“I want to go back and inhabit a space, in a way, that I’m not being consumed by it, that I’m just kind of being a person in a place again,” Knox says. “So that can be my last memory of Perugia — and not being raced out of a courtroom, and fleeing from paparazzi in a car, after all of those years of incredible suffering.”
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Her desire to revisit the city where she lost her freedom in 2007 has another element as well.
Since heading back to her native Pacific Northwest, Knox has become a writer — completing one memoir and penning an arts column for a local paper — and she hopes her return to Perugia next year with boyfriend Christopher Robinson and her family will offer a concluding chapter for her next book.
Knox describes the project as “part memoir, part investigative journalism, looking at the greater forces that affected me as a woman going through the criminal justice system.” To that end she also plans this fall to visit a Washington women’s prison to study health and safety issues.
She feels “a lot of trepidation” about her Perugia trip but is counting on the support of those who will be traveling with her.
“A decade has passed,” she says. “I’ve processed a lot in the meantime, but this feels like the next step of the process.”
“I’m no longer going to be just like the naïve, bright-eyed girl, who shows up with the best of intentions,” she says. “I’m coming in fully aware of the context of what that’s going to be like, but I look forward to it.”