Life After Life: Decades Behind Bars Can Make You a Better Man (VIDEO and PODCAST)
A man squints in the afternoon sun, taking in a warm breeze on the porch of a meticulously maintained two-story home at the intersection of downtown and South Central. Laughter echoes from the street, an ice cream truck jingles, kids meander home from school. Inside the house, hardwood floors and easy chairs make it the kind of place where an elderly couple could savor the time left in well-planned lives.
"It's a different time," says the man, whom we will call Bill. "Kids are crazier now and radical. They really, really don't care. It's a harder world out here now. I understand it. I see it."
Actually, Bill hasn't seen it with his own eyes for quite a while.
Bill's a lifer, or at least he was until a few days ago. He served 26 years in state prison. Fossilized as a teen, he received a life sentence after he was convicted of a violent crime, the nature of which he doesn't want to discuss. Now he lives in a parolee house.
He was frozen in time for 227,890 hours; Bill's thaw has begun for the properly remorseful, well-presenting 43-year-old. Handsome, healthy and free at last, bearing no visual remnants of time served in the nefarious California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: no prison posturing, no cryptographic tats, no furled brow, just a decidedly enthusiastic attitude and an inviting smile.
A lot happened while Bill was locked up: Osama, Obama, cellphones, the Internet, the '80s and '90s. His parents and grandparents died while he was in prison. "No funeral privileges for lifers," he says. "You have to accept what's happened and just roll with it. Everybody goes through it. Everybody grieves in their own way."
Bill just sent his first text to an old friend. "I've seen it on TV, but I haven't used any of this machinery or these little appliances.
"I told him I missed him."