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December 19, 2011

Record setting(?) prison inmate on verge of parole release in Texas

This AP article, headlined "Texas inmate paroled after 60 years," reports on a remarkable and record-setting prisoner on the verge of finally being released from prison.  Here is how the piece starts:

When Harvey Stewart first went to prison 60 years ago, gasoline was 20 cents a gallon, a postage stamp cost three pennies and Harry Truman was president.  Now, as perhaps one of the longest-serving inmates in US history, the convicted killer is looking forward to the perks of freedom when he is released on parole in the coming weeks or months.

An IPod or cell phone perhaps? Not for this 83-year-old. Stewart simply wants a root beer and a good meal. "Imagine that! Sixty years being down in this damn hole," Stewart recently told The Associated Press from the Beto Unit in East Texas, one of his many stops in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "I wouldn't recommend it. Man's a damn fool to even stick his foot in here."

Stewart, awaiting his release to a halfway house or nursing home after being granted parole earlier this year, recalled his youthful days of robbing brothels in Southeast Texas for quick $3,000 pay days, of getting shot in the back while holding up a junk yard and murdering a man in what he insists was a self-defense killing.

But the six decades in prison haven't been nearly as eventful. He counts among his highlights his brief escape in 1965 and a recurring headache from a prison van wreck a couple years ago. Besides those short-lived respites from monotony, Stewart has served his time isolated from the outside world. He doesn't recall receiving a single visitor in more than a decade. He's outlived most or all his immediate family.

His parole was approved in April, with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles considering his recent history of good behavior, his age and declining health. "I'm too damn old to do any robbing," said Stewart, his blond hair now a balding gray brush cut. "I think I am anyway. My old ticker might kick out on me."

Stewart is the longest-serving inmate among the 155,000 prisoners in the Texas system, though it's unclear if he is the nation's longest-serving inmate now or ever. Prison officials and historians say they're unaware of any agency or organization that keeps track of all inmates' jail time.

Among other states with significant prison populations, convicted murderer James Moore, 78, has been locked up in New York since 1963.  In California, 80-year-old Booker Hillery first went to prison in 1955 for rape and was returned in 1962 for a murder earlier that year while on parole.  Norman Parker is Florida's longest-serving inmate, arriving in 1967.

Stewart was first sent to prison in spring 1951 after a junk yard heist in Houston got him a 10-year sentence.  He was paroled after serving six years but was convicted in 1958 of murdering a man in Beaumont and received a life sentence.  Seven years later he broke out of prison for several days, then waited another two decades before being paroled a second time to a halfway house and worked as a dishwasher.  He used his freedom in 1984 to eat a Big Mac for the first time, but by summer 1986 he was back behind bars, busted for a robbery plot.

Because this offender was free for various periods during his six decades of incarceration, his story is not quite as remarkable as those of other offenders confined for nearly a half-century without even a moment of freedom.  Still, this story tells what seems likely to be an increasingly common tale of a serious criminal getting finally released from state once getting too old to do much other than cost the state a lot of money in medical bills if kept in prison.

December 19, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

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Comments

William Heirens

Posted by: federalist | Dec 19, 2011 12:54:07 PM

Heirens has been locked up in Illinois since 1946.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Heirens

Posted by: alpino | Dec 20, 2011 5:27:52 AM

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