Lifers: Voices of parolees returning to prison

San Quentin State Prison. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Under Gov. Jerry Brown, California is paroling two to three inmates with life sentences each day, according to a Times analysis of parole records. Currently, nearly 2,000 lifers who were convicted of their crimes decades ago are getting a second chance at life outside prison. Though most succeed, a growing number are returning to custody. These are their words — and the words of others — taken from transcripts of hearings revoking their parole. Read the full story »

Joseph Dawson, 52

Wherever I went, I thought I was going to do well…

Sentenced to 23 years in prison for fatally stabbing a man who taunted him, and stealing his motorcycle. Paroled in 2013. Returned to prison seven months later, after being arrested on suspicion of burglary and gun theft.

Lennie Parker, 51

I was just overwhelmed, to be honest. I was overwhelmed.

Helped a friend commit murder with a shotgun in 1987. Paroled in 2010. Returned to prison in 2014 for driving under the influence.

Parole Commissioner John Peck

Don’t kill anyone else, please.

Speaking to Lennie Parker at an October 2014 hearing granting Parker a second parole release.

Keith Somers, 49

I [have] spent every second since that day disproving the feelings that people like you have about me that I can't be rehabilitated

Convicted of second-degree murder in a 1992 fatal high-speed chase from a night club. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2014 for possessing martial arts weapons. Granted parole again in October 2014.

Linda Vivian, 63

I had 27 years of being clean. I had a relapse — and I can't put a finger on anything but myself for that.

Heroin addict killed her neighbor for stealing her drug stash. Paroled in 2012. Returned to custody in 2013 for heroin use.

Parole Commissioner Ari Zarrinnam

Relapse is part of recovery, but unfortunately, not for lifers.

Commenting during a 2013 custody-return hearing for Johnny Saldate, a convicted murderer who returned to prison for meth use.

Ernest Roux, 53

It was magic. Plain and simple, that's what it was to me.

— Statement above made regarding why he kept the contraband iPhone. Served 29 years in prison for murder. Paroled in 2013. Returned to prison four weeks later after being kicked out of a halfway house for possessing a banned iPhone.

Joe Aldama, 54

In my mind, I felt that I wasn’t out there breaking the law.

Imprisoned for 27 years for second-degree murder in the shooting of a smuggler. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2013 for meth use, absconding and battery.

Nelson Alfaro, 40

It was hard enough trying to look out and take care of myself, and then being put into the family politics…

Acted as an accomplice to a 1994 contract killing. Paroled in 2010. Returned to prison six months later, in 2011, after authorities found guns in his brother’s bedroom.

Charles Brooks, 46

I felt I had a right to celebrate a little bit because I had undergone so much…

Fatally stabbed a man on a San Francisco pier during a drug-induced psychosis. Paroled in 2005. Returned to custody multiple times for cocaine use, most recently in 2013.

Ronald Buenrostro, 56

I felt qualified and disciplined enough to drink as a normal man.

Acted as an accomplice to a liquor-store robbery and murder. Paroled in 2010. Returned to prison in 2011 for driving under the influence.

Dennis Butler, 54

I stopped taking my meds.

Former Marine imprisoned in 1988 for a DUI that resulted in two deaths. Paroled in 2010. Returned to custody that same year for transient status and refusing to report. Released in 2011. Returned in 2014.

Christy Camp, 47

I was starting to feel like an outsider out there. I was starting to feel like I didn't fit in…

Imprisoned for 19 years for killing her abusive spouse. Paroled in 2008. Returned to custody in 2011 for meth use.

Maureen Carroll, 59

I guess I was trying to make up for all that lost time.

Imprisoned at 16 for a motorcycle-gang-related murder in 1996. Paroled in 2008. Returned to custody in 2011 for secretly meeting a murder accomplice.

Peter Cooper, 62

I wanted to do the normal things that normal people do. I wanted to somehow make up for the 20 years that I had lost through this stupid thing I did…

Convicted of killing his wife with a sledgehammer. Paroled. Returned to custody in 2011 after being arrested on suspicion of alcohol use and battery.

Randy Copley, 51

I should not have given them as much time as I did.

Imprisoned for 20 years for fatally stabbing and strangling a robbery victim in 1991. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2014 on suspicion of seducing a 14-year-old girl.

Paul Dennan, 47

I wasn't thinking straight. I didn't want to be a burden parolee.

Fatally stabbed a man in 1989. Paroled in 2013. Returned to custody in 2014 after being caught living in the woods following the arrest of his roommate, also a lifer on parole, on suspicion of burglary.

Thomas Earnest, 52

But do I look like the person that would hurt anybody now?

Convicted of second-degree murder in the 1987 gang-related killing of a 17-year-old. Paroled in 2012. Returned to custody in 2013 for absconding to Oregon.

Gerald Fellows, 71

I was kinda completely lost

Stabbed a man in a 1985 argument. Paroled in 2012 and lived in a halfway house. Returned to custody two months later for meth use.

Joseph Flauta, 38

Emotionally I'm crushed, spiritually I'm ruined and inside I'm just, I feel like I'm worthless.

Acted at 16 as an accomplice to a coin-store robbery that ended in murder. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2013 for repeated shoplifting.

Paul Gaul, 50

I lost my attitude of gratitude.

Strangled a hit man who blackmailed his client in 1991. Paroled in 2009. Returned to custody in 2011 for alcohol and marijuana use.

William Gray, 57

I would do a better job at reaching out to other people. Even if they weren’t going to reach out to me.

Killed a man who stole his wallet in 1990. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2013 on suspicion of assault during a family dispute.

Dion Henry, 45

I thought I had everything together.

Served 20 years in prison for a 1990 drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. Paroled in 2010. Returned to custody in 2013 for a DUI-related accident.

Paul Jordan, 46

When I left here, I had some real simple… principles I was going by. And one of them is just never, ever do anything that could send me back to prison.

Convicted of second-degree murder. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody that same year for unpermitted travel to visit family on New Year's Eve.

Raymond Kelsch, 73

I would sneak some… that’s what alcoholics do.

Acted as an accomplice to a 1987 contract killing. Paroled in 2012. Returned to custody one month later for public use of alcohol. Paroled to a medical facility in November 2014 with dementia.

Donald Maestas

The outside became the land of opportunity… if I can just get out there, I can make it happen. I wasn't prepared for the struggle.

Served 23 years in prison for second-degree murder. Paroled in 2006. Returned to custody in 2011 for heroin and meth use after multiple parole violations for DUI.

Ivy Martin, 51

Prison is a constructed environment… you don't really have decisions or anything in here.

Charged with murder for the 1989 death of her 3-year-old son. Paroled in 2010. Returned to custody in 2012 for heroin and meth use.

Victor Munoz, 45

I felt like I left my friends behind in prison… I think I want to go back.

Imprisoned in 1991 for acting as an accomplice to a robbery and murder. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2012 for unlicensed driving and meth use.

Anthony Orozco, 49

I just want a good (life), you know, to cherish the freedom that I was given.

Imprisoned for the fatal strangulation of a woman in 1985. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2012 for unauthorized travel to visit a girlfriend.

Carlos Ortiz, 50

When I first left here on parole… I still had that mentality of prison.

Convicted of second-degree murder with a knife for a 1986 incident. Paroled in 2012. Returned to custody four months later for meth use while at a recovery center.

Edwin Pauley, 62

Yeah, I was a terrible person, I guess you could say… but really, deep down inside… I am a good person.

Imprisoned for 26 years for fatally beating a man. Paroled in 2012. Returned five months later for buying beer.

Jessie Reed, 53

I felt like I was entitled to have a good time, to enjoy myself, to let my hair down so to speak.

Killed a john in a 1985 robbery. Paroled in 2009. Returned to custody in 2013 for cocaine use.

Jessica Richie, 40

I was living life for the first time as an adult out there.

Convicted at 18 of participating in a 1992 group killing of an 18-year-old robbery victim. Paroled in 2012. Returned to custody in 2013 for meth use and stealing work supplies.

Luis Robledo, 72

I understand I am a criminal. But I’ve already paid for it.

Convicted of second-degree murder in 1983. Paroled in 2013. Returned to custody in 2014 for failing to report to the state parole board upon release from federal immigration detention.

Alfred Roderick, 81

It's a stupid move, that’s all I can say.

Imprisoned for a man's fatal stabbing. Paroled in 2008. Returned to custody in 2013 for vandalising a vehicle. Discovered he had bone cancer after returning to prison.

Johnny Saldate, 46

I just wanted to get out of that state of depression… so I chose to self-medicate.

Imprisoned at 18 for a 1996 murder. Paroled in 2010. Returned to custody in 2013 for meth use after the death of a family member.

Dennis Stanworth, 71

I plead guilty to everything.

Sent to death row for the murders of two girls in 1965, but his sentence was converted to life in prison. Paroled in 1990. Returned to custody in 2012 after being arrested on suspicion of killing his mother. Deemed unfit in 2013 to stand trial.

Andrew Step, 54

I just wasn't thinking… I should have just run, but my emotions got the best of me.

Fatally beat a robbery victim with a hammer in 1984. Paroled. Returned to custody in 2012 for meeting a former crime partner.

Paul Tash, 54

I can't believe, looking at it, this is even my life sometimes.

Convicted in a 1983 drug-buy murder. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody two months later for using a meth-laced erection pill.

Randy Whittenburg, 49

He has no comments.

— Statement above made by Wittenburg's attorney. Imprisoned in 1989 for killing a robbery victim. Paroled in 2011. Returned to custody in 2012 after being arrested and convicted of firing into an occupied dwelling, hitting his girlfriend.

John Zumbro, 53

I never want to lose control of myself ever again, and I never will.

— Statement above made at a 2012 parole hearing. Imprisoned for killing a man with a stolen gun during a 1983 bar fight. Paroled in 2013. Returned to custody that same year after L.A. police responded to a public disturbance complaint and discovered he had a gun.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
66°