An old friend has now been in prison for five years. He has settled in at the minimum-security facility at Oswego, and he’ll be there for the rest of his life – his sentence for pleading guilty to murder.
He is retired career military with years of foreign service, and with 19 years additional employment at a prestigious library. In early November 2012, he shot his wife in the head as she slept in their Lawrence home. Then he put the gun down and called the police. He had pulled the trigger because they were sick and infirm and she was desperately ill, because they were poor and had fallen through a “resource gap,” cracks in social services and Medicaid and the Senior Care Act; their debts and mortgage put their home under water, they were not old enough or poor enough for special aid, and the EMTs were tired of coming to their home several times a week.
It was supposed to be a murder-suicide, but he lost his nerve, he said.
He told Judge Michael Malone that he had given his wife the best present he could. Because he loved her terribly, he decided that morning not to let her wake up.
There was no trial, only a sentencing hearing. The man was moved from the Douglas County Jail, did some time in prisons at El Dorado, then Ellsworth, and El Dorado again before the move to Oswego, also known as El Dorado Southeast.
Oswego is a facility for elder felons, some of them infirm. Many have served decades in the prison system. There are no cells here. The inmates live in cubicles in large open areas. In time they can accumulate standing, the points they need to purchase things that make life a bit more bearable – a radio or television (earphone-equipped), lamps, a hot pot, snacks at the canteen, and so forth. There is a library. Computers – no Internet – are available in a special room.
The food is “institutional” but adequate, the friend reports. And the ailments that had plagued him – the bad heart, the bad back, the damage from two strokes, among other troubles?
The medical care is good, he says. He seems better fed and in better spirits than when he was on the outside. His health has improved.
He thinks of Oswego as his “retirement home.” He is an insatiable reader. He has an arrangement with two publishers and a book store; they are cleared to send him books. He edits book manuscripts for a well-published author, sending and receiving five pages per envelope, the one-ounce limit. He can watch television or listen to the radio. He has a regular group for pinochle.
“The old folks’ home is okay,” he says of life on the inside – contained but suitable.
How odd that a man finds contentment in prison. Elsewhere, many people find only a life of struggle – to afford health care and decent housing, transport, clothing, three squares a day, but they’d settle for two. Or one.
At a court appearance not long after the shooting, our friend the prisoner told Judge Malone that the subject of bail would be pointless. “What would I go home to?” he said.
His life outside had become helpless. Sentenced to life on the inside, the man has acquired a strange serenity.
Prison is now his refuge. What does this say about life on the outside?