Monday, December 26, 2011

Longest serving TX prison inmate paroled after 60 years

 From our friends over at the Grits for Breakfast Blog;

Via Michael Graczyk at AP, Texas' longest serving inmate has finally been paroled, at age 83:

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.
Suffice it to say if AP could find nobody currently in an American prison who'd served longer than this fellow, that's a pretty remarkable statement. Imagine the difficulties associated with leaving prison alone in the world at 83 years old! At least they're facilitating some transition stage via a halfway house. I can't fathom what it would be like to enter an alien, new world with no support after so long behind bars. His crimes were committed before President Kennedy was assassinated, before Hawaii was a state, before Sputnik launched, before Kruschev said, "We will bury you" - before Elizabeth II became Queen of England, for heaven's sake.

Now that Texas has hundreds of inmates serving life without parole sentences (an option only available since 2005), our grandkids will see prisoners serving longer sentences, even, than Mr. Stewart. These prisoners will stay in that "damn hole" until they die, but, does that really make sense? Does anybody think Texas would be safer keeping Stewart and other so-called "lifers" in prison to the bitter end? The biggest complicating factor from LWOP is who pays for end-of-life care: Parole elderly offenders and the federal government picks up most of the tab via Medicaid and Medicare. Keep them in prison and their end-of-life care is paid for out of state general revenue funds, except the Legislature didn't allocate enough.

Without knowing the details, it seems that young Mr. Stewart at 23 was a dangerous man traveling a bad road. But did Mr. Stewart at 65, 70, 80 years of age, pose the same threat? What do you think? Would justice have been better or worse served if he'd been released a decade or so ago when he still had family alive? Would the price of his atonement have seemed any less devastating? Would the public be any less safe?


  1. Justice is "best served" when the convicts do ALL of the time that they have been sentenced to. I don't care about how old he is, he still left victims at the other end of his prison stay.

  2. Seashores says I think that this dude has been paroled 4 other times in his 60 yr stint with us. So its not like poor little old man being locked up for this long and hasnt had any chances. I think he has had them and messed them up every time.
    We might as well keep him locked up. You know he is sueing the state for a "recurring headache from a prison van wreck a couple years ago." We will be paying for that till he dies or longer. So if we have to pay for this possibly false claim, we might as well keep him here.

  3. I don't care much for convicts, but because he is (possibly) suing the state we should keep him locked up?

    If you ever rank up enough to decide policy, I hope I never have file workers-comp. "Well, Officer Anonymous, since you feel like it is your right to file workers-comp, here is your jumper, now step to the back of the cell and wait for the door to close."

  4. He murdered someone's child. He should die behind bars. If he murdered yours wouldn't you want his life taken away also.

  5. thank you all above for being so human and unselfish believe in mankind. I guess all of you are perfect in your on life's. He was 23years old he is now 83 I don't believe any of you could survive one year because for 60yrs of his life he was told when to shower. to get up. go to sleep. maybe you can not forgive him and maybe you need to see yourself in the mirror and ask yourself lets judge him and punish him some more its not enough. I will say this he has been judged already. Judge not for by the same measure you will be too.