Sunday, December 18, 2011

Longest serving TX prison inmate paroled after 60 years

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?


Anonymous said...

Obviously, the man doesn't know how to do anything but rob and kill. At 65, he probably still posed a threat. At 70, slightly less. At 80, we were probably safe, as he wouldn't be physically able to hurt anyone. (Maybe)

Anonymous said...

I expect more paroling to the fed's dime. If prison was more than a warehouse perhaps this man
could have been rehabilitated and released earlier. With old age and no living support system it's on to the next warehouse.There's a whole nest of hornets here!

sunray's wench said...

anon @8.48 ~ but by the time he was 65, TDCJ would have had him for 40 years. Are you telling me that 40 years was too short a time for an organisation like TDCJ to have at least tried to reform a man? Or are you admitting what the rest of us know, that TDCJ's purpose is not to reform anyone, but to keep undesirables away from society for as long as possible and hope that they quickly return once paroled?

I'd be interested to see the reasoning that the BPP gave on the previous parole denial (which was probably only 2 or 3 years ago) prior to the reasoning they gave on the parole agreement. I wonder what could possibly have changed.

Anonymous said...

There is no rhyme nor reason to parole board decisions. Offenders with less time and more convictions are released in fairly record time while others languish for purely subjective reasons. There is no guidelines other than voters whims at the time of decision making.

Anonymous said...


What makes you think they didn't try? Some people can't be rehabilitated. To survive in the real world, you have to have some job skills. Robbery and murder don't count. Maybe he didn't care to learn anything else.

Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine his crime(s) were worse than Kenneth McDuff's.


don3330 said...

10:27--she thinks they didn't try because they never really try. From time time, they install a few superficial, ineffective programs when they are flush with money, then when the budget gets tight, they axe them. Besides, how would they know he's NOT rehabilitated? Did they ask him, or what? It's unlikely that at 65, he told them that if they let him out he'd go back to robbing or whatever.

Hook Em Horns said...

Scott, he is clearly less of a threat at his advanced age. I am not sure paroling this man is anything more than shifting the cost of "keeping him" to another entity.

jdgalt said...

Would the public be any less safe? To my mind this question boils down to, "does LWOP deter crime more than would a 'regular' life sentence?" My guess is probably not, but it would depend a lot on how long the 'regular lifers' are kept inside -- which will vary from state to state. In states a lot less strict than Texas, LWOP should have more of an effect (if they don't start to water down its meaning, too).

Anonymous said...

I just love how the notion of punishment never gets mentioned on this blog. That's right, punishment. Retributory justice. That eye for and eye stuff you non-atheists may have heard about. This man evidently took another person's life intentionally. Is that an important consideration at all? Or is it just a matter of making sure someone is incarcerated merely long enough for the rest of us to feel safe---victim be damned? The victim's name was not even mentioned in this segment. How telling! Perhaps that person would have loved to have lived to be 83. I wonder what positive contributions the victim might have made to society but for this POS. But if all you're concerned about is whether correctional "best practices" suggest that paroling some convicted murderer is more appropriate at 65 than 83, and whether the murderer might be able to successfully reintegrate into a post-Sputnik society, then the name of the victim and the value of his life is pretty much inconsequential and insignificant, isn't it?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:54, AP didn't mention the victim's name, so I'm not sure where I'm supposed to have found it. Do you know it, and if not why blast me because I don't?

I don't have a clue why you'd say "the notion of punishment never gets mentioned on this blog." It gets discussed here near constantly. The whole subject of this blog post is whether retributory punishment alone justifies incarceration unto death for an 83 year old man. There's no public safety reason to incarcerate him, just retribution, or as you say, "eye for and eye" (sic) revenge. The question is, in a world where everything has a price tag, is that enough to justify the expense? The issue you say I'm not confronting is the central question raised by the post: How much punishment is enough?

rodsmith said...

actualy 1:54 you have no clue what your talking about!

even NOW he claims the so-called murder was self defense!

"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."

and considering that texas holds the WORLD RECORD on after the fact clearings of criminals... COULD BE he's right!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking if he's served 60 years, his self defense claim must not have had too much merit. And didn't he admit to robberies? I guess those victims didn't matter either? But then again, if you're all about coddling criminals, perhaps it's easier to live in some fantasy land where crimes really don't happen, victims don't really exist and convicts always tell the truth.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:46, considering we're talking about a man who may have been incarcerated longer than anyone else in US history (not many others are in the running, for sure), the idea that his sentence ending now amounts to "coddling criminals" is pure hogwash and balderdash. Truly just bizarre commentary.

You seem to reside in your own fantasy world where money grows on trees and incarceration is free. If that were true, your retribution-based policy prescriptions wouldn't need cost-benefit justification. For policymakers living in the real world, though, where budgets are finite and hard choices must be made, such crowd-pleasing myopia on punishment runs counter to any legitimate claim to the mantle "fiscal conservatism."

I understand fully your point about retribution - better, probably, than you'll ever realize or admit - I just also understand that's only one component and purpose of sentencing policy, not the end all be all, and that pragmatic constraints about cost, recidivism risk, etc., are also legitimate points for discussion.

Anonymous said...

It is shocking to me to have any person serving 60 years in a prison. Why don't people understand that death penalties and LWOP are cruel and unusual punishment, no matter what those say who always come up with the side of the victims. With all respect, the victims cannot come back, but there are quite a few innocent persons also incarcerated who have a hard time to even prove that they are innocent. Nobody seems to worry about them unless they are proven innocent with the help of an Innocence Project mostly. So, why does any person serving life have to stay in even for 30 years? Just turn your heads a bit towards other countries, where there is no such a thing like incarcerating people for the rest of their natural life. For one because of the costs and for another part, for the sake of giving them a second chance to prove that they can become useful members of society again. Of course there are some, where this cannot work, but it should be possible to determine who those are and a lot are mentally disturbed in some way. Warehousing prisoners instead of rehabilitating them, will never work and as you see it is no deterrent at all, or there would hardly be any criminals around any more. US rate of incarceration is the highest in the world and I don't believe that American people are worse than other nations. It is just their attitude about punishment that will get them broke because they cannot afford to keep so many people incarcerated. They have to come to terms with the facts, that they need to release people much sooner than after 60 years. And just the fact that a person killed once does not mean he will do it again, even if he would be able to. I hope very much that the USA will come to realise that this is the wrong road and especially Texas unfortunatly is very infamous worldwide of their state sanctioned killings and cruel treatment of inmates.

RSO wife said...

To anon @ 2:46. I know first hand what happens to someone caught up in the TDC system and the self righteous attitude of people like you make me want to throw up. I sure hope you never get caught up in the Texas Judicial System. Because if you do, you will find out that all your ideas are as Grits said, "hogwash and balderdash" except he cleaned it up a lot from what I would have called it. The Texas Judicial System is run by and for politicians and what it gains them and that includes the DA's, judges and what we laughingly call law enforcement. There are a few out there who really do have justice and equality in mind, but they are seriously out numbered by the ones who are out to feather their own nests.

A wise man once told me that it is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. Maybe you should keep that in mind.

Anonymous said...

RSO, well said. From my personal experience it is about money, pay your fines and monthly probation fee and then a power play between probation office and D.A. One case which I know first hand, as long as the offender paid his monthly fines and "checked in" with P.Officer, other requirements like evaluation, treatment, even community service hours or lack of, were irrelevant.
As a citizen I had a totally different understanding about law enforcement being tough on crime. Rehabilitation should be first requirement. But naturally it is about the dollar and power.
So much wheeling and dealing between attorneys, D.A., probation officers. I'm sure this isn't an isolated case.

Anonymous said...

6:39. Probation Officers aren't part of negotiation processes. Defense Attorneys and prosecutors are. Judges tend to rubber stamp many cases based on a less than well thought out plea agreement.

If probation was utilized appropriately, risk would play a factor in how often someone reports and what type of treatment the offender receives.

I read an article about this inmate in the Houston Chronicle yesterday. He may or may not still be dangerous. We simply do not know.

pontifex1 said...

Over 6000 years ago, Cain killed his brother Abel; man's first ever murder. And whether through war or through some other means, man has not stop killing his brother since. And I am pretty certain man will continue to kill his brother until we are all called to account on judgement day. So what is the point of incarcerating a murderer? I guess so that he cannot murder innocent citizens. But Murders do not stop because you are in prison-- believe me I know. I spent twenty years in TDC and saw more than my share of murders. As to this man who being released after doing 60 tight, the BPP is actually doing him a disservice. Who in the hell is going to hire an 80 year old ex-convict, and more importantly, want can he do as a job? The BPP actually shoveled this man unto the public knowing full well the implications of his being a free man after such a long incarceration. Hell, I had a hard time out here after doing 20 years, but 60 years!!! Damn, I feel for this man.

Anonymous said...

Sunray's Wench, I'm wondering if he had murdered your loved one, would you feel it was ok to let him out at 65? I'm not so sure I would be as forgiving and I never want to be in that position to have to make that determination. Something to think about and really difficult to judge when you havent been in that situation.

I really believe life in prison is a small price to pay for taking someone else's. My opinion and I'm entitled to it just as you are your own. The victim of the crime and his family have had a lifetime of sorrow due to the murder. Does that matter to anyone?

On the flipside, I think the system will prove to do more harm than good to this man that has become truly "institutionalized". If we were going to let him go now, we should have done it years ago so he could have a chance to successfully integrate himself into society.

sunray's wench said...

@ Anon 6.10 ~ yes I would, and do, still feel the same. I believe that it serves no purpose to lock people up for life unless they are mentally unstable and a clear danger to themselves or others, and in those cases they should be in secure mental health units rather than prisons. Yes I am willing, and do, pay for it through my taxes.

Running a justice system based purely on retribution is doomed to failure - for all concerned. There are plenty of ways to punish an individual besides locking them up and throwing away the key.

I can also tell you, there is no "closure" for those left behind after a murder. That is a falsehood peddled by a media and elected prosecutors baying for blood. Nothing brings a dead person back, and no one can say if that person would have lived another 50 years or another 5 years. It is pure speculation and should not be used to carry out retributive acts.

Murder is wrong. Murderers need to be punished. Society needs to approach that punishment sensibly and not sensationally.

Anonymous said...

Y'all need to read more carefully. The story makes clear that he was released a couple of times (and may have escaped once) but was returned to prison for violating his parole. So they did try to get him out earlier. But he just kept committing more crimes.

Anonymous said...

09:28:00 PM
Grits stories are never told in an honest manner. Reader beware.

Anonymous said...

I say let him out, show him what he has missed for 60 yeas that will even be more punishment to him.

Anonymous said...

there was a prisoner at the alexander correctional institute in taylorsville nc that had served a longer sentence. i dont know if he is still living

Anonymous said...

Arthur Aiken
Antonio Wheat 66
67 9/24/1945
10/11/44 82 years
82 years murder 1
murder 1

These 2 men, even at the time of this blog post, exceed the man in this blogs date by 7 years each. Both are still alive and been in jail for 67 and 68 consecutive years