Photograph of Parole Project client, Willie

Forgotten Men Initiative Brings Home Five of Louisiana’s Longest Serving Men

Do you remember the early 1970’s? What about the 1960’s? For those who do you will likely remember those years as a time of great change.  In 1964 alone computer language was introduced, the first Beatles album was released, there were race riots in Harlem, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, and Congress began drafting soldiers for the Vietnam War.  It was also the year Lester made a deal that would change his entire life. He agreed to enter a guilty plea in exchange for what he believed was a 10-year and six-month sentence. It would actually be 57 years before Lester regained his freedom this October. In the almost six decades he was incarcerated Lester performed a wide variety of job duties and was given assignments requiring a great deal of accountability and responsibility. Lester may take a bit more time to get around these days but he is quick to offer a kind word with a smile, and he is still very self-sufficient.  Lester tells us he is taking life one day at a time.

84-year-old Lester came home after 57 years in prison

In 1969, two American astronauts made history when they became the first humans to land on the moon. Like the rest of the world, Louis and Kenneth can still recall where they were when they watched that historic achievement on a black and white TV.  They were in prison serving what they believed were 10-year and six-month sentences. Louis and Kenneth took the same deal Lester did a few years before, neither one realizing they were just a few years into what would become more than five decades of time behind bars.

Louis was sentenced to life in 1967

While incarcerated Louis became a popular preacher known for his passionate proselytizing. He attributes his release in early October to God and his “friends at Parole Project.” Louis likes to tell folks that “each day is a new blessing and a new beginning.” He wants to make the most of his new life for as long as he can. The 75-year-old maintains his health with daily physical activities such as biking and walking.

Kenneth was in prison for 52 years

At Louisiana State Penitentiary, Kenneth developed a reputation as a reliable and mechanically talented trusty. For decades he was responsible for driving tractors and other agricultural equipment on the prison farm. Kenneth aged out of that line of work but was able to put his skills to even better use as the clerk in the machinery repair shop. He is an exceptionally focused man who works hard to gain the trust and respect of others at all times. He didn’t get a single write-up (formal disciplinary reprimand) during the last 27 years of his incarceration. But no matter how busy Kenneth kept himself he never forgot his home and the family he left behind. Over the years Kenneth lost all but one of his relatives, his sister, whom he describes as “the most patient woman on earth.” Now that he has come home with the help of Parole Project he is thrilled by the prospect of seeing his sister again and getting to visit and catch up on 53 years of life, gossip and good stories.

James was 16 years old when he went to prison

The United States ended military involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973, concluding almost a decades’ worth of conflict. Before the war ended, James and Willie pleaded guilty to what they were told would be a 10-year and six-month sentence. 

As the years rolled on and on James and Willie were in danger of becoming all but forgotten to anyone who lived beyond the prison walls. The Forgotten Men Initiative ensured that didn’t happen.

Sentenced when he was only 16 years old, James made his time count by working as an inmate counsel substitute helping other inmates with legal matters. James is excited that he recently started his first job and he looks forward to becoming involved in community activism and helping others still in prison.

Willie was incarcerated for 52 years

Since his release Willie has spent a lot of time listening to old school R&B music and taking long walks to appreciate his surroundings. Willie, who is pleased to know the urban fashions of the late ’70’s are back in style, enjoys dressing to the nines to go shopping, something he says he will never take for granted. Willie is learning to use his smart phone and really enjoys calling friends up for long conversations. Willie hopes to master GPS and texting soon.