Our Voices > Dispatches from Inside

Life in Degrees: Lessons Learned Too Late

Sep 19, 2023

By Larry Wayne La Fleur

Sorrow and shame,
Heartache and pain
The trial, the sentence
The reality of razor wire and locked doors,
The lost appeal, the denied 2255*.
The first five years in.

Slowly becoming numb.
Basketball, weight pile, handball only fill time.
The work, the hobbies: none of it quiets the mind.
Days turn into weeks and weeks into years…
The first decade in.

Death: parents, friends, grandparents.
Birth:  new life and kin.
People stop writing; meaningful contact is slim.
The first 15 years in.

If not for the horrible dreams,
I wouldn’t know why I’m here.
I’ve taken all the classes, stayed sober and clean.
Every single day, the same routine
Feeling lost and forgotten…
The second decade in.

The ugliness of this place has become a bore;
I understand now: These people don’t care.
Men come in and out like it’s a two-way door,
Where there was once hope, there is none anymore..
  …The first 25 in.

Anger at a broken system that just doesn’t care,
Tell me again why I’m here.
Staff have given up, rehabilitation isn’t here.
Being good means nothing.
It doesn’t matter, is what becomes clear…
The third decade in.

Now it’s only family who care.
Forgotten by a society that thinks this is fair.
The system is falling apart and I’m still here;
I’d scream and cry if not for the fear
That I’ll lose what little sanity I have left in my tears…
  …Now it’s 35 in.

Days turn to weeks,
Weeks turn to months,
Months turn to years.
Nothing changes
and I am barely still here.

* A §2255 motion is a challenge to a conviction or sentence as unconstitutional or contrary to federal law.

I have been in prison since 1989, when I was 22, serving a life sentence. I was young dumb and very much lost in my addictions. Those are not excuses and I don’t want you to think I am trying to excuse my behavior. I am not. I am not one of those incarcerated men who claims he doesn’t deserve to do time. I am just not sure If I deserve life.

The making of a troubled child

For a long time, growing up, it was just my mom, little brother and I. Men were in and out of my mom’s life – some drank and got violent with her – but none stuck. We lived all over Oregon; I’d say we were at the poverty line at best. I remember relying on food stamps and government food boxes.  In 1973 or so, my mom remarried. That was the beginning of my slide downhill. I was angry and had no outlet, so I acted out. I shoplifted at a young age. I beat up on my little brother and I told my step dad he was not my father and I didn’t have to listen to him.

That was when I ended up in foster care for the first time. The foster system was a mess back then and as a young kid, I was introduced to things like alcohol and drugs. It for sure helped take the edge off. 

From that time on, I was in and out of the home shared by my mom, step dad and little brother. In 1976 or so, my step father adopted us. It was also around this time that he started sexually abusing me and my little brother. This went on for a while. Finally, during my freshman year in high school, my parents split for some reason and I told my mom what was going on. Of course, she didn’t believe me. But when my little brother told her the same story, she believed him

We lived in a small town, and the news of the sexual abuse came out in the newspaper. That’s when things got really bad for me. I ran away often. I ended up in foster care again right before I turned 16. That home was good and I did well for a while. I got clean and sober and put my life back together. I ran on the cross country and track teams, and was a member of the youth group at church. I even got a college scholarship to run. 

Unfortunately, I never had any money and still didn’t feel like I fit in. When I started drinking again, I dropped out to join the Marine Corps. It seemed like a way to show I was a man. I also got married around then. We were both too young, though, and the stress built. I started using drugs (meth) and drinking again. When I caught my wife cheating on me, everything went down the toilet. I did anything I could to numb the pain and feelings of failure. I barely managed an honorable discharge from the Marines, and soon after that, a friend and I stole a car. We ended up killing a man in the process.

It’s never too late for a new beginning

Today, I feel humiliated by my actions. I have found my way back to the Lord, helped by a couple of men in prison who took me under their wings. I have done just about everything I can to better myself. I have taken whatever programs the Bureau of Prisons offers, earned an apprenticeship in housekeeping, serve as a suicide companion and am enrolled in Bible college. I try daily to be a better man. 

If I were to be released from prison I would live with my wife in Grants Pass (OR) and work at one of the three jobs offered to me as a warehouse foreman for construction companies. I would continue my college education so that I could get my degree, and then try to get involved in ministry for at-risk youth. I am very interested in drug education. And I would speak up for prison reform, sharing the real problems that prisons are creating. I do not think the public has a full or real picture of what prison is doing to people who are both incarcerated and working there.

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