Clifford Hampton was released from the Louisiana prison system on parole this past April. He had served 61 years for two murder convictions.
At age 17, Hampton killed an 18-year-old neighborhood girl in Ascension Parish after, according to public reports, she refused to have sex with him. He stabbed the girl 28 times in a fit of rage.
Although a juvenile, Hampton was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment as an adult for the murder. He was placed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary—more commonly known as “Angola.” It was at the time the state’s only adult prison, housing both male and female inmates.
In that era, a life sentence under Louisiana law required that an inmate serve ten years, six months before being eligible for release. It was virtually automatic that no one served more than 10 ½ years before being discharged. The average amount of time served on a life sentence was roughly 7 years.
Louisiana “10-6 law,” as it became known over the years, was abolished in 1979 by the Louisiana Legislature when it enacted a life sentence that must be served without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.
In other words, the only method of release for lifers now is through executive clemency obtained from a pardon board and approved by the governor.
Three years into his life sentence, Hampton stabbed a fellow inmate to death because he heard the inmate had been spreading lies about him. That second murder resulted in a consecutive 10-6 life sentence, ensuring that he would have to serve a minimum of 21 years on both life sentences.
Hampton reached the 21-year mark in 1979—the very year the Legislature eliminated the 10-6 life sentence and replaced it with life without parole (LWOP). Louisiana courts would subsequently rule that since the release mechanisms available to 10-6 lifers and other parole-eligible lifers were a “privilege” and not a right, the LWOP sentences did not violate the ex post facto provisions of either the state or federal constitutions.
That left Hampton, and nearly two thousand others lifers in 1979, without any meaningful foreseeable release prospects. Each lifer in his own way came to realize that, more likely than not, they would spend the rest of their lives in prison.
That changed for Hampton and several hundred other Louisiana “juvenile lifers”—juveniles tried as adults—when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled in Miller v. Alabama that juvenile lifers sentenced to LWOP must have some form of release mechanism. Four years later, the Supreme Court in Montgomery v. Louisiana held that its Miller decision was retroactive and therefore applied to all juvenile lifers sentenced to LWOP.
The Montgomery decision created a release opportunity through parole for Hampton, along with 255 other juvenile lifers in the Louisiana prison system.
Hampton was 78 years old when he was released on parole. His parole release had been strenuously opposed by the Ascension Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Hampton’s parole was secured with some community-based support. This support group provided him with housing, clothing, and some monetary resources.
But parole very well may lead to expedited death for Hampton.
Long-term penal incarceration, particularly for violent crimes, does not, and cannot, prepare an individual for the rigors of life outside, much less adhering to the demands of parole supervision.
Hampton does not have the 40 working quarters necessary to receive social security benefits.
He is entitled to healthcare coverage through Medicare, but probably does not have the financial resources to afford supplemental coverage through a private medical insurance provider.
Employment opportunities will be almost impossible to find. How do you explain away two murder convictions to a prospective employer?
Housing will be difficult to find as well. People do not want a paroled murderer living in their immediate apartment complex or in their local neighborhoods.
And it is probably too late in life for Hampton to become technology-literate. The complexities of that world are crucial, if not critical, to life outside.
Housing, employment, and healthcare coverage are essential to survive in a free society that is not always friendly to the needs of the disadvantaged.
Lester Holt recently featured Hampton in a piece titled Life Inside, a poignant piece about life inside Angola as part of NBC’s Justice For All programming.
Holt’s quality reporting made it clear that Hampton is not intellectually or sufficiently skilled to acquire and maintain on his own these three life-sustaining essentials in the free world.
Prison provided these essentials. Penal healthcare is mandated by the Constitution while employment and housing are mandated by statute.
It is sometimes hard for prison reform activists to understand that the free world survival mindset is much different, and far tougher, than the prison survival mindset.
In a worst case scenario, physical survival in prison can be obtained, as it was for Hampton, by simply stabbing to death another inmate who is spreading lies about you. Survival in prison depends almost exclusively on an individual’s willingness to do violence at any given moment as Hampton did.
The parameters for physical survival in the free world, however, are far more complex. Life outside depends upon a strong set of personal values, a determination to succeed, an ability to overcome obstacles, and the moral character to secure and maintain personal relationships.
These are rigorous parameters, especially for an old man leaving prison who thinks a cheeseburger for his first meal was great. Community support groups can provide only so much assistance to a parolee. The rest they must do on their own. This is no minor endeavor, akin to navigating a kayak in a tropical storm.
One can only wish the best for Clifford Hampton but the stress of life outside almost ensures that the end of life for him will be accelerated, and the process of passing will not be pleasant.