HE ENTERED THE CALIFORNIA PRISON SYSTEM AT AGE16 AND LEFT AT THE AGE OF 51
Thirty-five years ago, 16-year-old Clifton Bode had it all. Raised on one of the largest cattle ranches in California, he had plans to see the world.
After an argument with his father, Bode ran away from home, taking his father’s gun with him. He realized he would not make it to the Sacramento Airport on foot, so he tried to steal a car. But in the process, he shot the owner, was arrested, tried as an adult, and convicted of first-degree murder.
He arrived at Duel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif., in 1978, which at the time was reported as “the most violent prison in the United States” by the Sacramento Bee.
“That’s the day I walked into hell,” said Bode. “It was a struggle coming to DVI. Mostly the people there were young.”
Before his 17th birthday, Bode was stabbed nine times, landing him in the hole.
“It was during that time I was in the hole I began reflecting on my life,” said Bode. “That’s when my life began to change.”
After recovering from the stabbings, he was sent back to DVI’s mainline, where he spent seven years.
Bode was found suitable for parole on June 4, 1992, but the decision was overturned by Gov. Pete Wilson.
“It was because of the ‘tough on crime initiative,’” Bode said. “It was political.”
‘That’s the day I walked into hell’
In January 1993 he was transferred to San Quentin, where he served the rest of his term. “I’ve watched San Quentin grow, and I’ve taken all the programs I’ve been offered.”
Bode was part of the Toastmasters speaking club and self-help programs like Alternative to Violence (AVP), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Victim Offender Education Group, (VOEG), and the spiritual group in the Catholic Church.
“In the early ‘90s I lost my faith in God,” Bode said. Then his wife reintroduced him to the Catholic faith. “I did Kairos in 1994 and that brought me back.” Bode says his faith has been strong ever since.
Bode earned his GED and high school diploma during his incarceration, and was nine units away from receiving his AA degree through San Quentin’s Prison University Project.
“The educational programs and self-help programs like VOEG helped me to gain insight and empathy towards the victims,” Bode said, “and the tragedy I created by my horrific crime.”
In May he was again found suitable and on Sept. 17 his counselor informed him the governor’s office would take no further action on his case.
Beyond the walls of San Quentin, his wife and friends are waiting for him but Bode will go to a transitional facility in Alameda County.
“I’m 51, and all I know is prison life,” Bode said. When asked what he would say today to the 16-year-old boy back then, he said: “Turn around and look at the greatness of life that he had. Being raised up on some of the biggest cattle ranches in California. He had it made, but he threw it all away.”