On a rare occasion, the California State Parole Commission approved a compassionate release in the case of Bill Lambie due to his terminal medical condition.
Lambie was convicted of second-degree murder in 2000. He received a sentence of 40 years to life. He said he feels bad about the circumstances leading up to his incarceration and is “grateful for the compassion given” to him by everyone involved with the decision to release him.
His wife, Anita met with state officials in Sacramento on July 16, where the request was heard. After careful consideration and a stringent evaluation of his medical situation, he was granted the release, which becomes official once a judge signs it.
In 1984, Congress granted federal courts, via the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA), the authority to reduce prison sentences for “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances, after taking into account public safety and the purpose of punishment.
That authorization is commonly called “compassionate release” because it recognizes the importance of ensuring that “justice could be tempered by mercy.” Congress said, “A prison sentence that was just when imposed could—because of changed circumstances—become cruel as well as senseless if not altered.”
The number of elderly people in prisons is growing. According to the National Institute of Correction, there are 246,600 elderly prisoners behind bars across the country. Prisoners age 50 and older are considered “elderly” or “aging” due to unhealthy conditions prior to and during incarceration, according to the NIC.
Becoming elderly in prison puts a body in a precarious circumstance that not only endangers the prisoner; it generates astronomical amounts of medical necessities supported financially by the public. Millions of additional dollars are needed to fi nance the astounding amount of care and supervision required to care for an elderly prisoner with serious medical issues.
Lambie, who is now 81, was born in Chicago Illinois. He came to Pasadena, California as a young man and worked building aluminum wing and belly tanks for airplanes. “It was a physical job, hard, but it was an important one,” he said.
Today Lambie suffers from terminal lung cancer that has spread throughout his body. Chemotherapy has failed to help. According to Lambie, several medical sources deemed his medical condition severe and irremediable. “They said I won’t see this coming Thanksgiving,” said Lambie. He is able to slowly amble around with the use of a cane and cherishes every day as a blessing.
According to the SRA law, Lambie’s medical condition rendered imprisonment “unjust and unfair,” and qualifi es him for the release. The law acts as a “safety valve” to revisit sentences and reduce them “if appropriate.” The compassionate release option permits the courts to decrease sentences for applicable circumstances such as Lambie’s.
In one of Lambie’s many medical documents, from Marin Specialty Care Hospital, Doctor Alex S. Metzger Oncology/ Hematology said, “I feel that it is reasonable for Mr. Lambie to be considered for compassionate release and request Hospice services.” Both CDCR and outside medical specialists concur on Lambie’s incurable condition.
‘I feel that it is reasonable for Mr. Lambie to
be considered for compassionate release
and request Hospice services’
Lambie still maintains a great sense of humor despite his debilitating disease. “I wanted to get out of the cold weather—it made my teeth chatter, and long underwear makes me itch,” he said with a smile about leaving Chicago.
“All the guys here [at San Quentin] have been great,” said Lambie. “They treat me with respect and I really appreciate their concern.” Lambie’s positive attitude, considering his age and condition, “puts him in a special category of people,” said one man about him.
Prior to his imprisonment, Lambie’s life was full of memorable adventures. He spent four years in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, serving as a crewman and gunner on B-29 fighter-bombers and completing his service with an honorable discharge.
After the Korean War, Lambie lived in Topanga Canyon outside Los Angeles where he obtained a private pilots license. In 1956, Lambie bought a used Piper Cub for $400.00, which he recalls, had a “very reliable 6 cylinder Continental engine.” Then in 1957, Lambie “sold everything” he had except a 34-foot Yawl sailboat. He spent many years cruising the south Pacific. “My son Luis was born in Guadalajara, Mexico,” said Lambie beaming with pride.
Luis now is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and was involved with many of the action scenes during the Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp. Luis has worked on all Disney Studio’s (Pirate movies) “sword fighting, swinging from ropes off the set of the pirate ship, fights scenes and much more,” said Lambie.
For a time, Lambie worked as a Navigator for the National Geographic Society on the research ship Pelé, a 90-foot converted Coast Guard Cutter. This journey took him all over the south Pacifi c including the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and dozens of other “great ports around the world,” said Lambie. Many of his friends affectionately refer to him as “Captain Bill.”
In his cell, Lambie keeps boxes full of photos and letters from his family and friends.
Among them are official, embossed certificates and accolades of appreciation. Lambie received some of the tributes from NASA administrators thanking him for his part in the investigation and recovery of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and his many endeavor with that government agency.
One document read, “In appreciation of your dedication to the critical tasks you performed in support of the Presidential Commission investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger accident….” It was signed by James Fletcher, NASA Administrator and Richard Truly, Associate Administrator for Space Flight. Another vocation of Lambie was as an industrial illustrator and worked for several companies, including 3M Corporation.
If compassionate releases were granted to an increasing number of dying or debilitated prisoners, it would not greatly reduce the state prison population, but it would halt the unnecessary security costs of confining prisoners who pose little if any risk to public safety.
According to a 2012 report by the UCLA, “In 1981, there were 8,853 state and federal prisoners age 55 and older. Today, that number stands at 124,900 and experts project that by 2030 this number will be over 400,000.
Compassionate releases are monitored by the Human Rights Watch [http://www.hrw.org.] organization who investigate and expose human rights violations.
For more on compassionate release, go to Families Against Mandatory Minimums [http:// www.famm.org.]