“I feel very disappointed with the system in my country,” said inmate Joe Ibarra in an interview with San Quentin News.
Ibarra is originally from Harlingen, Texas, but his parents are Mexican. 85-year-old Ibarra is in unique position to understand the difficulties that elderly inmates experience in the system.
“I’m one of the oldest pintos [OGs] in the California system,” he said.
Fellow inmates Pineda and Antonio Macilla, who are 74 and 76 years old respectively—have cumulatively served more than a century in prison for second-degree homicide.
In an interview conducted in San Quentin, the three elderly prisoners revealed some of the most common limitations elderly inmates face in achieving eligibility for parole: a lack of insight, lack of surviving family, and chronic illnesses.
Ibarra says the parole board (BPH) has denied him 15 times for lacking a deeper understanding of his crime. “They ask me to do more programs but nothing sticks with me anymore, I forget things.”
As proof of his gradual memory loss Ibarra commented, with tears in his eyes, “After 38 years in prison, I sometimes can’t even recognize my family. My brother visited me after a long time and I could not recognize him until the visit was over. He left with a broken heart. “
There are hundreds of inmates like Ibarra, who due to their advanced age are unable to learn or retain educational information that increases their chances of getting an exit date.
A lack of the family and community support that is required by the BPH is another factor that limits this group of prisoners’ ability to obtain conditional release.
“During the first years I did everything in my power to obtain my freedom while I had the support of my family. However, that was not possible and over the years I began to become disappointed,” said Pineda.
In 2017, he says, the BPH denied him 5 years. “This last time they asked for letters of support from my family. I feel stuck in this place. It is impossible for me to get the support they ask me for. My family was already advanced in age when I entered and have now passed away. I feel frustrated because if I do not comply, I will never be able to leave this place. They ask me for something I can never give them,” Pineda, originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, who has been in prison for 38 years, commented with visible frustration.
The BPH requires lifers like Pineda to verify in writing a ‘place of residence’ (known in the US as a transition house) in their country of origin. Without a letter from one of these institutions, elderly inmates are further limited in their chances of someday obtaining conditional release. “I requested a letter of acceptance to several transition houses and I never received a response,” Pineda emphasized.
Over the years Pineda’s physical health has deteriorated. “I think it would be very difficult to pay for my own medical needs like my insulin and medicine for my rheumatism.” Pineda said regarding future release. “There are days when I start thinking and I think it would be better not to leave this place. Now I would just go out and give pity and suffer, here at least they give me medical attention. “
Mancilla, who has been in prison for 33 years, says he’s been denied conditional release seven times. Unlike Pineda, Mancilla has family support. In his hometown of Colima, México, he worked as a cargo trucks and tractor driver. He does not, however, have documentation that verifies these skills. Now, he says, “[The parole board] asks me to take a vocational [course], but since I do not have my GED I can not enter the vocational workshops. It is difficult for me to obtain my GED at 76 years old, because of my lack of English and my state of physical health. I got sick with cancer in my stomach and stopped attending school. I’m still undergoing treatment.
“…evidence has linked loneliness…to a host of psychological and physiological ills (including) depression, cognitive decline, hearing problems and stroke.” Scientific American “The Toxic Well of Loneliness” January 2018
Since being diagnosed with stomach cancer, Mancilla explained, “It has become very difficult and very tiring to face the board and talk about my crime. I feel very bad, emotional stress weakens me physically. That’s one of the reasons why I have waived the right to be present during my last three hearings. “
Mancilla yearns to be able to leave the prison, reunite with his family and return to work as a truck and tractor driver. However, his illness prevents him from attending classes to get his GED and be accepted in a vocational program.
“When I had living family, I was interested in going out and doing what they asked me to do,” Pineda said. “I had the dream of seeing my parents and taking care of them. Today, I’ve lost hope of being free. “
Ibarra sadly expressed, “when they found me eligible for parole, my family and friends bought me clothes and lots of food to throw me a party. I gave away all my belongings thinking that they were going to let me go. But the Governor took away my departure date, “In this instance, Ibarra said, “I felt like a promise had been broken. As if the world ended. Like a dog when you take away his bone.”
Jorge Heredia and Marco Villa Contributed to this story