When Bobby Bostic was released from prison in November after serving 27 years of a 241-year sentence, it was understandable that many things seemed strange to him.
“Why do people talk to themselves?” she wondered when she saw people with wireless headphones, or after seeing people give commands to a speaker, she wondered who or what “Alexis” (Alexa) was.
The world had changed a lot compared to December 1995.
But what seemed strangest of all was the people.
“It’s how nice they are, compared to those who are in prison,” says Bostic, now 44.
“You walk into a store and they say, ‘Sir, can I help you?’ In prison you have nothing but pouting and bullying”.
Or a “Hello, how are you?” instead of “Don’t come too close to me”.
“There are only good things here. Smiling people. Little children greet you. It’s like life is like this. This is normal. That’s how things should be,” he says of a connection he longed for during his 27 years in jail.
“Deep down you always wanted that humanity. That’s the joy of being human,” he said.
After spending nearly 10,000 nights in a cell, November 8, 2022 was the last time Bostic went to sleep in prison. But he couldn’t sleep, he was too busy thinking about his early freedom.
Instead, he spent the long, dark night packing up the things he kept in his cell. He left his belongings to other prisoners, but kept one thing: his typewriter. It held too many memories for him, too many stories, to leave behind.
In the sunlight, his cell tucked away, he looked at the sign indicating which prisoners were to be moved. Next to his name was a word: released.
“It wasn’t real until I saw the words,” he says. “When I did it, it was like music to my soul.”
When his departure became a reality, Bostic dressed to go home. After spending so many days, weeks and years in gray, he had chosen a blue three-piece suit. “It represents the new chapter of my life,” he said.
Twenty-five years earlier, a judge told Bostic that he would “die in prison”. But now, at 7:30 a.m. one November morning, Bobby walked out of prison a free man, his suit and smile as bright as the Missouri sun.
As he did so, a woman in a black hat came over to hug him. It was the same judge who delivered his verdict, Evelyn Baker.
The journey that ended with a hug from prison began in December 1995, on a day when there was a lot of drugs and alcohol in Saint-Louis.
At age 16, Bostic and his friend Donald Hutson went on a spiral of armed robbery.
They robbed a group delivering Christmas gifts to those in need. They fired a gun (no injuries, thankfully) and then stole a woman’s car at gunpoint.
Bostic was offered benefits if he pleaded guilty, including a 30-year prison sentence with the possibility of parole. But he turned them down.
It was inevitable that he would be found guilty. Judge Baker imposed consecutive sentences for the 17 crimes he had committed, which amounted to 241 years.
Hutson instead made a deal, pleaded guilty and got 30 years.
Light of hope
When the BBC first interviewed Bostic in 2018, he already had a glimmer of hope that he could get out of prison.
The US Supreme Court ruled in 2010 minors should not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for crimes other than murder.
In 2016, it was confirmed that the sentence should apply to previous cases, such as Bostic’s.
But the state of Missouri was unwilling to release him. In fact, he argued that he was not serving a life sentence, but had multiple convictions for multiple crimes that happened at the same time.
The only option was to get probation… at “extremely old age”.
In April 2018, one month after the BBC interview, the US Supreme Court rejected Bostic’s appeal. He didn’t say why.
“Most people give up at that point,” says Bostic. “Once you’ve been rejected, there’s nothing left”.
But he didn’t. He went back to his self-help books and his typewriter. Hope was still alive, letter by letter.
It was an amendment to a new Missouri law, which offered parole to prisoners who served long periods as children, that gave Bostic another chance.
However, on May 14, 2021 — the last day of the Missouri legislative session — it still hadn’t passed.
“I didn’t have much confidence,” says Bostic. “Normally, if it doesn’t get approved in January or February, there’s no chance it will get there.”
And then, to his surprise, he received an email from a friend.
“The prison started to receive us emailssays Bostic. “Someone sent me an article from the Missouri Independent saying the law had been passed… it was a miracle. I wondered if it would actually be approved, if the governor would sign it.”
The governor, Mike Parson, did. Thanks to the law, Bostic – and hundreds of others – were eligible for parole. The hearing to review his case was scheduled for November 2021.
“But I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits. “The parole board is not a free ticket to get out of jail.”
At the hearings, detainees can count on a delegate to assist them. Bostic knew who to ask: the judge who told him he would die in prison.
Evelyn Baker, who became the first black woman to be appointed as a judge in Missouri in 1983, began questioning her sentence around 2010.
It was two years after he retired, read about the difference between the brain of an adolescent and that of an adult. In his 25-year career, it is the only punishment he regrets.
In February 2018, he wrote an article for the Washington Post describing Bostic’s punishment as “benevolent and unfair”. A month later, he spoke to the BBC and repeated the message.
What did he say at the parole hearing?
“Bobby was a 16-year-old boy that I treated like a full-fledged adult, which was a mistake,” he admitted to the BBC.
“I contacted Bobby and his sister. And I’ve watched him evolve from a juvenile delinquent to a very considerate and caring adult. It’s matured.”
In addition to Judge Baker, one of Bostic’s 1995 victims also wrote a letter in support of his case (the BBC had previously contacted some of Bostic’s and Hutson’s victims, but none wanted to speak publicly).
With his help, the parole hearing was a success.
“If I could have done a cartwheel, I would have.says Judge Baker.
It meant that, exactly one year after his parole hearing, the person he hugged that sunny November morning was a free man.
“It was like Christmas, New Years, all the holidays rolled into one,” he says. “I started to cry. Bobby was free.”
After meeting with Judge Baker, friends, family and supporters, Bostic went to eat his first meal outside prison since 1995.
A vegan for 24 years, he opted for a taco, but there was a problem.
“I got in the car and threw up all the food,” he says. “When you get out of prison, you haven’t been on the highway in 27 years. There’s something called vertigo“, he explained.
After he recovered, he went to his sister’s house in the South Zone of San Luis, the city where he grew up. During the day, he says, more than 400 people came to greet him.
“They lined up around the block,” he said. “When I came here, I shook hands with this person, this cousin, this aunt, this uncle, this friend… I was up until two in the morning.”
However, the outside world was not an endless party.
Bobby and his sister run a charity, Dear mum (Dear Mother), who provides food, toys, and other assistance to low-income families in St. Louis (named after her late mother, Diane, who, says Bobby, “gave to many people, even though I didn’t have much “).
Every Thursday he teaches a writing workshop at the city’s juvenile detention center, and hopes to do more. But like charity work, it is volunteer work.
Get money from selling books (he has seven on Amazon, all written on his prison typewriter) and, occasionally, to lecture. With that, he rents a one-bedroom apartment and pays bills.
“I’m barely making it with what I’m doing now,” he admits.
She hopes to get a full-time job in community or youth work, and she does interviews. But even when money is tight, it doesn’t lessen your wonder and gratitude for the outside world.
“I still struggle with some things,” he says. “But otherwise life here is beautiful every day. I look in the fridge and see the variety of things to choose from. A bath in the bathtub: I haven’t bathed in 27 years! I don’t take anything for granted, nothing.”
Bostic was given a second chance at life and he is thankful for it. But not his partner that day in December 1995.
Donald Hutson, who we remember was sentenced to 211 years less than Bostic, died in prison in September 2018. A toxicology report determined the cause was a drug overdose.
Nine months later, he would be eligible for parole.
Mabel is a talented author and journalist with a passion for all things technology. As an experienced writer for the 247 News Agency, she has established a reputation for her in-depth reporting and expert analysis on the latest developments in the tech industry.