Soon after passing his driving test on Monday morning, Bruce Lisker drove his car to the Sherman Oaks carwash. He pulled in and I jumped out with my camera ready, along with a CBS camera crew that is preparing a special on Lisker's story. The carwash employees couldn't help but notice all the attention. "What, did you win the lottery?" a young man asked. Lisker smiled. "Yeah, something like that," he said.
Reserved, quiet and polite to a fault, Lisker seems to be enjoying every minute on the outside, learning something new every day — like what to tip the car wash workers, or how to use an ATM. "Before I went in, there were no cellular telephones, gps, no internet to speak of. When I was arrested, they were just starting to sell albums on CD. I had never used an ATM, written a check, voted, used a credit card. It was a different world."
"If I was bitter and filled with loathing, no one would want to hang out with me. On the inside I was waiting for one day when I could heal, recover, and part of that is being sociable.
"There were people who set out to destroy me. I'm not going to complete their mission for them. My Dad was always there for me, Joy my stepmother was there for me, she treated me just like a mother, she became in my heart and in hers my mother." Joy passed away years before his release. Lisker is now living with her husband until he gets a job and sets out on his own.
With his driver's license came the last bit of freedom he was craving. "The last time I drove around as a licensed driver was March 10, 1983, driving to my parents' house...Getting my license--it's a milestone in getting back my life. "
He was looking forward to driving alone for the first time in 26 years.
"I want to drive to the beach. It's something I had in my mind for a long time. My parents' ashes were scattered off the coast. It's a resting place. I want to spend some time looking out. I love the beach, it's the edge of forever. The beginning of the ocean, the majesty of everything that can be, of possibility. I love the beach. The girls wear bikinis there."
With a camera crew in tow, he did not get much time alone. A trip to Point Fermin, where his parents' ashes were scattered into the ocean, will come sometime in the near future. Lisker had sought permission in 1995 to leave prison and attend his father's funeral, but permission was denied. He mentions his Dad often, and many memories of his younger life with his parents crowd his thoughts as he reconnects with Los Angeles and the Valley.
Since his release he has been experiencing L.A. with friends and family — a Dodger game, jogging in the park, the Santa Monica pier, his favorite waffle place on Ventura Boulevard, and a trip to the Getty. "Just the building alone is beautiful," he said. "And while I was inside, it struck me: two weeks before I was being guarded at gunpoint. Now, two weeks later, I'm standing in front of a Vermeer."
His days are often packed, busy, doing the simple tasks of ordinary life: shopping, banking, connecting with old friends. "Some days are hard," he says. When asked to explain, he mentions his parents, as he often does when something triggers a memory.
"Both my mom and dad are gone," he says. They can't share his joy, or see him finally free. The sting of that loss, and its enormity, is never far below the surface.
At the car wash, the curious young man approached Bruce. "So man, what's your story?" Lisker explained: "I was in prison for a crime I didn't commit, and I was released about a month ago." The young man's face was serious.
"Wow, I feel that, man," he said. "How long were you in?"
"Twenty-six years," Lisker said.
"Oh no," he replied.
"Yeah," said Lisker. Then he asked, "How old are you?"
"Twenty-one," he answered, and the number seemed to hang in the air as they both grasped what it meant.
This week Lisker will take his first plane trip, to Northwestern University where he will appear on a panel at Northwestern's Law School, along with two other men wrongfully incarcerated as juveniles and now released. The airport security measures, which seem so absurdly excessive to most of us, will feel all too familiar to Lisker.