Six cubic feet.
As Bruce Lisker packed up the last of his belongings and wedged them into his car, he was reminded of that number. As a prison inmate, Lisker had just 6 cubic feet for all his worldly possessions. For those of us with storage spaces, packed garages and bursting closets, it's hard to imagine getting our possessions down to that bare minimum. Lisker had no choice. That's why he could make a new career for himself as a personal packer. You get really good at consolidating things when you have such limited space, he says.
Now Lisker can spread his wings a bit. He is leaving his temporary home, the North Hollywood condo of Jerry Weinstock, the husband of his stepmother Joy, and moving to Marina del Rey, where his new girlfriend lives. He and Kara have been corresponding since before his release. She first wrote to Joy after the 2005 article about his case appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Joy encouraged her to write to Bruce directly. Eventually she did, and became a friend and supporter, encouraging him as he waited and hoped for freedom and exoneration.
Lisker remembers going to her home for a birthday party just three days after his August 13 release. "She bounded out of the house, she looked gorgeous and she gave me a big hug. She held my face in her hands and said, 'I can't believe you're out!'"
They were just friends, but soon after his release the friendship turned romantic and now they are moving in together. Lisker is excited, grateful and happy. They have been spending a lot of time together, so moving the last of his clothes and papers out of Jerry's place feels like a formality, kind of a pain in the neck.
He fastidiously cleans every scrap of paper, careful to leave the place spotless. Another trait you learn in prison, he says — you make up for the lack of control over your life by controlling your belongings and your space. According to Bruce, most prisoners are extremely neat and don't want their things touched or disturbed.
As he and Weinstock said their goodbyes, they reminisced, chatting as Lisker packed up the last remnants: unwashed laundry, a frozen steak and a few pairs of shoes. "How long has it been?" Jerry asked. Lisker was released from prison on August 13 and has been staying with Jerry ever since.
"Four months. A season," Weinstock figured. He will miss Bruce, but was happy to be there for him. "He didn't just come out into the world alone," he said. "He came out to a big support group. And over the years, Joy really mentored him and taught him how to forgive."
Jerry knows from personal experience that "there is nothing like the love of a good woman...and the arena of a relationship to grow. This will be really good for him."
This first season of Lisker's freedom has been full. He took his first plane flight to Chicago to speak on a panel of exonerees at Northwestern Law School. He loved the gig, hated the plane flight. In fact he swore he'd never fly again: "I spent all that time in prison protecting myself for the day I'd be free. I'm not going to put myself in danger now that I'm out." But Kara, a world traveler, has already convinced him to apply for his passport and they will be flying to Europe before too long.
He visited UC Irvine to speak to law students in Professor Henry Weinstein's class. "I was definitely impressed with Lisker. He seemed remarkably together for someone who has gone through what he has experienced," said Weinstein, a former legal writer at the Los Angeles Times.
As part of his reentry to Los Angeles society, Lisker has been to his first Dodger game, sailed through a pod of whales off the coast of San Pedro, and attended his first fancy awards dinner, for the British Film Academy, with Kara. When the governor walked in and everyone stood, Lisker stayed seated...just because after years of being told what to do and when, he could.
And he joined his sister and her family for his first real Thanksgiving in 26 years.
"Thanksgiving was amazing, and sad," he said, hesitating. "I missed my mom. She had pumpkin covered...pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, all of it. So it was hard. But I did get to play with my niece. She's warming to me now. She recognizes me now. I'm not that scary bald guy who keeps showing up. That was nice."
Indeed, travels with Lisker through LA are a mix of excitement at seeing new things, and nostalgia at seeing the old places he remembers. As he forges his new life, it's obvious that there will always be that tinge of the bittersweet, coloring his experiences.
"I am very guarded and the kind of person who doesn't share my tears a lot. It's difficult to see how much has changed without me," he had told me a month ago. And money is on his mind. He is trying hard to find a job or create a niche for himself. In this market especially, and given his circumstances, that will be tough.
Not that he's complaining. "I am surrounded by amazing people who are trying to do what they can. That really helps. But there are going to be those touchstone moments. I was driving the other day, listening to the radio and they were playing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Every year while I was sitting in prison that one always nailed me. This time, I heard it in the car, on the way to my sister's. I just started laughing. It was sheer joy."
This is the third part of Iris Schneider's series following Bruce Lisker as he returns to society. He was released from prison in August after 26 years, following a court vacating his murder conviction.