Part 4 of an occasional series
On a rainy morning in San Pedro, Bruce Lisker was in a reflective mood. He had come to Point Fermin, the spot where his parents' ashes had been scattered, and was talking about the adjustment to his new life. Now that he has been free almost 6 months, a new reality has set in.
"I'm feeling the loss. It was close to 30 years in which I didn't really grow in a lot of ways that people do. I feel like the perennial infant walking around, not having the tools with which to cope with life on its own terms. I'm looking for a therapist I can see a couple of times a week to help me deal with some of these issues. The PTSD.
"It's hard for me sleep in a room with the lights off. I'm so used to being able to see what's around me. In prison, you're trained to know it's dangerous, you need to see what's around you. And now, if I'm outside at night, I'm constantly on guard. I can't disengage from it, try as I might. The elation has given way to this underlying condition. They gutted my life."
He has started monthly get-togethers with one of the jurors on his case. They met through CBS, which arranged a meeting for the cameras. What Lisker really needs is a job. He's almost out of the little money his dad had put aside for him. He took the entrance exams for Santa Monica College and did well on the English, but needs help with algebra. His father was a lawyer, and Lisker muses about what might have been. "Maybe, once I got out of my rebellious teens, I would have followed in my father's footsteps and become a lawyer," he says.
Lisker's dad had his own booth at Musso & Frank's near his Hollywood law office. Today, Lisker has a booth and waiter assigned to him for the occasions he visits the restaurant. Those will be few until he has some income. The job search has been difficult. Imagine adding a murder conviction to your resume.
"The applications all ask if you've been arrested, and I can't lie. But once you say yes, for murder, they never call back. I went down to get a copy of my rap sheet, and even though I have been exonerated, they have not changed anything so the conviction is still there. That's the day I called the therapist.
"My whole life is on hold," he says. "Getting a job at this point will be a case of somebody throwing me a bone. I've inquired at many places, but with this economy, there are plenty of people without criminal records looking for work who are getting turned away."
Lisker thinks he may know someone who might have a job for him when he returns from his first trip abroad, a trip to England with his girlfriend to visit family and attend a family funeral. He and Kara may visit France as well, a trip Lisker swore he'd never make, if it meant getting on an airplane. But he's up for the new challenges life is sending his way, and when the idea of a trip came up, he went for it.
In late December, Lisker filed a lawsuit claiming his civil rights were violated by the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD and the two detectives who investigated his mother's murder and lied in building a case that wrongfully held him responsible for the murder. There is a hearing coming up on March 22 so the defendants can respond to Lisker's allegations. Until then, he waits.
Attorney Bill Genego, who is representing Lisker, acknowledges the difficulty of this new life, but professes faith in Lisker's innate intelligence and abilities. "Bruce is a very capable individual. He has a lot of employable skills and I think he will do fine after this transition period," Genego says. The lawsuit and request for damages tries to make up for what Lisker lost by being imprisoned for 27 years, from the time he was 17 to when he was released at 42. "The system took a huge chunk out of Lisker's life," the lawyer says. "They took the years away from him where we create the life we spend the rest of our years living. Those are the years when you set up your life and then carry it out. Those are the core of someone's life. He is at a real disadvantage."
People mistakenly think that the system tries to make it up to the wrongly imprisoned like Lisker. "But they don't," he says, somewhat disheartened. "They sit on their thumbs waiting for you to sue them." He tries to maintain his equilibrium, stay positive. He's hopeful that a job will materialize so he can begin to support himself and get his life moving forward, now that his long nightmare is over and the burden of freedom--with all its potential and all his liabilities--is his.
This is the fourth part of photographer Iris Schneider's series following Bruce Lisker as he returns to society. He was released from prison last August, after a court vacated his murder conviction.