Prison sweet prison

Horace Caraker doesn't belong in federal prison. But he likes it there, and he'll threaten a president if it means going back.

 I'm gonna kill fucking Bill Clinton.

Horace Caraker knew exactly what he was doing when, at 1:27 a.m. on October 11, 1995, he walked up to a pay phone on Gaston Avenue, called 911, and uttered those words to the Dallas police officer on the other end of the line. He had done this countless times by now, so many that even the cops and the feds had lost count. What? Nine times? 10? A dozen? Probably more than that, only sometimes no one took him seriously. They usually figured that was just Horace again -- crazy Horace, drunk Horace looking for attention by menacing a president with a gun he didn't own.

I'm going to get a gun, and I'm going to blow his brains out.

Martin Menocal

Every now and then, when he was lucky, Caraker would actually get someone to take him seriously and treat his warnings with the respect he believed they deserved. He had been doing this since September 1975, when he called the Dallas cops and said he was going to kill Gerald Ford. "I mean it," he told the 911 dispatcher. "And I'm gonna use a .357 Magnum." They believed him then, just as they believed him when he said he was going to kill Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Horace Caraker had been incarcerated three times since 1975 in federal correctional facilities for promising to kill a president. Before that, he had been locked up in state facilities for numerous crimes, among them larceny, robbery, aggravated assault, and sexual assault on a minor. And from 1961 to 1995, he had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals more than 25 times.

He preferred the federal prisons -- the Holiday Inn of prisons, he likes to say. Every time the government threw him in one of their fine establishments, Caraker could not have been happier. That was exactly what he wanted. Threaten a president, go to federal prison. Life was sweet.

That's why U.S. Secret Service special agent Ralph Mercer didn't believe Caraker when he made a similar call from Parkland Hospital in August 1995. Caraker apologized, which he always did. He said he threatened to kill Clinton only as a cry for help. He was a manic-depressive and needed his medication, which he hadn't taken in six months, he told Mercer. He was drunk, reeking of alcohol. He was sad, lonely, crying. His mother had just died a couple of months earlier. Caraker needed his mommy.

Mercer let him go that time, recommending to his superiors that Caraker not be prosecuted. He left Caraker at Parkland, believing the doctors would take care of this wreck of a human being.

But he believed Caraker two months later, when once again they met, this time in Lew Sterrett's drunk tank. First words out of Caraker's mouth: "I'll kill Bill fucking Clinton." He promised to hitchhike to Washington, D.C., if that's what it took. This time, there were no tears, no apologies. This time, Mercer was convinced Caraker meant it, especially after he vowed to go to a McDonald's and kill everyone inside -- including all the children -- and then turn a gun on himself if Mercer didn't do something.

Mercer had no choice. He made sure Caraker got just what he wanted, another stint in the federal prison system.

Horace Caraker was going home.

He sits by himself at a table, surrounded by other empty tables and vending machines whose electric purring fills the silence. He waits in the Federal Correctional Institute-Beaumont visitors' room, because what else does he have to do? Nothing, not for two more years.

In front of him rests a manila folder, upon which he has written in black felt-tip: "LEGAL WORK." The words are underlined, and next to them, in parentheses, he has written "NON-FICTION." He insists that's a joke, that there is no fiction folder somewhere else.

On the folder, Caraker also has written his last name: "CARAKER." Next to that is his federal prison ID number, 01131-078.

Contained within that folder are nine pieces of notebook paper, upon which he has written letters intended for U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer. The letters contain a brief summary of his life during the past few years -- the time spent in and out of federal prison, the arrests, the federal probation officer in Dallas who "didn't know the real me" and stuck him in Austin Street Shelter with the drunks. Caraker hated it there. He says he'd rather get a lethal injection than go back to the Austin Street Shelter.

Most of all, the letters are a plea for understanding. He wants the judge to help him out of this federal prison. He didn't mean to get drunk and get arrested in all those parks and hospitals around Dallas. And he sure didn't mean it when he threatened to kill Clinton in August and October of 1995. And again in 1998.

But nobody understood him. They took his threats seriously. That's why he's here, why he'll be here for two more years -- and why he'll be back once he's out, no matter what he says. Even his defense attorneys, men who spent three years trying to keep Caraker out of prison, are convinced of that.

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