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 think Horace challenges us -- the prosecutors, the judges, the lawyers -- and makes us think about what's wrong with our society," says the more pragmatic of the two partners. "If it wasn't for Horace, I wouldn't be thinking about how we treat people. One thing I've learned is, just because someone's not likable, just because someone's manipulative, doesn't mean they're not a person who deserves justice."

But what is justice to a man who wants to be behind bars? What is justice to a man who lies as often as he breathes? What is justice to a man whom taxpayers support to the tune of $20,000 each year simply because he likes being in federal prison?

Trying to decipher the truth with Horace Caraker is like trying to find an ice cube in a swimming pool.

Martin Menocal
Caraker’s arms, including his little Chihuahua tattoo, are covered in scars from failed suicide attempts or what the Secret Service refers to as “suicidal gestures.”
Martin Menocal
Clint Broden took Caraker’s case because he couldn’t believe a sane man would call the cops to threaten the president.

Caraker speaks in a soft, wet twang. Every now and then, his voice will crack, especially when he gets to talking about his mother. At that point, his wrinkled, weary face -- a face with few teeth left in it, half-obscured by damaged glasses so thick that they appear to be bulletproof -- seems to soften a bit. The rims of his eyes become suddenly red, as though a switch has been turned on. His eyes glaze over with the beginnings of tears. His lower lip begins to quake.

"My mommy," he whimpers beneath his breath. She died four years ago, when her little baby was 53 years old. She always forgave her boy, even when he went to prison or the state mental hospitals...again and again and again. "Can I talk about my mommy?" he asks. "I want to talk about my mommy."

Myrtle Gable Caraker Keith died in a Longview nursing home in June 1995, her 84-year-old body eaten away by cancer "from head to toe," as her son puts it. She's buried in Longview, the place of Caraker's birth in September 1941. She can no longer feed him, clothe him, tend to his every need. That job is left to the guards. If it weren't for them, Caraker would have no one left in the world to care for him. "I'm a spoiled brat," he says.

When he was a child, Caraker's mother made everything all right. Like when he was 5 years old and got hit in the head with a baseball bat. A little buddy of Caraker's swung the bat playfully and accidentally hit his pal in the head, cracking open Caraker's noggin and letting all the good sense run out.

As a result, Caraker began suffering horrible epileptic seizures. Nothing worse could happen to a little boy in a small town. Suddenly, little Caraker was a freak. It didn't help matters that his older sister, who died in 1993, fond of her little baby deer of a brother, started calling him Bambi around the same time. Kids loved to pick on twitching little Bambi, when they weren't calling him "Horse's Ass" or "Whore Ass."

Things like that made him a tough guy. His mama, a nurse, tried to stick up for him, tried to get the principal to make the other kids stop. Of course, it only made things worse. Daddy, a painting contractor, didn't do much about it except stay home and drink.

Years later, when Caraker was a teenager, he and Daddy used to drink together. Daddy would buy Caraker's booze with Caraker's money. That way, his daddy told him, at least Caraker wouldn't have to go to the bad side of town to buy his hooch.

But Caraker, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade, liked trouble. He recalls the times when he and some buddies would be walking down the street and some dude would pull up and offer oral sex for five bucks. Sure, Horace would say, and he and his buddy could climb into the car and drive off to some secluded spot. There, Caraker would "beat the shit" out of the guy and take all his money. Happened more than once, he says. Of course, back then Caraker hated "faggots and queers."

His old man died in 1959, and Caraker joined the Army. His hitch didn't last long: from October 1959 to February 1960, when he received an honorable discharge. He told psychiatrists at the federal facility Butner that he left the Army because he missed his daddy. His mother told the doctors Caraker left because her son "went berserk" when guns were fired during basic training.

When he got out of the Army, Caraker moved to Dallas to live with his mother, who moved here because she could make good money as a nurse. In 1960, Caraker married Francis Tourneau -- to "fill the void" left by his father's death. But the marriage lasted only a few months; Caraker drank too much and screwed around too much. She left him. Eventually, all the women in Caraker's life would abandon him.

In 1961, his mother remarried for the first time, but the marriage lasted only five months. Caraker hated his new daddy and took it out on her and her husband; what the doctors at Butner referred to as Caraker's "aggressive behavior" toward them forced their eventual breakup. But that's not why Caraker ended up in Rusk State Hospital on July 21, 1961.

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