Home Again

A year ago, Horace Caraker sat in the bright, sterile visitors' room of a South Texas federal prison and swore to a reporter that he was tired of spending his life behind bars. He was 57 years old, in ill health, and vowing to stay free of these confines once released. Behind thick, chipped spectacles, he wept like a child as he promised to go straight, get clean, grow up. He said he wanted to leave prison in a Greyhound bus, not a pine box.

Caraker had been incarcerated three times since 1975 in federal correctional facilities for promising to kill a president. Last year, he was serving a 10-month sentence for violating conditions of his supervised probation, stemming from a 1995 conviction for threatening Bill Clinton. In 1975, he claimed he was going to kill Gerald Ford; in 1986, it was Ronald Reagan. It was always the same old story: He'd call the cops, say he was going to execute a president, and wait for the police to arrive. He wanted them to take him home--to prison, to the only place in the world in which he felt safe. Keep him too long in the real world, and he got homesick for the joint.

Before 1975, Caraker, the subject of the article "Prison Sweet Prison" in the July 1, 1999, issue of the Dallas Observer, had been locked up in state facilities for numerous crimes, among them larceny, robbery, aggravated assault, and sexual assault of a minor--all charges he insisted were unfounded, untrue. And from 1961 to 1995, he had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals more than 25 times. The doctors all said the same thing of Horace: He's manipulative, narcissistic, dependent, a drunk.

But in June 1999, he vowed: When I get out, I stay out.

For a while, he even lived up to his word. He was released from Federal Correctional Institute-Beaumont in December and stayed out of trouble--and out of prison--until August of this year. That's when he decided he needed to go home again, complaining that federal officials were ignoring his pleas for medical attention and mental-health assistance. He said if they wouldn't put him in a hospital, he'd break back into prison.

On August 29, Caraker got exactly what he wanted: He was arrested by Dallas police and taken to a federal prison in Seagoville. On Friday, he will go before U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer for a hearing to determine whether he violated terms of his supervised probation. In a supervised-release violation report, Caraker's probation officer, Mike Laughlin, charges that Caraker violated terms of his release by getting arrested in May for public intoxication on the grounds of Baylor hospital. He also failed to keep a residence where Laughlin could visit him, and failed to take his anti-depressives and get mental health counseling. Both Caraker's attorney, Mick Mickelsen, and prosecutor Tom Hamilton, an assistant U.S. attorney, believe Caraker will have his probation revoked.

And that's just what Caraker wanted all along.

"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do for him," Mickelsen says. "Horace wants maximum time. He's totally institutionalized, he's despondent, he has no one to go to, and he has no place to live other than shelters and prison. I can't advocate what he wants, but I imagine this perverse scenario where I ask for maximum time, and the prosecutor says he's manipulating the system and asks the judge to let him go. I am perplexed."

Hamilton, on the other hand, is simply sick of Caraker. He wishes he'd just go away.

"I realize that what he's doing is working the system for his own good," Hamilton says. "Pathetic as that is."

Ever since his release in December, Caraker has been trying like hell to get back into prison, despite his earlier claims. According to Hamilton, Caraker has left threatening notes with the Dallas Police Department, Mike Laughlin, and anyone else he thinks can help get him incarcerated. A week before he was detained by federal officials, he even left two threatening letters at the front desk of the Observer, on August 23 and August 25.

In the first missive, Caraker detailed a plan to hold up a bank--without a gun, insisting as always he is not a dangerous man--and then leave the money outside, where he would wait for the police to show up and arrest him. He also said he was living in a park outside downtown, after having lived in several halfway houses and shelters in which probation officials placed him after his December release. Mickelsen says Caraker was also denied Social Security disability, which would have amounted to $6,000 annually.

A few hours after leaving the first note, Caraker showed up at the Observer offices, where, during a two-hour interview, he swore he would do whatever it took to get into prison, even if it meant committing murder--despite the fact that Caraker's criminal record indicates no history of violence. He also claimed that Laughlin ignored his pleas for help, though even Mickelsen says Laughlin did "everything within reason a probation officer can do."

Three days later, Caraker returned to the Observer, this time with a note insisting he was "about to show them what I mean when I say that I do not tolerate being ignored." He wrote that "I am going to do something so gruesome and tragic, that it will be known worldwide...I do not want to be arrested until I carry out my plan. In other words, this is not a threat. It is a well planned cruel and hideous thing. But I will receive help."

Caraker knew what he was doing when he left the note: On August 25, Mexican president-elect Vicente Fox and Gov. George W. Bush were in town for a well-publicized meeting at the University of Texas at Dallas. Because of this, and given his history of making threats against elected officials, the Observer turned over the note to Dallas police, which then informed the Secret Service of Caraker's missive. A copy of the note was also faxed to Laughlin. The letters are not mentioned in the supervised release violation report.

If Buchmeyer determines that Caraker has violated terms of his release, he will likely receive between four and 10 months in federal prison. Then, he will be released--and the whole process will begin again. Caraker will get out, only to beg to be let back in. Mickelsen would like to see Caraker committed to a long-term mental-health facility; better that than spend $50,000 of the taxpayers' money annually incarcerating a man who's done nothing.

"Unless he convinces doctors he's a true and serious danger, he will get released," Mickelsen says. "There is some craziness going on here."

Only Horace Caraker isn't crazy at all. He knows just what he's doing.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky