A Prison Tale: Remembering a Life Prisoners at the maximum-security Oregon State Penitentiary pass the time with stories. For inmates Paul Mortimer and Shawn Fox, recalling their lives allows them to remember their identities outside the prison's walls. It also helps them believe in the future.

A Prison Tale: Remembering a Life

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StoryCorps is collecting interviews from across the country. Mobile booths have visited 19 states now, recording your stories in cities and towns on main streets, river banks and an Indian reservation. Recently, StoryCorps was invited to a maximum security prison, the Oregon State Penitentiary. There, inmates and staff recorded interviews with one another. Here's an excerpt of one conversation.

Mr. PAUL MORTIMER (Inmate, Oregon State Penitentiary): My name's Paul Mortimer. My friends call me Bumper. We're at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon. I'm 49 years old. I've been here 21, almost 21 years for a drug-related robbery.

Mr. SEAN FOX (Inmate, Oregon State Penitentiary): My name's Sean Fox. I'm 39 years old. I got double consecutive life without the possibility of parole.

Mr. MORTIMER: What's your present offense?

Mr. FOX: Aggravated murder.

Mr. MORTIMER: We met, when, about '86?

Mr. FOX: Eighty-eight.

Mr. MORTIMER: Almost 20 years ago.

Mr. FOX: My little boy come in here, you know, Daddy, please come home for just a little while. My daughter, she said to her mama, Dad must not really love us. If he did, he wouldn't, he wouldn't have left us out here like that. My wife was my, she's my strength. That's what keeps me together, you know. She's been out there and raised those kids for 11 years by herself. She's a hero. I mean, that's an incredible human being right there.

Mr. MORTIMER: That's the way I feel about Nettie(ph). That's my wife. We met in here in 1990 over the telephone. We've been together every since.

Mr. FOX: (Unintelligible)

Mr. MORTIMER: I tried to run her off when I O-D'ed. I've O-D'ed in here four times. It breaks my heart when I do that, knowing I catch a new beef in here. I mean, it's like doing dead time and then have to go out and look in her eyes, one of the few people in this world that actually love me. I believe, I seriously believe if it wasn't for her, I'd probably gave up a long time ago and done something really horrendous in here. Yeah.

Mr. FOX: Yeah. The same stuff over and over every day. It's real small.

Mr. MORTIMER: Yeah, monotonous; waking up, looking at them bars, (unintelligible).

Mr. FOX: Just things that people take for granted. I would love to mow the lawn, you know.

Mr. MORTIMER: When the trucks come in, you know, they bring in like the trash truck and all that, the smell of the exhaust, most people don't want to smell that. I try to get a nose full of it...

Mr. FOX: (unintelligible)

Mr. MORTIMER: ...because it brings back memories of being on the streets. That, if you really think about it, that is sorry. I mean, that's the highlight of your day, getting a nose full of exhaust?

Mr. FOX: Think you'll ever get out?

Mr. MORTIMER: Yeah. I mean, I see the parole board every two years. If I can leave the drugs alone long enough, I'll get a date. I'll get out. I'll probably be, I don't know, 55, close to 60 when I get out, but I will get back out.

MONTAGNE: Less than a month after this interview, Paul Mortimer died in prison. According to his wife, he died of a drug overdose. We also heard from his friend and fellow inmate, Sean Fox. Their interview was recorded last fall at the Oregon State Penitentiary. StoryCorps recording booths are currently in Santa Monica, California and Sarasota, Florida. To tell your story and have it archived at the Library of Congress, visit NPR.org.

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