Solis spent his teenage years staying out as late as he wanted, smoking marijuana daily, drinking heavily, dropping acid and "trying to be hard by acting crazy." His life centered around beepers, parties, Cheech and Chong movies, COPS, Jerry Springer, Married With Children and Spanish language ballads about passing the border with 100 kilos. He barely attended school. He ended up Gainesville on a charge of deadly conduct: he was driving around one night with a friend, high, and shot a gun in the air in the general direction of a group of people who he had a brief disagreement with. They turned out to be undercover police officers.

He'd go to motel rooms strapped with a gun to make marijuana sales, sold drugs at a crack house and bet on pit bull and cock fights. He and his friends went to deserted areas to shoot guns, shot at rivals, stole rims and car stereo systems, stole cars to strip for parts or to do donuts and crash into poles.

He lived in a world where he and his sixth grade classmates would hang out in abandoned apartments smoking marijuana, and one of them, a 12-year-old dealer, could toss a crack rock at two grown women and demand of one: "Hey bitch, come and dance for us, strip." (she did), and afterward take her into a room (door open) to show off with.

I was with Solis on the day he got released. I sat in on his parole and aftercare program interviews and drove him to his house that day. In many ways he's an average, sweet 17-year-old kid who was living a half ass street life, with an 8th grade education, immigrant parents who don't speak English, and an eight-month old daughter.

"To tell you the truth I'm kind of nervous and stuff because there are a lot of things I gotta' do out there. As soon as I get out there I have to call my PO, plus I gotta' go to that Southwest Key stuff and I'm scared that I'm gonna' get tired of going there, and be like 'Man, I'm tired, screw this,' and mess up, start doing bad things again and come back in here. In a way I want to leave, but in another way I don't want to leave cause I don't want to have to come back in here and stuff. But when I get out, I'll try my best to stay out there."

Nealy was more cynical about his plans after release: "I ain't doing a damn thing [crime wise]. I'm just gonna' sit back in bed till I get off this parole, man. And then try to work or something, cause I ain't fittin' to be comin' back to this shit, cause they can send me back here till I'm twenty-one years old - - fuck that."

When he was in Gainesville Nealy agreed that when he was released I could spend time with him to see what the transition from prison to the community was like. I saw him a couple of weeks later outside of the Southwest Key program and he told me he'd been going to barbecues the whole time he was out (family celebrating his release), that he couldn't sleep the first night he was released because he was so excited.



He also told me his grandmother didn't want him talking to a reporter and wouldn't sign a consent form. He said he would try to convince her otherwise. We had a good talk, some of his defenses were down, he seemed to want to spend time with me. The next thing I heard he was wanted for capital murder.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THEY GOT OUT

Nealy is now serving a life sentence in a Texas penitentiary. His uncle - - his guardian after Gainesville; his crime partner; a lifelong criminal -- was placed on death row. Charismatic, hard-core Charles Nealy was executed in 2007. He complained the Prozac didn't work. His last words included: "Tell all the guys on death row that I'm not wearing a diaper."

Nealy's stepfather, Mr. Parker, told me: "What I saw on the [convenience store video] Good Lord, whoever they are - - it wasn't clear, I couldn't tell his face - - it was cold blooded and calculated and whoever they are scares me half to death."

"All I saw was that the man on the video told [them] where the money was at, got down on his knees and was begging for his life and they killed him anyway," he continued.

"It looked liked one of them just walked out like it was Gunsmoke or something," Parker continued. "And the other one was running and had two cases of beer, like, 'Hey, we killed em, got the money, and [now we're] taking the beer.' And I told Patricia [Nealy's mother], 'Hey, if that is your motherfucken son, he's a cold-blooded damn killer.'"

I met with Nealy in jail after he was arrested (he was on the run for a while and was a suspect in several other robberies). He said he slept 15 hours a day and laid awake all night, not thinking about anything, just staring into space, watching the guards make their checks. Although a lot of the bravado of the first interview in Gainesville was gone, he's spent too many years saying the hell with everything to suddenly reveal his humanity for his fifteen minutes in a jailhouse interview. Or in a state training school. Or even in front of a jury in a death penalty trial.

Nealy - - with murder charges hanging over his head -- was at his most animated, his most child-like when he talked about how he first became acquainted with guns. He started miming the mechanics of loading, cocking, spinning the chamber, BOOM-ing and POW-ing, giggling throughout. I pressed on with the interview and Nealy struggled to answer questions about what he was doing after he left Gainesville, insisting he doesn't know how he feels, what he thinks, that he just wants to get out and be left alone. He finally offers, in what is likely a mixture of evasiveness and utter honesty: "I mean, I ain't never do nothing. I wasn't looking forward to nothing. I just lived."


Click to Continue