Iverson paroled after 41 years (August 12, 2009)James Leroy Iverson's life has changed a lot in one day. Formerly North Dakota's longest-serving inmate, the 70-year-old was released on parole Wednesday after serving more than 40 years on convictions of murdering two women in Grand Forks in 1968.
James Leroy Iverson's life has changed a lot in one day.
Formerly North Dakota's longest-serving inmate, the 70-year-old was released on parole Wednesday after serving more than 40 years on convictions of murdering two women in Grand Forks in 1968.
He's moved from the Missouri River Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison that sits south of Bismarck, to the Bismarck Transition Center, where he'll be eased back into community life.
At the center, Iverson has a new set of freedoms — the notable one being no locks on the doors — and a new set of errands. One of the first orders of business seems to be some Wal-Mart shopping, said Marcie Conmy, the center's administrator.
"I believe he's going to go to buy some clothes so he doesn't have to wear his penitentiary jeans and sweatshirt," she said.
Among other appointments, Iverson has to meet with a Social Security representative, sit down with his caseworker and get a new ID. Like other residents at the center, Iverson will take a course in cognitive restructuring meant to make sure "their mind is in the right place," Conmy said.
He'll start learning to budget his money and other life skills. He also might start searching for a job, Conmy said.
Iverson has $3,600 saved to help him get settled, much of it earned doing low-paying prison jobs. From 1987 to 1989, he was allowed out into the community to get an associate degree at Bismarck State College in hotel and restaurant management.
Policy dictates that during his first two days Iverson cannot leave the center, though eventually, he'll be able to venture outside. But footloose and fancy free, he won't be. He'll have to tell staff specifically where he's going, when he's leaving and when he'll be back.
The conditions of Iverson's parole require him to stay in Burleigh and Morton counties and wear a GPS-tracking bracelet. Conmy said he's the center's first resident to be monitored using such a system.
Another condition orders him to have no contact with the victims' families. Some of their relatives adamantly opposed his release.
Another hurdle for Iverson will be catching up with the world of 2009 after spending more than four decades behind bars.
"Enormous changes have taken place in society since he went in," said John Olson, chairman of the North Dakota Parole Board.
While chatting with Iverson Wednesday, Conmy said, he made a similar observation.
"He said, ‘Gee, I never had a cell phone before,' and I said, ‘Well, you can't have one here either,'" she said lightheartedly.
Iverson also noted at least one economic change.
"He made the comment that when he went into prison gas was 15 cents a gallon," Conmy said.
One thing that hasn't changed yet for Iverson is living in close quarters with other people. The 162-bed center currently houses 138 people. Most share a room with three others and use communal bathrooms. They have a dining hall where meals are provided and a TV room.
People can visit residents inside the center, and a resident can make outgoing phone calls and write and receive letters. After three weeks, residents can spend time with family away from the center, which is in an industrial area of southeast Bismarck.
Conmy said the center has dealt with former inmates who've served lengthy sentences before. She recalled a resident who had been imprisoned for more than 30 years and now is doing well in the community.
In chatting with Iverson, Conmy said, she gathered that in his first day he was transitioning well. "He's doing pretty good so far."
Iverson was convicted of murdering Carol Mayers, 25, and Dianne Bill, 18, on Nov. 26, 1968, in Grand Forks.
He was sentenced to 25 to 30 years for the second-degree murder of Mayers, a term he finished in 1994, and was ordered to serve life in prison for the first-degree murder of Bill, but pardon boards steadily reduced that sentence between 1975 and 1990.
Iverson was turned down nine times before he was paroled in October 2008. Olson said several factors contributed to the decision to parole him, including his age, his good behavior in prison, the amount of time he'd spent in prison, his soon-to-expire sentence and his deteriorating health.
Iverson, a diabetic, has recurring problems with one leg for which he takes medication, has had 10 surgeries and wears a built-up shoe.
Olson said the parole board's priority is public safety, which includes giving an inmate time — 13 months in Iverson's case — to make the shift from prison to community.
"We want to be able to transition him into a behavior pattern and environment on the outside that will … be instrumental in him not re-offending," Olson said.
After a nine-month stay at the transition center, Iverson will go before the parole board in April 2010. The board will review his progress and decide what should be done before his parole ends Sept. 16, 2010 — the day he is set to become a free man. Olson said possibilities include Iverson remaining at the center or moving to a veterans' shelter in Fargo.
Iverson has told the board he has no intention of returning to Grand Forks.
Since alcohol was apparently a factor in the murders and other crimes he was convicted of, the parole board at its October meeting with Iverson said he'd be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and possibly take a prescription of the alcohol-aversion drug Antabuse.
Residents at the transition center are not allowed to use alcohol or illegal drugs and are subject to random breath and urine tests, Conmy said.
If Iverson violates the terms of his parole, he could be required to serve any remaining portion of his sentence in prison.
Janell Cole contributed to this report. Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to email@example.com.