- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

ORIENT, Ohio Charles Eikleberry sits in his gray pajamas all day, softly moaning in the wheelchair he has occupied for three years, because he doesn't have the strength to walk.
A plastic tube runs from his nose to an oxygen tank on the back of his chair. He has emphysema after 50 years of smoking.
He wasn't always so frail.
"He was a tough cookie. He'd kill his grandmother," said Vernon Young, who prosecuted Eikleberry for killing a sheriff in 1953.
Eikleberry and Ellis Vails, both 73, have spent much of their lives in prison. They don't complain about doctors and health coverage like a lot of folks their age. Both say the state takes good care of them.
Their gripe is the parole board.
"They're just wearing me out with this time. I'm sitting back waiting on the funeral home," Eikleberry said.
Within the past decade, states have passed more laws requiring mandatory minimum sentencing and life without parole. The result is an older prison population and offenders who would be seniors when and if they are paroled.
The numbers of offenders age 55 and older in the nation's prisons has more than doubled in the past decade to more than 44,200 and, in time, will make up a bigger share of the prison population.
Despite Eikleberry's inability to care for himself, his desire to leave is still strong.
"I'd hate to die in this place," he said. He is in a prison hospital for inmates with severe medical problems at the nearly 100-year-old Orient Correctional Institution in central Ohio.
If freed, he would try to find the grandchildren he has never met and the three sons he last saw as babies.
"They were raised to stay away from me," he said.
Eikleberry serves his time in a room that looks like a hospital ward along with about 20 other inmates in failing health. He reads historical novels and mysteries, and he said he does not have much interest in socializing with other inmates his age.
"You get tired of hearing the same old stories over and over," he said.
He began serving time 50 years ago for assault with intent to kill. His sentence should have ended in 20 years, but he walked away from a prison honor camp in southern Ohio after serving less than two years.
After three months on the run, Adams County Sheriff Ben Perry found Eikleberry in southern Ohio, where he was traveling with a man who had robbed a house. Eikleberry said Sheriff Perry shot at him and he shot back, killing the sheriff.
A jury gave Eikleberry life, but he would likely be out by now if not for his escapes, prosecutor Young said. Eikleberry walked away again in 1974 when he was hauling garbage for the Ohio State Penitentiary.
That time, he managed to stay out 10 years, living in several Southern states. He even remarried for a short time.
Like Eikleberry, Vails has emphysema. He spends his time cut off from the younger inmates, who, he said, only talk about "drugs and pimping."
Vails, convicted of double murder at age 40, has spent about 33 years in prison. He won't have another parole hearing for seven years, but it is all he thinks about.
He said he works at the prison laundry just to stay active.
"If I get to 90, I want out. I don't want to die on this side," Vails said.
He does not read because his eyesight is poor. Instead, he spends most of his time watching cars drive past the prison on Route 56.
"I look out the window and think and daydream," he said. "I just hope one day I'll be walking down that road and get on out of here."

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