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"My name is Paige Spears, and I'm a human being."

Provided by the family of Paige Spears

Paige Spears has been incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections for nearly 35 years. He was given a life sentence plus 30 years for an armed robbery he committed in 1988 – where no one was physically injured.

Due to a clerical error, Spears' sentence is listed at 1,001 years. He is potentially up for parole after serving 40 years, which will be in 2028.

He spoke a little about how he’s changed while being incarcerated and what he hopes to accomplish if he’s released.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Paige Spears: My name is Paige Spears, and I'm a human being – someone that made a bad choice who totally regrets it daily. I got locked up Nov. 12, 1988, and I was 26 years old.

In 1995, one of my oldest sisters, she ended up getting murdered. She would always tell me that "in order for you to get out of prison, you’re going to have to change your life," and I would hear her telling me that, but I didn't resonate that in my heart.

"The light bulb just came on, and I just started to move forward with my life from that day forward."
Paige Spears

When her life got taken, you know, it was like a ton of bricks, and I went through a mental depression at that time, maybe about four or five months because we were very close.

So, I think it was the motivation for me to start to change certain things about myself. So, one of the first things that I got involved in was a relapse prevention program. And once I graduated, the instructor, which was our caseworker, he said that "I think that you would become a great facilitator. Would you ever consider teaching a class?"

And I said, "Well, no, I don’t think I can do anything like that." He said, "Well, I think you can." So, he kind of pushed me out there a little bit, and I think that was the best thing that he could have [done] for me because that led to me teaching many, many other programs in the Missouri Department of Corrections center.

The light bulb just came on, and I just started to move forward with my life from that day forward.

Paige Spears as a younger man. He's been incarcerated for 35 years.
Provided by the family of Paige Spears.
Paige Spears as a younger man. He's been incarcerated for 35 years.

Mentally it is very, very wrenching, and, you know, I didn't have high blood pressure when I came to prison, I have high blood pressure now. Back injuries that I'm dealing with now, I didn’t have anything like that when I first came to prison, you know? So, mentally, you know, it's not a good thing.

I've been so thankful that I do have support out there that is continuing to encourage me to stay strong and stay grounded, you know, just being able to be connected with the outside world, I think that lessens the stress a little bit.

Prison is a nightmare, but fortunately, I was able to grab a hold of myself back in 1995/96. After the murder of my sister, I stayed focused with what I want to do in my life, as far as changing certain things about myself. And God has been ordering my steps ever since.

I just try to get up and be in a positive mood each and every day and keep my best foot forward. This is not the place for people that want to better themselves in their life, you know, and then my age – which I'm 62 years old – I just want to walk out of this place safely and be responsible and live a simple life.

I'm someone that would love to be your neighbor.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.