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"When that judge drops that gavel, no matter how much he gives you – he gives that sentence to your loved ones."

Paige Spears' Family and Friends sit on a bench in January-Wabash Park

Paige Spears has been incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections for nearly 35 years. At the age of 26, he was given a life sentence plus 30 years for an armed robbery he committed in 1988 – where no one was physically injured. He’s now 62.

We met up with his family in January-Wabash Park in north county St. Louis recently and spoke about Paige and how his absence for more than 30 years of incarceration has impacted them.

Due to a clerical error, Spears' sentence is listed at 1,001 years, and he is potentially up for parole after serving.

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

Shae Bryant, cousin: It’s very hurtful, you know, because we was used to having Paige around, and once he was taken away from us, we look up and we may need him to do something, or we may want to talk to him about something and he's gone. And he's just been gone so long. It – all I can say is it's a hurtful situation.

Betty Cummings, mother: It is.

Shae Bryant, cousin: It’s very hurtful, and that pretty much sums it up.

Betty Cummings, mother: Mhmm.

Shae Bryant, cousin: At that particular time [when Spears was locked up], he had elderly grandparents that needed him around. His mom – he took her to the store. That was a big impact, you know?

Betty Cummings, mother: Yep. I need him now.

Charles Durley, family friend: One of the things that in doing time, one of the most horrible situations you can have is to have one of your close family members – we call it “Get that call,” and you get that call your mom or your sister passed away, and you can't go to say your last goodbyes.

This brother just lost a brother, a sister – the things that his [Paige’s] mother's going through, she shouldn't have to go through that because your loved ones – when that judge drops that gavel, no matter how much he gives you – he gives that sentence to your loved ones.

Donte Epps, brother: Absolutely.

"We may want to talk to him about something and he's gone. And he's just been gone so long."
Shae Bryant

Charles Durley, family friend: Because now you got to wait for visits, you got to hope for visits, you got to wait for mail, you got to hope that they sent you some money to survive. You got to write, you know, you got to have a tablet, and all of that. All of that's warehousing. It's inhumane what they're doing to this brother.

You do! I agree. You got some [people] that praise God they got prisons [for], but he’s not one of them.

We have three programs to help people – Convicts Living in Redemption, Living Word Ministries – excuse me, I get teary eyed when I talk about my brother. We have several programs just laying dormant, waiting on him.

I'm like the horse waiting on the rider, you know? I need the brother out here because it's hard for me. I feed people. It's hard for me to do what I do without – what we could do together. We can make an impact. That brother can make an impact on this city.

Donte Epps, brother: Absolutely.

Charles Durley, family friend: But it's just like you got Secretariat and you got hobblers on him. He's a good horse. He can run, but he can't move.

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.