Paul Kelly, Part II

Paul’s father and grandfather Kelly had some art skills, and Paul aspired to that as well.  While his work wasn’t first rate, it wasn’t bad either.  Here is one from his grandfather:

While he had email through the JPay system he would send me digital versions of photos that he asked me to print out and mail to him, which I did.  What surprised me was what this double-murderer wanted to draw:  first, photographs of his “friends” from prison- I suspect they were his lovers,

but mostly cutesy images, such as this one:

That served as a reminder that the people of this world are odd. Or perhaps, living a life filled with ugliness, hate and fear, Paul found some comfort in the cute and demonstrative. He learned of a giant coloring book of Emmett Senior, pages maybe 1 1/2×3 feet. I bought a copy online and found the prison wouldn’t accept a package that big. So it came back to me, and I would cut out a page or two every letter and mail it for him to color. I found a grown man in a tough environment wanting coloring books…interesting.

Paul showed me his sense of humor several times. He referred to himself as my “Pen Pal”, and even created stationery for himself- I assume it was copied on a xerox machine, he said he knew a prison employee who would do him favors. My favorite is below.

When the COVID stimulus checks were sent out, Congress did not stipulate that prisoners were exempt from receiving the checks. (They had done so for the 2009 checks.)  However, since the checks were officially IRS rebates, the IRS made the decision to not send them to prisoners.  Somewhere in America a jailhouse lawyer learned this, brought a lawsuit, and won. So all the prisoners got the checks, one for $600, one for $1400.  Paul sent me the $600 and asked me to buy him some circus books, and especially memorabilia (program books and photographs) from his circus ancestors, the Kellys and the Moores. He also said to keep $50 to take Mary out to dinner “someplace nice” on him. Unfortunately, the material he wanted cost about $620, so Mary never got her night out. (She’s still waiting for one.)  He actually got two of the larger checks, and wrote asking if he should keep the money, or send it back. I advised him that if he sent one back, when he came up for parole he could use that as an example of being reformed.  He decided to do that, and then donated the check that was legit to the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana, the place that passed for his hometown.

For reasons I never understood, the JPay email system we often used (he had a modified iPad that could only use the JPay system) was shut down about the time of the COVID, and we went back to postal mail. Wanting to refresh my memory on some things, I logged into my account yesterday and saw that all the messages from and to Paul were erased. Another reminder to myself: if it’s important, get it on paper.

About 2019 Paul had a parole hearing and was excited about his chances. He got a new suit, and got to go in a prison van to place where the parole board met. Just looking at the countryside was a treat for him. (They took his artificial leg off for the journey) and they stopped and got some fast-food, which he enjoyed as well.  But at the hearing the families of his victims expressed their wish that he remain behind bars. That very day the board let him know he would not be offered the chance.

I thought about taking a trip down and seeing him—to be honest, largely for the experience of seeing what a prison is like, and to hear the “clang” of the gate behind me. But between COVID and other matters, that didn’t happen.

In Spring of 2022 he let me know he was coming up again, and that he hoped to get a new suit for the occasion, promising that his cousin would repay me.  He wanted $125, and after some discussion, we sent it to him. This time, word came in mid-summer that he would eligible for parole on Jan 1, 2023. In the California system, the governor has final say, but is required to make a decision by Nov 1.  

Paul was excited. and made arrangements with the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru to clown for them; his Uncle Pat Kelly, another of Emmett’s sons had done that work until his death in 2019. He found a place to stay in a half-way house about 20 miles from Peru.  I asked him how he was going to live: he didn’t have the earnings to get Social Security, and he said his inheritance from his father had been claimed by a sister when he was in prison. Does California give parolees a stipend?  At 66, a long-term convict, and someone with essentially no job skills, I can’t imagine he could have supported himself.  I never got an answer to that question.

Following prison tradition, he began giving away his things to new arrivals, his television, playing cards, etc.  He kept his circus memorabilia, his suit and the diary his father kept from his time operating an LST at the Okinawa and Iwo Jima landings. 

On Nov 1, Governor Newsom reviewed the parole board decisions and parole was granted to all but 14 people on the list. Paul was one of them.  He wrote me, depressed and angry.  His next letter was still brief and sad, but he stated he had done 40 years, he could do three more.  I must admit, I felt sad for him as a person, but another part of me remembered the occasional letter where he was very angry at people in his family. I actually wrote him once saying “Paul, you know they read your letters, and you are coming up for parole…”  I wasn’t sure he was ready to come out, or turning it around, and had truly faced down his demons and would do no harm, so I didn’t see the parole denial as an injustice.

Of course I did not tell him that, but his letters grew shorter and spaced out more.  Last week I received this:

His letters grew shorter and spaced out more.  Last week I received this:

Twice I called the prison’s Public Information Officer asking how he died, and got no response. I knew a couple in Las Vegas that stayed in touch with him, but their last letter was also returned.  His sister Cher Kelly was estranged from him, and in California alone there are over 40 Cheryl Kellys. Paul had told me his brother Joey no longer talked to him. I contacted the Circus Hall of Fame and left a message with a volunteer, asking if they knew anything- but they also had some mail returned, marked as deceased, and no nothing else. I will probably never know. I suspect he committed suicide, but prison ages people, he was a diabetic, and certainly heavy enough that he could have been felled by a heart attack. The circus memorabilia he acquired, and his father’s diary? I sent a note to Joey, asking what happened to the memorabilia, hoping it had been sent to him or of the Circus Hall of Fame. He wrote back a terse note: “It was offered as restitution to the victim’s families, and they ordered it burned.”

I’m at the age now where people are disappearing from my life faster than they are coming in. Still, each passing feels odd. I never met the man, and am not sure I would have liked him if I did. Selfishly, I did enjoy hearing his circus tales and learning about life in prison.  At Paul’s trial his mental health was brought up as being poor, but he wasn’t so deranged he didn’t know what he was doing when he killed those men. It was his own actions that brought his fate upon him. I have known men felled by violence, and at least one who was a killer. I suppose some of the hollowness I feel comes from the waste of it all.

Requesiat im pace.

5 thoughts on “Paul Kelly, Part II”

  1. Thank you, Tony, for a story so different from any other I have heard or read. The illustrations/photos serve as powerful extra reminders that this story is real even if it feels unreal to those of us living “normal”, sheltered lives.

  2. Another great story! What about the one where you lost your mirror driving a truck over a bridge.
    Looking forward to the next one!
    PS I have made three batches of the peanut brittle, everyone loves it.


    1. “I’m at the age now where people are disappearing from my life faster than they are coming in…”
      Yes, and each one leaves a unique story etched in our thoughts. It’s a writer’s gift to be able capture and share those stories with others. Thank you!

  3. Stephanie DeMunbrun

    Another fascinating story. I’m sad it’s the end of Kelly and your communications with him.
    Cousin Stephanie

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