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Convict and criminal-justice reformer paroled

July
02
1982

On this day in 1982, convicted bank robber Lawrence Chalmous Pope was paroled to Austin from the federal prison at El Reno, Oklahoma. Pope was born in 1918 in Trinity, Texas. After his banking career ended in 1960, when examiners uncovered marginal loans and other questionable practices at a bank of which he was president, Pope robbed banks in Thornton and Schulenburg. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested him in San Antonio in November 1960; he received concurrent federal and state sentences of twenty-five and fifty years. While confined in the federal prisons at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Pope learned to file writs that asked federal courts to protect the civil rights of prison inmates. In 1970, federal authorities sent Pope to the prison system in Texas, where officials classified him as "a potential institutional adjustment problem and malcontent." Despite retaliation from prison officials, he protested against conditions of confinement and violations of individual rights in Texas prisons and continued to file petitions. Pope was the first witness for the plaintiffs in the Ruiz v. Estelle class-action suit, which resulted in a federal court decision declaring that conditions of confinement in Texas prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the United States Constitution. After the Ruiz trial ended in 1979, the court ordered Pope transferred to the facility at El Reno, where he would receive protection from retribution by Texas prison officials. He remained at El Reno until his parole. In Austin he continued his reform activities by lobbying state officials, testifying before legislative committees, and speaking before university classes. He died of cardiac arrest in 1989.

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