Bruce Lisker's New Life

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Every one who's trying to get by in Los Angeles has a story about the daily struggle.

But Bruce Lisker really has a story.

He spent 27 years in prison for a crime that the authorities now concede they don't know who committed. Since last summer, he's been relearning life on the outside and how to live in a Los Angeles that changed a lot while he was gone.

Lisker was 17 and living in the Valley when his mother was found murdered. He was tried and got a life sentence in places like San Quentin and Mule Creek.

Things began to change for Lisker after an LAPD internal affairs detective had doubts about the police work that sent him away.

And when what happened is that L.A. Times reporters Matt Lait and Scott Glover picked up the case and did the heavy lifting. Their stories made a strong case that Lisker was convicted by mistake.

Last July a judge agreed and set him free.

Those first summer days back in LA were pretty strange, as you'd expect. I mean, think of it. You go from the bedlam of an overcrowded California prison, to the beach at Santa Monica.

He eased back in with a used car from his sister and a learner's permit from the DMV. He had a license before, but he still had to get in line with all the teenagers and start over.

The day he passed his driver's test, Lisker went to the Sherman Oaks car wash, followed by some cameras. When a man inquired if he won the lottery, Lisker answered, yeah, something like that.

Over the past year, photojournalist Iris Schneider has been following Lisker's reentry at LA She went with him to the beach and to Target, where the absurdity of all the choices left him a little giddy.

He's been to the Getty now and a Dodgers game. He's gotten an apartment near the water in Marina del Rey and learned to adjust to little things, like sleeping with the lights off.

A girlfriend has been the biggest thing to bring some normalcy to his life.

They celebrated his first free birthday a couple of weeks ago. She gave him a framed copy of Playboy from the month he was born. And tickets to Staples Center, which didn't exist when Lisker was last in L.A.

Life now is mostly about catching up. He'd never been on a plane. Now they've traveled and are planning trips to Maui and Vegas.

What he hasn't been able to do is get a steady job.

The economy's bad for everybody looking for work, but it's tougher when you have to explain 27 years off the grid.

He'd like to be a web designer. One problem though: the web didn't exist when he went away.

So he's taking classes at Santa Monica College. And pursuing his lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD.

In one of my favorites twists in this story, Lisker has become friends with a juror who convicted him back in 1983.

She's 80 years old now and remembers everything about the case. She says she was the last holdout for guilty in the jury room and always had her doubts.

If his lawyer had put Lisker on the stand, she says she would have believed him.

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For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.