A Boy’s Life
The Supreme Court Effectively Threw Out the Kansas
Sodomy Law, but State Attorney General Phill Kline Won’t Let Matthew Limon
Out of Jail.
Pitch, January 22, 2004
1701 Main, Kansas City, MO 64108
By Nadia Pflaum
Before Matthew Limon joined the ranks of prisoners at the
Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Kansas, he probably would not have marched
for gay rights. He probably never would have signed a petition on gay-rights
issues or subscribed to a gay magazine. And after he gets out of jail, he
still might not do any of those things.
But since Limon was sentenced to seventeen years for a
crime that would have cost a heterosexual just fifteen months, newspapers and
magazines and countless online discussions have seized upon his story. His
cell has been deluged with postcards and letters addressed to Inmate 70713.
Limon could have accepted offers for organized help—a sit-in or a protest at
the University of Kansas, perhaps.
Instead, he’s spent the past three and a half years
playing the piano with the prison church choir. And waiting.
Limon will turn 22 in February, but he has the mental
capacity of a sixth-grader. Four years ago, in February 2000, Limon and
another teenager were residents at the Lakemary Center for people with
developmental disabilities in Paola, Kansas. Limon had just turned eighteen,
and the other boy, identified in court filings only as M.A.R., was almost
fifteen when Limon performed oral sex on him. M.A.R. told authorities that the
act was consensual, a statement that has never been disputed.
Still, Kansas considers it statutory rape whenever a
person older than eighteen has sex with anyone under the age of sixteen.
But Kansas’ “Romeo and Juliet” law covers a
nebulous world in between. The general belief among Kansas judges and
prosecutors is that the penalty for statutory rape should be less severe when
the case involves two teenagers and one is no more than four years older than
the other. The Romeo and Juliet law, passed by the Kansas Legislature and
signed by Governor Bill Graves in 1999, defines “unlawful voluntary sexual
relations” as intercourse, sodomy or “lewd fondling or touching” but
lessens the sentence if these acts occur between an adult who is younger than
nineteen and a child between the ages of fourteen and sixteen.
The statute’s last line stipulates that it applies when
“the child and the offender are the only parties involved and are members of
the opposite sex. “
Because the law creates different sentencing guidelines
for opposite-sex and same-sex relations, Limon’s actions with M.A.R. earned
him an adult-sized charge of criminal sodomy. A heterosexual teenager
prosecuted under the Romeo and Juliet law would receive a maximum sentence of
fifteen months and would not be required to register as a sex offender for the
rest of his life, as Limon now does.
In one of Limon’s first appearances in Miami County
court, on June 27, 2000, his court-appointed lawyer, Anthony Lupo, testified
that he’d counseled Limon to waive his right to a jury trial. After all, it
was useless to fight the charge when he would surely be found guilty. The plan
was to appeal his sentence.
Limon spent the next two years appealing his case through
the Kansas courts—and losing. On February 1, 2002, a panel of three judges,
including Judge G. Joseph Pierron Jr. of the Kansas Court of Appeals, upheld
Limon’s conviction and sentence based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986
decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.
In the Bowers case, a gay man, Michael Hardwick, was
arrested after a police officer entered his home to serve him a warrant for
public drinking and found him and another man having oral sex in a bedroom.
Though they were consenting adults having sex in the privacy of Hardwick’s
home, both men were arrested under Georgia’s sodomy law. The case went to
the U.S. Supreme Court, where Hardwick lost his appeal 5-4. Though Georgia had
laws against both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy, the Supreme Court
addressed only homosexuals, ruling that Americans do not have “a fundamental
right to engage in homosexual sodomy.”
But seventeen years later, on June 26 of last year, the
Supreme Court overturned its Bowers decision. In Lawrence v. Texas, the court
found Texas’ homosexual sodomy law unconstitutional, effectively striking
down all sodomy laws, same-sex or otherwise, still on the books in thirteen
states. Four of those states—Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas—had laws
banning only homosexual sodomy.
“A State can, of course, assign certain consequences to
a violation of its criminal law,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a
concurring opinion. “But the State cannot single out one identifiable class
of citizens for punishment that does not apply to everyone else, with moral
disapproval as the only asserted state interest for the law.”
Limon had been convicted based on a sodomy law that the
U.S. Supreme Court had now rendered impotent.
The local office of the American Civil Liberties Union,
along with its national office in New York City, had petitioned the U.S.
Supreme Court to look at Limon’s case in 2000. The day after its Lawrence
decision, the court ordered the Kansas Court of Appeals to hear Limon’s case
again in light of the Supreme Court’s new ruling.
On December 2, 2003, oral arguments at the Kansas Court
of Appeals began, with the ACLU’s Tamara Lange representing Limon. Two of
the three judges hearing the arguments, Pierron and Henry Green, had been on
the panel that had upheld Limon’s conviction and sentence in his first
appeal. But this time, Kansas v. Limon was a different drama.
Matthew Limon was born on February 9, 1982, in Satanta,
an agricultural town of around 1,200 people in southwest Kansas. His father,
Mike Limon, worked in the former Old Santa Fe stockyards and feedlot. His
mother, Debby Limon, stayed home with Matthew and his older sister. (Mike and
Debby Limon declined to speak with the Pitch.)
Generations earlier, the Limon family had come to Satanta
from Mexico to work for the Santa Fe Railroad.
“There was A.P. Limon and E.P. Limon, those were the
old-timers, and Gilbert Limon, that was Mike’s dad,” recalls Hank Kisker,
who is in his seventies. He and his wife lived down the street from Mike and
Debby Limon. Sharon Kisker says the Limons were among the best-regarded
families in town.
“In Satanta, we have some old Mexican families.
They’ve been here seems like forever,” Sharon Kisker says. “Those people
are very respected in our community, and Mike’s family was one of them.
They’re good people, Mike and Deb, the type to mind their own business.”
Sharon describes them as “very devout Christian people,
more active than the average churchgoer.” Mike played music and sang in
church, and Deb sometimes sang with him. “It’s a small-town Baptist
church, so they were active in anything that needed to be done. They’d be
the first to help with a funeral, and I think they even taught a Sunday-school
class,” she says.
“Mike is a cowboy, but don’t give people the wrong
impression,” Sharon warns. “He has a lot of class. He is not just
knowledgeable about horses and cattle and livestock. He spent time with my
grandkids, teaching them how to ride, and if they had a problem, anything
particular to horses he could help with. It wasn’t something we paid him to
do. He did it out of kindness.”
One of Mike Limon’s six sisters, Blanche Hayden, lives
next door to the Kiskers. When Mike was twelve, Hayden says, their father
bought Mike a horse and a guitar.
But Matthew inherited only one of Mike’s avocations.
“Matt just isn’t a cowboy,” Hayden says. “Fathers wish that their sons
have the same interests as them, and some just don’t.”
Music, however, became an important part of Matthew’s
life. His aunt and neighbors say he never took a piano lesson but picked up
music by ear and played beautifully, mostly church hymns and sometimes songs
he wrote himself. But he could never get the hang of reading music.
“It seemed when he was real small, they determined
maybe he had a hearing problem,” Sharon recalls. “As time went on, it was
evident that he had learning problems. They put him in a special Christian
school, sometime before sixth grade, and drove him to Liberal, 35 miles every
day and back so he could have the help he needed.”
Eventually, his parents decided to send him to a
residential facility. (Lakemary evaluations would later show that Matthew had
an IQ between 50 and 84.) One of Mike Limon’s former coworkers at the
stockyards (who asked not to be named for this story) thinks that the move
might have had something to do with the death of one of Matthew’s friends, a
girl, in a car accident before he turned eighteen.
“They’d gone to church school together,” the
coworker says. “[The girl’s death] upset him. I considered him a normal
teenager other than that. He didn’t have a lot of friends, I knew he had
developmental problems, and he did not do the sports thing. His parents were
concerned, worried about him ending up in psychiatric counseling for
depression and stuff.
“I was regretful myself that they [put Matthew in a
group home], but they did what they thought was best at the time,” the
coworker adds. “In my opinion, the family was overbusy in church sometimes,
and his depression and the family’s financial and emotional reasons made
them think he’d be better off in a group home. You think they go to group
homes for counseling, for stability, to help a person be more stable as an
adult. Maybe he had homosexual tendencies, and his parents aren’t proud of
that. His first group homes were all-boys’ homes, where the boys are
troubled anyway. I would think that things like that would happen.”
In 1999, Matthew moved to the Lakemary Center in Paola.
The center is private and nonprofit, but two-thirds of its 64 residents are in
the custody of Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services, and their fees are
paid by the state. Matthew was among its private clients.
“Mike said at one time that he wished he could get him
out of that home,” the coworker says. “He said he thought the other boys
were aggressive, troublemakers. Matt’s a follower, not a leader.”
Because many of his records are sealed, and because he
has refrained from talking to the press, it’s hard to tell how much of his
court proceedings Matthew Limon has understood. When Limon appeared in Miami
County Court for sentencing on August 10, 2000, Judge Richard Smith asked him
whether he had anything to say. The following is his complete and unedited
statement, from court transcripts:
“I—I wrote some stuff during the time I was here for
seven months of just—Basically, I just wrote when I came to jail I was very
scared. I didn’t know what to do or say. During the time I was here, I did
some reading and a lot of thinking of—about God and what I did. I read in a
book [indiscernible] about homosexuality and it—and just—and it said like
people will not inherit the kingdom of God, wherefore God also gave them up to
uncleanness through the lust of their own hearts to desire their own bodies
between themselves who change the truth of God into a lie and worshiped and
served the creature more than their creator who is blessed forever, amen. For
this cause, God gave up them unto vile affections for even their woman did
change the natural use unto the—that which is against nature. And likewise,
also the men leaving one toward another with men—with men working that which
is unusually—un—un—and receiving—What is it? In themselves that
[indiscernible] which was met. Knowing—who knowing it—the judgment of God
that which—I mean, that they which commit such things are worthy of death,
not only do the sin, but have pleasure in them that do them.
“All of this got me thinkin’ even—it—it even got
me to tears. I finally—I finally realize all along I’ve been basically
livin’ a lie. I kept asking myself over and over, ‘Why, Matt? Why did you
do this?’ I prayed to God many times and asked him to change my life, asked
him—I’ve asked him to change my ways. I told God about my thoughts and
problems. I’ve asked him to come into my heart, you know. I can’t live
like this. And—and two Christian men, I—I told ‘em about my problem.
They gave me some—you know, they gave me some advice about God and one—one
of ‘em led me to the Lord and—and—I know I deserve the worst punishment
that I can. The past few months, I’ve been sittin’ in jail just thinking
about—I’ve thought about suicide many times. I—I just—First I gave up
all hope that I couldn’t change, and I’m willing to change. I want to
change. The greatest gift that God ever gave me was the gift of music on a
piano—and the greatest thing that I have are my parents and my family.
That’s my—all my family, that’s what keeps me goin’. If I didn’t
have ‘em, I—I just don’t know what I would do.
“But, Your Honor, I just ask for—please, please give
me some treatment. I’m—you know, I was wrong and I admit I want to change.
I can’t live like this forever and this is it. This is my final thing
that—I—I can’t do this no more, you know. I just—and I also asked a
few people about prison and most of the people said I wouldn’t survive or
wouldn’t make it. Reasons of that was because they said I was too soft and I
was weak. And some other—some other people said if—if I just mind my own
business and just kept my mouth shut that I’d probably be okay. And I—I
deserve—I know I deserve punish—some major punishment, but I’m also
asking for just one more chance to change my life and—and have one
more—one more chance. I want to change my life, to get right with God and,
basically, get my relationship with God right. I just want to change.
I—That’s all I can say.”
Judge Smith sentenced Limon to 206 months in a
correctional facility, with credit for the 182 days he’d already spent in
Miami County Jail. He ended up at Ellsworth, where he has remained for more
than three years. (Limon has not yet been offered sex-offender treatment.)
While he’s been in prison, his case and his family have
done a lot of traveling.
The Limons moved from Satanta to Larned, 63 miles from
Ellsworth, where Mike Limon was offered another job working with livestock and
the family could be closer to Matthew. Blanche Hayden guesses that the family
visits him once every two weeks. Limon’s parents donated his piano to the
prison so that he can play it there.
The case went from Lupo to a lawyer named Daniel Estes.
Shortly after filing a brief arguing that Limon should have been convicted
under Romeo and Juliet, Estes left the appellate defender’s office for
private practice. Appellate Defender Paige Nichols then appealed Limon’s
case before the panel of judges in his first oral hearing and lost. Then the
national ACLU took over and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the
case. After the Lawrence v. Texas decision, the ACLU asked Nichols, who was
then in private practice, to help Lange defend Limon. She agreed.
Lange says Limon understands his case, though that takes
extra effort on her part. “Matt is attentive and wants to know what’s
going on, and I’m careful to explain it in the simplest way possible,”
Lange says. “He’s very articulate, so it’s not always easy to tell [what
he’s having difficulty with].”
One thing that’s hard for Limon’s legal team to
understand is why Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has taken such an
interest in keeping Limon in jail.
“It wouldn’t be possible for me to tell Matt that
there’s nothing personal about the state continuing to try and fight this
case,” Lange says. “The state is trying to keep Matt in jail, though it is
clearly wrong to spend seventeen years in prison instead of one year because
of sexual orientation.”
“[Limon’s] statement that he was sentenced to
seventeen years in prison for ‘who he is’ is correct,” Kline writes in
the brief laying out the state’s defense in the current appeal. Kline says
Limon received the harsher sentence not simply because of his sexual
orientation but because “he is a repeat offender who commits sex offenses
Kline is referring to Limon’s two prior convictions in
juvenile court, both for having sex with people under the age of sixteen. Both
crimes occurred on the same day seven years ago, when Limon was fourteen. The
court records are sealed because they involve juveniles, so it’s impossible
to know the details of what occurred and with whom.
“This isn’t a comparison of a seventeen-year sentence
with a one-year sentence,” Kline tells the Pitch, sitting in his Topeka
office on a snowy December day. “Mr. Limon would have received five years if
[the Lakemary incident] was his first conviction. This was his third
conviction. I don’t know his sexual orientation. The act he was engaged in,
in this instance, was homosexual. But because of his predatory nature toward
children, he is considered to be a sex predator in Kansas under Kansas law.”
Lange calls Kline’s argument “a smoke screen.”
“Even if this case involved a heterosexual teen with
the exact same prior offenses, same criminal record, that heterosexual teen
would get thirteen to fifteen months in this case,” Lange says. If Limon had
no prior convictions, Lange says, he would still have to serve five years as
opposed to probation, which a heterosexual teen would receive as a sentence.
“The same gross disparity exists. His sentence is because Romeo and Juliet
was made inapplicable to gay teenagers.”
The Romeo and Juliet law was buried in Senate Bill 149, a
sixty-page omnibus bill introduced to the Kansas Senate at 11:30 p.m. on May
13, 1999, the last day of the session. The Legislature adjourned fifteen
minutes later, recalls Senator Karin Brownlee, a Johnson County Republican.
Brownlee voted against the bill because it was impossible
to tell what was in it. “So many other bills were bundled together that I
felt it was irresponsible to pass it in that manner, in the waning hours of
session,” Brownlee says.
Republican Senator David Adkins, a lawyer, was on the
Kansas House Judiciary Committee and participated in discussions about Senate
Bill 149. Adkins says the bill was created to restructure Kansas’ sentencing
guidelines. Prisons were filling up, he says, and in order to create bed
space, the committee shortened sentences for nondrug offenses. But to keep up
the appearance that the Legislature was tough on crime, those provisions were
wrapped around a few sentence-lengthening measures.
In the process, the Romeo and Juliet provision was
created. There had been no previous legal accommodation, Adkins explains, for
parents of an eighteen-year-old who gets his fifteen-year-old girlfriend
pregnant. “Her parents go ballistic and want to prosecute under
statutory-rape charges,” Adkins says. “There was the feeling that if the
parties really, truly admitted everything was consensual, special
circumstances should be considered.”
Adkins now says it’s “strange” that the law applies
only to members of the opposite sex. “It was a way of saying, ‘Let’s not
raise the issue—let’s not go there,’ attempting to solve the consensual
issue and not get to the larger sodomy issue,” he says of the
As a state senator in 1999, Kline voted against Senate
Bill 149. He claims he did so not only because the bill reduced the lengths of
sentences but also because he disagreed with the idea of sentencing a
heterosexual differently from a homosexual on a sodomy charge.
Explaining the Legislature’s rationale for leaving
same-sex offenders out of the Romeo and Juliet law, Kline says, “The reality
is that most children are oriented toward heterosexuality, and sexual
development is a fragile development. In fact, it’s one of the areas
that’s most often abused. And so to nurture and protect, we have laws,
age-of-consent laws and so forth, which say children do not have the emotional
capacity to consent to sexual relations.
“Additionally, we segregate children by gender in
activities to protect their developing sexuality and to provide role
models,” Kline continues. “And where an abuse occurs ... the potential
harm to the child is greater when a role model, or someone of the same gender,
commits that abuse. Additionally, it most likely affects their sexual
development more greatly than if it were heterosexual.”
Kline says there’s a difference between unfair and
“The ACLU is essentially misleading the debate here,
and here’s why,” Kline says. “They’re saying it’s about fairness,
and it’s not about fairness. Not to say that fairness is unimportant, but
fairness debates occur in the Legislature. And I would agree that you can put
a legitimate argument out there that his sentence is unfair.... Everybody
who’s been sentenced for a crime claims things are unfair.”
“That’s absurd,” says Matt Coles, director of the
ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “If he’s making arguments about
the Constitution that he doesn’t believe are right, he doesn’t belong in
that job as attorney general. That’s an outrageous thing to say. He’s made
a whole series of claims about why it’s legitimate for the state to do this,
and he shouldn’t make those claims if he doesn’t think they’re true,
Kline says laws should be changed by legislation, not by
the courts. “[The courts] draw a line that rests in perpetuity,” he says.
“The Legislature can work with these issues and respond to [changing]
“That whole argument is a red herring,” Lange
counters. “The Legislature cannot undo Matthew’s conviction. It all comes
back to basic civics lessons that everyone learned in grade school history
class. It is the role of legislature to determine public policy, and the role
of the courts is to interpret both federal and state constitutions and limit
the role of legislature when it oversteps its bounds and treads on
Adkins, who ran unsuccessfully against Kline for attorney
general in 2002, says he recognizes Kline’s argument as one he’s heard
before. He heard it from the far right in November in Massachusetts, where
that state’s Supreme Court decided to allow gay marriage. And he heard it in
Alabama, where controversy erupted over a statue of the Ten Commandments in
that state’s Supreme Court building. The argument that these things should
be left up to state legislatures is, he says, “the new code language
“We’re seeing an emerging populist rhetoric in which
elitist, robed judges are said to be out of touch with the needs of
society,” Adkins adds. “It’s a lot like the old states’ rights
arguments from Civil War times, and it’s dark and ugly. We all know
politicians can do stupid things that result in stuff like the internment of
the Japanese in World War II and separate schools for black children, and the
courts are able to step in and provide the check.”
In a section of his brief titled “It Is Left to the
Legislature—and Not This Court—to Legislate Morality,” Kline describes
the future as he sees it if Limon goes free: “[This] will begin a toppling
of dominoes which is likely to end with the Kansas marriage law on the scrap
heap. Pull a thread on the social fabric that will begin an unseaming (and
unseemly) process that will end with the State being unable to protect minor
children from falling prey to sexual predators while in state institutions,
among other deleterious aftershocks.”
In a footnote, Kline adds, “Any court that handed Mr.
Limon a win ... would at the same time (perhaps unwittingly) bring about a
court-ordered redefinition of marriage that prohibited all distinctions based
on ‘sexual orientation.’ Sexual desires rather than communal and historic
sensitives would then define the marital relationship, allowing such
combinations as three party marriages, incestuous marriages, child brides, and
other less-than-desirable couplings.”
Kline says he’s only doing his job, just as his
predecessor, Attorney General Carla Stovall, did before him. “[The ACLU is]
in a court of law asking the court to strike down a statute. And I am
defending it, just like General Stovall did successfully,” he says.
But Kline has made the Limon case a “political cause
célèbre,” Adkins says. “He’s saying Armageddon will ensue, and if the
ACLU gets its way we’ll have dogs and cats sleeping together and lightning
shooting from the sky, interrupting civil society as we know it.”
Kline has put forth three reasons why the state of Kansas
has a governing interest in excluding homosexuals from the Romeo and Juliet
law. They’re the same reasons the U.S. Supreme Court shot down when it
overturned the Bowers decision with Lawrence v. Texas.
One is that the state has an interest in preventing the
spread of diseases such as AIDS. Another is that it is rational for the state
to favor relationships that may culminate in marriage. The third is that the
state has an interest in valuing relationships that lead to procreation.
At Limon’s December 2 hearing, these arguments didn’t
seem to impress Judge Pierron.
The hearing took place on the third floor of the Kansas
Judicial Center in Topeka, a modern, circular room with a raised panel of
podiums for the judges. A handful of observers filled a row of the room’s
Chantel Guidry, a 32-year-old member of Anarchist Black
Cross (a Lawrence-based organization that focuses on prisoners’ rights and
prison abolition), was there with three other members of ABC and four KU
students, members of the university’s Queers and Allies organization. Many
more KU students from Queers and Allies and other groups would have liked to
make the trek to Topeka, Guidry said, but the hearing date was too close to
“We came here in support of Matthew, and we want to
help do whatever is best for him and his case,” she told the Pitch.
On behalf of the state, Deputy Attorney General Jared
Maag argued that what the court found in Lawrence v. Texas didn’t alter
Kansas’ decision because it didn’t apply to minors, only consenting
“Then why are we here?” Pierron asked. “Here we
are, by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, so I’d prefer to hear more analysis
on why or why not this ruling was constitutional.”
Maag recapped the state’s three arguments, but that
only fueled more stern statements.
“I realize that homosexuals don’t have favor within
the law. But we don’t take chunks of people and say, ‘If you commit this
crime, you get a higher penalty.’ That’s not constitutional,” Pierron
“This has to do with how far a police state can go in
regulating sex with children,” Maag replied. “The state is given wide
latitude in dealing with issues of child safety. It is not irrational to
promote traditional sexual relationships to children.”
But Pierron called two of the state’s arguments—its
rational interest in promoting heterosexuality and in relationships leading to
“We are not here to encourage procreation or marriage
between sexual predators and children,” Pierron said. “That’s not
applicable. There is no rational basis for that. On disease pathogens, you may
have an argument, though science goes in the other direction, but the state
does not contend that Mr. Limon had any diseases to pass on. If a female with
every venereal disease known to man had committed the same act as Limon, she
would get a lesser penalty, but he gets a harsher sentence.... Your first and
second claims make no sense, and the third, under closer scrutiny, doesn’t,
“Judge Pierron wrote the opinion upholding the
state’s position in the first appeal. It was quite fascinating to see how
two years’ time altered the judge’s approach,” Kline told the Pitch.
The judges’ decision could come any day now.
The ACLU’s Matt Coles says that if the three-judge
panel affirms Limon’s conviction, there is the option of taking the case to
the Kansas Supreme Court. “My fond hope is that this case ends here,” he
says. If Limon goes free, though, the state can appeal that decision to the
Kansas Supreme Court. “But I think they should pause and think very
seriously about that and about whether that is truly just,” Coles says.
Maag says that either way, “It’s definitely not the
end of it. Only after the U.S. Supreme Court rules—then no one can
Kline predicts that the three judges will keep Limon’s
conviction but reduce his sentence and remove the clause in the Romeo and
Juliet law that distinguishes between sentences for homosexuals and
“I would be pleased with that result,” he says.
“General Stovall, who was in this office ahead of me, took this all the way
up. It’s amazing how people have put this cause on me as if I’m out there
making this happen, and it’s simply, honestly, because I’m pro-life. But
that’s another issue.”
Limon passes his time playing piano for the prison’s
church choir and writing music.
It’s been more than three years since he spoke those
faltering words at his sentencing hearing. Though he’s avoided speaking to
the press, the ACLU’s New York City office agreed to relay questions from
the Pitch to Limon in prison on the condition that they were unrelated to his
legal case. The ACLU asked Limon the Pitch’s questions by telephone and
e-mailed transcripts of his responses to the paper.
Limon misses his family. “Just being able to talk and
sharing feelings and, of course, when they come up to visit the hardest part
is when they leave,” he said. “We have some pretty good conversations and
heart-to-hearts. I miss being able to help them around the house and being
there for them.”
If none of this had ever happened, Limon said, “I’d
probably be more smarter, be going to school or graduated.”
At Ellsworth, Limon said, he has had “more musical
ideas.” But he referred also to other lessons. “Others have helped me
realize the stuff I was doing was wrong and nothing but getting me into deeper
doo-doo, and it helped me see the light,” he said. “I had a cellmate for
two years and we became the bestest friends. He got me into working out and
lifting weights. He told me who is OK and who to stay away from, and that’s
pretty much kept me out of trouble. There’s been a couple other people; they
have pretty much done the same thing, they’ve helped me work out. And there
have been a couple of times that I’ve been pretty down, and they’ve lifted
me up and gave me encouragement. They’re no longer here and the other guy
[the cellmate] is in Lansing [Correctional Facility] now.”
He misses driving. “The first car I drove was an ‘89
Buick LeSabre,” he said. “The second one was an ‘88 Dodge Lancer. [Right
now] I’d be driving that Buick but I wouldn’t mind having a brand new
Lincoln Towncar with tinted windows.” On the radio would be “R&B, kind
of the old school stuff, hip-hop, and mixing it in with some classical
stuff,” he said. “Keith Sweat, Silk, the Isley Brothers, that’s pretty
much recently what I’ve been listening to.”
Limon has thought about what he wants to do after he’s
released from prison. “I wouldn’t mind studying music and storm
chasing,” he said. “When I was little, the third time we had a good
thunderstorm come in, my mother couldn’t keep me in the house, I sat on the
porch and watched it all. I’d been doing that since I can remember, real
young ... I want to find a job, maybe with my uncle, do something with my
music, and go to school. My uncle has a sheep farm, a couple of them, and I
might help him out with it someday.”
Hayden says that if her nephew is released as a result of
the appeal, he would be able to lead a normal life eventually. “I think they
don’t give him enough credit,” she says. “They say he’s not smart, but
I think he is. He has an excellent talent. He’s unreal at the piano. I think
he could live on his own once he got adjusted. I really think he could.”
The people who knew him in his hometown stand by the good
memories they have of Limon.
“We’re raising grandchildren, they’re younger than
Matt, and Blanche’s kids would be over here with Matt and they’d all
play,” Sharon Kisker says. “I never worried about Matt [being around my
children]. I knew he was different, slower. And maybe I didn’t know Matt as
well when he became an older boy, but I certainly knew his folks. Last time I
saw Matt, his dad was working with the horses at my house and Matt was with
him, and he had his hair in cornrows. And Mike was certainly not that kind of
person, but he would never let on that it bothered him. It must have been
right before Matt went to prison. In my mind, he did get an unfair sentence,
but you know, what am I?”
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