It’s a sweltering day in Tracy. July behind bars at Deuel Vocational Institution smells like sweat, bleach and old orange peels. Clifford Bair, a white-haired, goateed first-degree murderer—a lifer—perches under a barred window’s light and talks about the day 25 years ago in Bodega Bay when he tied up Theresa Aiken and Rose Fomasi with electrical wire and left them to die.
“I’d been up for three days drinking and doing speed,” says the 64-year-old convict. “After I tied her up, I couldn’t believe it but I found her keys in a bowl by the door. I took her car and I left. All I had wanted was to take her car. I remember the detective telling me Miss Aiken had died in the night. I wanted to die too. I still do.”
To hear him tell it, many decisions and circumstances led his younger self—strung-out, self-loathing and addicted to meth—to the front door of the 86-year-old Aiken, the “Mother of Bodega Bay,” that day in 1984. And since then, many more decisions have been made by Inmate Bair and by the state institutions charged with “correcting and rehabilitating” him.
Bair, according to DVI spokesman Lt. Gilbert Valenzuela, is like a majority of lifers over 40 years old: “one of the good ones.” Enrolled in classes, active in a prison-based job, he’s padded his résumé for 25 years in hopes of wresting freedom from California’s Board of Parole Hearings. Yet despite his efforts at rehabilitation, he has little chance of becoming a free man.
That’s because the Board grants parole to fewer than 1 percent of lifers who are eligible, and those that are paroled are usually denied later by the governor.