Special Reports

For one man, cycle is ‘just a way of life’

Gus “Bunny” Lockridge, perennial convict, shares a trait with aluminum cans: He’s recyclable.

Five times in the last 11 years, he’s walked in and out of Pierce County work-release centers, and landed right back in lockup. At the moment, he’s in the county jail again, winning his share of poker hands from younger inmates who call him “Pops.”

Among the 449 convicts funneled through Pierce County’s three work-release centers in 2005, his tally of repeat visits is the longest. Records from the state Department of Corrections mark his trail: Lincoln Park in 1995, Progress House in 1998, RAP House in 2002, RAP in 2004, RAP in 2005.

In June, a few months after finishing his latest work-release stint, Lockridge got nailed for drug possession. A Tacoma police officer caught him at 25th and C streets with rock cocaine in his pocket.

He pleaded guilty – his 17th felony conviction in the last 45 years. Most come from Tacoma, including his first: grand larceny in 1961. It was a strong-arm robbery, he said. He was 19 then.

He is 64 now, a familiar face on Tacoma streets. He has spent more than half his life in prison and in jail for an assortment of crimes: chiefly drug possession and dealing, with a few thefts and robberies thrown in.

“Just a way of life, trying to make money,” he said.

During a recent interview at the jail, his words tumbled out in a mutter: swift, low as gravel and hard to catch. He is slight, bone-thin, his hair and beard flecked with gray.

When he lands in work release, he spends a few months sleeping in custody at night, cooking restaurant meals or telemarketing during the day. He scratches a little money together, returns to the streets and gets arrested. More prison time, then back to work release, back to the routine.

“It’s not bad,” he said of the centers. “But there should be a way you could maintain more money.”

He meant the cut an inmate gets from a work-release job. Room and board sucks up most of it, he complained. Some inmates run, he said, frustrated by the meager earnings.

“Work release is supposed to be where you can build up some money, then you can be back into normal society,” he said. “Two hundred a month is not gonna do it.”

His mother gave him his soft nickname long ago. She’s dead now. So is his father. He has three sisters and three brothers, but rarely sees them.

He’s not sure what he wanted to be when he was a kid – a doctor, maybe. He has bronchitis, a hernia and heart trouble.

“Old-age stuff,” he said.

Those conditions clear his path to the RAP facility, which provides medical treatment and another plus: no fees for room and board. Taxpayers cover it. He’s learned that much.

“You gotta work the system the way the system works you,” he said with a smile.

He doesn’t think much of the system. One dirty urinalysis test on parole, and they shoot you back to lockup for a month. Petty – it makes no sense.

And drug dealing?

“Selling dope to another grown-up, it’s his money,” he said. “I’m not cheating him, I’m not beating him.”

He receives drug treatment, a condition of his current sentence. When he gets out, around spring 2007, he hopes to stay clean. He plans to get an apartment in Tacoma.

Until then, it’s poker in the jail. Lockridge says he wins more than he loses. He’s always had a knack for gambling.

“I do all right,” he said. “That used to be my mainstay, before I got into dope.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486