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Bobby Bostic embraces freedom — and the judge who sentenced him to 241 years

Bobby Bostic, wearing a red hoodie and gloves, inspects boxes of food during a food and clothing giveaway on November 19.
Danny Wicentowski
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Bobby Bostic inspects boxes of food during a food and clothing giveaway on November 19.

On November 9, Bobby Bostic walked out of the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City. Wearing a brand-new blue suit, he approached a crowd of cheering family members and supporters — but the first person he embraced was retired judge Evelyn Baker.

“It was a surreal moment. When you walk out in the sunshine, and you’re free now — no handcuffs, no nothing,” Bostic told St. Louis on the Air. “To be getting out of prison is a miracle within itself. But this is the very lady who told you that you will die in prison, that's the first person hugging you? It’s like making something right that was wrong.”

Bobby Bostic sits for a portrait, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jacket.
Danny Wicentowski
/
Bobby Bostic says he never stopped believing that he would be free.

In 1997, Baker had presided over the trial of a then-18-year-old Bostic as he faced criminal charges for his role in an armed robbery in St. Louis two years prior. Found guilty by a jury on multiple counts, Baker ordered Bostic serve them consecutively, back-to-back, for a total of 241 years.

“I never believed I was going to die in prison. That's what kept me going,” Bostic said. “The whole thing was a miracle basically; I kept holding on, against all odds, but there was some dark days.”

Though not technically sentenced to life in prison, Bostic’s multiple felonies meant he had no chance at parole. For all practical purposes, his 241-year sentence meant he would die behind bars. Yet, in 2021, a Missouri law that was inspired by Bostic’s case granted him new hope for release. Under the law, inmates who committed crimes (excluding murder) as juveniles deserve a chance at parole — as long as they’ve already served 15 years in prison.

By then, Evelyn Baker had retired from the bench — and she had experienced a change of heart. She wasn’t the only one: Over the intervening decades, a series of decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court had steadily altered the way the justice system treats juvenile offenders. Citing scientific research into how the brains of children and teenagers are different from those of adults, the court ruled that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to death or life in prison. In 2012’s Miller vs. Alabama, the court wrote that a young person’s actions, even when harmful, are “less likely to be evidence of irretrievable depravity.”

This was not the way Baker had approached Bostic’s sentencing in 1997, when she told the teen at sentencing, “You will die in the Department of Corrections.”

Baker ultimately became Bostic’s advocate at his parole hearing in 2021. And she was there to greet him as he left prison earlier this month. For Bostic, it was a moment that he had only dreamed of becoming real.

“I think that God allows certain things to happen for people to be taught lessons,” he said. “I had to be taught a lesson the hard way, and she was the vehicle that God used to teach me that harsh lesson.”

For more on the story behind the case of Bobby Bostic, including his time spent in prison as a teenager, becoming a published author, and founding a nonprofit from inside his cell, listen to the full conversation with Bobby Bostic on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Bobby Bostic on prison, poetry and the judge who sentenced him to 241 years

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.