April 14, 2013

Maine's longest-serving prisoner running no more

For 79-year-old Albert Paul – a convicted thief and murderer with a colorful history of breaking free – those days are now years behind him.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WARREN — If there is one thing Albert Paul knows, it’s how to do time.

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Albert Paul, 79, has spent most of his life in prison for a string of crimes and is currently serving a life sentence for a 1971 murder. The Department of Corrections has estimated that it has spent nearly $1.5 million since the early 1950s to keep the Maine man locked up.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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1972 booking photos from the Maine State Prison in Thomaston

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He’s been in and out of prison – mostly in – since he was 18 years old. He turns 80 this June.

He is both the oldest and longest-serving prisoner in Maine, and he likely will die in his cell.

There was a time when nearly all of his energy was spent trying to break free from captivity. He escaped four times from either prisons or mental hospitals and had several more near-escapes, including one that rivaled a climactic scene in a Hollywood movie.

But Paul hasn’t tried to escape for decades. He says he’s still cunning enough to pull it off; he just doesn’t have the fire. He’s accepted his fate.

Besides, he has nowhere to go.

“The world out there has changed for me. It’s a foreign place,” Paul said during an interview at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

Paul’s story may be extreme, but he represents an aging prison population that, in some ways, mirrors the state’s population shift overall. In 2005 the number of prisoners age 50 or older was 9 percent. Now, it’s 16.5 percent. The number of inmates over the age of 60 has doubled in that time.

There is a cost to letting inmates grow old. The Maine Department of Corrections estimated that it has spent nearly $1.5 million since the early 1950s to keep Paul locked up.

So, what happens to a man who grows old in prison? How does he pass the time? How does he reconcile a squandered life?

Paul’s only real memories are the crimes he committed: a series of ill-fated robberies in his late teens and 20s; a pair of brazen prison escapes in the 1960s; the murder of a stranger in 1971 that sent him to prison for life, a crime to which he confessed at trial but says now he didn’t commit.

He continued to cause trouble even behind bars, sending a bomb to a former prosecutor and trying to escape several times.

For the last three decades, though, Paul has been a forgotten criminal.

His secret to an incarcerated life has been keeping to himself, tuning out all the “prison scuttlebutt,” and, believe it or not, having a positive outlook.

There is one more thing, though. Paul has left the outside world behind completely.

“I’m here doing life,” he said. “My life is here. I can’t get involved with the outside.

“There’s two worlds: free world and prison world, you know? I don’t want people visiting me saying, ‘Oh, we was down at the beach over the weekend.’ I don’t want to hear that kind of talk. I can’t go to the beach. You see?”

Until he agreed to an interview, Paul had not had a visitor in 13 years.


His hair, once coal black, is entirely gray and flows almost to his shoulders. His beard is gray, too, and nearly as long. His belly sticks out over his prison pants. He favors his right leg when he walks. When he speaks, his voice has remnants of a French-Canadian heritage.

He was born Albert Joseph Paul on June 17, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. He has no memory of his mother, who died of stomach cancer when he was 3.

Paul spent the next six years with five sets of foster parents. In the worst family, Paul often went without food, taking nearly rotten potatoes out of a pig’s trough and sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to steal slices of bread.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Albert Paul, photographed Jan. 18 at the Maine State Prison in Warren, will turn 80 in June. He’s been in and out of prison – mostly in – since he was 18 and likely will die there, having been sentenced to life for killing a South Portland woman in 1971.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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This newspaper clipping from Sept. 8, 1962, details the reapprehension of Maine State Prison inmate Albert Paul, who managed to escape several times – sometimes quite dramatically – during his lifetime of incarceration.

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Clippings from newspaper archives chronicle Paul’s journey to life in prison.

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