A former Maryland prison escapee who turned himself in last year after 33 years as a fugitive has been granted parole and a chance to restart his life in Oklahoma, where he had lived under an assumed name since the early 1990s.
Anthony Rackley, now 63, slipped away from a pre-release program in Baltimore in 1980 after going to prison at 18 for armed robbery and then a parole violation. He traveled and eventually settled in Oklahoma, where he became a paid Lions Club fundraiser under the name Jack Watson.
In November, after a financial dispute with another Lions member, Rackley turned himself in, puzzling law enforcement officials in Oklahoma and Maryland, who couldn’t remember an escapee just offering himself up after so long.
Rackley waited in the Oklahoma County jail, telling his life story to The Washington Post in jailhouse phone interviews. In February, Maryland authorities brought him back to decide what to do about the nearly six years left on his sentence.
David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, said that, in granting release, officials took into account his age and the evidence of his good deeds in Oklahoma.
“He’s been an exemplary citizen, stayed out of trouble and been very productive with his life,” Blumberg said. “He was not seen as a threat to himself or others. I think this is a good example of someone who has turned himself around.”
Rackley will probably be released in a few weeks. He hopes to stay in the state only temporarily, perhaps with his mother in Baltimore, until an arrangement with Oklahoma officials can be worked out for him to be supervised there.
In interviews from jail, Rackley said he hoped to legally change his name to his alias and start a charity in Oklahoma. “I have people out there that I helped,” he said, adding: “I’m not a good guy. I’ve done some bad things in my life. You can call it atoning. You can call it whatever you want. But I went to bed with a clear conscience.”
Patricia Wright, his Oklahoma City landlady and a friend for the past decade, has been in regular contact with Rackley — she still calls him Jack — through phone calls and letters. She said, “I’ll help him all I can.” But she also wondered whether Rackley would be welcomed back by other friends and associates, who were stunned to learn of his fugitive status.
It is also unclear what family relationships might form from his old life.
Rackley had a rough childhood in Baltimore, growing up in a tense, broken family. He had not spoken to his sister or mother in decades, but they reconnected to him by phone in jail.
He said his mother, who lives in Baltimore, had remembered the good, not the bad. She told him that she loved him. He thanked her, then hung up. He called again a few days later and said he loved her, too. “I gave her some peace,” he said.
Blumberg said Rackley now expresses a desire to see her.
Rackley’s sister, Ocean Meir, lives in Wisconsin. He called her “the one good thing I’ve had in my life,” and they caught up in a series of phone calls. They both expressed an interest in seeing each other again. But in recent months, Meir said, some strain has emerged.
There is, it turns out, a lot of history to overcome.
“It kind of breaks my heart,” Meir said. “I was very excited to be reunited with my brother and with any luck be friends as well as siblings.”
Her plan is to “leave the ball in his court.”
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.