Prison is a walled off, secret world, where inmates and officers live a sort of altered reality. For the past 10 years I’ve been reporting on the people inside San Quentin State Prison in Northern California and over those years, some of the men I’ve been reporting on have themselves become journalists — writing stories for the San Quentin News and producing audio stories for the San Quentin Prison Report, stories from the unique perspective of life inside prison, looking out, rather than inside the walls.
One day an audio reporter named Greg Eskridge, told me his mom was coming to visit. How long had he been in prison? More than 20 years. He came to prison at the age of 19 after he was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 65 years and two life terms.
What’s it like to be a teenager sent to prison for what may be forever, and what’s it like to be his mom? Our story is Mother and Son.
PATRICIA: My name is Patricia Eskridge and my son is Gregory Eskridge, who’s an inmate up at San Quentin Prison.
When my son Gregory was incarcerated about 21 years ago, I was a dispatcher, a 911 operator and I specifically remember two detectives coming in and they went into my lieutenants office and they sat and talked to him and I had no clue I would be the next person they would talk to.
They proceeded to tell me that my son was arrested for shooting someone. So, oh my god. When they said it, it was like I went numb. I couldn’t believe what they was saying. I went over to the locker room and I just fell down and I just cried. I couldn’t breathe. I remember another female police officer coming in asking me if I was ok. I couldn’t even tell her that, yes. All I could do was nod. And she went and got me some water. It was a feeling no parent ever wants to experience. So I had to put on a happy face and go back to my post and pretend everything was OK. But it really wasn’t, because after that it was never OK.
I’m sure my demeanor changed cause I’m always a happy-go-lucky person but at that time I just had a tendency to just kind of withdraw and be alone when I’m hurting cause I don’t share my pain. So I just sat there, answered my phone, did whatever work I had to do and I never mentioned it to anybody and I’m not sure if the lieutenant did, but I never did. I just suffered in silence.
Greg was about 3 when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident.
MULLANE: And then you have another girl by another guy ?
PATRICIA: Yes I have another girl by another guy, who also, that other guy how also helped raise Greg. Greg was quite quite fond of him. In fact he was the only father that he spent a lot of time with.
MULLANE: And they had a good relationship? Why do you think he started running away? How old was he when he started running away?
PATRICIA: Oh, gosh, I think about 10 or 11. It was so long ago.
MULLANE: Did he ever say why he was running away? What was the problem?
PATRICIA: No he didn’t. Not that I can remember
GREG: My stepfather came into the picture when I was maybe 8 or 9. And initially we had a great relationship. He was that male figure in my life – that man that was teaching me how to play sports. I used to watch him fix cars. And just the whole father-son relationship was actually great. Early on. And then, shortly after that, the abuse started.
You know he was really abusive. The spankings started getting worse and so around 10 or 11 years old I started running away from home. I was basically running away from that violence.
They were together for a little while. But they never married. And they had a daughter together. My little sister. When I actually ran away I was living with my mother. It was me, my mother and my little sister and he lived in West LA. My mother was getting ready to take me to West LA so he could give me a spanking.
I don’t consider myself that I was a bad kid. I think I did a lot of what boys do in school which was be mischievous and disruptive in class, the class clown type stuff. It was never anything really extreme. But it was enough for the teachers to call home and say Greg was goofing off in class today. And it started off with just spanking, you know belts on the bottom. Little spanks on the hands. Stuff like that. And then, I recall he got a 2×4 piece of wood and he carved it out into a paddle. I mean he sanded it, he stained it and he even lacquered it and the ironic part was he even gave it a name. He called that paddle, Mr. Green. To this day, I don’t know where that name came from, but he called it Mr. Green and when he made that paddle is when the beatings really got severe. It got so bad to the point where he was laying me down naked, pull my pants down, laying me across his lap, and really spanking me really, really hard with that paddle so much so that I used to go into the restroom and use the bathroom, I would urinate blood would come out. I also used to have to sleep on my stomach or my side because my butt was so tender from the beatings I couldn’t sit down.
When the stick wasn’t around to spank me, he would use his fists, sometimes hit me, slap me in the face, knock me around. I remember one of the first times I ran away from home was, I had gotten in trouble from school and my mother was taking me over to his house so he could spank me and I never forget, my mother told me to go open the garage door. And I remember, I went to the garage, and I opened the garage and there was so much panic and fright in me in anticipation of that beating that I just ran away. I ran away from home. Left the garage door open. I just took off running and that was when it all started. When I started running away from home.
After those episodes, those beatings, it basically changed my relationship with him. I go from really caring about someone, really trusting someone, looking up to this person, this male figure in my life, wanting to emulate everything he did and then I start getting beatings from him. So that trust was gone. I was afraid of him.
MULLANE: Didn’t you tell your mom? No I don’t want to go there. He’s going to hit me. It’s going to be bad. I’m terrified. Did you try to tell her?
GREG: Well no. That was her reasoning for taking me over there because I did something that was wrong, I did something in school, I don’t remember exactly what it was but she wanted me to get disciplined and he was disciplinarian and she was driving me to his house so he could discipline me.
She was in the house when it was going on so I assumed she knew it was happening. I was on my own. I felt like it was just me and I was so young I didn’t feel like I had a voice to express myself to anyone about anything that was going on. So I basically had to just take it, up to the point when I couldn’t take it anymore up to the point where I had to get out of here.
PATRICIA: Family is a strong entity and there was division there and he didn’t know how to handle it and of course I have to work during the day and he unfortunately was a latch-key kid. He and my daughter. He would often babysit her a lot. He started running away from home. I went to the detectives I worked with and asked for advice, find out what I could do. Ultimately he did end up going to a foster home because he didn‘t want to stay with me. So I had no choice but to let him go into a foster home.
GREG: The first day when I ran away from home I actually felt liberated in a sense because I felt free. I felt a sense of freedom. Here I am a young kid in this world, this big dangerous world, however, I felt safe out in the streets cause I wasn’t at home. I had nowhere to go. I had no money in my pocket. I had no food to eat. I was basically on my own but even dealing with all those circumstances, it was still better than being at home. Home represented a place where I was going to be abused. So I had to get away from that.
I bounced around from foster home to foster home, from city to city, all the way from Long Beach to LA to Compton, even way out in the Valley. I was going to so many different foster homes. Cause a lot of time I would get in foster homes and the foster parents would be abusive, so I found myself running away again from that abuse. I basically lived a young life of being constantly being on the run. Running from the abuse, running from fathers, running from the negativity. But then over the years, it was funny because I was in foster care but I would see my mother. Sometimes on the weekends I would get weekend passes and I would go to her house, I would go to his house and the relationship started to mend back because here I’m in this foster care system around people I don’t really want to be around, with a lot of other kids who don’t have parents or anyone by their side so I was still kind of reaching for that love and that acceptance, I was still trying to grab that from him.
One thing about me is that at a young age I was so tormented inside the home that I made a vow when I get out into the world I would never let anybody put their hands on me and get away with it. And I took that mentality with me out into the world, into the streets.
I had got in trouble in school and one of the teachers tried to push me and I hit the teacher. I slapped the teacher. So when this teacher pushed me in the back to usher me into the building, it was instinctive for me to turn around and hit him because I had been through so much, there was one person who was abusing me, that I was afraid of, but I wasn’t afraid of anybody else in the world. And so I spent 9 months in juvenile hall for that.
PATRICIA: A couple years later, my daughter’s father did go and get him and he was staying with him for quite a while.
GREG: Actually when I got out of juvenile hall and went to live with my stepfather, our relationship was great. We were going a lot of different places, it was a lot of fun. I met his wife. His wife really loved me. She had a little son. I had a little brother to play with. I had my sister. And they had a nice house in Northridge. It was a nice neighborhood. Really quiet. Beautiful parks. So I had a chance to finally have peace in my life. So it seemed. I was doing good in school, getting ready to graduate. And everything was going great. One day, he came to the room and he was telling me, ‘pack all your stuff.’ I said what’s going on. He said ‘pack all your stuff. I’m taking you back to your mother’s house.’ When he said that my insides just dropped. It was like, I couldn’t believe it. I was going to uprooted abruptly like that 10/11 o’clock at night. So I packed all my things. We got in the car. We got on the road. We got on the freeway. I just remember this silence. This silence inside of me.
He was talking. He was saying something. That whole trip, I don’t remember one word he said because I was so void of feeling, this sulking feeling going back to my mother house. So we finally get there. Walk in. I don’t even remember how that conversation went, but she just closed the door and walked away. She put blankets on the couch for me, so I could sleep on the couch, that was it.
And come to find the reason that he sent me back to my mother’s house was because my mother and him were going back and forth because he owed child support for my little sister and so his thinking was, I’m taking care of your son and still you want me to pay child support, so I’m just going to send Greg back to you. He’s your son, he’s your responsibility. I’m just the stepfather. He’s not my biological son and I’m not obligated by law to do anything for him so that was his rationale for sending me back.
I think I went back to visit for maybe Thanksgiving. but pretty much that was it after that. So I came to jail in 1994. That was pretty much the last I seen him.
I had been away from my mother for so long you know and we didn’t get along that well, so when I came to stay with her, she made it very clear to me, you’re 17, you’re going to be leaving at 18. Basically don’t get comfortable here, cause you’re not going to be here long. And I took heed to that. Shortly after I was there with her, I left and went out on my own, before I was 18 I just went ahead and left. I just left her house and I was back out on the street again,
We had a strange relationship. We weren’t really that close. For some reason, I have no why we weren’t that close. But we just really weren’t. There wasn’t a lot of love and affection with my mother. We never had that mother and son type relationship, I love you mom. I love you son. We didn’t exchange those sentiments. So that’s something I never got to experience with her because we didn’t have that closeness. It was difficult. Being young, I wanted to have that kind of relationship. I wanted to have someone I could lean on, someone I could come to in times of need. Just to have that comfort, but I didn’t have that.
PATRICIA: Actually, things were going pretty good at that time. In fact, Greg came to live with me as a teenager. I remember him being in high school. And I thought he was doing ok. He was 19 when this happened. He and a bunch of friends went to a pizza place one night and the guys thought Greg and his friends were setting off car alarms, and there was a fight and one of the guys ended up being shot. And once the person heard the shot, everyone kind of dispersed, and ran.
GREG: It was memorial day weekend. We were just hanging out. We had some girlfriends with us and we all just decided to go to Shakey’s Pizza place to get something to eat.
We were walking to Shakey’s and a friend of mine bumped into a Jeep and an alarm went off. And so one guy came out and thought my friend was trying to break into his car but we were just walking, and he just accidentally bumped into his car. He had been drinking and he made a big stink out of it. So when we get around the corner he same guy pulled up in the jeep, but this time he was with like 7-8 people. They all jumped out of the car and they asked my friend again, ‘were you trying to break into the car’ and we’re sitting there telling the the guy no one was trying to break into your car. And it starts getting loud. It starts getting hostile. It starts getting heated. And one of the guys punched my friend in the face, and that’s when the fight ensued. That’s how the brawl basically.
So as we were fighting we hear gunshots so everyone starts to scatter to see who’s shooting. I didn’t realize at the time that a friend of mine had ran and had got a gun from his friends house. I ran up to him and I grabbed the gun and I ran after one of the guys and one of the guys ran inside the Shakey’s and I shot at him through the salad bar and the salad bar window exploded. And after I shot him, I ran out of the Shakey’s building and everyone’s scattering. Everyone starts to run. I see another guy from the other group, I see him running down the alleyway. My friends and I, we started chasing him. When we finally caught up with him, I hit him with the gun and he fell on the ground and we all continued to run back down the alley.
The person I shot at through the window was not injured. However I got, I received attempted murder for just discharging the gun at him. The other guy, is the guy I assaulted with the gun. So I have murder, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. But I’m guilty of the attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. I actually did not kill the person that actually died in this crime.
I was arrested June 14, 1994. That’s when I saw my mom for the first time in a little while. She actually came to the police station. Somehow she found out I was arrested. I had been away from her for so long, I didn’t even know her phone number.
I was actually shocked to see her. And I was also relieved to see a face of someone that you know. It was actually a great feeling to see her.
PATRICIA: When he I was arrested of course I went to the jail to visit him. That’s the first thing I did and I’ll never forget. We went into this room, it was like an interview room and he looked so sad, and I looked sad and I tried to reach out to him.
GREG: I can’t remember exactly how long the visit lasted. It was enough time for us to talk for me to tell her what happened. To tell her the situation. To tell her what was going on.
She had a look of concern, and that look was actually shocking to see that look of concern on her face because my mother she wears her emotion on the inside, so it was one of the first times in my life to see concern for me in her eyes. That was not something I was used to seeing.
PATRICIA: At that particular time I didn’t know if I should have gotten an attorney. I couldn’t afford one. I just had a clerical position at the time, I couldn’t afford one. I wasn’t a homeowner at that time. I just relied on the public defender. Keep in contact with him, ask him a bunch of questions. Just praying and hoping for the best.
GREG: I started my trial, I got a lawyer. I had three different lawyers, 3 different public defenders so many different discrepancies in my case, there were different statements by the police, different statements by the witnesses, and so the case was very, very shaky.
PATRICIA: It was extremely hard cause I was working nights. So I would get off work and rush down to the courthouse and sit there for a couple of hours, sometimes pretty much all day, then I would go home and try and get some sleep and then go back to work and try and concentrate and start it all over again. I can’t remember how long the trial lasted, a week. Two weeks. I’m not sure.
GREG: Walking inside the courtroom, you’re already scared to death. I’m on trial for murder that I didn’t commit. And I feel like I’m up against it. I go in the courtroom and it’s the judge, it’s the bailiff, it’s the DA, and there’s nobody in the courtroom. And there’s my mother. It was a great feeling. One of the first times in my life, I can really feel a lot of love and support coming from her.
PATRICIA: The hardest part for me? Listenig to everyone’s testimony and thinking this is not my child. My child’s not that type of person. But it was really, really hard seeing the other family members there. They had a look of anger on their faces and I was afraid. I was scared cause I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t cry out for help from anyone. Maybe because at that time I didn’t want to know.
It’s like this is not real. It’s like this happening to someone else. But yet, I’m sitting there and I’m that someone else.
GREG: Everyone was behind me. I was sitting at the desk in front of the courtroom. My lawyer’s beside of me and the DA’s on the other side of my lawyer and my family’s behind me. I didn’t see them but I could hear the family of the victim. I could hear my friends making small comments. Breathing heavily. Making little sighs. You could hear them more so than see them.
The moment the judge gave me my sentence. It will be a moment forever etched in my mind. I was found guilty of all three verdicts, murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. And so the judge starts to read, he says, Mr. Eskridge, the jury has found you guilty of all three counts. And I sentence you to 65 years plus two life sentences. When he said that, I couldn’t believe it. 65 years plus 2 life sentences. When he said it I immediately put my head down and my heart fell out of my chest. I could hear the family of the victim cheering. They were on my left side, behind me, and my family and friends were on the right side on the aisle, and you could hear them crying and weeping. When I looked at my mother, as I’m talking about this right now, I can picture her back to 1996, that day of being sentenced and see her face. I’ve never seen her look that bad in her life, I’ve never seen her look like that.
PATRICIA: So I got there just in time to hear a little bit of his sentence and that was really hard cause the judge gave him 68 to life in prison and that was extremely hard. Cause you’re thinking, did I just hear him say 68 to life?
MULLANE: And they take him out of the courtroom?
PATRICIA: Actually he got married that day. He married this young girl he was dating.
GREG: Right after the judge gave me the sentence, I got married. Immediately after, I got married. Right after he sentenced me to the 65 years plus two life sentences, my lawyer said, Mr. Eskridge would like to get married, can you do the ceremony? And the judge said he would do it, so my girlfriend at the time, she came on up and the judge read the marriage ceremony and after that I walked back into the holding tank.
PATRICIA: It was a cloud of emotions because as a parent I just heard the sentence and it killed me on one end, and shortly after that I have to put on another face, a face of happiness because he did get married. I was happy for him that he’s going to have someone in his life that’s going to be there for the long haul but unfortunately that wasn’t the case..It was bitter sweet.
MULLANE: As you approach when you’re going to go visit, what’s that like?
PATRICIA: We usually go about three times a year. I try to go my birthday, his birthday, and his sister’s birthday. And before the flight we go to the bank and get our single dollar bills, because you have to carry single dollar bills, and you can carry a total of $50 a day per day, so we get a roll of $20 in quarters and $30 in singles. And we go over our wardrobe to make sure that everything is going to pass inspection before we get there because we don’t want to waste any time cause time will interfere with our visit.
GREG: Earlier in the week I had someone take my clothes, washed everything out for me, pressed everything, and then I send my boots down to the guy who shines boots, so my shirt is ironed and creased up, my pants are ironed and creased up, and my boots are shiny, pretty much tomorrow morning, I’ll get up and I have some cologne, so I’ll be going out there fresh and smelling good and looking good and ready to go spend a day with my mother.
PATRICIA: The minute I see him he has a huge smile on his face and I give him a big hug, and a big kiss, and a colossal smile with his sparkling teeth, ever so white, just sparkling.
GREG: My mother, she’s such a tiny person. I’m 6’4. When I see her, I immediately give her a big, giant, giant hug, you know and I look at her and I just stare at her face. I take the time to absorb her energy, her presence.
PATRICIA: We love, love, love to play scrabble. Connect 4. We always get a deck of cards and we play our family all time game of spoons.
GREG: It’s a game with a deck of cards and you have spoons on the table. It’s almost like charades but instead of chairs, you have spoons.
MULLANE: Did you guys talk about this project the last 20 years?
GREG: There have been a lot of things that have come up. We were walking around holding hands, and she was telling me I was a young kid trying to raise a kid and I really didn’t know what I was doing, and when she told me that, I was like wow. I get it. I truly get it. I understand the difficulties of a child trying to raise a child and a little boy as well, and she made the comment I was an outspoken little child and I could see the difficulties that she would have had to her trying to raise me. When she told me that I connected with her in a way I never connected with her before – it opened up conversation and I looked at her and I said I don’t hold any grudges against you for my past, I love you and you did your best that you could possibly have done being a little girl and I don’t blame her for anything. I forgive her for everything. Our relationship is far better than it was 20 plus years ago.
PATRICIA: And in a few months later we start the visits all over again. It’s a lifetime commitment. They’re your kids until you bury them. No one tells you that but it’s a fact.
MULLANE: Or they bury you.
PATRICIA: Exactly (laughs)
GREG: I think that’s the power of conversation. Sometimes you just need a start. And sometimes you just have to have somewhere to start and this story was the start.
Mother and Son was reported by myself and produced by Tony Gannon. Our Post Production Editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain.
Our engineer was Howard Gelman at KQED Radio in San Francisco. Music in this episode was composed by Ian Coss.
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Next on Life of the Law, our team will go In-Studio at KQED Radio in SF to talk about Mother and Son, the law in the news, and to share a preview of our upcoming investigative report on one of the most important Supreme Court decisions of the 20th Century… one that resulted in a man’s execution in an election chair.
Join us April 18th for Life of the Law’s In Studio. I’m Nancy Mullane. Thanks for listening.