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Texas Convict Sets House On Fire To Return To Prison

Randall Lee Church was 18 when he was convicted and sentenced to life for fatally stabbing a man. That was 1983 with just glimmers of the Internet and ideas of mobile phones.

So when he was released after 26 years in prison, he was overwhelmed and lost.

"Everything had gone fast forward without me," he told the San Antonio Express-News. "I didn't know how to use computers or cell phones or the Internet. The weirdest thing was walking into a store, like Walmart, and have parents hide their children from me, like I was supposed to jump at them."

The paper really does justice to his story, so I urge you to click over and read the whole piece, but here's what paper says happened next:

Fed up on July 10, 96 days after his release, he poured gasoline through a window of the empty house on the Southeast Side, then threw in flaming rags and paper towels, setting the place on fire.

Days later, he told police he did it because he wanted to go back to his job at his former prison unit.

His case reminds us of of the case Mark reported on in June, where a man tried to rob a bank of $1 to get health insurance in prison.

But the bigger picture of this story points to the problem of recidivism in America's prisons. Pew Center on the States released a study in April that found more than 40 percent of "offenders nationwide return to state prison within three years of their release despite a massive increase in state spending on prisons."

Church wasn't immediately suspected of the arson. He sat on a lawn chair and watched the fire burn. The Express-News reports:

Three days later, he turned himself in by treating himself to a hamburger, French fries and two chocolate shakes at the Jim's restaurant on Loop 410 and Perrin Beitel. He savored every taste, knowing he only had 31 cents in his pocket. Then he asked the waitress to call police, saying he did not want to cause a scene.

Her manager told Church he could leave if he never came back, so he told them he had committed a crime, Church recalled.

He should have sought more counseling or looked for a rehabilitation center, he said. But as flames engulfed the old house, he felt a sense of relief, a kind of excitement. When he was little, he used to play with matches.

"It was kind of like that," Church said. "It was my Fourth of July."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.