O.J. Simpson has chance at parole at hearing on Thursday
LOVELOCK, Nevada — O.J. Simpson has spent the past eight and a half years behind bars at Lovelock Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in Nevada’s high desert.
Simpson — famously acquitted in 1995 in the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman — has been serving out a nine-to-33-year sentence for his role in a 2007 incident that unfolded in a Las Vegas hotel room.
Simpson and armed associates allegedly confronted two memorabilia dealers and took pieces of memorabilia from them. Simpson was convicted on charges including kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. The former college and pro football star said at his sentencing that he was trying to reclaim family heirlooms and other personal items that had been stolen from him, and claimed that he was unaware his associates were carrying guns.
During his years in prison, Simpson has passed the time playing fantasy football, coaching softball, and, at least in the beginning, eating lots of junk food, according to guards and an inmate who were there with him. A representative for Simpson declined CNN requests for comment.
On Thursday, Simpson will have a hearing before the Nevada Board of Parole to decide whether he will be released from prison — and if parole is granted, Simpson could be released as early as October, parole board spokesman David Smith said.
Here’s a look at Simpson’s life as Lovelock’s most famous prisoner.
Relationships with guards and inmates
Simpson would at times get teased about the killings and trial, former guards Jesse Mandoki and Jeffrey Felix recalled.
Both recalled a moment when Felix dropped a glove on the ground in front of Simpson and made a wisecrack about it fitting, an allusion to the famous moment during his trial.
Whether intentionally or not, Simpson was typically paired with a burly cellmate, said Greg Lewis, who spent seven years with Simpson as an inmate at Lovelock.
“His cell mates were usually bigger dudes that could take care of business if anybody hassled him,” he said.
But overall, “The Juice” has gotten along well with others in prison.
“Simpson has stayed out of trouble there,” said Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the Nevada prisons system. “We haven’t heard much from him.”
At his 2013 appearance before parole commissioners, Simpson described himself as a prison diplomat. “I’m sure the powers here know I advise a lot of guys,” Simpson testified to parole commissioners. “I’d like to feel I keep a lot of trouble from happening.”
Tom Scotto, a close friend who says he visited Simpson in prison dozens of times, also described him as a positive influence on the other inmates. “He brings everybody together, the skinheads, blacks, Mexicans,” he said.
Scotto remembered that guards would affectionately call him Nordberg, after the bumbling police officer he played in the “Naked Gun” movies.
Mandoki and Felix remembered calling him something else: Bobble Head. Why? “Man, he’s got a really big head,” Felix said.
A more relaxed environment
Life at Lovelock is considered to be more comfortable than at other Nevada facilities — and people of different races mix there, unlike at many other prisons in the state, both former guards said.
While working as a guard, Felix would often visit other Nevada prisons where racial tensions were more pronounced. “I only saw the same race talking to each other, eating with each other and living in the same area unit,” he said. “The inmates of different races were not mingling like at Lovelock.”
“These other joints, you can’t even talk to the other race or sit next to them in the chow hall,” said Lewis, who is white, and who spent nine months at Northern Nevada Correctional Center before coming to Lovelock. If there is interaction between races, “it’s not uncommon that your own race takes you back to the cell block and kicks your ass. They call you a race traitor.”
Simpson would occasionally get preferential treatment from both guards and inmates, Mandoki and Felix recalled.
“What happened usually O.J. Simpson cuts in front of every line,” Felix said — lines for meals, for instance. “Everybody understands that. Because that is just the way of life at Lovelock.”
When Simpson would buy extra food at Lovelock, other inmates would carry his bags for him, Lewis and both ex-guards recalled.
Mandoki remembers seeing Felix and Simpson walking in the yard together, and was surprised that they got so close. “You could see Felix doing laps with O.J,” he said. “I was always amazed that he (Felix) was allowed to do that.”
Felix, who worked at Lovelock for 20 years and retired in September 2015, says he became one of Simpson’s confidants in prison. In 2016, he published a book about his time getting to know Simpson at Lovelock, titled “Guarding the Juice.”
In his earlier years in prison, Simpson ate a lot of junk food and gained a lot of weight, Lewis and the ex-guards said. They remembered him eating chocolate chip cookies, ramen noodles, and sticky cinnamon rolls, which Mandoki said contained something like 2,000 calories each.
But in recent years, Simpson, who turned 70 this month, appears to have gone on a health kick, the ex-guards said.
“He looks like he is 50 years old now,” Scotto said. “He lost lots of weight, maybe 70 or 80 pounds.”
Simpson would frequently talk about his arthritis and knee surgeries, Felix said, and could be seen limping around the yard to the row of outdoor telephones where he talks to relatives and friends.
His health may have limited his athletic activity in prison, but he still found ways to immerse himself in sports.
He was constantly winning money in fantasy football games due to his knowledge of the National Football League and players’ skills, Felix said. “One time when he wasn’t looking, I got info off of his football sheets. He made me some money,” he recalled, laughing.
“You can visit him at Lovelock from Friday to Sunday,” Scotto said. “I knew to never even bother to try to visit with him on a Sunday during football season because he was watching the games.”
“We used to send him fantasy football stuff in there,” Norman Pardo, Simpson’s former manager who has stayed in touch with him via telephone. “He was melancholy and we would send him 20 or 30 (fantasy football) envelopes to keep his mind occupied.”
He’s also taken to coaching softball, nicknaming his team “the Giants” as a nod to his San Francisco roots.
Former inmate Lewis, who played for the Giants, said that Simpson guided the team to championships two years in a row. “He was super competitive, as you might imagine with O.J.,” Lewis said. “He’d try to get the rules bent for us. He knew the rules pretty well. He was a studious coach.”
Simpson’s cell has a 13-inch flat screen television, the former guards said, the largest size that prisoners at Lovelock can buy.
But Simpson didn’t watch “OJ: Made In America” or “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” the documentary and television series about his life that came out over the past year.
“We didn’t let people watch,” said Keast, the prison spokeswoman. “We don’t want to bring attention to one inmate over any other.”