‘Deadhead’ takes up life in Las Vegas after 26 years behind bars

For Timothy Tyler, freedom sounded like two scissor blades snapping shut.

The 49-year-old held the shears in his shaky hands at a halfway house early Aug. 30 in Las Vegas, where his sister lives. An officer let him do the honors.

Carefully, Tyler slid the bottom blade under the black band that choked his ankle. With a deep breath and a thick snip, the ankle monitor popped apart, marking the end of what was supposed to be life in federal prison without the possibility of parole — a sentence ordered in 1994.

The dull thoughts he learned to have about his future suddenly swirled into color.

Tyler began living behind bars at 23 after he was caught selling LSD for a third time. The Grateful Dead fan — or self-proclaimed “Deadhead” — sold the drug on the side while traveling the country, selling fried dough at the psychedelic band’s shows. He was on the way to another Grateful Dead gig in California when he was arrested on a warrant out of Florida.

His first two arrests resulted in probation but no prison time. Tyler’s third strike held no mercy.

His father, who also was arrested, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He died before he got out.

Tyler never thought he would.

“It’s hard to describe,” Tyler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal a few hours after the anklet came off and about three months after he walked out of a federal penitentiary in Georgia, where his family was waiting. “Surreal? That’s a good word. It— it hasn’t really sunk all the way in yet.”

Passing the time

After his sentencing, Tyler lived in prison for 22 years with no release date.

“Lived” is a literal term. In prison, as he described it, he was just alive. Not dead. Simply existing, each day, over and over.

Every morning, he woke up when he was told. He ate when he was told. He showered when he was told. He slept when he was told.

Guards and surveillance cameras monitored his every move. So did his fellow prisoners.

In the cafeteria, he traded meat for beans and soy. He was vegan, and despite the difficulty in prison, he did what he could to honor the choice that he made before he lived in a place where choices did not really exist.

For nearly 20 years, he could not pop in headphones and listen to his favorite band, because federal prisons did not begin permitting MP3 players until 2012. He had a radio before that, but radio stations do not typically play the Grateful Dead.

“Every time I was really feeling sad or bad or needed a little inspiration,” he said, “I would call my sister and listen to a song called ‘Days Between,’ Grateful Dead, over the telephone.”

When allowed, he played handball outside to pass the time. If he was granted four hours in the yard, he spent all four hours playing. Strike the ball. Sprint. Strike. Sprint. Strike. Sprint. Again and again, until time was up.

Tyler gained wrinkles. The color faded from his hair. His dreams atrophied.

Hope came in 2016, when President Barack Obama granted him clemency after thousands of Grateful Dead fans signed an online petition. The order meant that Tyler, a nonviolent offender, would be free Aug. 30, 2018, after spending more than two dozen years behind bars.

It only felt like hope in hindsight, though. Because even after the document signed by Obama landed in his court file, even after his prison warden approved his release, even after his family rejoiced on the phone and — when they could — in person, Tyler did not believe he was getting out. He couldn’t comprehend it.

The day he was supposed to be released, he was called up to the “receiving and discharge” unit 10 minutes later than expected. In that small window of time, Tyler already had accepted that his entire clemency was a trick and that he would remain in prison forever.

Then, while going over exit paperwork, prison staff realized that the warden hadn’t signed one of Tyler’s documents. They also couldn’t find the release clothes his sister had sent over.

“Figures,” Tyler thought to himself, again accepting that he was not going anywhere.

The hiccups were resolved, though, and soon, guards were guiding him out of receiving and discharge and through a gate. Then another gate, and another gate, and another gate.

Then there were no more gates.

“As soon as I seen the sun, I broke down,” Tyler said. “Yeah. I broke down.”

Beyond the prison grounds, his mom and cousin were waiting on a field of thick green grass.

“Like, ‘Whoa,’” he said, trailing off into his thoughts. “I don’t believe this right here.”

Life after lockup

Tyler calls prison “nowhere.”

As society churns forward, prison provides a curtain. You slip behind it and disappear, frozen in time.

Events like Sept. 11, 2001, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting came and went. The iPhone was released, and year after year, a newer and newer model followed. Social media became a thing, and over time, it became a thing parents had, too.

None of that affected the prison ecosystem.

“So imagine I’m nowhere, and then I walk out, and I see all this stuff,” Tyler said.

At the Greyhound bus station, he couldn’t figure out how to turn on the automatic faucet. Sitting in his sister’s sunny Las Vegas backyard, he pointed to his new smartphone, a gift from his mom.

“I mean, this thing? When I found out what this little thing does?” he said, tapping on the screen. “I can take pictures right now and send them around the world. Instantly.”

Craig Haney, a University of California, Santa Cruz professor who studies the psychological impact of incarceration, said many prisoners try to maintain as much contact as they can with the outside world.

“But when you go in thinking you’re never going to get out, the psychology of the place has a much greater hold on you,” Haney said.

The lines blurred badly during Tyler’s first week of supervised release. It happened in a steam room at a local gym, where Tyler would go to relax during the select few hours he was allowed to leave the confines of his sister’s home.

“I was in the steam room just, like, staring at things,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe it. I’m here, man.’”

Donald Hummer, a Penn State Harrisburg criminal justice professor who researches the prison system, said that, as a prisoner, “Your whole world is reduced to what happens within those walls.”

“He adapted to his fate in prison because he had to, or he would die,” Hummer said. “That kind of deprogramming, when someone comes out after that amount of time? It takes a long, long amount of time.”

Tyler will need a good support system moving forward, Hummer said.

“It really is like coming from a different world and being thrust into a new one,” he added.

Father and son

The first thing Tyler did as a free man was hug his adult son, Jim Newhart.

For years, Tyler never knew he had a son, and Newhart, now 30, never knew Tyler was his dad. Pictures shared among relatives seemed to prove their relation. A DNA test confirmed it.

“All my little quirks and stuff, when I finally met him — like most of the stuff people think I’m weird for, like eating garlic out of a can — that was all from him,” Newhart said.

This is not a perfect ending, though. It’s the rough draft to a new beginning.

“I’d like to say brothers more than father and son,” Tyler said before he met Newhart.

He was ecstatic, but he was nervous, too.

“I still feel like I’m young in age, because it’s like time stopped,” Tyler continued. “He’s I guess more mature than I am in some ways.”

When the ankle monitor came off, and Tyler was free to explore, the men visited the Strip together briefly.

They also went to the grocery store, where Newhart taught Tyler how to use the self-checkout machine. Later, they stopped at a gas station, where Newhart reminded Tyler to turn off the car before pumping gas.

“It’s little stuff to a lot of people, but he has a lot to learn,” Newhart said. “But I know he’s very, very thankful to experience those things, as am I.”

Looking forward, Tyler has no real plans on the horizon. It’s still hard to make them. As far as LSD, though, “I’m done.”

“I’m not going to touch it,” he said. “Nothing illegal, ever again.”

He enjoys going on Facebook. A friend helped him set up an account after he got out, and in family settings, he sometimes gets sucked into his phone screen, scrolling and scrolling, as many people do. He has years of “likes” and “shares” to catch up on.

He enjoys trying new vegan food, and he appreciates that Las Vegas has so many vegan-friendly restaurants. A friend recently dropped off some cauliflower cooked with Buffalo sauce at his sister’s home, where he is staying. He’d never considered the combination, but he loved it anyway.

He strums his guitar a lot. He only did that once in prison, during a talent show. He recently learned how to make tie-dye shirts.

In January, he wants to go to Mexico. It’s where Dead & Company, a band made up of former Grateful Dead members, is expected to play three shows just steps from the Caribbean Sea. Donations from fellow Deadheads already covered the cost of travel and tickets, and an attorney is helping him secure a passport.

Until then, he’s going to travel the country. He wants to visit family and old friends, and he wants to thank new ones — strangers who sent him money and stickers and food and letters of support since his release.

“It’s sort of like he’s going on his own tour,” Newhart said.

First stop, California.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

The Mob Museum
Saddle bronc rider Joey Sonnier earns spot at NFR after overcoming years of drug addiction
Joey Sonnier started saddle bronc riding at 18, but at 20 he began using methamphetamine to cope with the work of the rodeos and became addicted. At 39, after years of addiction and a low point that pushed him to rehab, he's qualified for the National Finals Rodeo. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Core Arena opens at the Plaza downtown in time for NFR
Core Arena, downtown's first permanent outdoor equestrian center, opens to the public at the Plaza. The arena will be used for events throughout the year, including the 10-day 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas
MountainView Hospital celebrates the opening of the new Sunrise Health GME Simulation Center.
MountainView Hospital celebrates the opening of the new Sunrise Health GME Simulation Center. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
NFR Preps Livestock for the Limelight
NFR’s Jed Pugsley discusses the care that goes into preparing the rodeo’s livestock for Las Vegas’ big event.
Grand Menorah lighting begins Hanukkah
Rabbi Shea Harlig led the ceremonial lighting of the menorah to begin Hanukkah at the Fremont Street Experience. There were also performances by the Desert Torah Academy's choir and the Dancing Dreidels. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Perla Gumm has spent the past few years collecting toys for kids for the LV Rescue Mission
Perla Gumm has spent the past few years collecting toys for kids for the LV Rescue Mission. It's something she started even before the rescue mission was her beneficiary; she just felt a need to collect toys and teamed up with them later. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Marvin Menzies on Cincinnati
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about Cincinnati and his own program. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Joey Logano talks about Champions Week in Las Vegas
NASCAR champion Joey Logano talks about the future of Champion's Week in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Nov. 28, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rain hits Las Vegas Valley
Widespread rain hit the Las Vegas Valley on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Valley Hit with Rain, Clouds
Rain and clouds hit the Las Vegas Valley on Thursday afternoon.
Ducks have Lorenzi Park to themselves
Thursday’s rain kept people inside, leaving Lorenzi Park to the ducks.
Kyle Busch Reflects On Disappointing End To Nascar Season
Kyle Busch reflects on disappointing end to his 2018 season during NASCAR Champion's Week in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 28, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Animal Foundation's Lost & Found offers community options for lost pets
The Lost & Found at The Animal Foundation allows members of the community to turn in lost pets or retrieve them. They recently started using the Finding Rover app that uses facial recognition to find and report lost pets.
The National Atomic Testing Museum is a Blast
Brookman Elementary School sets world record
All 776 students at Brookman Elementary School helped set a world record by connecting a chain of pipe cleaners that measured more than 11 miles. Student got 10 pipe cleaners for every book they read. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV’s football players painted the Fremont Cannon red in celebration to their victory against Reno.
UNLV’s football players painted the Fremont Cannon red outside of the Student Union in celebration to their victory against in-state rival the University of Reno. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Barn Buddies Rescue
Barn Buddies Rescue is a non-profit dedicated to the rescue of abused, neglected or abandoned farm animals.
R-J's Mark Anderson on UNLV's victory
Review-Journal sports reporter Mark Anderson recaps UNLV's victory over Southern Utah. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Marvin Menzies on beating Southern Utah
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about the victory over Southern Utah. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Michigan State talks Las Vegas Invitational win
The Spartans defeated Texas 78-68 at Orleans Arena on Friday.
Three Square’s Maurice Johnson Talks About Food Waste
Three Square’s director of operations Maurice Johnson talks about food waste. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Armani Rogers on his return to playing
UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers talks about being back on the field. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Black Friday at Fry's
Shoppers line up for deals early on Black Friday at Fry's Electronics on Las Vegas Boulevard South. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Menzies on state of UNLV's team
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about where his team stands after four games. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Tony Sanchez on possibly changing the UNR date
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez talks about the idea of changing the UNR date to Nevada Day. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Women’s shelter gets $1.5 million dollar renovation
The Shade Tree, which offers food, shelter, facilities and services to women, gets a $1.5 million dollar renovation.
UNLV's Drew Tejchman on playing safety
UNLV wide receiver Drew Tejchman talks about also playing safety. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Hailey Dawson Day
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing - 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
The Mob Museum
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Man shot, killed by Las Vegas police after traffic stop
Las Vegas police give a briefing after a man was shot and killed by an officer following a traffic stop. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video of suspect in Home Depot parking lot shooting
A man who was injured in a Nov. 20 shooting in the southwest Las Vegas Valley died at a hospital Tuesday, the Clark County coroner’s office said.
Nevada Task Force 1 Dog Units Return
Four dogs and their handlers returned to the Las Vegas Valley on Thursday, November 29, 2018, after deploying to the Paradise, California wildfire last week. The dogs, trained in human remains detection, are part of Nevada Task Force 1, a Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search and rescue team. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police thwart brazen kidnapping attempt
Metro officers suspicious of woman claiming to be with Child Protective Services prevent possible kidnapping of three-week-old infant.
Shot Spotter technology used by Metro extended for another year
Gunfire location technology being used by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department gets extended for another year of evaluation.
Nye County pursuit ends in rollover crash caught by dashcam
A truck flipped twice before landing on its wheels as a driver tried to flee Nye County Sheriff's deputies on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.
Nevada Highway Patrol stops wrong-way driver on Thanksgiving
The Nevada Highway Patrol has released dashboard and body camera video showing troopers deploying spike strips to stop a suspected impaired wrong-way driver early Thanksgiving Day. (Nevada Highway Patrol)
DUI sentencing
The parents of 8-year-old Levi Echenique speak after a woman who drove under the influence of marijuana and killed the boy was sent to prison.
3 Pahrump residents arrested on false imprisonment charges
James Thatcher, 28 of Pahrump, Chelsea Demille, 30 of Pahrump, and Sandra Wombles, 19 of Pahrump were all arrested after it was discovered that they were holding an adult female and male prisoners in their bedroom. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
2 kids struck by gunfire in North Las Vegas shooting
On Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, people opened fire into a residence in the 3600 block of Hamlin Place in North Las Vegas. Two kids were hit by gunfire and sent to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to North Las Vegas police. Anyone with information is asked to call the NLVPD at 702-633-9111.
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
16-year-old shot in North Las Vegas
A 16-year-old was hospitalized but was expected to survive after a shooting in North Las Vegas, near Centennial Parkway and Fifth Street, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. North Las Vegas police spokesman Aaron Patty gives an update. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
3-year-old boy shot in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas Police Officer Aaron Patty talks about an accidental shooting that left a 3-year-old boy “fighting for his life” on Nov. 10, 2018.
Senior Citizen Carjacking Attack -- 3 Suspects Sought
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the three attackers who carjacked and beat a 78-year-old man near Fremont and east Charleston on Tuesday. (LVMPD)
Henderson Police Department Chief Latesha Watson Talks Change
11-year-old girl shot, killed in North Las Vegas
An 11-year-old girl is dead after she was struck by gunfire Thursday night during a shooting in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas police on deadly shooting
North Las Vegas police spokesman Eric Leavitt briefs the media about a shooting that left an 11-year-old girl dead on Nov. 1, 2018. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stephan Bonnar DUI Arrest
Stephan Bonnar arrested for DUI in Nevada.
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss. Susan Nash, 52, was killed in a shooting along with her daughter and one of her three sons on Sunday night. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Sayegh Cold Case Turns 40
Cary Sayegh was abducted from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas in 1978. His body has never been found. (File Photo)
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like