Brothers behind bars
Older brother's name, reputation protected Chad Shearon in prison
February 10, 2014
Top: Troy Shearon
Below: Chad Shearon
About this series...
This story is the second of a two-part series about two brothers who grew up in Carroll and are now together in prison. The first story published in Friday's Daily Times Herald.
Troy Shearon was 5-foot-10, weighed 145 pounds and had blond hair and blue eyes when he went to prison for life for murder in 1988.
He was 20 years old.
For a time, he was the youngest inmate at Fort Madison, he told the Daily Times Herald in an interview at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in 1998. Since he was young, relatively small and didn't know anyone inside, his first days weren't easy.
Inmates, especially gang members, went into his cell on a daily basis and threatened and intimidated him.
He protected himself in a variety of ways. He used a plastic razor to craft a "shank" - a makeshift, bladed weapon - and later befriended another prisoner with enough clout to stop the harassment.
Following an armed robbery, younger brother Chad Shearon was sentenced to prison 13 years after his brother. Unsure of what to expect, he found Troy's reputation waiting for him.
Following an initial stint at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale - the first stop for all of Iowa's prison inmates - Chad approached his first day at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility with trepidation. Prison workers gave him new clothes and walked him to the "yard," the area where inmates spend time outdoors and work out.
He said hundreds of inmates stared at him.
Help came in two forms. First, an inmate he had met at the classification center, who had gone to Fort Dodge a week before, approached him, offered cigarettes and told him what to do.
Then there was Troy.
"I had immunity," Chad said. "Troy put the word out. He already laid the groundwork for me. It was easy."
For many inmates who met Chad, even though the Shearons were in different prisons, his name was synonymous with "Troy's brother." Since Troy was already well-known - even well-liked - among inmates, Chad felt the benefit. And when the inevitable fights came - often in his prison cell - he was ready, and he never lost.
"I wasn't so much scared, because I was so mad I didn't even care," he said. "People knew if they saw me, I would snap on them. ... Everyone knows if you screw with one of us, it's going to be two-on-one, just like when we were kids."
The brothers came to Newton - Troy from Anamosa and Chad from Fort Dodge - so that they could be together and closer to relatives who visit.
Right now, Newton has about 1,000 inmates. The Shearon brothers have shared a cell since 2010.
"It's as close to a home as I'm gonna get," Chad said. "It's a little bit easier to do time when you have someone you love in there with you. We know what each other's going through."
The arrangement is unusual, said Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. Few relatives are incarcerated at the same prison, he said, and rarely do they share a cell.
Within the Shearons' small cell, there are two bunks with drawers underneath, some shelves, a TV stand, wall hooks for coats and a steel table with steel seats. There is also satellite TV, which the brothers pay for. It mostly shows sports.
Troy draws in his free time. Inmates often come to him with requests for hand-drawn birthday or holiday cards to send to family and friends, Chad said.
As for life in prison, Chad and Troy have become accustomed to it.
"I was thinking it was going to be much worse than it is," Chad said.
On birthdays, the brothers will make burritos or nachos with homemade dip, as well as a drink that's forbidden in prison - a mix of coffee, soda and Crystal Light that gives inmates a caffeine jolt. They describe it as getting drunk.
One of the brothers' biggest pastimes - and one of the only hobbies available to them, Chad said - is exercising and lifting weights. Inmates form leagues and play sports as well.
The brothers get regular visits from family members. A large visiting room has signs permitting "a brief (5 to 8 seconds) embrace and kiss at the beginning and end of a visit" and a warning: "No cuddling at the vending machines. However, you may hold hands."
A large, beautiful jungle scene dominates one wall in the visiting room, complete with a lifelike elephant that looks as though it will walk out of the wall at any moment. Artistic inmates can paint murals, said Larry Lipscomb, treatment director at Newton Correctional Facility - and the visiting-room mural provides a backdrop for visiting family members posing for photos.
The brothers are accustomed to prison, but familiarity goes only so far. Simply put, Chad said, prison is sad.
"Even if you have people out there, you get lonely," he said. "Even with my brother here. You're missing out on things with your family and friends."
Their respective sentences were the first for both Troy and Chad.
Chad had run-ins with the police before, but this is his first time in prison. The same was true for Troy as well - his life sentence followed his first conviction.
The brothers have met and heard of other inmates incarcerated with relatives.
"It's not really common, but we get them," Lipscomb said. "We'll have a dad and son, or a dad and a couple sons. There was one guy who was here with his dad, and his sister and mom were at (the women's prison in) Mitchellville."
Chad recalled meeting cousins, brothers, even twins who were in prison at the same time, or one after the other. Troy, who has been in prison almost 26 years, has seen generations come through.
"He's known people's grandpas, dads, then them," Chad said. "It's sad to say. Some families, their name is synonymous with prison."
But he never expected his family to be one of them.
"I never thought, ever," Chad said. "Even when (Troy) went to prison, I never thought I'd ever go."
Chad has seen inmates die from drug overdoses.
He's heard of someone getting "shanked" - stabbed with a homemade weapon.
There are gangs, he said, whose members push their weight around and retaliate against inmates who rub them wrong.
"They 'take them off the yard,' it's called," Chad said. "They send people off to beat them up.
"The weirdest stuff happens here."
Inmates fall into various class levels, Chad said, and he considers himself to be in a higher class. For prisoners who "fit the mold" - pedophiles, for instance, don't - there is camaraderie. And Chad said he has learned to avoid trouble in prison.
"I used to run parlays," he said. "I had my hand in everything. Now, I'm out of that. Then, it was something to do, but now, I've changed my perspective."
The prison bathrooms, which offer no privacy, are "gross." The prison grills meat and has ice cream or pumpkin pie on holidays, but Chad said the food is mostly flavorless.
Inmates who are sent money, though, eat better. They can buy soup, meat and cheese.
They work, too. Chad has held various jobs in prison: showing movies at night, refereeing sports games and cleaning showers. Inmates make between 30 and 50 cents per hour, Lipscomb said.
Some inmates work in the kitchen, which rings with laughter and smells like a bakery. Newton is different from other prisons in that bread is baked there, rather than being ordered from elsewhere, Lipscomb said.
After an initial evaluation, the prison offers classes to inmates, focusing on General Education Development (GED) diplomas and literacy, substance abuse, anger management and other topics.
Because Troy is a "lifer" - an inmate serving a life sentence - the classes are not available to him.
College classes are available to some inmates as well. Chad is one of a few to take accredited classes from Grinnell College while in prison. He'll be able to transfer the credits when he leaves and hopes to obtain a bachelor's degree, possibly in biology - he still holds on to his years-old dream of working in sports medicine.
"These classes, they're giving me more hope to be able to start doing something with my life," he said. "I'm going to get out and live."
'WHEN I WALK OUT'
Chad now sees, after 12 years in prison, the benefits of his incarceration.
It's allowed him to take college classes toward a degree he might never have earned otherwise. It's kept him from another crime that might have landed him in prison even longer, he said.
And it's given him time with his brother he couldn't have had any other way. But he knows it won't last.
"I think about that stuff all the time," Chad said. "I know I'm getting out someday. I look at it differently than (Troy). Every day, he's fighting to get out."
Troy keeps himself grounded. Judges have denied several appeals for a reduced sentence. He has said he wants to be a father. Someday. Troy has sought post-conviction relief three times, in which a district judge or appeals judges determine whether legal errors irreparably affected his murder case. Two of those relief requests have been rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court. A third was dismissed last year by a district court judge, and Shearon appealed it. That appeal is pending.
Chad said he is eligible for parole in about four years. If he can't convince the state parole board to release him early, he will be free in 2022, according to state records.
And as much as Chad is looking forward to getting out - the first thing he wants is a motorcycle ride - the excitement is tinged with regret.
"When I walk out, is this going to be the last time I can spend time with him like I can spend time with him now?" he worried.
For now, they'll stay close. They'll sleep in bunks and watch sports and make birthday burritos. Chad will study for his classes. Troy will draw.
They don't talk about what will happen when Chad is gone.