Jim “The Weatherman” Beart is approaching 70 years old. He has served close to 35 years of a life without parole sentence, but that gloomy prognosis hasn’t dampened his spirit.
That’s most evident around Halloween, Jim’s favorite holiday and his late mother’s birthday. Jim still remembers trick-or-treating when he was a kid back in 1964. His friends would run around until 10 p.m., stuffing large bags with candy. Years later, at 24, he created a haunted house called The Chamber of Chills.
Jim can’t erect another Chamber of Chills inside Valley State Prison (VSP) in California, but each Halloween his sister sends him between $100 and $150 worth of bite-sized Snickers, Milky Way and other mini candy bars and treats. He gives them all away — with a little flair to boot.
He takes the candy and wraps them up like little ghosts. He places two to four candies in each little ghost, except for “the tricks.”
“Some of the ghosts are empty with no candy inside,” he said with a chuckle. “But I still tell people, ‘If you get a trick, just come back and I’ll give you a candy one.’”
He has about 100 little ghosts to give away. For his buddies, he has special ghosts with higher quality candy.
Jim elaborately decorates his room for the spooky occasion. He puts up spiderwebs, spiders and goblins — any kind of Halloween decoration he can find, make or sculpt from magazine papers. We are not allowed to do this, but with Jim’s age and good-hearted nature it’s rare that a guard takes down his decor — but it can happen.
He has also encountered problems with roommates before. Our rooms are designed for four prisoners, but are stuffed with eight. Overcrowding means less space, which causes short tempers and lost patience. When Jim encounters these issues, he says he compromises and keeps his decorations to his side of the room.
After adorning his cell, Jim takes his festive spirit to the classroom. At VSP there are small rooms within each dayroom with desks where students can study. Sometimes self-help groups are conducted there. For Jim, it’s a space to express his love of Halloween.
For his own personal satisfaction, Jim crafts what he calls “apple-lanterns,” an apple version of jack-o’-lanterns.
It takes him 45 minutes to an hour to craft each one. He uses a razor blade to carve out the middle of the apple. He cuts off the top and bottom, then carefully cuts a face into the apple. After that, he takes an unopened soda can and turns it upside down. The bottom groove in the soda can serves as a candle holder. Beeswax or a Q-tip act as the wick. Then he lights it and places the apple over the flame to light the face.
“Ta-da!” he says.
But Halloween in prison means much more to Jim than just decorations and apple-lanterns.
“It’s thinking about the dead, praying for lost souls and giving treats away,” he said with a smile worthy of a jack-o’-lantern. “It makes me feel good to bring joy to others.”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.