“My whole life I have never been able to say I have a mother,” Jimmy said. “My grandma would always deny she existed and said she would have come around by now.”
Jimmy, who grew up in Las Vegas with his grandparents, was released from prison four months ago after a seven-year sentence for assault and possession of drugs. He said he wasted the first six years inside and began having suicidal thoughts before realizing he needed a change of mind.
“Things really needed to be different for me,” he said. “I made a last-minute decision to come to Reno instead of back to Las Vegas, which was where I met Elaine.”
Elaine Voigt, executive director and founder of non-profit organization My Journey Home of Nevada, has made it her priority to see that young men and women who want to change after being released from prison can find a job, shelter and a new outlook on life.
“The (prison) system sets them up to fail,” she said of former inmates. “They are given $25 on a card and expected to survive. They either live on the street or in a homeless shelter.”
With Voigt’s help, Jimmy set himself on the path toward a new life. He found a job within three weeks of meeting the people at My Journey Home and began volunteering at the Children’s Cabinet in Lemmon Valley. Behind closed doors Voigt and Jimmy began delving into his past.
While working with local and federal police departments, Voigt helped Jimmy uncover the true nature of the violent crimes that landed his father on death row. Paster Sr. was found guilty of contract killing after he killed a man for a fee of $1,000 and a motorcycle. He also pleaded guilty to murdering a woman in Houston and he later confessed to two more killings that were never brought to trial, according to a New York Times article dated Sept. 21, 1989. An article from the Houston Chronicle said Paster Sr.’s prison records provided detailed notes from counselors who described his demeanor as “Satan personified.”
“I had been lied to my whole life and I found out he was just so cold and showed no remorse for anything that he had ever done,” Jimmy said. He and Voigt then began the more difficult part of uncovering Jimmy’s past: finding his mother. Jimmy submitted a DNA test for several cold cases being looked into by police agencies, but each one of them “led to a corpse.”
“The way the whole search went down was helpful in more ways than just finding a connection,” Voigt said. “Jimmy told me that was the first time in his life he had ever told a police officer thank you.”
Jimmy had grown frustrated with the search one day in March when he left the offices of My Journey Home and began walking back to his apartment. Ten minutes later, Voigt’s phone rang and she was given the name and telephone number of Jimmy’s mother, Patricia Lawlor.
“After one of the board members picked me up and brought me back I honestly thought it had to be a joke,” Jimmy said. “I talked to her for the first time in the office crying the whole time. Then I went back home and called her again.”
Jimmy learned from his mother that Paster Sr. had abused her and forced her to give up her son when he was 2 months old. She then fled to Indiana and Jimmy was raised by his paternal grandparents.
The three months of phone conversations built anticipation for Jimmy to meet his mother at the Reno train station on June 12. Traveling from her home in Indiana by railroad because of her motorized scooter and oxygen tank, Lawlor said she was surprised mid-journey when Jimmy told her the television cameras were waiting at the train station.
“I thought we were going to be alone, but it didn’t alter the moment one bit,” Lawlor said, adding that finding out she still had a son was quite a shocking moment. “Because life has been what it is, I thought it was a nasty joke.”
Lawlor’s mind wandered during her trip to Nevada, giving her time to ponder what her arrival in Reno would bring.
“Tons of things ran through my mind. I didn’t know if it was really him or if he was angry with me and wanted to confront me,” she said. “I was happy to hear him on the phone but none of that captures the joy I feel right now.”
Lawlor has since gone back home to Indiana. Jimmy now works 50 hours a week at a job in Reno while continuing to volunteer at the Children’s Cabinet and at Rite of Passage school for troubled youth. He said he is looking forward to helping others and possibly writing a book about his experiences.
“I just never thought I would amount to anything,” he said. “I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I would not have come (to Reno). Hopefully I can help someone else feel the same things I’m feeling now.”