Since his release from prison last week in Southern California, former pro skateboarder Harvey Hawks, who spent more than a quarter-century behind bars for second-degree murder, says he feels like he's floating.
"I'm in the ocean, my head is just above the water, and I'm rising and falling with the waves," Hawks, 53, told ESPN.com over the phone. "Sometimes I get a toe in the sand to gain a purchase. I feel grounded for a moment, and I feel a happiness I haven't had since I was a pro skater."
A prodigy from the Badlands -- a region roughly comprised of eastern Los Angeles County and southwest San Bernardino County -- Hawks rode for Bones Wheels and the Powell Corporation during the late-1970s heyday.
"Harvey was definitely part of the crew [including Tay Hunt, Curt Kimble, Charlie Ransom, et al.] that had a big influence on me," Badlander Steve Alba, 49, told ESPN.com. "He was a major player at that time and one of those guys that did really well. I was just a little grom, like the only little kid that they allowed to ride with them. I'm very fond of my memories of hanging out with those guys. When we rode pools, they used to always tell me, 'If you don't grind, never mind.' I still live by that motto to this day."
As the industry collapsed at the end of that decade, Hawks' hard partying started to greatly outpace his skateboarding, he said, and by the mid-80s, in the throes of a failed marriage, his drinking problem was out of control.
On August 22, 1986, a deadly case of road rage unfolded on the 91 Freeway in Corona, Calif., where "Hawks [26 at the time] was cut off, run off the road, and had objects thrown at his car by the driver of another vehicle," according to a letter to then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from Hawks' attorney, Steve Defilippis. "Mr. Hawks was intoxicated, and overreacted to the driver's conduct, clearly failing to handle the situation properly. He reached behind his seat to where the shotgun he was to use the next day for skeet shooting was located, intending to fire a warning shot to frighten the other driver. However, rather than getting a round of skeet load, he accidentally [chambered] a round containing a slug, and instead of tiny pellets that would have bounced harmlessly off the van, the round penetrated the... [van] and struck and killed the victim, exiting her body and wounding another backseat passenger."
A Los Angeles Times article from the time of the shooting holds that Hawks initially cut off the van and made an obscene gesture at its driver. The article does not mention the ammunition mixup described by Defilippis.
Either way, somebody died.
The victim was 45-year-old Patricia Faye Dwyer, an off-duty Corona Police officer and mother of three.
"A person's life is filleted wide open during a murder trial," an incarcerated Hawks is quoted as saying in the Summer 2004 issue of Concrete Wave magazine. "It is intense and adverse to be on the wrong side of the law and to realize that you have killed a good person, wounded another... and ruined their families' lives and your own."
Hawks was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17 years-to-life. On July 2, 1987, Hawks was taken in at the California Institution for Men, in Chino, Calif. He was transferred to Folsom State Prison about a month later. In 1989, he was moved to the Correctional Training Facility, in Soledad, were he remained until his release.
"In prison, you can go one of two ways," Hawks told ESPN.com earlier this week. "I could have continued down the path of self-destruction. Or I could go the other route, which is what I did. If I had continued down that path of self-destruction, it would have been so disrespectful to the victim and her family."
Hawks earned an Associate Arts degree in 1992 from a Hartnell College program for prisoners. In 1995, he completed a Bachelor of General Studies degree from Indiana University. And through a program offered by California State University Dominguez Hills, he earned a Master of the Arts and Humanities degree in 1998.
Hawks remained clean and sober throughout his time behind bars, he said, and headed up a counseling program for juvenile offenders. He also got paralegal training and took computer-related vocational classes.
"I'm not proud about anything I did in prison," he said a week after his release, having served 26 years, four months, one week, and six days behind bars. "It was my duty and my responsibility to change my life in there, and that's what I did."
Hawks was also a good influence on fellow inmate Josh Swindell, a former pro skateboarder released last September after serving 19 years for second-degree murder.
"We were in the same wing at Soledad around 2000, 2001," Swindell remembers. "Harvey would see me doing the knucklehead [stuff] and just say to me, 'You'll get it, eventually. You'll change, eventually.' He'd tell me that day in and day out. And he'd be an example of who you could be in there. Instead of preaching to me, he'd just show me by example. I love that about that dude."
Hawks was paroled to San Diego on January 8, and when he's not floating in the ocean of elation and unfamiliarity of being a free man, he's testing for a drivers license, reconnecting with friends and family, and rebuilding his life far away from his victim's next of kin.
"I deserved to be punished for what I did that night," he says. "I made the wrong decisions and caused them lot of grief, pain and suffering. And I've done all the right things I know of to show them the respect they deserve."