Investing in hearts and the future

I would like to take a moment to thank my family for their understanding, empathy, and for investing their hearts and love into fighting for me all these years. A week ago, today, marks the start of what has long been denied – the search for justice in the face of great tribulation and a family coming together to defend their lost son.

We have worked together over the years, seeking to grasp and break down all that led up to the events on that night 20 years ago. With the help of Samantha Jones, I have been able to uncover documents that were long thought destroyed and clearly outline a history of suppression, misconduct, bias, and prejudiced interpretation of the law. After research to discover what my rights were/are, what we could prove, and by helping the family to understand, we come now together, united in purpose, in an effort to honor those now gone.

For two decades my family and I have endured the judgment and banishment meeted out in the form of 3 Life Without Parole sentences, knowing that those charges were fabricated, hiding far more than they revealed. The writ and evidence will speak for itself and when the names have been redacted to protect the identity of Jack’s victims, a copy will be shared for all to read.

Too often identity becomes a means to suppress the truth and, in that truth, the details allow all to understand what was done and how. It is my hope that those in the public, in office, and in the media see this for what it is and that is God’s grace.

Last Wednesday, in what may be the first of its kind to ever happen, the victims, along with a letter of support, personally filed the appeal on behalf of the one sentenced for them. It is their hope that this action, as an expression of unconditional and compassionate love, also shows their understanding of why those things happened and for what reasons.

Will those in power honor the wishes of two families made victims twice by the loss of 4 lives and the true motive behind their deaths being suppressed, grant their family member a chance to prove he was nothing more than Jack Walls’ most vulnerable victim?

I believe in my heart that with Judge Walls gone, Jack now in prison for our rapes, the prejudical and conflicting interests exposed, that we will see the system right an injustice as wrong as the deaths themselves. I couldn’t have done this without my family, and I pray God bless them for walking in Christ and petitioning with action as profound as the legal words they were filing.

 

 

A journey begins.

Wednesday, we began a journey toward a place searched for, yet not found until now, in claiming our just reward. After two decades of searching and gathering, a Petition for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis, for the trial court to reinvest jurisdiction, was filed. This is the product of research, hard work, love and support, and professional assistance from many different sources. We have hope that this writ will relate the details long suppressed in an effort for the Stocks and Harris families to have peace and justice.

In a rare and moving display of grace and love, a representative of each family carried this petition to Lonoke and filed it on behalf of Heath. The families provided a letter to the Prosecuting Attorney, supporting this writ and its purpose, as well as asking a town and county to grant mercy.

After 20 years in prison, the families are showing by their actions that, as victims, they recognize that Heath, too, was a victim. Too long have secrets shielded so many from the truth, and we believe that the truth should and will set Heath free – at least offer the chance for it. The purpose of this writ is to seek a withdrawal of the plea, based on the many and severe violations that occurred, ultimately negotiating a plea that considers the mitigating evidence that was suppressed.

The things that were suppressed completely changed the elements of the crimes and case and this is an effort to allow the court to right the wrongs of those who were more loyal to the Walls than justice. It is the hope of the families that, in light of all the evidence not considered, the court will resolve this locally with a just result.

Sadly, such things can’t be done and not upset some, but our efforts are meant to resolve this for the families and allow Heath the opportunity of parole. Too many have suffered enough at the hands of Jack and others under his guise; it is time that we discover the full healing that comes through God’s grace.

We ask that you support the family’s wishes, support Heath’s chance to discover a purpose beyond the abuse that imprisoned him. Please pray that the Prosecuting Attorney and Judge assigned to the case use their wisdom to consider the evidence and show that 20 years later, minds no longer hear the whisperings of a Judge that enabled his son to rape its town. It is our hope that in the process people come to know just what Heath, Wade, and many others truly endured. It is our prayer that the truth sets us all free.

Heath

It’s not goodbye, you are always with me.

For those who don’t know, my grandpa Elwood Harris passed away this week after a long, hard fought battle with the effects of time and its impact on the body and mind. Please keep my family in prayer and in your thoughts that God aid us in healing from the loss of a giant in the lives of those that knew him.

My grandfather was one of the best men I have ever known and, as a boy, when I imagined a hero, it was he that came to mind. Many of you never met the man I grew up admiring and loving, but I hope by writing this you can join me in celebrating who he was and always will be. To do that I want to go back as far as I can remember, revisit those days on Coultry Road, where I spent my childhood visiting the Harris family.

I remember those days, black and white, yet still filled with details that make them bright. The house my grandpa had built by hand, the saw mill where he made his living, and those trips to the woods that were wonder filled. He was a giant of a man then, stronger than most men after logging his whole life, but his touch was as soft as his voice. I never heard him raise his voice in anger, no cuss words flung in rage, and he was quick to explain the world to a boy not used to such patience.

Grandpa taught me about leaves and trees, what he did to be safe and what was dangerous but, what I loved most, were the rides on the skidder. He always smelled of chainsaw gas and wood chips, sweat and hard work, and he grinned ear to ear as we got up on the monster machine of my dreams; huge tires, bulldozer-like blade, and a wench in the back that could drag what seemed like half a forest behind. First, he had me sit on the fender, told me not to put my fingers outside the cage, and off we went pushing roads where none used to lay.

As a boy, I was in awe of that raw power, the way grandpa worked it to his will, and oh how I loved that closeness that few others offered. People talked about him with respect, a man that was good and fair and, if he could help you, he would without question. He was not an educated man, in the formal or book sense, but he knew people and the world and what mattered. He had common sense that wasn’t common, wisdom from life, not literature, and a love for family that few could match. I heard him say that as long as the kids were full, had a roof over their head, got clothes on their backs, then he felt that was what mattered. Maybe not in those words, my recall is colored with love, but he said over and over that family was everything. A man doesn’t hit women, he takes care of his kids, provides for family, helps those that can’t help themselves, protects the weak; these were lessons that he lived not talked about others doing.

Grandpa always knew that something was wrong at home; mom and I had bruises on us from dad’s angry hands, but I think he always respected mom’s wishes that he not get involved. I remember grandpa telling me that I could tell him anything, and his recounting a story for my benefit. I didn’t understand then the message, what he may have been offering, but he told me about dad coming to work with him when my mom and he had first married. Dad had made a name for himself, a tough guy or bully that fought a lot, and he was known for seeking out the toughest or strongest to prove himself. After college and being prepared to farm, he found his own dad getting out of it, and not able to work with him. Grandpa Elwood offered him a job cutting wood with him, and I can barely remember those times.

We lived in a little camper, mom so young and happy, but even then dad prone to outbursts of anger. I remember it because it was precious time between me and mom, and I remember our making Christmas decorations out of popcorn, tin foil, shiny streamers, and cardboard. Mom cut out cardboard stars that she hung with paper clips, smiles, and laughter, and we even had a few strings of lights as well. It was a time when Christmas was more about what you had than what you got because I can’t remember the gifts yet the love is eternal.

I loved the smell of cedar, our tree coating my fingers in logger’s cologne, and the simplicity of life seeming to make it somehow perfect. I was small, memories now only snap shots, but I remember grandpa’s story about dad. They had been cutting down trees, cutting the trunk into 6-foot pieces, and then loading them by hand. Grandpa had told dad to start at the top and he would get the base, and they would meet in the middle.

Dad didn’t like Grandpa suggesting that he needed to start with the little stuff, so he argued that he would take the big ones. Grandpa then loaded from the top down, as dad struggled with the bottom one, pride having pushed him to do what he couldn’t. Grandpa then got him out of the way, snatched up the log, and then laughed softly as he loaded it. Dad thought he was laughing at him, being seen as weak his biggest fear, and balling up those fists decided to show Elwood his mettle.

Grandpa said that others there told him not to do it, but Dad wasn’t the kind of man to be put off. Grandpa smiled as his eyes hardened, saying he snatched him up by neck and crotch, held him over his head, and then shook him; held him there long enough for him to get the point and, in that moment, I adored my grandpa. He was a man that was strong and didn’t abuse it, and he didn’t think much of men that did. I think he knew then that it wouldn’t end, but dad went off to do other things after that reminder that gentle giants still walked the earth. Grandpa asked me from time to time how dad treated me, was he good to mom and us, and if he needed to have a talk with him. I was afraid of my father even then, this man so prone to anger and violence, but there, in grandpa’s arms, I could know what a man could be.

Grandpa always had ice cream in the freezer; Mr. Goodbars, fudge bars, and Brac’s candies somewhere. He always had some sweets somewhere, and his eyes lit up when he saw me devour them with bliss. My Uncle Woody and Aunt Janice were still at home back then and fought like only a brother and sister can. I was amazed over the fights that broke out, and it was clear that grandpa was the eye of the storm.

Grandma Annie was a banshee it seemed, smiling one minute and raising holy hell the next, but oh how I loved that house and the characters there. I wanted to be like Woody when I was older, strong and handsome, but boy did he and Annie fight; argued, cussed, raged, it was country folk conflict at its finest until grandpa came home. He was the kind of man that simply righted the world with his presence, and the disappointment in his eyes was enough punishment. You knew that you had done wrong when he looked at you, and it was shame, not fear, that made you want to change.

When I was young I used to hear the feats that grandpa had pulled off, and he became a legend in the eyes of a young boy in need of a hero. I heard the stories of his working at the saw mill at a young age and, though he was small, he found ways to do what grown men couldn’t. He would stack railroad ties that took two men to do, could run down a rabbit, whip a bear or, at least in the imagination of a grandson, he could do anything.

I found out later on that grandpa lost that saw mill and the house he built in a lawsuit because he didn’t have insurance to cover workers getting hurt. He was in between getting some or didn’t have it, not sure, but he had given a man a job that was in need. The man cut a tree down on himself, sued, and grandpa lost it all. He had reached out to aid a man in need, sought to keep food on his table and clothes on his back and, in ignorance, the man hurt himself while blaming grandpa. I never heard him complain, he didn’t hurt the man and he no doubt could have, but he forgave him and moved on. No matter what the man had done, grandpa had done what his heart lead him to, and it didn’t change what he thought of helping others.

Grandpa seemed to know that we do what we are called to by God, not because we want to or that others deserve it, but because He tells us to. He did what he knew to be the right thing, and no man I have ever known walked in Christ more completely. As I got older, struggling with my home life with dad and the abuse with Jack, I pulled away from everyone for many reasons my mind was convinced were needed. Oh, how I missed the Harris side of the family, all the cousins and aunts and uncles and then, as if I blinked them away, I was alone.

I know that my grandpa was still there, I ran to them for a time when dad threatened to kill me, but mom called and pleaded with me to come back. I wish to this day I would have stayed with them, went to work for grandpa, lost myself in the Harris family that grew men that lived for family. Instead, I went back home for a time and then went off to college. A drunk and failure, I came home, broke down, and shared with mom and Heather what Jack had been doing to me.

Mom caught Jack in our house, abusing me, told our minister and, as I later found, out grandma and grandpa, too. Mom didn’t want them to tell anyone, any more than she wanted grandpa to hurt Joe for hurting us. He had raised her to be the kind of woman that possessed his best qualities, even if those so often got them hurt, used, and broken.

Mom didn’t know how bad it was until the end, said she was worried that dad would kill Jack, but I think she was just as worried that he would beat me to death for shaming him. I think they would all be alive today if I or she could have shared with grandpa and Woody. Until my dying day, I will regret telling her and Heather what happened, but I am eternally thankful that grandpa never turned on me. He hurt and suffered and cried with me and, even in jail, did what he had done when I was a child. He wanted to know how I was if I needed anything and told me to buy me some candy bars to eat. He brought me cigarettes because in jail I used them for comfort, and he talked to everyone he could to help me.

Grandpa didn’t know Edgar Thompson was friends of the Walls, sat by him at church, and grandma trusted him when he told her not to share what she knew. There was a gag order on the case, but he believed in 10 years or so something would change. Grandpa talked to Judge Hanshaw, who said it was out of his hands, but the judge believed that something would be done for me. Grandpa and grandma thought that each year might be the year, and they wished only to live long enough to see me walk free. They came to see me month after month, sending money for ice cream or candy, and we would sit on visit eating and talking.

Much of what I went through I wasn’t able to share, not the details of the abuse and, for years, I saw with agony the pain and loss they endured. We cried on the holidays, made empty with the loss of family, and they made sure that they didn’t lose me, too. Grandpa always told me not to forget who I was, where I came from, and that God had a purpose for me. I could see the heartbreak he felt over the death of my mom but, as he said so often, they had lost me as well. They knew how much I hurt to lose them, all of them and, if left alone, I wouldn’t have had much left to live for.

It shamed me to see the hurt in grandpa’s eyes, to be the cause of that pain, but over time he came to understand that if I hadn’t done what I had then I would have been killed, too. Grandpa knew about the Walls family, had heard the rumors that had circulated them, and he said over and over I wish you had come to me. Me, too, grandpa. Me too. But, if I could have done it on my own, then would any of us be where we are today? It was too much for a boy, even one of 20, and I told only what came out when the outside cracked enough to leak some out.

It wasn’t always roses, no, there were times when Annie and I argued, our pains firing at phantoms and fears, and there were times when they stayed away for a while. I made bad decisions, got into relationships that were unhealthy, sought to fill holes, and pulled away when it all fell through. I offended and hurt them, seeking to be understood and understand, yet they never gave up on me.

I didn’t have the doctors and safe environments to process and overcome my past and it made me make due with what I had available. For years, I had to focus on the pain they suffered, fearing being alone, needing their love more than anything and, so much that I now am able to do, was suppressed. It is no one’s fault, I grew to put them first,  bearing the resentment and hurt. Grandpa didn’t come as much as Annie, he had to work to pay the bills, but when he did I always felt loved when he left.

Grandpa was one of the few positive male role models I had left, all friends and others faded years before, and I valued his example like none other. When Elwood could no longer work, time taking its toll as it does with us all, I suffered with those that witnessed the decline. I know I wasn’t alone in the watching, but I saw the changes between visits all the more clearly for it. The small strokes altered my grandpa, and the gentle man I loved began to cry. It came unexpectedly, the rush of emotion as if by the slow fading of strength had somehow filled his heart with it. He felt everything more deeply, the loss more profoundly, and often looked at me with questions whose answers never offered relief.

Grandpa wanted me to come home with him, to come help take care of him and grandma, and I yearned to with my whole being. I can’t tell you what it was like to look into his eyes and try to answer why I couldn’t leave this place with him. I watched the tears dry up and the anger come, the fading of memory fueling fears, and then a man that never cussed began to. Grandma told me that he cussed more than she used to, and she seemed afraid that something beyond our control could change all knew to be.

On one of our last visits, grandpa told me that he wanted to live long enough to see me walk free, but life had lost meaning for him. He could no longer do what he wanted, for those he wanted to do it for, and he no longer remembered what mattered that gave life its flavor. I used to come in from those visits and weep for him, praying that God give him peace, and then the shock of Annie passing so suddenly. I say all this not to shame my grandfather, but to share that until the very end he never failed to tell me or show me that he loved me. Janice continued to bring them both as long as she could while managing her own life and family, and I am eternally grateful for Janice doing that.

I also want to praise Woody, his wife, daughter, and all those that cared for grandpa as life slowly wound down. I know it was trying and heart wrenching to witness, but no parent could ask for children more devoted to their compassionate care. I got to even tell my grandpa that I loved him before he passed, and wish him peace as he went to find his daughter, his wife, and Jesus. He no longer had to read the Word to know peace, he left to live with the Word in eternal peace. If I can be half the man Elwood Harris was, then I can do anything in the world.

A Celebration of Life

This past Friday (September 1, 2017), I was allowed to be transported to my grandfather’s funeral service, I want to take the time to thank everyone who was involved; my family for allowing me to be there, celebrating the man we loved and cherished and those within the prison system that made it happen. Thank you to the Chaplain, Warden, and Director for considering the request and, in compassion, allowing me to take part.

My grandparents have been my primary care givers for 20 years and it meant the world to me to go say goodbye to such a wonderful man. I appreciate the police officers that picked me up at the prison, escorted me to the service at the funeral home and, while doing their job, showed a huge amount of compassion and empathy. I thanked them over and over for giving me the opportunity to do it and, along the way, my head twisted to take in the world I hadn’t seen in 20 years.

It seemed even the trees had grown up while I was away, the fields replaced by buildings unknown, and the landscape was both foreign and known. My eyes welled with tears as I saw old places like the baseball field where I had once played, even if not well. I was stunned at the changes a town goes through. The town shrank from the place I remembered, the old sights faded into disrepair and, as I looked around, I ached over how much I missed. Yet, every other thought seemed a prayer to God, celebrating the so many firsts in 20 years.

I seemed a baby in the real world yet again, discovering that which was unknown, and wanting to stretch out every second of it. We parked behind the funeral home and, after one officer checked out the layout, we proceeded inside. It was the first time my feet had touched that ground in two decades, and I paused to breathe free air, take in the tree, the way even the shade held value. It was the slow, hungry walk of a man desperate to memorize what life was like again and I thanked my grandfather, in death, for granting me this gift. I could almost feel him there, walking beside me, smiling as he took in the wonder I once would have displayed in the woods at his side.

Once inside, I stepped on plush carpet for the first time in what seemed like memory; pausing every now again not to get too far ahead. The officers were with me, but old habits of not having to be told to stay close, pulled like reigns. As I turned left, seeing the coffin, it seemed for the first time that this was really real – grandpa was gone. My Aunt Janice was standing there at the front, we hugged and then, like miracles, people came in and up to me. I can’t name them all, some might not want to be named, but every embrace, every kind word, and expressions of love, soothed my soul. People I hadn’t seen in so many years I failed to recognize, and others that no amount of time could dim the impression their love had in me. My Uncle Woody, whom I had not seen or touched in two decades, came up to me and we hugged like long, lost brothers. Both of our stomachs seemed to push against the other, grief making them flutter, and it was hard not to sob out loud how desperately he had been missed.

Then, a face I had dreamed of since a boy, a woman so lovely and beautiful it made my heart ache, there stood my Aunt Margaret. “Do you remember me? she asked, and immediately the tears welled in our eyes. I sure did know her, the eyes were unmistakable, and she melted against me. There we stood, alone in love, clinging together as if we could make up for decades of being without. Our whispered I missed you, heartfelt I love yous, and those soft kisses that I so adored as a boy.

Oh, how I had missed my aunt Margaret, the rest of the time I was there we clung to one another. Everyone else seemed to pass in a blur, my eyes and heart full of emotions long since forgotten, yet they returned with force that overwhelmed me. I hugged everyone that would let me and, looking up, found both Donna and Sam there beside each other; the two women that have done so much to care for my heart, cheering on my progress and growth, and teaching me to be a man that even I can be proud of.

Aunt Margaret, I, Sam, Janice, and Donna sat in the side area reserved for close family and there, surrounded by those incredible women, I felt a love like I hadn’t felt in years. It was clear that grandpa’s spirit was there; the love that shaped his heart binding us together, and I thanked God over and over that I had such an opportunity.

My shoulder caught Margaret’s tears; I kissed the top of her head, and had three women on my left, right, and back to stroke their support. My uncle Joe David came to hug me and sit by Margaret, and others came over to pay respects and to find me. Oh, to be held so completely by sweet Christina with her red hair, be held by Mrs. Sjostrand, and reminded fondly of my art teacher’s class, and the enthusiastic embracing of Matthew. Gilbert and his family, Margaret’s children, they had no idea how much those small expressions of love meant to this starving man. The Sjostrands for hugging and loving on me twice, others that came back for more, but nothing matched the power of a long lost aunt the boy in me always adored. I was a boy all over again, telling her I wanted to be a brain surgeon and that I was going to take care of her.

So much has happened, so many years passed, but I thank grandpa for bringing us all there that we might rediscover our love. As a family it was such a beautiful day, loss and gain in equal measures, and both Rev. Sjostrand and Janice did a wonderful job sharing their messages.

You know how often when you are in church, the preacher is sharing his lesson, and you can’t help thinking he or she is talking to you? Be it the Holy Spirit prompting you to pay attention or a guilty conscious, we have those moments when we feel drawn. I wanted to stand up and share my love on the Word with all there, and remind them that grandpa was alive in each of us. People change by taking in from others different ideas or beliefs, and each of us had taken in grandpa’s love and example over the years. We have seen the life of a man that had a heart for God and, in his life, he lived out those commands. Grandpa came to see me in prison, forgave me when he could have chosen not, and always sought to tend the boy he knew I was at heart.

The service ended as it had began, filled with affection and tenderness and, as I came back to prison, a million memories crowded my mind. Tears threatened to spill of their own accord, my thanks to the officers endless, and the promise of new beginnings, which was more than I could have hoped for.

I talked with the escorting officers about child abuse, the impact on children, and how I believed we could make a difference that helped, not hurt, those that get into trouble. The ride back was fast, the surrounding land a blur, and the last 3 days I have cried more than I have in years. Well, besides when I have recounted by email my childhood; that was a different kind of release.

Those that have been blessed enough to experience these things with me know I am grateful and thank God for all that came into being. All things are possible with God, we know that, but seeing Him at work before your eyes as He pulls at many hearts is something completely different.

Forgive me if sharing this was too personal, but I wanted everyone to know what it meant. Many can’t understand how going to a funeral can be a celebration of life but, when you live in a tomb, life takes on all new meaning. Please keep up the prayers for my family, me, and pray that soon we can see grandpa’s hope realized.

I love you.

If you’d like to contact Heath, please visit his website for details here.