Favorite

The Observer's January visit with Jason Baldwin 

The Observer doesn't usually do reruns, but given the theme of this week's issue, we thought we'd present a retread of a piece that ran in this space back on Jan. 18, 2011. No matter what you're going through, friends, keep the faith. As Jason Baldwin — literally the most positive and upbeat person we've ever met — told us back in January: There's always hope.

The Observer and our pal Mr. Photographer were supposed to get down to the prison on Monday to meet with the West Memphis Three - Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols - but got snowed out. By Friday, though, the roads had burned off and we were on again. We went to Varner Unit near Grady first; surrendered our cell phones and ball caps and cigarettes, took off our shoes and belts and allowed our persons and bags to be searched, and were finally ushered through the gates where signs warn of instant death if one is foolhardy enough to breach concertina wire to touch the electrified fence. We were there to see Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley, but despite scheduling interviews weeks in advance, we were told by an unsmiling deputy warden that speaking to them hadn't been cleared, only photographs. In the end, we found ourselves forced to simply stare at Echols and Misskelly through glass without speaking - two men on display, like meat.

The Observer is very close to the same age as the WM3, Echols a bit older, Baldwin a little younger. We remember the crime. We remember the trial. And we remember seeing "Paradise Lost," the documentary about the case that injected into our mind a bitter grain of doubt, which has since grown over the years into a smooth, bright pearl of belief. What is engraved there is this: We have imprisoned innocent men, and somewhere a killer of children walks free.

Though The Observer tries to be impartial in all things, we feel no shame in telling you this. The mind and heart know what they know, impartiality be damned. To say anything less would be to make it plain that we are either a liar or a fool.

By the afternoon, we had been reunited with our cell phones and the trouble had been ironed out. We headed on to Tucker Max, where Jason Baldwin is shelved, assured that we would be allowed to talk to him like a human being.

He looks much older than he should - slightly balding now, with what should have been the salad days of his 20s well behind him. Sitting in a paneled conference room under the Great Seal of Arkansas, The Observer told Jason Baldwin that he is close to our age.

We're usually never at a loss for words on an interview - always one question leading to another, and hardly ever enough time or patience for all of them. This time, though, we found our tongue was too big for our mouth. What do you say to a man who you believe to be innocent who may well die in prison, other than "I'm sorry"?

When we ran out of things to say, we told Jason Baldwin that we were a weirdo in high school - the kid in black who listened to odd music and read odd books.

Because we had gone that far, we went further. We told him what we have thought for a good 15 years now: That save a few quirks of geography, it could have just as easily been us sitting there in his bleached white jumpsuit, waiting to be cuffed and led back to the bowels of the prison, time stretching out before us like the blade of a long knife. Not because we were guilty, but because we would have surely looked the part to men seeking monsters and easy answers. After we were done - after 30 minutes of jawing about life and television and the books he reads - we said our goodbyes. The Observer went out to our car and drove back to Little Rock through the pristine fields, still draped in melting snow.

That night, The Observer kissed his wife, and hugged his son. That night, we lay down beside our beloved in our own bed, a free man, and listened to her breathing in the dark. Just before the door of sleep coasted shut and latched, we looked at the snowfield ceiling and thought: Why is it that good things happen to some people, and bad things to others? And then we thought: Too cruel to call it Fate.

See video of our interview with Jason Baldwin at arktimes.com/jasonbaldwin.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Addendum

    he Observer has our regrets, just like everybody else. For example: last week, Yours Truly published a cover story on the increasingly ugly fight over Eureka Springs' Ordinance 2223, which is designed to protect a bunch of groups — including LGBTQ people — from discrimination in housing, employment, accommodations, cake buying, browsing, drinking, gut stuffery, knickknack purchasing, general cavorting, funny postcard mailing and all the other stuff one tends to get up to in the weirdest, friendliest, most magical little town in the Ozarks.
    • Apr 30, 2015
  • Snake stories

    The Observer's boss, Uncle Alan, is something of a gentleman farmer on his spread up in Cabot, growing heirloom tomatoes and watermelons and crops of chiggers on property that looks like the perfect farmstead Lenny and George often fantasized about in "Of Mice and Men."
    • Aug 27, 2015

Most Shared

  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in The Observer

  • Writers blocked

    OK, back to basics, Observer. Get hold of yourself. Give the people what they want, which is escapism! If you don't, this column is eventually just going to devolve into The Prophecies of Hickstradamus at some point in the next four years: "The Orange Vulture perches in the fig tree. The great snake eats Moonpies and Royal Crown Cola by starlight ..." That kind of thing. Nobody likes that. Too much deciphering and such.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Cassandra

    The Observer's grandfather on our mother's side was a crackerjack fella. Grew up in the sandy hills north of Conway. County boy, through and through. During hog-killing time in December 1941, the story in our family goes, when word of Pearl Harbor reached his little community, he and his friends loaded into his T-model truck and made the rough journey to the first speck of civilization that included an Army recruiting office, where they all enlisted.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation