Favorite

The Observer, Jan. 18 

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 the first 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. We went out to our car and drove back to Little Rock through the pristine fields, still draped in melting snow.

That night, we kissed our wife, and hugged our 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

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments (12)

Showing 1-12 of 12

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-12 of 12

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • The sweet hereafter

    This week, the Arkansas Times falls back on that oldest of old chestnuts: a recipe issue. Being who we are, of course, we had to put a twist on that; namely, the fact that most of the recipes you'll find in these pages are courtesy of people who have shuffled off to that great kitchen in the sky, where the Good Lord is always whipping up new things in his toque and apron, running the great mixers of genetics and time, maybe presenting the batter-dipped beaters and bowls to Jesus for a lick down.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • On Walmart and state money

    No they don't need state help. Any conservative legislator who is true to their tea party principles will crow on about crony capitalism. I look forward to deafening silence.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • On shitholes

    The Observer is at home today in our kitty cat socks, weathering a combination sick day and snow day. Way down in Stifft Station, we live at the top of a hill that slopes away in all directions. That's good in a flood, but piss poor other than for sledding during snow and ice, especially when you only have access to a two-wheel drive car.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in The Observer

  • Field trip

    After plentiful false starts and failures, "We'll do it next year" years and "Screw it, let's go to the beach" years and years when the financial situation around The Observatory conspired against Yours Truly and our inky wretch's salary, The Observer and Co. are finally going to make it to Washington, D.C.
    • Jul 19, 2018
  • Cathode ode

    There's been an addition to the Observatory lately, one that's so old, it's new again to us — broadcast television.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • After midnight

    For the past two years, The Observer has lain awake in bed at least one or two nights a week and wondered if I have failed to prepare my son, as my father prepared me, for what could reasonably be coming in this terrible new age.
    • Jul 5, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: State yanks PFH funds

    • So many innocent people hurt by their actions. People like myself who need Medicaid to…

    • on July 20, 2018
  • Re: Taking the widow's mite

    • He is a cosponsor...recorded in the Congressional Record as a cosponsor...and not only does he…

    • on July 19, 2018
  • Re: A deeper dive into a wider 30

    • There are a lot of state highways that should be county roads and city streets…

    • on July 19, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation