They took away the children eleven years ago. They took away the family photos just the other day — 212 glossy images of kids now grown, of smiling grandchildren he's never seen or held.
Charles Farrar kept the pictures in his cell in the Sterling Correctional Facility, a collection that expanded with every letter, every precious word from his far-flung tribe. He's never made a secret of them. But men convicted of terrible crimes aren't allowed to have certain kinds of photos in their possession. So when a recent shakedown turned up a snapshot of his youngest grandson having his diaper changed, the kid just lying there exposed — well, that was the end of the pictures.
That's what happens when you're condemned to a mountain of time. Piece by piece, inch by inch, they take it all away. Your freedom. Your memories. Your ties to anything human.
But Farrar isn't a man who gives up easily. He's filed a lawsuit over the seizure of his "contraband" family album. The dispute has already cost him his clean disciplinary record, his job in the prison upholstery operation, and his place in an honor pod reserved for the best-behaved inmates in Sterling.
Farrar doesn't care. The pictures mean that much to him.
"Hope has been snatched from me so many times," he says. "They put me in here for life. Family is basically what has kept me going. The biggest reason I don't do away with myself is my kids. I want to make sure they're doing okay."
Family may be what keeps Farrar going, but it's also what put him behind bars. In 2002 an Arapahoe County jury found the former bakery worker guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault on a child after hearing the horrific story told by his oldest stepdaughter, Sacha. She testified that Farrar, often assisted by her own mother, had subjected her to more than a hundred instances of molestation, rape and sexual abuse from the age of eleven until she was fifteen. Judge John P. Leopold sentenced Farrar to 145 years to life — the kind of time usually reserved for serial killers, terrorists or Bernie Madoff.
Like many convicted sex offenders, Farrar has always maintained his innocence. Unlike most of them, he doesn't bother to hide the nature of his conviction, even though child molesters can expect brutal treatment from other prisoners. But what truly sets his case apart is the degree to which family members continue to support him, insisting that he couldn't possibly have done such a thing. And his staunchest defender for the past eight years has been the one person, other than Farrar and his co-defendant, who knows what really happened: his alleged victim.
Shortly after Farrar's trial, prosecutors dropped similar charges against Sacha's mother, Debbie, because Sacha refused to testify against her. A few months later, after Sacha turned eighteen, she went back to court and told a very different story.
She said that she'd lied, that she'd fabricated the allegations against Debbie and Charles so she could live with her grandparents in Oklahoma. That she'd made fools out of the cops, the social workers, the prosecutors, who not only swallowed her preposterous tale, but coached her on how to tell it better on the stand. And when she tried to call the whole thing off, two caseworkers and a prosecutor pressured her into sticking to her story and ignored her assertions that it wasn't true.
"I ultimately testified against my stepfather at his trial because I was scared by threats of being placed in a mental institution," she wrote in an affidavit submitted in court. "I have had trouble sleeping since I made these allegations. When I do sleep, I have nightmares about ruining innocent lives."
Sacha's explosive claims triggered a series of hearings before Judge Leopold. Prosecutors and social workers took the stand to deny any misconduct; relatives testified that they'd expressed doubts about Sacha's story to officials but had been told to keep quiet. If it had been a different sort of crime at issue, in any county other than Arapahoe — which has a formidable reputation for aggressively pursuing child sexual-assault cases — the new evidence might have made Farrar a free man. Instead, the case has become a long, tortuous gauntlet of legal wrangles and appeals, and Farrar remains in his cell.
In America's holy war on sex offenders, it's a matter of gospel to believe the children — no matter how improbable the claims, how inadequate the investigation, how suspect the credibility of the alleged victim. The children must be believed. Unless, of course, they change their story to something nobody wants to hear.
"This is a terrifying case," says attorney Mark Walta, who's worked on Farrar's appeals since 2003. "The prosecution's entire case was staked to this woman's credibility. But when you're dealing with someone who is more or less a pathological liar, you don't know where the truth starts and ends."
"It's crazy," says Craig Truman, the veteran criminal defense attorney who represented Farrar at trial. "I just find it amazing that some judge somewhere didn't say that without this girl, there's no evidence and he deserves a new trial."
"Our system is totally and royally screwed up," says Sacha Bruce, now 26 years old — and still fighting to get her stepfather out of prison. "I don't know if they believed me or not or if they were just covering their own butts. I wanted this fixed. I thought I would be leaving the courthouse in handcuffs, and they would let him go."
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, July 23, 2011