Penned In

Almost nobody -- not even the trial judge or the victim -- thinks John Michael Harvey molested a child. So why's he still serving 40 years in prison?

In Florida, another woman has cancer. Beverly Harvey, who has spent all she has, and much she doesn't, suffers from a recurrence of bone cancer in her ribs and back. "I only hope I can live long enough to see my son freed," she says.

Near Wichita Falls, a 38-year-old man shares a nine- by 12-foot cell that will hit temperatures of over 90 degrees by noon and stay there past midnight. Like most prisoners, he prays for summer rains that will cool the scorching bricks and metal roofs confining him. Mostly, he prays for his name to be cleared, and Melissa is the only chance he will ever have for that.

In prison, as in America, rational thought tends to fly out the window when the topic is pedophilia. Children are sacred, and adults who violate them are considered to be the worst of the worst. As far as a convict's standing among his peers, it's better to have murdered a family of four than to have fondled a three-year-old. "I don't talk about my case in here," Harvey explains in a prison interview.

Harvey demanded dismissal or a trial on the charges 
that later sent him to prison.
Daniel Kramer
Harvey demanded dismissal or a trial on the charges that later sent him to prison.
Better times: Harvey and his mother in 1991.
Daniel Kramer
Better times: Harvey and his mother in 1991.

He recalls what he once had. His eyes moisten at the mention of his former fiancée, Amy Martin. Archer-Smith sent him a handsome photo of the couple a few years ago. Harvey returned it, saying, "It's too painful to look at."

A few weeks after Harvey's conviction, Martin had a nervous breakdown. Her parents took her back to Pennsylvania, and Harvey has not heard from her since. While Harvey's been in prison, his father and two aunts have died. His mother is too ill to travel, and he may never see her again.

"I wouldn't mind the bad meals, the bad showers or the 40 years," he says. "I believe child molesters ought to be treated this way. I don't have a problem with that. But I didn't do anything."

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