When Child Protective Services showed up at the house of Houston native Wayland Matthew Fox in March 2006, his life changed forever. Fox learned that he was being accused of sexually molesting the son of his ex-wife. It would be the beginning of a trial that swept Fox into jail for indecency with a child by contact, a charge based solely on the accusation of one child. It's a charge that Fox says is false, and that the courts have since dropped.
But not before Fox, who is now 59, spent 17 months in Harris County Jail. As he waited behind bars for his appeal to be heard, Fox wrote diary entries to stay sane. Fox's appeal was eventually upheld on the grounds of prosecutorial violations during his trial. The charges were dropped, his sentence was reversed, and Fox was freed in January 2010.
His new book, First in the Mind and Heart, is a compilation of Fox's prison writings. A chilling tale of human resilience in the face of injustice, the book shakes you awake to the face of a man falsely convicted.
Fox spoke with Hair Balls about his new book and his time in jail. The conversation has been edited for brevity.
Hair Balls: Did you know you would turn your experience into a book while you were writing it? Wayland Matthew Fox: No. There's always been this knowing in me that I wanted to write a book. I've written and published poetry in the past, and I've always loved language and communication and writing. I just didn't know this was the way it would come about.
HB: When you learned exactly what you were being accused of, what went through your mind? WMF: I was thrown into a spiral of very, very serious depression. I literally would cry like a wounded animal. I couldn't believe somebody would say something like that about me. It hurt. I loved that child and treated him the same way I treated my own children.
HB: A part of your book was so shocking to me: you said that if you would be released, you wanted to maintain ties with your accuser. How could you want a relationship with him after what he put you through? WMF: Well, because I understand from our time together, that underneath all of this pain, all of these allegations, is a hurt kid. I came to terms with that while I was locked up. We can only obviously speculate about what might be causing such an irrational story to be made up -- and then how he hangs on to it, still to this day, is very hard to understand. In his mind, I think there may have been an opportunity for him to make sense out of his own pain, by creating and fabricating this story.
At the same time, I don't think any child understands the implications of these things. They just don't get it, that they're fixing to ruin somebody's life. And then to get thrown into a system where interviewers are interviewing him with a specific agenda.
HB: How can you explain how it feels to be locked up in prison for a crime you didn't commit? WMF: False accusation is the most horrible kind of feeling and thing to be accused of because one begins to look for a cause, a reason. In other words, if I could have found something in me -- in my life and in my behavior -- that would justify me being locked up, then it would make sense. But since I couldn't, then it made no sense. This senseless suffering that has no origin in the person that's doing the suffering is the hardest kind.
HB: Were you ever compensated at all for your time in prison? WMF: Absolutely not. I sat in Harris County Jail that entire time for 17 months. I never saw the sun.
HB: They never let you outside? WMF: No. There are people locked up in our jails in downtown Houston that have been sitting in a jail for three to four years without ever seeing the sun.
HB: What was the first thing you did when you got out? WMF: I looked across the street and I saw a tree growing up out of the sidewalk. I couldn't believe how alive it looked, and how green. I hadn't seen anything like that in 17 months. I just wanted to touch it, and I did. Then I looked up and saw what few stars you can see.
HB: Now that you're in the outside world, how has this experience changed you? WMF: Well, it's deepened me in ways that are just unimaginable. I spent anywhere from one and a half to three hours for 17 months in deep meditation and prayer. In terms of deepening my spiritual life, it's become a habit now. It's part and parcel of my everyday life now to wake up and be grateful for everything in my life. It's taught me the value of having compassion on those that suffer. Anyone that's undergoing trials and tribulations and suffering, I have huge compassion for because I was there. I did the suffering.
HB: What's a typical day for you now? WMF: There's not a day that goes by that I don't try to have some communication with someone else that's struggling with this, through my blog. But I obviously have to make a living so I work at my business. I spend time on the Internet researching these issues of justice and injustice.
I love my wife, I spend time with her, we live out on Lake Livingston. We're surrounded by nature. I get to see the seasons, wildlife, the stars at night. All the things we have that make our life rich, if we would but look.
Look, we have tragedy and horrible circumstances that we have to endure, but we can endure them with a choosing to rise above the circumstances. People that are in horrible conditions can do that. There are many people suffering way worse than I suffered. It will be harder for them to rise above, but I know that it's possible.
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