Arlo Olson, 1977-2017

ArloWe were deeply saddened to receive news of Arlo Olson’s passing and further disheartened to learn that he took his own life while in custody.

Arlo was the victim of a terribly dysfunctional justice system that did not take his humanity into account when arranging for a wrongful conviction, just as it did not consider ours. Today, it is his humanity alone that matters.

Arlo Olson struggled for nearly a lifetime with mental illness as well the addiction and behavioral issues that often follow in its wake. To the degree that his choices were his own in regards to our case, he was given forgiveness long ago. His last act toward the Fairbanks Four was one of bravery and honesty and it is that act we will choose to remember.

Arlo Olson had a family who loved him dearly. He was a son, a father, a brother, and there always was and always will be much more to his story than its interconnection to this case.

As survivors of systemized injustice we will continue to advocate for true justice, which includes the humane treatment of inmates and access to dignified and quality mental health services within our prison systems.

Our hearts are with the Olson family today, and we hope they receive an outpouring of love and support in this time of grief. Arlo is with his Creator now who knows the contents of his soul and will no doubt receive him with love beyond our understanding.

Rest in peace, Arlo.

 

 

Below is a memorial written byAdrienne B. who graciously shared it here. This friend of Arlo’s reveals a star-gazer and cook, and her words are stronger than ours:

 

My grandma Alma couldn’t say Arlo. Every time he’d cook her a meal, she’d say “Orville, you’re a real good cook. You should open a cafe and call it Orville’s.” He was very particular about his clothes, down to matching his hat to his shoelaces. I went to visit him in Valdez one summer when he was a supervisor for Peter Pan. When I showed up, he was wearing a large pink Alaska tourist themed sweatshirt and some highwater green pants with that really big eye smiling, childish grin. He had done his laundry the previous night and didn’t want to smell eau de fishy so he added a small bottle of bleach to his whites and his jeans. At least he separated them. He finished his shift and we ran into town to only be able to find Lee jeans and Hanes white tshirts with a wool flannel shirt. He went from being dressed like an old lady to an old man with suspenders the week I was there. Those little Phillipino ladies took him under their wing and helped him with his laundry and made sure he ate for the rest of the season. He liked cream in his tea and couldn’t wait go the fall time so he could watch the stars. Godspeed my friend. Those of you reading this that are feeling sad, I pray you too find your place of love and gratitude for being blessed with such a kind soul. He wouldn’t want you to be sad, that’s why he always made you feel important and loved. It’s and good day to celebrate that love. Rest assured from the Heavens above, his loved ones know his sissy Tass has her big brother to hold hands with and run in the tall grass by the river to visit grandpa Aggie and Grandma Marylene. The four of them I’m sure have stopped in to visit my grand alma and grandpa Roland. In good time, in good faith, God promises I too will join them. Until then, I’ll continue to look for them in the stars. Ill speak up about the stigma of mental illness, fight for fair treatment in the system for those suffering from their own minds and let the memory of his beautiful hands be a part it. He may no longer be here in flesh, but a part of him will continue to live through so many wonderful memories. Bless and be blessed my friends.

Advertisements

Never Forget to Remember John Hartman

Aside

Image

We grieve John Hartman.

The hardest, most painful part of writing the story of the Fairbanks Four is to trespass on the memories and recall the horrific final moments of a young boy we never knew.

In the graphic court photos, the mountains of expert affidavits analyzing his cause of death, explorations of causative instruments, manners of death, autopsies, soft tissue, timelines, witnesses, pants, the photographs of him ailing in a hospital bed aired as he lay dying in an effort to identify him, the letters to the editor, the newspaper articles, the school picture, the photo of him kneeling in his football uniform run over and over in the articles not about his life, but his terrible death…..in all of these documents someone’s child became a court exhibit. But never, ever forget, those who fight for the Fairbanks Four fight for this boy as well.

ImageIn those terrible photographs, below the wounds, was the face of someone who was loved. A son, a brother, a friend, a person. He was a baby once, freshly born, and surely his mother marveled over his little wrinkled fingers as all mothers do, so impossibly small. So perfect. His birth was the most common and divine miracle that any life is. He came into being. He smiled for the first time. He laughed. He learned to walk, tumbled on unsteady feet. Someone ran their hand over his forehead to check for a fever, someone kissed him goodnight. Maybe he wrestled with his brothers, made his friends laugh. He blew out candles on birthday cakes, he woke up in delight on Christmas mornings. He smiled toothless into those early elementary school photos. John Hartman grew out of chubby cheeks and freckles sprinkled across his nose, the winds of hundreds of summer days swept over him, the sun warmed his skin. He had a first kiss, a crush, secret dreams, unique hopes. Surely, his life contained all of these typical moments, and the thousands of moments unique to him known only to those who truly knew him. He became a boy, then a young man, grew into that middle season where childhood is waning, and the future is wide open.

And then, he was so unfairly interrupted. His life came to an end. They say that all of those moments flash before the dying, that the last thing we do before we leave our bodies is remember the life we lived in them. Hopefully, that is true, and the life that flashed before him was a happy one.

I wish we could articulate how it is impossible to work to prove the innocence of the Fairbanks Four and to tell their story without grieving the child whose death they were accused of causing – how often the reality and weight of his suffering and the magnitude of his pain and the grief of his loss weighs on us.

George Frese said he thinks of him every night, that he prays to him simply, expressing sorrow that his life ended so terribly, and implores him for help from the other side. These four men all understand that their lives are inextricably connected to the life and death of a boy they never knew, and what has arisen from that is a kind of powerful and sad kinship.

To fight for justice is to fight for justice. That four young men who committed no crime are imprisoned is a terrible injustice. That whoever killed John Hartman has never been held accountable is a terrible injustice. Every time his death is examined, discussed, his name is said out loud, the fact that he was murdered is discussed without equal understanding that he also lived – all of that is an injustice. The wrongful convictions that followed the murder of an innocent child have, perhaps, prevented him from resting peacefully, which he deserves. But the greatest injustice of all is that John Hartman died while he was just a little boy, and that the endless possible futures in his path were taken from him. In his obituary his family shared that John wanted to attend college in Michigan, where he hoped to play football and become a vet. In a world with true, pure justice, this young man would be in his thirties now, perhaps with a child of his own, marveling at the miracle that life is.

To anyone who loved and knew this boy, we are so sorry. We are so deeply sorry for your loss, and so sorry if the fight to prove the innocence of the Fairbanks Four hurts you. We are sorry for the greatest injustice of all in this story; the loss of his life and the hurt it brought upon you all.

Please remember that we never forget John Hartman. We are fighting for him, too, and doing everything we can to tell this story with tenderness and respect to the truly innocent boy who died in that long ago October.

 

Image