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Sharlene Wilson is visiting to Southern California March 16 to 26 and is available to speak to any group that would like her testimony or message about keeping teens drug free. Those interested should contact Jane Chastain by e-mail.

What a difference a year can make! On Dec. 31, 1999, Sharlene Wilson
received the news for which she anxiously had been waiting. She was free to
leave the Arkansas prison, which had been her home.

In 12 short months she has gone from ex-con to an employee at a drug and
alcohol recovery program. She has accumulated 127 credit hours at the
University of Arkansas at Little Rock toward a degree as a certified alcohol
and drug counselor and is looking forward to working on a master’s degree in
sociology.

Because of her 40-hour work week and college classes, Sharlene’s plans
for Gloryland Ministries have been limited. However, she does find the time
to give hope and comfort to women in area jails awaiting prison by sharing
her testimony and the Bible with them. Also, she worked with a women’s
ministry to coordinate a program to give each inmate two pairs of socks for
Christmas. Sharlene says, “Socks are something you take for granted on the
outside, but in jails and prison they are a rare commodity.” She placed a
big cardboard box in front of her church and people begin dropping them in.
Before long, she found she needed a larger box. “Praise God! Nothing is
too big for Him!”

Two years ago, Gov. Mike Huckabee failed to act on a clemency
recommendation for Sharlene. In November, at the request of the governor’s
office, she was invited to appear before a legislative committee looking
into alternative methods of sentencing young mothers who have run afoul of
the law. She has been invited back to address a joint legislative session
on Jan. 8.

However, since her release from prison, the most surprising event that
occurred in her life, by far, was the reconciliation with her former
husband, Bryson Jacobs. They were remarried on Sept. 29, 2000. “Bryson is
now a born again Christian,” she told me. “He has been a wonderful friend
and husband and shares my passion for Gloryland.”

Last New Year’s Eve, Sharlene hardly could believe her ears when the
senior warden told her to pack her bags, that she was being released. The
wheels of justice grind slowly, but the wheels of injustice at times seemed
stuck, unable to move at all for her. She was escorted at 4:38 p.m. through
the gates of McPherson Correctional Center for Women, five minutes from her
seventh anniversary behind bars.

At 4:43 p.m. on New Years Eve 1992, Dan Harmon, the prosecutor for
Arkansas Seventh Judicial District, staged a raid on the home of his former
girlfriend where less than $100 worth of methamphetamines and marijuana were
found. Sharlene believes that Harmon planted those drugs. She confessed,
“At that stage of my life, if I had known they were there, the temptation
would have been too great. I would have used them.”

Dan Harmon ran his prosecutor’s office like a criminal enterprise. In
his mind Sharlene’s real crime occurred a year earlier when she testified in
secret to a federal grand jury about his drug activities in the state.
Sharlene was much too dangerous for Harmon to leave alone. She knew the
drug business inside and out. She had gone from arranging toga party orgies
for some of Arkansas’ most important politicians and influential citizens,
to unloading cocaine at the Mena Airport. Grand jury testimony is
confidential, but back in those days, there were no secrets in the corrupt
system that existed in the state during the tenure of Gov. Bill Clinton.

She and Bryson had done drugs together but, at the time of the raid, they
were trying to quit together. They were trying to go straight, working hard
selling railroad ties. He was helping her raise her son. They had
discussed going to church.

However, Harmon had warned Sharlene that if she ever crossed him he would
put her away where no one would ever find her. He almost succeeded. Harmon
bided his time. When he went from prosecutor of Saline County to prosecutor
for the Seventh Judicial District, he put the squeeze on Joann Potts, one of
Sharlene’s friends, who was sent on repeated trips to Sharlene’s house to
cry about troubles with her husband and beg for drugs. Harmon not only
arrested Sharlene; he prosecuted her for two counts of delivery of a
controlled substance, neglecting to tell the judge or the jury that they had
been lovers. For these relatively minor first-time drug offenses, Sharlene
was sentenced to 31 years.

Sharlene owes her freedom, in part, to civil rights attorney John Wesley
Hall and to Jean Duffey, who in 1990 was appointed head of a drug task force
in central Arkansas. Duffey, who praised Sharlene’s cooperation in her
investigation, eventually was forced to flee the state to avoid turning over
her records to Harmon. She continued to work underground, however, taking
her case to the federal government and to filmmaker Pat Matrisciana, who
told the story in his video, “Obstruction of Justice.”

When Jim Guy Tucker, who succeeded Clinton as governor, was sentenced to
prison, Mike Huckabee took over and began to clean up the state. In 1997,
Dan Harmon was convicted in federal court on five counts of racketeering,
extortion and drug dealing. Ironically, Harmon was sentenced to only 11
years behind bars. Gov. Huckabee began receiving phone calls and letters on
Sharlene’s behalf from average citizens who had seen “Obstruction of
Justice.”

In 1992, after Harmon arrested Sharlene and Bryson, he began feeding
information about the couple to the media. It was not enough to simply put
them away; he had to make sure it was a permanent arrangement. They had to
be destroyed before the trial to ensure long sentences. He portrayed them
as a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. It was a great story and the local papers
were only too happy to retell it.

It was an exaggeration to be sure, but it wasn’t all that far-fetched.
At 6’1″ 245 pounds, Bryson Jacobs is an imposing fellow. He had been an
intimidator for hire, but to Sharlene, Bryson, whom she had known since
childhood, he was a gentle giant and her protector. “I wasn’t really all that
bad,” Bryson explained when Sharlene handed him the phone. “If I was on my
way to rob a place and saw an elderly lady with a flat tire, I would stop
and change it.”

In 1982, a local “businessman,” who had some restaurants in New Mexico,
hired Bryson to blow up one owned by the competition. He was caught when he
returned home from where he had purchased the explosives. Not to worry,
this was Arkansas. The fix was in. All the right people had been paid off.
“I was coming out of the hearing, real happy like, when two New Mexico
sheriff’s officers with guns told me to get in the car. They kidnapped me
and took me back to their state to stand trial.” He was sentenced to 44
years, but he was released after 5 years and 11 months, when the U.S. Court
of Appeals in Denver overturned his case because of the kidnapping.

No, it wasn’t hard for Harmon to convince the public and the judge that
these were two dangerous desperados who ought to be put away for good. They
were held in separate jails awaiting trial without bond. Sharlene knew that
all this had happened because of her former relationship with Harmon. That’s
when she got the idea that if she divorced Bryson, it might take some of the
heat off of him. She filed but didn’t tell him why. She couldn’t trust a
grand jury, and she would not reveal her plan to Bryson through the prison
mail system.

Bryson was heartbroken when he received Sharlene’s letter informing him
of the divorce. She asked him not to try to contact her again. What
Sharlene did not know is that, while in jail, Bryson had accepted Christ as
his Lord and Savior. He explained: “In the midst of my despair, God spoke
to me and told me, ‘Leave her alone. She will come back and you will have a
ministry together.’ Open Doors Prison Ministry, the same ministry that got
me, had been witnessing to Sharlene too.”

Bryson says that he feels so blessed that his parents, whom he described
as “model citizens,” lived to see him change. “When I told my father that
Sharlene and I were going to take a Sunday School class, he broke down and
cried. I had two grandfathers who were ministers.” Now Bryson is
ministering to prisoners and recently had the privilege of leading Thomas
Rice, the man whose testimony led to his indictment in the restaurant
bombing, to Christ.

It was during a drug treatment program that Bryson was able to come to
grips with what had caused such rage in him as a child. A relative molested
him when he was 2 years old. He never told anyone for fear of hurting the
man’s wife, whom he dearly loved. However, Bryson doesn’t like to talk
about this experience, because he doesn’t want to make excuses for all the
bad things he did in his life or all the pain he caused his family.

Once, while in jail, Bryson threw a cup of urine on a minister who told
him, “God loves you.” Bryson said, “A piece of toilet paper hung on the
man’s glasses. I will never be able to forget the look in his eyes.” It
wasn’t until Lynn Ray Hobbs, a man with whom Bryson had done drugs, visited
his cell that the barriers fell. “I knew I could trust him. I knew what he
had was real.”

Bryson was awaiting his sentence when he accepted Christ. When he
received 116 consecutive years, his faith really was tested. “I was angry
at God!” Bryson explained. Nevertheless, he clung to his faith, as Sharlene
did, and spent seven years in prison studying the Bible. Miraculously, in
1998, Governor Huckabee reduced his sentence, making Bryson eligible for
parole in 2000.

Last August, when Sharlene learned that Bryson had been released, she
called and left a message for him. “I had no thoughts of us ever being
together again, but I knew I had to explain why I did what I did and make
amends.” They arranged to meet in a safe place, her church.

“I didn’t return her calls right away,” Bryson explained. “We both had
our long speeches prepared, but when we met at Liberty Chapel, God put
everything back together for us. The hardest part was dating as
Christians. Who would have believed it! Two former drug addicts, ex cons,
going to the movie together and all we did was hold hands.”

While their relationship is as good as it gets; life on the outside has
been hard. Bryson does construction work but it’s slow in the winter in
Arkansas. Sharlene’s car broke down and with her college tuition she
doesn’t know where the money will come from to pay the repair bill but she
knows it will come. “Only by the loving grace of our Lord have I received so
much growth and blessings this past year.”

Sharlene was besieged with requests for interviews when she first was
released from prison but she turned almost all of them down, focusing on the
task ahead. However, she wants all those who have supported her so
faithfully to know how much she appreciates the cards, letters and phone
calls. When she receives her certification she will have more time and
money to communicate and to expand the reach of Gloryland Ministries.
Meanwhile, she wants to wish everyone a happy New Year and she wants you to
know, “All is well with my soul.”


You can contact Bryson and Sharlene Jacobs at:

Gloryland Ministries

P.O. Box 1191

Malvern, AR 72104

“We visit the prisoners And teach the word”

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