Family Beyond Bars: How a wrongfully convicted father continues to provide for his family

An important note to our readers: We have not included many relevant details surrounding Charles Farrar’s wrongful conviction case in this brief article. There is simply too much information to share to do the story justice in this piece. It seems clear from the case history and articles that have more extensively covered Charles Farrar and his family, that he is serving an unwarranted sentence for a crime that he did not commit, and in fact, for a crime that was never committed at all. This GoodCinema story focuses on Charles Farrar’s role as Human and Father. Please read more about Charles Farrar as written by Westword journalist Alan Prendergast (links provided at the end of this post).

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Eighteen years ago, Charles Farrar’s children were abruptly taken away from him when he was wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter. Sixteen years ago, Farrar was convicted of the alleged assaults – crimes that were never actually committed. Farrar was effectively given a life sentence – 145 years – based on false testimony by his stepdaughter, which she later recanted, and no physical evidence. Today, Farrar remains imprisoned in Sterling Correctional Facility, tirelessly fighting for his freedom, with the assistance of his attorney, Gail Johnson.

At the age of 15, Farrar’s rebellious stepdaughter, known in the family for fabricating fantastic stories, accused her mother and stepfather of deplorable sexual abuse, in a ploy to be moved out of the family home so she could live with her grandparents. But she did not realize her actions would lead to the removal of all six of the children from the home and a wrongful conviction of her stepfather who had selflessly supported the family. The six children (three are Farrar’s biological sons) were taken from Farrar and his then-wife and placed in various foster homes.

Just weeks after Farrar’s conviction, his stepdaughter admitted to family members that she had been lying, and she wanted to recant her accusations. And so she did.

Unfortunately, her recantation did not change Farrar’s situation. Farrar was denied a new trial, and in a narrow defeat by a vote of 4-3, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that no new jury would hear the recantation evidence.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Farrar for a couple of hours last week in the visiting room of the Sterling Correctional Facility, alongside his counsel, Johnson.

What immediately struck me was Farrar’s warmth and heartfelt appreciation for the unwavering support of his friends and family. Following introductions, I began to ask Farrar about what his life has been like these last 18 years, since his children were taken from him and he was convicted as a sex offender, locked up for crimes he maintains he did not commit.

What I quickly learned is that outside of prison, Farrar was a hard worker, dedicated to his family. And inside prison, Farrar is a hard worker, dedicated to his family.

“It crushes my heart, being in here, with my kids out there. This is not only about me; this is about what they’ve been through.” Recalling the day his children were taken away from him, Farrar immediately teared up, and he remained tearful throughout the rest of our conversation as he described how he has managed to parent his children and build a strong family unit from behind bars.

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On March 7, 2000, at ages ten, eight and not quite two years old, Charlie, Eric and Austin Farrar were taken from their father following his stepdaughter’s fictitious allegations of abuse. Between that time and his eventual conviction in 2002, Farrar began to grasp how traumatic the family’s separation was for his sons, particularly his eldest, Charlie, who felt the burden of holding himself together for his younger brothers. “My kids are my life; me and my little guys have always been close,” he said.

That initial split was trying, but the family was only experiencing the outset of what has grown into a lifetime of separation.

The three boys were moved to various group and foster homes where their childhoods were fraught with mistreatment. Over time, Farrar’s sons have revealed the abuse and neglect they suffered at the hands of their supposed caregivers. Farrar has only recently learned the extent to which his boys suffered over the years, and his pain in talking about it is palpable. “Hearing any harm coming to your kids eats at you,” he explained between choking cries.

Unable to physically protect his children, Farrar used every tool at his disposal to continue parenting from behind bars. When the boys were younger, Farrar wrote weekly letters. He smiles when recalling how his youngest received help from family members in corresponding with his father. One of young Austin’s letters detailed his science fair project – a volcano complete with a messy explosion.

As Charlie and Eric reached their teenage years, phone calls replaced letters. Farrar viewed these phone calls – which are often very expensive from prison – as a crucial investment in his family: “I spend a lot of money on the phone. I don’t worry too much about myself, but the phone is my lifeline to my family . . . I call and give support regardless of the issue, mechanical issues, job issues, whatever.”

When he isn’t writing or calling his sons, Farrar throws himself into work at the prison, busying himself with deadlines and tasks, the ordinary and familiar pressures of having a job. Over the years, his jobs in prison as well as his earnings have varied. Currently, he’s lucky to earn $50 a month. But rather than spend his meager earnings on things to make his situation more comfortable, Farrar continues to support his family: “The money is not meant for me in here; it’s meant to help out with the bills at home.”

Farrar is painfully aware of the patent unfairness of his life in detention, the least of which is demonstrated by the structure of labor and compensation in prison. Nonetheless, Farrar takes pride in knowing that his boys have inherited his strong work ethic.

When his middle son Eric began working, he saved enough money to buy his first car at an auction. But during the drive home, the car’s motor died. Farrar, pleased with his son’s hard work and saving, sent $500 to Eric for a down payment on another car.

Being locked up means that no matter how many letters he writes, or phone calls he makes, or how much money he saves and sends home, Farrar simply isn’t around for the big moments in his sons’ lives, whether good or bad.

Several years ago, when his two oldest sons had aged out of the foster care system and were sharing an apartment, Farrar learned their apartment caught fire by watching the 10 o’clock news from the lonely confines of his cell. Ultimately, the news reported no fatalities, and of course, Farrar sent money to help them recover. But this did little to assuage Farrar’s fear and concern in the agonizing hours he spent alone, waiting for confirmation of his sons’ safety.

As his sons reached early adulthood and were able to visit their father, the family reconnected on another level, catching up in person. Farrar describes seeing his sons after so many years apart as an “instant bond, as if we hadn’t been apart.”

Farrar works hard to maintain that bond, and to continue to protect his sons even in their adulthood. Over the years, every time Farrar has had another chance in the legal system to obtain his release following his stepdaughter’s recantation, he plays down his hope of success, lest his children should become too hopeful themselves and, ultimately, too disappointed when the outcome is not in his favor.

In the 18 years since his kids were first taken away from him, Charles Farrar has, against all odds, managed to rebuild his family. Farrar’s high school sweetheart Debby reconnected with him in 2014 (after having spent 30 years looking for him intermittently), and the two married in 2017. She and her daughter have developed a close relationship with Charlie, Eric and Austin, and the five of them reside together in their new family home, hoping for the day when Farrar will be released from prison and can join them. Debby has become a mother figure to Farrar’s sons, and she’s managed to bring the joy of birthdays, holidays and being a family back into their lives. If Farrar had any tears left after telling me about his boys, he spent the rest of them telling me about his wife, whom he loves and credits with helping to rebuild his family.

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When I asked Farrar what he would like to share with our GoodCinema audience and readers, he thoughtfully considered his response.

First, he encourages every one called to jury duty to carry out that charge mindfully. “If a person is ever on a jury, they have to assess. Stop. Take the time to listen. Listen to the facts . . .

If you are a juror, don’t appease or satisfy the others just to get out of there.”

He also provides some practical advice for any innocent person who has the misfortune of finding him or herself in a similar predicament. “If you ever get [wrongfully] caught up in the system, be as proactive as you can.”

Farrar says that sharing his story might help him gain his freedom. And he hopes that it does. But even if it doesn’t, he hangs on to the hope that “maybe it will help others.”

“This is an existence up here. This isn’t a life.” Farrar doesn’t want to see anyone else fall victim to a justice system failure so egregious that it turns their life into a mere existence.

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Charles Farrar is a victim of a miscarriage of justice and he is a prisoner. But, he is also thoughtful. He is strong. He is grateful and considerate. And, he is a husband and a father whose family just wants him back home to begin healing the pain of the many years they’ve spent apart and to begin creating memories of a new one.

Having exhausted his state legal remedies, Farrar has few options remaining to regain his freedom. Johnson has appealed a denial of habeas corpus to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and has petitioned Governor Hickenlooper for executive clemency. The hope is that the Governor will grant either a pardon or commutation of Farrar’s sentence to time served, releasing Farrar from prison.

- Laura Fischer