A crime victim and perpetrator talk about how their unlikely friendship came to be

Jun 21, 2013

Stephen Watt (right) and Mark Farnham (left) during a recent visit.
Stephen Watt (right) and Mark Farnham (left) during a recent visit.

Restorative justice is an approach to dealing with crime that put the victim of the crime front and center and considers how the offense affected the community, rather than looking at it as an isolated incident. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov has a three part series about restorative justice efforts in Wyoming, starting with a case study. To hear Part 2 of the series click here and for Part 3 of the series click here.

IRINA ZHOROV: Stephen Watt and Mark Farnham are best friends. But it’s a friendship that came out of violent circumstances. She spoke to both of them at the Torrington Medium Correctional Institution, where Farnham is an inmate. In part one of the series, we’ll hear how Watt and Farnham initially crossed paths. 

WATT: I'm Representative Stephen Watt from Rock Springs, WY.

FARNHAM: My name is Mark Farnham, I'm an inmate at the Torrington Medium Security Institution and I'm the man that shot Steve Watt 31 years ago.

WATT: March 18th, 1982. I was a Wyoming State Trooper, 26 years old.

FARNHAM: For me it starts a year or two earlier. I was going to college at the University of Minnesota and I was selling cocaine and was using more than I was selling and I got deeply in debt and I just couldn't get out of debt so I decided to come out to Wyoming to work in the oil fields.  To pay off the debts. The oil fields didn't work out very well. And one day, my rent was due, the tires are bald in the car, and there's no money, and everybody wants their money that I been owing for several years all at the same time. So I decided to go rob a bank.

WATT: On the 18th of March I was assigned to attend a funeral for a Rock Springs city officer's son so as I dressed that morning I decided not to wear my bullet proof vest, something I wore every single day.

FARNHAM: So I robbed the bank to, and when I came out of the bank I was surprised within 10 minutes they had the bank robbery on the AM radio and I thought for sure I was going to be caught.

WATT: While I was having lunch my dispatcher called and told me that there'd been an armed robbery down in Craig Colorado, she gave me a description of the man and told me that a man fitting that description had been seen around the Wyoming/CO state line driving a red sports car.

FARNHAM: I thought I'm going to make it, I'm going to get away, because they had the wrong description of the wrong car.

WATT: And I went South of Rock Spring to look for this red sports car and here come a little brown compact and I decided to stop that vehicle and ask the man if he had seen the bank robber, and it turned out he was the bank robber.

FARNHAM: As soon as he got behind me and turned on his lights I stepped on the brakes immediately, I jumped out, and I shot twice at his head, shot him once in the eye, and the other bullet went to the side of his head, then I walked up the side of his car, and emptied my gun into him and he kicked out at me and I turned around and left him for dead. And I went back to my car.

WATT: That's when I got out of my car and went to the front of my car and drew my gun. My first bullet hit the little metal bar in the center of the head rest and ricocheted down and hit him in the left shoulder which knocked him forward and out of the way of the next 5 bullets which would have hit him in the chest cavity. So my first bullet saved his life.

FARNHAM: I'd been shot and I didn't get far, probably about a mile.

WATT: 3 miles exactly.

FARNHAM: So I wasn't going forward, my car was shot up, I'm not outrunning the police cars and I'm out in the middle of the desert, so I got out, grabbed the money, and I started running across the desert with the gun in my hand and the money. So by this time a number of police agencies started showing up. And I laid in a little gully, it wasn't very deep, probably 12 inches, and I looked down, I had 3 bullets in my gun, there was 5 officers in a semi-circle out maybe 50 yards from me, and behind them there was another 10 or 15 officers and more coming. And I said this is not going to work and I gave up at that point.

WATT: And an ambulance came and got me, of course, so we ended up in the hospital right next to each other with just a curtain between us.

FARNHAM: They took me right to the jail as soon as they took the bullet out. I went to jail.

WATT: They did 8 hours’ worth of surgery on me, sewing everything up, all the bullet holes in my intestines and stomach and cut out part of my liver and took my eye out. So the surgery was 8 hours, I was in intensive care for 3 days, a regular room for 5 days, and then they let me out.

It took me about 2 months to get completely healed up but now I turned into an alcoholic. And I was taking pain killers. And I become addicted to the pain killers, too.

The post-traumatic stress that I suffered from the shooting, I couldn't get past my hatred, and my anger and my bitterness. And the nightmares were awful. It just wore me out. And so I left the Highway Patrol and went to California and became a law enforcement chaplain out there. I'd become a Christian before I went to California. That whole time when I was struggling, drinking and pain killer and hating Mark, my wife said to me I don't know how long I can live in your hatred, Steve. And she told me, why don't you forgive Mark? And I said I have, and she told me I was a liar. And finally I called the Chaplain and I said what's wrong with me? How come I have no joy as a Christian? And he said well why don't you forgive Mark? And I said I did. And he called me a liar and I hung up on him. And a few days later I called him back and he said why don't you just write him a letter and tell him what's on your heart? And I prayed about it. And I just put the pen to a piece of paper and I wrote what I believed God wanted me to write. And the exact words of my letter, I'll never forget them, were Mark I don't wish you pain by sending these to you, I just want to share my joy with you. If you haven't already, won't you join me in Christ love and the Christian family. And I signed my name and I shipped it off.

FARNHAM: It was a big shock first. I was glad to hear from him. In fact Steve will tell you that my first letter back was 17 pages long.

WATT: 18.

FARNHAM: Ok. [laughs] So, we started corresponding. We corresponded for 9 months and…

WATT: I had left California and come back to Wyoming and I was traveling around sharing my story in churches. Well, the Methodist minister called me up and said there is a Christian revival down in Rawlins, do you want to go? The guy that shot you will be there. And I said absolutely not, I'm not ready for this. And then all of a sudden I went, uhhh, oh man, I can't take this feeling, yeah, I'll go, and it was like God lifted that weight off of me. Then we went into the prison, I walked into the gymnasium, and the door opened on the other side, the inmates walked in, and there was Mark.

FARNHAM: I went up to shake his hand. And he gave me this big bear hug. So we talked for about an hour at that revival. And then after that we continued to write and I put Steve on my visiting list and his kids grew up in the visiting room coming to see me. For a while I was at the Honor Farm and they would bring picnic baskets up there and...

WATT: We'd have barbecues.

FARNHAM: Barbecues. One of the strange things I think about this relationship is the normalcy. When he comes to spend time with or when we write letters or when we talk on the phone or we work on projects together, the first thing that we think about is not the shooting that day. We think about whatever's at hand at that moment, that project, whatever we're working on.

WATT: Or the future.

FARNHAM: Or the future, yeah. Love is absolutely at the center. Christ is at the center. Shared values. Compassion.

WATT: Political views.

FARNHAM: Oh no. See, Steve is a little to the right of Genghis Kahn for you Republicans out there. I'm a little to the left of Obama.

WATT: But yeah, I've gotten more out of this than probably, I think, Mark has.