From the January 2010 Idaho Observer:
This inspirational piece was written by Darrell van Mastrigt, editor of the Innocence Denied newsletter; a venue for allowing exposure, publicity, and support for individuals who are wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.
On September 19, 2009, we all lost a valuable ally for truth. Don Harkins was the founder, editor and publisher for the Idaho Observer. Many of our readers knew Don personally and realized that “NO MATTER WHAT” he would be our friend, supporter and inspiration to fight against the power of government misuses to wrongfully convict and maintain the illegal imprisonment of innocent people. He was a true advocate for truth and justice. His voice was always a beacon of light giving gentle guidance to so many on the waves of our stormy night.
Don was also much more than a friend. I met him and his wife, Ingri Cassel, through letters before the first issue of ID [Innocence Denied] was published over sIx years ago. I was reeling from legal defeats in the courts and losing hope that I would ever find anyone willing to help me prove my innocence. A form letter had been sent to hundreds of addresses and one of the few responses was from Ingri.
She wrote me a short note of inspiration, sent me a copy of the Idaho Observer, and told me Don would be writing me soon. Within a week, Don wrote me and said he would print my letter in his publication. He understood the plight of the innocent in America’s prisons and encouraged me not to give up because things have to get better. His enthusiasm, determination, and belief in activism was infectious. His ability to grasp the truth of a situation, and make people believe it could be changed, set my course as editor of ID. Over the years, through many letters, he has been a mentor, advisor and most impressively, a true friend who never asked or sought anything for his friendship. His wisdom, compassion and faith in the goodness of people impacted me greatly. His selfless giving of himself for the benefit of others became a goal I hoped to realize in myself.
Don was an amazing writer and person. He could see through the lies, propaganda and misdirection of those who maintain their temporary power and oppression over others through deception, trickery and ploys to keep us all ignorant and uninformed. He understood that when people are shown the truth, they are also shown freedom as it was meant to be. He had faith in truth and freedom which always led him to care so deeply for every fellow human being he met in his life. That is why he was such a strong supporter and advocate for the wrongfully convicted. From our beginnings, he supported and helped ID (and me) in ways that went beyond friendship. I found in Don a kindred spirit always seeking truth, wisdom and ways to effect real positive change.
In his last letter to me, he shared where his peace and harmony came from in such a chaotic and troubled world. Love. Ingri balanced Don’s life with love as his soul mate, comfort, joy and inspiration to never give up on others as he told me, “I’m a sucker for love.” His love for Ingri blossomed out to everyone else in his life. He couldn’t contain his need to make everyone else’s life around him as full of love as his own. Don’s spirit will live through everyone he has touched in life because it was full of love. Love for Ingri. Love for truth. Love for justice. Love for us. His words made me wonder if an advocate is stronger by fighting out of love for those he is fighting for or by hatred towards those he is fighting against. Seeing, hearing and feeling the impact Don has had in my life, and for so many others, has given me the answer.
Hatred burns strong and hot until there is nothing left. Love sustains through good and bad while growing stronger over time. Love never gives up and it never loses hope because it is always needed. Don fought with love because it made him stronger. His body may no longer be with us but his love endures, inspires and continues through Ingri and everyone else he has touched in his life. Don’s spirit is in you and me always. That is strength. That is truth. That is real. NO MATTER WHAT!
Many of our readers who have met Don and me noted that it was clear we had a solid marriage as demonstrated by how we expressed ourselves to one another. When Don wrote his Editor’s Desk column in the April 20, 2006 edition of The I.O., we had been lamenting how many single people we knew who wanted desperately to be matched up with their “right” partner. Don always had a way of penning his thoughts and feelings in a way that touched people deeply so he decided to express his views on why our relationship worked so well. Below was his “Epiphany #2” in his column:
“The second epiphany came later that evening when Ingri and I were acknowledging how some of our very good friends, who truly want mates, are destined to grow old alone. We are so happy together and find our marriage so rewarding that the thought of our friends being alone makes us very sad.
“I then recalled a lesson that my big, beautiful white dog Harper taught me in my early 20s. Harper was a Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd cross who looked like a baby harp seal when she was a pup. By her second birthday I could not keep her inside a fence. Every night she would go over it, under it or through it, go down to the Spokane River, enjoy herself thoroughly and be curled up asleep on the front porch in the morning. For a while I punished her. In frustration one day I really beat her. And she just took it because she loved me unconditionally. I then realized that there was no amount of pain that I could inflict upon her that would discourage her from going down to the river at night and that I was punishing her for my ‘pleasure.’
“So, I spent the next 10 years mending fences in an ongoing attempt to keep her in the yard and she spent the next 10 years overcoming then to get down to the river.
“Harper taught me that our choice in relationships is to unconditionally endure (respect, appreciate) those we love, or remove them from our lives; punishing others for not doing what we want serves only to undermine the foundation of relationships: Trust and respect.
“Ingri and I love and trust each other so much that we are willing to accept our myriad faults and idiosyncrasies to enjoy the unequalled pleasure of each other’s company. We have no desire to mold the other into something more tolerable; we adjust our own behavior to accommodate each other’s quirks, habits, strengths and weaknesses. I love to make her happy and she lives to make me happy. Because of that, we are continually affirming (rather than undermining) our trust and respect for one another which means we are always comfortable being in each other’s presence—at home and everywhere we go. Even when we are apart, there is no cause for doubting our faith and trust in each other.
“Our friends who are alone in spite of seriously wanting to find a spouse have in common the desire to find someone who can be taught to conform to their idea of a perfect partner—which is exactly the wrong approach to achieving rewarding and lasting relationships based upon mutual trust and respect. … In epiphany #2, I realized that the best way to destroy interpersonal relationships is to force our will on others. So, the grand epiphany …is this: Whether or not the world and the people who depend on us are blessed or cursed by our existence is determined by how we treat them—not by how they treat us.”
Although the 10 years of marriage that Don and I had together were the happiest years of my life, and I am still grieving the loss of my real partner to the spiritual realms, the experience has allowed me to receive many spiritual beacons of light from our subscribers and supporters that I would have “missed”. Both Orlando Mora and Diana May have encouraged me to read Psalm 91 daily. Diana May sent me a copy of a chapter in Emmett Fox’s book, Power Through Constructive Thinking, in which he details the true meaning and power of each verse of Psalm 91. My deep appreciation and love goes to both Diana and Orlando for bringing this powerful prayer into my life. And thank you to all of our readers and friends for their many prayers of support and spiritual wisdom.
No Matter What, DWH & Ingri Cassel-Harkins