A celebration focused on healing the past is being planned for Phillip Jackson, convicted 30 years ago for setting fire to the Haines school - a crime to which another man confessed last month.
"Anytime anything happens in the community, it affects everyone. The school fire was such a traumatic event that affected everyone," said George Mark, who along with Heather Lende is planning the celebration, set for 2 p.m. Nov. 24 at the ANB Hall.
"For all these years, people believed Phillip committed this dastardly deed. He served his time, and has had to deal with it every day of his life, but now it's time for the community to say (we're) sorry this happened."
The event will feature music, a performance by the Gei-Sun Dancers, singing and poetry readings, and will be highlighted by the presentation of a "Basket of Love" and Haines High School letterman's jacket to Jackson. Local and state proclamations declaring Nov. 24 "Phillip Jackson Day" also are expected, as is the creation of a permanent honor in Haines for Jackson. Mark said all Haines residents are invited to write a "Basket of Love" message expressing their thoughts and feelings to Jackson.
A reception with cake and refreshments is planned following the program.
"We want this to be a positive, happy day for Phillip," Lende said. "He's a nice guy who had a bad thing happen, and we want him to know that he can walk with his head up now."
Jackson already is walking taller. He said the feedback he's received since the story revealing his apparent innocence went public has been positive. "People say, 'It's so sad that a person like you had to go through a thing like that.'"
Jackson said a Juneau lawyer has offered to work for free in filing his claim for exoneration with the state, "so there will be no red tag on me anywhere."
Another attorney is working on a petition to have Jackson's gillnet permit reinstated, in addition to asking the state to award him a boat and gear that would get him back to the fishing grounds. The permit lapsed while Jackson was jailed.
"I should get back something I was forced to give away," he said.
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