I’m Jacob Agnew and I’m the pastor of the First Christian Church on Live Oak Way just east of the roundabout with the stature of General Robert E. Lee. I’ve been here going on forty years. I came here as the interim pastor in 1978 when I was 31, and I never left. These are good people, but those who’ve been here their whole lives were scared of the Beckworths. The Beckworth family has run Joshua Creek for 200 years. You need to be related to them, hired by them, appointed by them, or wealthy. If you aren’t, you are fair game to the way they run things.
I was born not too far from here. My Daddy was a sharecropper on Beckworth land back in the ’50s, so I've seen plenty in my seventy-two years.
People used to ask me how I like it here? I was always honest. I told them, if I didn't live here, I wouldn't move here.
But, that’s all changed now. So settle down with your book, because I’ve got a story to tell y’all. It’s a story about healing, redemption, and the God of second chances.
Sure enough, God decided He’d finally had enough and He brought Laura Wayland and Stone Whitcomb to Joshua Creek. Let me tell you how it all happened.
* * *
They say history repeats itself. It’s my guess Judge Avery Beckworth is cut from the same cloth as his great, great granddaddy. He is the fourth in a long, proud line of racists and bigots. He puts, what he calls, “poor white trash” in the same category as blacks and dislikes them equally. He is the senior elder at the Joshua Creek Baptist Church. You can find him in the second pew every Sunday morning, making sure the pastor is preaching the Gospel according to the Beckworths.
About a month and a half before Stone arrived, a pretty young thing named Laura Wayland came to Joshua Creek. The story is she was running from bad relationships and wanted to start a new life. I can tell you after being here for nearly forty years if you want to start a new life you don’t come to Joshua Creek, especially if you are poor. She told me she searched for a job for three days… store clerk, waiting tables, cleaning toilets. She didn’t care. She just desperately needed a job. She had some cash and some savings in a bank in Nashville.
On the afternoon of her third day in town, she got a job stocking shelves at Walmart. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. It was late evening when she found out. So she decided to look for an apartment the next day and sleep in her car in the parking lot. Around one a loud bang on the driver’s side window woke her up.
She said the deputy asked her to step out of the car and then he pushed her against the hood and told her to stretch out spread eagle. She said he frisked her in a very unprofessional way that brought back everything she'd been running from her whole life. When he put his hand between her legs, she screamed, turned, and slapped him. He pushed her to the ground, threatened her, and put her in handcuffs. He read Laura her rights at the police station, and when she asked to make a phone call, the deputy said, “Phone don’t work,” and went out and shut the door. Later, she saw a deputy using the phone and knew for a fact that it was a lie.
The next morning she sat alone at a table in the Municipal Building courtroom in Joshua Creek, Mississippi, awaiting her hearing.
The charge was loitering and assaulting a police officer. She’d moved to Joshua Creek thinking it would be a place to get her life together, find a job, and maybe finish her education. The reality of life in Joshua Creek shocked her.
You can tell Judge Beckworth eats well. He waddled into the courtroom swaying from side to side as he walked. He wore a judicial robe he couldn’t fasten.
“I declare the Municipal Court back in session. Y’all take your seats. The last case today is transient loitering and assaulting a police officer in violation of city code 214-3 and State of Mississippi Code 412-4b. Miss Waylon, will you please approach the bench.
“Your honor, it’s Wayland, not Waylon.”
“Wayland, Waylon, it doesn’t matter. How do you plead?”
“I’m not guilty, your Honor. I got a job at Walmart. It was late afternoon and…”
“Miss Wayland, did you or did you not sleep in your car? Yes or no?”
“Yes, your Honor, but…” the gavel banged, and the discussion was over.
“Young lady, one more word and I’ll add two more weeks to your sentence. Now did you or did you not slap a Joshua Creek police officer?”
She said, “Yes.” She wanted to defend herself, but there seemed to be little point to it.
“Now the fine for loitering is $200 or thirty days in jail, and the court costs and administrative fees are another $175. That makes $375. I will let the slapping of a police officer slide. Bart can get a little frisky. How do you wish to pay? Cash. Cash. Or cash?”
“Your Honor, I’ve got the money, but not in cash. But, it seems like a lot of money for one little mistake.”
“Missy, I told you not another word. And now you’ve done it. You are in contempt of court, and that will be fourteen more days. You’ve got twenty-four hours to come up with the cash, and if you don’t, we move you to the county jail.”
“Your Honor, I’m not arguing. I’m just trying to explain I have the money in my bank in Nashville, but there is no way they can wire it before the bank closes.”
“Miss Wayland that is not my problem. The law is the law. I didn’t write it, I just enforce. So let’s finish up. How much money do you have?”
“Your Honor, I’ve got a little under $100 in my purse.”
“Okay, so let’s do the math. The fine is $375. You’ve got $100, so that leaves $275. At ten dollars a day that means you will pay your fine after 27 days in jail and then we’ve got 14 days for Contempt of Court. That makes your sentence 41 days in jail. In Beckworth County, inmates pay for the food. The cost is $25 a day.” Laura gasped in disbelief. “But you can work off the payment for your meals by working for the City of Joshua Creek.
Now, your car will be in the impound lot,” which was, in reality, a parking space behind City Hall, “for 41 days at ten dollars a day. After your release, you have 30 days to reclaim it. Each day it remains is an additional ten dollars. After 30 days we put a lien on the title. If you don’t pay the fine in 60 days, we sell it. Case dismissed.” He could see her raise her hand. And added, “One word and I’ll add another 30 days.”
They led her away as tears rolled down to her chin. What had just happened? How could something like this ever happen?
* * *
So in less than four months, she had gone from a budding singing career with an agent to not even having her guitar. It was in her car, wherever the car might be. At least she knew she’d be able to pay the impound lot fee immediately upon release. She thought, “Why Lord, did I ever come to this place?”