- The Richard Watkinson Story -

For most, teenage angst is like a sacred rite of passage into adulthood. You fight with your parents because they don’t like the clothes you wear or the music you listen to. They tell you to be home at a certain time and to do your homework. You tell them to screw off. Rebellion is a part of growing up; a cat and mouse game of sneaking around and pushing the limits of independence. But what happens when that rebellion is fueled by extreme betrayal, years of abuse, spiritual brainwashing, and a final fit of explosive rage? In the case of sixteen-year-old Richard Watkinson, it meant one fateful night that would alter the course of his life forever.

Richard Watkinson was a typical American kid growing up with his mother, father, and brother in California. Idolizing his father Robert, a pilot, the young boy reveled in their shared passion for flying and fostering their adventurous spirit sailboat racing and travelling. But the strength of that father-son bond was crushed when his father filed for divorce soon after moving the family to Oregon. Ten-year-old Richard was devastated – unable to comprehend his father’s wicked betrayal of the family. With his bitter and vengeful mother’s help, the love for his father quickly turned to hate. The center of his universe became the center of his scorn.

Consumed by her own hatred and personal issues, his mother was unable to offer him the support and security his confused psyche needed and craved. God would save them she said. God would look after them. They just had to believe and pray – don the armour in the fight against Satan and his army of demons. Ricky would lead the way, with his ‘special gift’ he was ‘Christ’s Little Warrior’.

Darkness, light, light, darkness. With his emotions slammed tight behind an iron wall of resolve, Rick and his lost soul took to the streets, finding comfort and his voice, among the criminals and socially angry young adults. They became his strength. They became his guide. If fences needed to be jumped, things stolen or sabotaged, it was often ‘crazy little Ricky’ who was asked to do the deed. This built confidence, and finally made him feel like he was a part of something again.

Unable to control him, his mother kicks him out of the house. Trapped into coming home, Rick is confronted by his father and given a choice – either come live in Alaska with him and his wife or be dropped off at the police station. Rick chose door number one, the apparent lessor of two evils. With that choice his fate was sealed, and for the next thirteen months, his life in Alaska was a cage match with each party throwing punches; the violence and tension escalating with each round. His only solace was his participation in the Navy JROTC, a place where he found peace and a sense of purpose.

Early in the evening of November 30, 1995 his father informed Rick that because it was interfering with his school, he was pulling him from the Navy JROTC. The first blow landed. After a prolonged argument with his wife, Robert Watkinson informed his sixteen-year-old son that he was to be gone from the house before sunrise the next morning. No money, no plane no ticket back to Oregon, just a kick out the door into the dead of an Alaskan winter. It was more than he could take.

In his own words Rick writes; “This second betrayal was too much. The dam that held back the waters of six years of suppressed emotions broke and I was overwhelmed. In an act, I will always regret, I shot both my father and step-mother”. Never denying his guilt and confessing to the crime, Rick was tried as an adult and sentenced to 160 years in prison.

“Ghost” is the true story of Richard Watkinson, his journey from a tumultuous childhood, to his current stay and personal growth behind the thick steel bars in the Alaska State Penitentiary. Who is this man and what causes a person to cross the boundaries of humanity? Can these events be strictly traced to upbringing and environment, or do some people have an inherent propensity for evil? Is redemption or rehabilitation even possible? Watkinson’s compelling story and subsequent trial and extremely harsh sentencing raise serious questions about society in general, the treatment of minors, and the power of the American justice system.

Stripped down to its core, this is a story of a boy who just wanted to be loved. A boy who just wanted to belong, and be a part of a family, whatever that incarnation of a family might have been. He has spent his entire life searching, testing the different philosophical and ideological strains to find some semblance of who he is.

Faced with the prospect of another 47 years in prison before even a sniff at parole, Watkinson is making the best out of a horrible situation, educating himself, and attempting to be the best person he can be. He is not asking for forgiveness nor is he expecting us to give it. His life is his life, and his mistakes are his mistakes. He cannot change the past or give life to his father and step-mother. He can only move forward, continuing to find the light in a life of darkness.

© 2014/16 /2020 John Coventry