Spoiler Alert: If you’d rather wait to learn more about the procedural around the arson cases explored in Little Hope Was Arson, we recommend saving this piece for right after you watch the film, which premieres tonight, Monday, April 6 on Independent Lens at 10pm (check local listings).
It’s been four years since Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister were convicted of the serial arsons that destroyed 10 East Texas churches. On the eve of the premiere of Little Hope Was Arson, which recounts the manhunt that eventually led to their arrests, we wanted to follow-up with both men to gain their perspectives on the crimes, and whether their attitudes have changed since participating in the film. One of the pair, Jason, wrote back (Daniel McAllister has not chosen to respond as of the time of this publication).
We have excerpted some of the most fascinating passages from Jason’s letter below, but are also including the letter in its entirety as a PDF file at the bottom of this post.
[Editor’s Note: Jason’s words are entirely his perspective and do not reflect the views of Independent Lens, the filmmakers, or those featured in the film.]
On how his family is doing:
“My mother is still working at Hideaway where she has been now for a few years. She is working on buying a house and my sister is living with her. She did not like doing the interview. She is nervous on camera and felt she was a poor speaker. She did not want to do the interview at all, but chose to anyway to show her love and support for me and my family.
“One person very important to me who was left out of the documentary because he was out of state is my brother Justin. He is two years younger than me and was partially raised in Kansas by our other grandfather. He has since moved to Lindale with my mother and sister. He visits often. My family rotates to meet the two person weekly visit limit, but I get to see someone every week.
“Ironically, Justin recently saved a family of 5 from a house fire. He was on his way to work very early one morning and noticed a house ablaze. He started knocking and yelling while calling 9-1-1 and woke them up only moments before they would have died of smoke inhalation.”
On how it makes him feel that many of the pastors of the church he set on fire have said they would welcome him into their congregations:
“I am happy most of the pastors were so kind and forgiving. I would love to visit them and apologize in person. The responses they wrote to my apology letters were all loving. I regularly correspond with the Church of Christ, Scientists and they have by far been the most helpful. (I also want to remind everyone the Church of Christ, Scientist is a Protestant denomination and not related to the crazy SCAM/cult of Scientology.”
On what he’s doing while incarcerated, and his mental health these days:
“I have worked very hard to improve myself despite the limitations in place by the prison. I am halfway finished with a course in personal psychological development. I have read numerous books on psychology and spiritual improvement, self-help, and prayer/meditation. I am also taking college classes and correspondence courses. The programs in place by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are very limited especially in the areas of counseling and health care. The mental health professionals’ primary concern is not rehabilitating but cost-cutting.
“I was removed from antidepressants without warning despite the fact that suddenly stopping that type of medication is proven to be dangerous and should be gradually reduced… I have found it easier to work with churches and colleges through correspondence courses to improve myself. And I have improved. I am generally cheerful, calm, and confident and I was not any of those a couple of years ago.
“The most important thing I have learned from my experiences is to accept and forgive others, but never lower your own standards to theirs.”
We also asked him: You said in the film you didn’t have a motive for the arson. Do you still feel that way?
“My motive for the arsons was robbery. I have said it before but I don’t know that I have made everything completely clear in writing so I will try here. We targeted churches because they had low-security, and were empty consistently at night and during most days. There was no religious motivation; they were just [an] easy target.
“‘Why burn them?’ you ask. That is where the medication, drugs, and clouded thinking comes in. Firstly, I want to emphasize that I would not even have been robbing them if I had not had extremely impaired judgement from [pharmaceuticals], but because I was it seemed reasonable at the time not only to rob them but to burn them in order to cover any evidence. How do I know I wouldn’t have? Simply look at my behavior the years prior to taking Chantix or even months prior. I was depressed but behaving like any 18-20 year old. I was dating, working, going to college. Even when I experimented with marijuana for my depression I continued to work and go to school without incident.
“That is why I know Chantix was the primary factor. As soon as I started taking it [impulsively], irrational and even dangerous acts started floating in and out of my head and seemed reasonable. Suddenly I was shoplifting, breaking into cars and later abandoned or unfinished houses and churches. This all occurred in a period of less than 3 months… My doctor should not have prescribed me Chantix to stop smoking cigarettes because he knew I was on Prozac, an antidepressant that should never be combined with Chantix. He was also aware that I smoked marijuana and the effects of Chantix are untesed with [Cannabinoids]. I do not blame him though because I should have investigated it myself before taking it.”
On his sentence and the judicial system:
“I have heard a lot of forgiving words from the churches, congregations, community at large and all I am asking for now is the second chance I believe everyone deserves. I have served 5 years day for day and learned a lot about life and responsibility.
“Finally I feel like I need to apologize again to everyone I hurt and scared committing these crimes. I would name them all if I could but there are too many people I let down, from my teacher, friends, and family, to the community at large. I am truly, truly, truly, sorry for all that I have done!”