I’d never been in a federal courtroom until this time last week when I wanted to “feel” Jackie McConnell become a felon after over 30 years of systematic and relentless horse abuse. Also watching and seated on the row in front of me was a great horseman -- Nathanael Jackson – who I deeply respect for three reasons.
A wonderful character with keen insight, Nathanael was a combat medic for two tours back in the heat of Viet Nam and saved a lot of American lives in the midst of battlefield firefights. Because he abhors pain and misery, he is also a wonderful advocate of the Tennessee Walking Horse. He has been fearlessly working for years to end the way some of these magnificent horses are cruelly tortured and abused so he’s a saint in that regard as well.
But what you need to know most is that the delightful Nathanael is a black man, or “brother” as you’ll soon see. I was very moved when I saw another defendant sentenced last week, the pitiful Jeff Dockery, who is also black. I’d bet my life that Jeff, gaunt and haggard, has been sorely abused during his lifetime and watching Jeff take a fall on orders from McConnell was almost as revolting to me as the infamous video tape that revealed to the entire world that Jackie McConnell is very much a sadistic criminal.
McConnell will answer state charges for the tape today in a West Tennessee courtroom (Fayette County Courthouse, Collierville) which is just and good, but so will Jeff Dockery, among others, and therein lies the rub. You see, Nathanael Jackson is every bit as certain as I am that Jeff had no choice in the doing Jackie’s heinous biding.
There is a great magazine called “Chronicle of the Horse” and sometime last week my black Viet Nam hero (Nathanael) wrote a blog about the black stable hand, Jeff Dockery. There is no way my eyes could see what Nathanael’s saw so what follows is Mr. Jackson’s narrative with slight editing:
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From the Blog of Nathanael Jackson:
For those who watched the videos, there was a “brother,” Jeff Dockery on the tape, his famous appearance was him sitting in a chair with a baseball cap on saying “I ain’t going to jail for no Jackie!”
I watched this man, and talked to him after his sentence, and as a black man I must tell you what I know. First, I did not create this scenario, nor did I have any knowledge or involvement with the way things played out here, but I can bear witness to what I know as a black man who went through the Civil Rights era.
Jeffrey Dockery, 52 years old, is a dark, life-worn man about 5’5", his face is well worn with hard labor and little medical care. He has next to no teeth in his mouth, is very soft spoken and obviously very subservient in the presence of white people.
He was attended to by his black attorney, an elderly mother-looking woman and a brother. Other than myself, we were the only people-of-color in that court that I could see. He was the first to be called into the court well. Jeffery had his Sunday best on, a pair of clean, but worn jeans, shirt, humble shoes.
Immediately my heart started to race, as I had a real-time premonition that I “knew” this man! Just as quickly I realized he was the very presence of many men I have known in my life from childhood. Men, I sat at their sides and listened to their stories and testimonies of growing up in the South as a black man, their families, the experiences both bad and sad to belly laughs.
I could tell Jeff was not an educated man, just guessing he may have had a few years if any in elementary school. The lady, with a well-worn blue summer dress showed years of hard labor, raising probably a large family just eking by. I thought of my Mama Becky and the videotape interview she gave me of her life not long before she passed on to Glory. (I must go dig that out and watch it, I haven’t seen it since I made it.)
A myriad of emotions, images, smells, sounds bounced in and out of my head as I tried to pay attention to the proceedings, some made me want to smile and some cry.
Jeff stated he had worked for Jackie McConnell for over 30 non-stop years. Meaning he was 24 when he became a stable groom, for those who are not familiar with the industry, that would be the person that handles the horses, with cleaning them, grooming, feeding, exercising, and cleaning their stalls, very hard manual labor, and at all times dangerous as you are working with a horse over 1,000 pounds. Many a groom has been hurt by horses. I’m pretty confident some may have been lamed for life or even died.
On the video you will see (Jeff) several times handling horses from dragging them out of the stall to holding them while they were being sored, or stewarded. After 30 years, Jeff did not look like he has been on any medical plans, and definitely no dental plan or care. I wondered how many teeth he had before he went to work for Jackie.
I hated to see what Jeff did, but I could not help think of the pressure to do what they were told to do or be fired. I felt for the brother. Now here is ol’ “Massa Jackie,” always telling Jeff how lucky he was to be working for him and how much he liked him and took care of him and his family. The court records said Jackie had assets in excess of $2.2 million dollars.
In 2006 Jackie got busted big time for soring and was sentenced by the USDA to 5 years’ federal probation, meaning:
* -- He cannot train or handle anybody’s horse except his own.
* -- He could not transport any horses anywhere,
* -- He could not assist in the training or handling of any horse,
* -- And, if he went to a show he could only sit in the bleachers as a spectator.
NOTE: This was to last for 5 years unsupervised, unmonitored.
So what does this man do? He takes his trusty ol’ stable groom of 30 years -- good ol’ boy Jeff -- and now makes him a trainer (on paper). Jackie pays the $250.00 trainer’s license fee, vouches for (Jeff) as character and personal reference.
THEN! He continues training horses, loads them up on a trailer and transports them using the other defendant Joseph Abernathy, who is a white horse-shoer by trade, he’s probably a few more grades educated than Jeff, has him transport horses that he (Abernathy) knows are sore and takes them to the horse shows for Jackie.
Then he has them enter the horses under Jeff’s name as trainer and then sits back and watches them perform, no loss of revenue from the customers and everybody is happy. Do I really need to go into the injustices here? Can you draw your own conclusion without my help? Now both these boys stand before the court -- their lives changed forever.
I hope the word gets out to the other brothers out there under similar situations, but then what do they do for income to support their families? They use a lot of Mexicans too, but as shameful as it is for me to say it, it is true, they pack light, and are gone, gone, gone, before someone could hang up a phone.
This part is hard for me to say, but it was important that these two boys got busted with Jackie, important for the cause, for the message is this:
From the lowliest stable groom, hardest-working horse shoer to a Hall of Fame Big Trainer -- black and white -- you all need to beware. We know now how to stack you up, how to gut your whole operation and, in the state of Tennessee, make you a felon and put you in jail.
I know there’s a brother in there named “Skillet” who is dying to meet cha!”