Judge Joseph Wood grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s as one of seven children who grew up in the Wingate Section of Arkansas’ Arkadelphia.
His mother worked at several different jobs, but was often unable to make ends meet, as she lost her job several times during his childhood, according to a biography published by his campaign.
His mother came from a long line of coal miners and farmers, but his grandmother, who lived on a farm, worked in local saloons, and he saw her often as a teenager.
“She would tell me to look in her eyes and I could tell there were no signs of pain or of an acute sadness that I had never seen in others before,” he told the Arkansas Democratic Party last week.
In all, he said he went through two foster homes during his childhood, and lived in an orphanage in Godfrey with a young girl he will never forget.
“That young girl sat at my feet and taught me what true joy meant,” he told the party. “She truly believed that life could be all about love. The second-grade classroom she helped teach me was not only competitive, but she instructed her students in the basics of how to deal with life on her farm in Godfrey: to handle victory and defeat as people learn from experiences, and to always be grateful for the help of others.”
But his mother was always at the center of his life, he said.
Wood recalled how in his early 20s, he entered a life of crime, including selling drugs and stealing from pawn shops and supermarkets, according to the biography. It’s something he says he regretted for many years.
“This life that was totally controlled by me, that I did things that devastated a good portion of my family, that has grown in all three of my marriages to five different people,” he said. “It is only in the last five or six years where I have come to realize that these adult acts were not just mistakes, but truly the worst thing that I could have done to myself or to anyone close to me.”
A year later, a judge freed him from prison, and for the first time, a change in his life started, he said. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves and then went to serve in Vietnam.
He returned home and had to balance his desire to continue his education with his father’s insistence he give up his dream of going to college and become a lumber mill operator. Wood eventually started a business that made custom bass fishing cabinets, and also received his law degree.
He was elected to Arkansas State Penitentiary in 1996, and has served as an attorney and a state court district judge. He was elected to a court that covers Benton and Pulaski counties, and is currently presiding over his court.
Wood’s political career started in 2006, when he ran for the Arkansas state House of Representatives.
He is one of four people running for lieutenant governor, along with congressional candidates Toni Cobb and Kesha Rogers, and former state Sen. Warren Petersen.
The Democrat said that as a judge, he has seen the suffering of many of his constituents, such as families struggling to keep food on the table and those hurting from the prison system’s backlog of criminal cases.
“I also see a lifetime of behavior that has led to it, and a life in which you cannot see the line between right and wrong — only what it is worth,” he said. “What does that person need and how could they get it, where would they go, and what do they need to do for the price? Now, one thing is certain: ‘There is no such thing as free money, free information, or free will,’ as I often like to tell my judges.”
Wood said he wants Arkansas to send a strong message to Washington that is that the state of Arkansas is “here to stay” and that Democrats are here to be the minority party for a long time.
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