This weekend, Iâ€™m preparing for an
I could be harmed in prison, but that certainly could have happened to me while in
The cruelty of prison rests in locking up people who are often already feeling remorse and low self-esteem because of past actions and then heaping upon them more reasons to feel badly about themselves and allowing almost no means to improve their situation. Parents separated from their children, feeling that theyâ€™ve screwed up their lives, are often snarled at by counselors and guards who say they should have thought about their loved ones before they started causing trouble. People whoâ€™ve committed crimes, often nonviolent crimes which they honestly regret, (mainly related to drug use and drug trade), shouldnâ€™t be free to continue harming themselves or others through drug traffic. But why take away every other freedom, and why employ other human beings to act as â€œhuman zookeepers?â€
Iâ€™ve felt somewhat insulated from attacks on self-esteem while in prison. Iâ€™m proud of line-crossings that protest pouring money into the Project ELF nuclear weapon facility in northern
But I do feel troubled because Iâ€™ve been so distanced, in recent years, from some of the poorest people in our country. I need to better understand whatâ€™s happening to them. Am I right when I guess that the media successfully pressures young people in inner cities to consume, to buy, to have brand name this and that? Does this corporate push to buy certain lines of clothing, cosmetics, and cars push people further into an underground economy because they canâ€™t get a stake in the above ground economies after our education system has badly failed them? Thinking of how George Fox, who helped found the Quaker faith, would stand on church pews during sermons and urge people to trod gently over the earth, seeing that of god in everyone, Iâ€™ve nurtured a fantasy related to court rooms. Suppose one were to stand up on a courtroom bench, risk contempt of court, and ask, â€œCould we just take a minute to analyze our setting here with a live graph? How many in this court room are making money in the criminal justice system and how many are â€œthe raw materialâ€ feeding this system? Iâ€™ll bet that the people making money would be, primarily, white and well educated. Theyâ€™re the lawyers, the judges, the courtroom personnel. And Iâ€™ll bet that the people feeding the system, keeping the well paid criminal justice system employees in business, would be African American, Hispanic, and Asian. If convicted, the â€œcriminalsâ€ could find themselves earning 18 cents per hour laboring, within the prison industrial complex, for major
I want to nonviolently defy this system.
In 1988, upon entering the
I managed to occupy the top bunk and, over the next hours, women closest to me were curious and then kindly, asking me how Iâ€™d ended up in the bullpen. We found small ways to be helpful to one another. For instance, I had my â€œweek-at-a-glanceâ€ address book with me which included a small map of the
Major Nick and Sargeant Roy, the officers responsible to run the
One day a woman came into the cell who had been charged with a DUI, driving unde the influence. Her lawyer came to bail her out the next day. As she left, I asked if she could leave behind her newspaper. â€œOh honey,â€ she said, â€œyou all shouldnâ€™t have to read yesterdayâ€™s news. Iâ€™ll get them to send in todayâ€™s paper.â€ I politely said that weâ€™d rather have the old one because when we ran out of toilet paper we used newspaper. As soon as she was outside, she slapped a lawsuit against the prison for failing to respect human rights. As soon as Major Nick learned of it, he stormed into â€œthe bullpen.â€ â€œWhich one of you all bitches in this here bullpen had the nerve to say that we do not GIVE you toilet paper?â€ he bellowed. I expected a chorus of angry responses, but instead heard, â€œMustaâ€™ been Missiles. She thinks sheâ€™s living in some kind of hotel!â€ I was stunned. I felt like a general leading the charge who looks behind, asking, â€œWhere are the troops?â€ Major Nick polled each woman in the cell. â€œHave you EVER had an experience in this bullpen where your needs were not met?!â€ Each woman avowed that Major Nick and Sargeant Roy took good care of them. When my turn came, I listed the items they didnâ€™t supply, told him how awful the slop they fed us had been, complained about the miasmic cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over us, and assured Major Nick that he shouldnâ€™t run a kennel for dogs much less a place where human beings lived.
Hours later, after a glass of kool-aid was spilled on the metal table and we had no paper towel to clean it up, women began shouting, â€œGuard! Guard! We need paper towels.â€ No paper towels arrived. A sticky puddle trickled onto the floor.
Months later, at the
The story has become a metaphor for me. Who had the biggest responsibility, in â€œthe bullpen,â€ to raise her voice? To whom much is given, much is required. When we witness, first hand, serious abuses of fellow human beings, and when we have a chance to raise our voices and perhaps alleviate their afflictions, how can we keep quiet?
In our world, many of us who live in the
My own logic tells me that when US troops â€œcrossed the line,â€ in March 2003, they trespassed into a sovereign country, Iraq, based on the theory and argument that Iraqâ€™s weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to people in the US. Now itâ€™s clear that
The time-honored method of nonviolent civil disobedience has helped swell the numbers of people who clamor for closure of the SOA. In November 2003, 14,000 people processed to the gates of
On Monday, March 29, Iâ€™ll go to Madison, WI to face a one-month jail sentence for refusing to pay a $150 fine after twelve of us walked two feet across the line onto the Navyâ€™s ELF/Trident transmitter site located in the northern woods of Wisconsin. ELF (extremely low-frequency waves) is used to trigger nuclear missiles. The ELF system is also used to trigger Cruise missiles. Cruise missiles were the weapon of choice among war planners as the Shock and Awe campaign against
I felt deep dismay, in
Almost every time Iâ€™ve crossed the border to leave
In his riveting autobiography, From Yale to Jail, (Rose Hill Books, 1993), David Dellinger concludes a chapter entitled â€œPrison Againâ€ with an editorial he published in 1947, after his release from Lewisburg maximum-security penitentiary. Deploring the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dellinger wrote â€œWithout any semblance of a democratic decisionâ€”without even advance notice of what was taking placeâ€”the American people waked up one morning to discover that the United States government had committed one of the worst atrocities in historyâ€¦The sudden murder of 300,000 Japanese is consistent with the ethics of a society which is bringing up millions of its own children in city slums.â€
From previous imprisonment, I recall a world of imprisoned beauty, and yet most of the women I met landed there because of ugly circumstances which they had tried to escape through drug use, drug sales, or both.
Not all peace activists can be part of civil disobedience actions resulting in prison sentences. But for those who can, entering the prisons offers an opportunity to better understand how the once lauded war on poverty has become a war against the poor.
Those of us who â€˜do timeâ€™ for crossing lines at
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vitw.org) is a co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness. (www.vitw.org) 773-784-8065 To learn more about how to become part of efforts to close the SOA, visit www.soaw.org Kathy will also spend time in prison for crossing the line at Project ELF, a US Navy nuclear weapon facility in northern WI which helped fast-track Tomahawk Cruise missiles that attacked Iraq during the Shock and Awe campaign. To learn more about the campaign to shut down Project ELF,