Thank you for your letters, your prayers, the books you have sent. Thanks for maintaining contact with me.
I arrived at the federal prison here in California, flown in with 29 other women from Pahrump, Nevada. We had been woken up at midnight to get ready to leave, and had been in shackles and waistchain restraints and cuffs since about 3 am. Although I had been trying to be indifferent about where I’d be living for the next year, I was thankful to end up at FCI Dublin.
Now, almost a month later, I am somewhat settled. I am teaching ESL, my boss is friendly, the students interested in learning. My roommates are very kind to me. They invited me into their room because they had a lower bunk empty, and I had been given an upper bunk originally. I am in the prison orchestra learning to play the clarinet. The next concert is July 4. You can imagine what the music includes. How ironic. I’m reminded of a conversation with Bob Aldridge, where he was explaining how scientists work on a small part of the D-5 missile, and see it as solving a puzzle, or finding a solution, and are so intrigued and involved in that small part, that they don’t think about the missile as a whole, and that it carries nuclear warheads.
And so here I am, playing this or that note, counting the rhythm, listening to the big sound around me, and playing music that evokes the jingoistic emotions of military Empire. At least I have a chance to talk to others about how I feel. And almost every day I’ve had a chance to talk about our witness at the Trident Naval base, or war and the economics of war… or nuclear weapons.
Actually, the prison is similar to SWFPAC, where the warheads are stockpiled. Both have a big double fence all around, both have a shoot to kill zone all around, both have floodlights that take away the night, and both exist on the pretext of keeping people safe.
When I got here I went over to the chapel, and was surprised to see that a watercolor that I had painted is still framed and hanging on the wall in the hallway. It’s a picture of the swords into plowshares logo, with a rainbow background, and the words of Isaiah 2:4.
In a discussion with one of the staff here, it was suggested that the prisons today are a worse crime than any committed by any of the women here. I was really struck by that statement… especially coming from one of the staff. A few days later, I found a copy of Church and Society, where the full quote of George Bernard Saw is cited:
Imprisonment as it exists today is a worse crime than any of those committed by its victims; for no single criminal can be as powerful for evil, or as unrestrained in its exercise, as an organized nation. Therefore, if any person is addressing himself to the perusal of this dreadful subject in the spirit of a philanthropist bent on reforming a necessary and beneficent public institution, I bed him to go about some other business. It is just such reformers who have in the past made the neglect, oppression, corruption, and physical torture of the old common gaol the pretext for transforming it into that diabolical den of torment, mischief, and damnation, the modern model prison.
(George Bernard Shaw, The Crime of Imprisonment)
Here in the education building, where I work, there’s a sign on the wall that says that the “mission of the Federal Bureau of Prisons is to protect society by confining offenders…”
The myth is that you are safe because we are here, just like the myth that we as a nation are safe because we have hundreds of nuclear weapons ready to use.
Professional people come in groups to tour the prison. I always feel objectified, and although I would like to walk up and talk to them, I know that my comments are likely to get me a ticket to the SHU. These visitors see what looks like a college campus, a big oval grassy area, surrounded by a circular walkway, which has different buildings on the edges. A few trees, some geese on the grass, women walking on the pathways, talking and laughing, walking with purpose to get where they are going.
What they don’t see, though, are the toothaches, the untreated breast lumps, the injustice behind the sentences, the offhand power trip of one of the staff. They don’t see the children who are growing up without their moms, or the families that are split apart by forced deportation. (That is inevitable and comes after the prison term is over.) They don’t see the funerals that are missed, the weddings, and the graduations not attended. They don’t see the disempowerment that happens day after day. More, they don’t see the kindness, compassion, concern and goodness that is in the hearts of the women here. Many of the staff here see the human face of the people they serve, and act with compassion – which is a real challenge in a bureaucracy.
The news of how Bix was transported to Tennessee, the conditions the Y-12 resisters endured in the local county jail, the suffering Jackie experienced, has brought me to tears. I am so thankful to Joe Power-Drutis and all who are doing so much support, all who made phone calls, leaned on friends, and kept the prayer candles lit. In talking with friends here, I hear many similar stories, but people didn’t have any outside help. I am thankful for all of you.
I’ve been reflecting on these three things:
- No life is worth less than another, whether a prisoner or a person under U.S. military attack.
- We can hold joy and grief in our hearts at the same time.
- I’m where I should be – sometimes all we can do is listen to those around us and try to tell the truth.