Unrecognized political prisoner:
A Year’s Reflection
Or as Steve Baggarly of the Norfolk Catholic Worker wrote in a letter from jail:
“If the SHU fits…”
Many folks, mostly activists, write to us with this first thought: “Oh, I could never do what you are doing”, meaning either months or maybe years of prison or time in the hole (segregated housing unit – SHU). In one way of course it could be true of the infirm or very inexperienced. It’s not necessarily true of the elders though.
One recent example is Rev. Bill (Bix) Bichsel, S.J., who is in his early 80’s and was thrown in the SHU here at SEATAC for his noncooperation. I was closer in proximity than anyone else, yet it took mail from outside to help me understand that not only was he on my floor, under punishment for noncooperation, but that he was fasting, and his agitating to get medical rights and sufficient bedding had been successful, thanks to the support he has on the outside.
Regarding those who say no-can-do, I feel that some deeper reflection is warranted. If anyone reading this was convinced that the next thing they do could save the life of a friend, a loved one, they’d not hesitate (perhaps not even if it meant participating in a plowshares action). Yet there are some who are simply not convinced that such personal action, either indirectly or directly, could be connected with saving a life.
But I am convinced. Horribly so. Years ago, Phil Berrigan was asked after giving one of his sorely needed, scathing analyses of our demonic participation in omnicide by nukes, “Phil, do you have hope?!”
He replied, without missing a beat, “Got so much hope I can’t stand it.” Love casts out fear, as many uphold. It changes one’s attitude to try.
As I told folks at the 30th anniversary gathering of Nukewatch, Plowshares and the Nuclear Resister held in Tennessee two years ago, recognized or not, we are political prisoners. No official is going to categorize us as such. For love of these people – bureaucrats, correctional officers, fellow prisoners – I must assert that status. This is a constructive way to engage, to interact, to love those many who are tied to institutions and computers, and thus alienated from our human project. The colonization of our mind is at stake. To my thinking, freedom seems more like a verb – if not exercised, it’s abstract. One has to humanize whatever situation they find themselves in. This models personhood, and thus human dignity makes an appeal, heart to heart, psyche to psyche.
They run these places with things in themselves that are good: commissary, phone, visits, good-time credit. All meant for rehabilitation, enculturation, anticipating a prisoner’s return to society. But woe is me, with all the consciousness of 5,000 plus nukes, armaments, and merchants of death being the number one business of U.S. based multi-national corporations. With all the resources at my disposal I can’t communicate why I am a prisoner – not an inmate, but a prisoner of conscience.
So while held as prisoner: no work (what a luxury it would be to help pass the time); no drug/alcohol testing (easy but so off-the-point, plus I’m not going to participate in the degradation of a guard by failing to assert my humanity); no programming (I’m not here to fit back into society, it’s not a resister’s need). This is the third part of the action: jailhouse/prison resistance. The first is the preparation and plowshares action itself. Second, the courtroom – exposing it for being one of the most dangerous rooms of the Pentagon as the judiciary overrules the morality of defenses: Nuremberg, international law, necessity and prevention of crime – genocide.
Given the consequences, woe to me with all my resources and back-up in moral, material and personal support, if I don’t complete the action in resistance all throughout.
Finally, I appeal to the ultimate court of justice, taking refuge in Dorothy Day’s epistemological assessment, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”
I have heart for this because I feel, I know, I’m acting in concert with a community of resisters.
Stephen Kelly, S.J.
P.S. The Nuclear Resister, in its tracking, chronicling, supporting prisoners-of-conscience to nukes and war, deserves our material and constructive support. I’m not alone in saying I’m empowered by this newsletter, which serves as much more than a bulletin board or website. It is us – caring, taking pulse, hearing each other.
[Steve Kelly is due to be released from SEATAC Prison on June 21, after serving 15 months, most of them in the SHU, for the Disarm Now Plowshares action.]