~ from Irwin County Detention Center, by Sr. Megan Rice

photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

[Sr. Megan Rice has been transferred from the Irwin County Detention Center.  You can write to her at: Megan Rice 88101-020, Metropolitan Detention Center, P.O. Box 329002, Brooklyn, NY 11232.]

March 2, 2014
Ocilla, GA

Dear sisters and brothers, united as we are in efforts to transform weapons of war (alá Y-12, etc.) into projects fostering LIFE in all its fullness, restorative of justice, and healing for our planet and for the children…

Surely, our days since January 14, when we departed from Ocilla at 3:00 a.m. to arrive in the Knoxville office of the U.S. Marshall at 10:30 a.m., have been packed with learning experiences. These merit reflection. They even deserve to be communicated as events calling for our shared response.

You can imagine our joy in finding ourselves that day seated in front of or behind each other in a comfortable prisoner transport van, where we could have our first chat since last May 24, 2013 when we first rode from Knox County, TN detention facilities to Ocilla. (Here in Ocilla, Mike, Greg and I have been allowed only tto write to each other over the months.) But the memory of chatting during that one 8-hour drive is truly treasured! Our return here on February 28, 2014 was in separate vans. Now we look forward to your discussions on the merits and objectives of a generously proffered pro bono appeal. I have passed on my hopes to the legal support team, coordinated by the OREPA community. I look forward to Mike’s and Greg’s and to any of your creative suggestions.

As for the other important learning experiences, and in addition to what we heard during both sessions of the sentencing hearing on January 28 and February 18, I can sum them up under the heading “Symptoms: of decaying social structures, created as fallout by the United States’ 70 years of unrestrained violence, caused by violent intentions to engage in violent production, testing, storing, developing and threatening to use even more destructive weapons of mass destruction.” The violence resulting from a culture addicted to profiteering by the nuclear weapons industrial complex (as suggested by J. R. Oppenheimer in 1945), has filtered down into the prisons, where we have been, and are being able to witness and experience violence begetting violence in such cruel behavior engaged in, uncritically, by both administrators and, as victims, by the masses of countless detainees.

Detainees arrive, already abused, to experience overcrowded and botched justice and prison systems, e.g., I saw the needless theft by officials and denial of the use of eye glasses for a significant number of inmates, and the absence of adequate programs for real, creative growth by restorative healing processes. Instead we saw unconscionable neglect of people. Most are held with nothing simply to occupy their hours, days, weeks and months spent “awaiting sentencing,” because of overloaded and overwhelmed courts. I learned first hand of the public’s lowest paid workers and the most understaffed, lowest-budgeted department in a county or district, while a national budget appropriates billions on war machines that no one ever wants to use, but which could be used to contribute to addressing the widespread basic and blatantly urgent social needs.

Instead of engagement in any productive activities beyond inadequate warehousing, clothing and feeding of inmates, officials waste time and tax-payers hard-earned savings by devising, administering and investigating ways to further incriminate, punish and suppress the most vulnerable citizens. As one example of this, I personally received 3 charges for refusing to strip-search, i.e., 1) possession of one paper clip (among my privileged legal papers) after court, and one metal clasp on a paper envelope called “dangerous contraband”, 2) failure to obey lawful rule, and 3) interference with a search – for which I was pronounced guilty, then given 31 days “in lock-down”. My refusal was motivated by my unwillingness to submit to a routine strip search after an interview of an hour in a secured booth with my lawyer, as this would have compromised his integrity; also, by my moral responsibility to resist this unnecessary degradation for any inmate subjected to such rules and demeaning searches. But the written description of my “offense” failed to mention “strip search”, or the implied compromise of a lawyer’s integrity by such a rule. The penalty also included with the 31 days lock-down, denials of phone use and commissary “rights.”

I looked into the charges of my 7 fellow inmates in our lockdown pod of 7 cells side-by-side. Each had 31-day “sentences” for minor “offenses,” like failure to get up when sick or reserving one arthritis pain pill to take at night so the inmate could sleep (designated “hoarding pills”). In some cases offenses were declared “not guilty,” but the inmate still got 8 days added to her previous months in lockdown segregation. This means locked in 23 hours daily with one hour alone in the large, airy day room for exercise and a shower.

I was indeed blessed by hearing these stories and by meeting with a concerned county commissioner of Knox County. She took me on and visited several times to learn what is happening in their jails, and to pledge assurance of advocating for reforms through her elected public office. She immediately effected the return of eye glasses denied by officers on intake. Some had waited for many weeks unable to read. These unknown practices will be investigated by a determined woman politician who is highly motivated to promote locally real reform and oversight with justice and compassion. Well worth our stays in Knox and Blount Counties – where a new policy on jail correspondence by postcard only has just been imposed. Also, the rest of the country now must implement rules that regulate the exorbitant phone costs (while in TN the cost of out-of-state calls remains $13.60 for 10 minute calls). Tis a relief to get back to Georgia where the new regulations are now implemented, with a cap of $.21/min. plus tax on all inmate calls, 15 min. maximum length, however.

What is all this saying about the fallout of violence within this U.S. culture, upon the lives of its citizens – from violence to violence? Or to our call for transformation: of minds and hearts into healing, nonviolent, life-enhancing alternatives to war-making as the psycho-social economic base of our economic and cultural systems?

Our love and deep gratitude to each one, for your vibrant, long-term solidarity in the ways of nonviolence. May we not fear to be, and become, as Francis Lloyd Jr., one of our legal team, reminded me during our sentencing, like “Jesus of Nazareth [who] was called a revolutionary.”

Megan, shcj