~ from FCI Danbury, by nuclear resister Martha Hennessy, March 10

March 10th Third Wednesday of Lent

by Martha Hennessy

Matthew 5: 17 – 19. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The new law is the completion of the old, not its destruction. The spirit of the law should adhere to moral duty and meet human needs.

“A faith cannot renounce its roots, yet it cannot live without the growth of new branches and leaves.” (The Interpreter’s Bible)

The old law of love must be extended to friend and foe, – God’s clinging to a people extends to all peoples.

Even as we fail in these greater endeavors, mercy and forgiveness are ours. But we must gain a posture of penance, to be the greatest is to be the lowliest.

Dear readers, my apologies for this lecturing tone of admonishment. Prison life frames everything in the negative, a cultural and familial pattern that is so easy to fall into.
I am rereading The Long Loneliness, recently donated to the library.
Dorothy describes Peter’s way of teaching. “Peter made you feel a sense of his mission as soon as you met him. He did not begin by tearing down…he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities…he made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God.”
“The art of human contacts.”
Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq reveals this urgently needed gift. A culture of “harmonious co-existence” has suffered “incalculable harm” as the New York Times reports, after the destruction of Mosul, the third largest city.
The U.S. military bombs the cradle of civilization and our highly regarded journalism can’t help us to face this reality in ourselves.

Iraqi Christians lived in ancient communities even under dictatorship, but could not survive the onslaught of war, followed by Islamic extremism. But there is always hope of rebuilding and reconciliation, as Francis leads us to see.

There is even the possibility, in the city of Jerusalem, for three faiths to recover peaceful co-existence. Abraham had two sons, and Jesus was rooted in his Judaic faith. We are all brothers and sisters in God.

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg writes in Moses: A Human Life about how God uses an inarticulate man to speak to his people. Her utterly breathtaking writing leaves me with such joy and yearning. We are wired for love of God and for each other, but we are such flawed conduits.
Moses attempts to receive and transmit the law, why do we resist and yet desire? We are in the desert, yet our salvation is at hand.
Oh God I want your face but I am incapable of holding it.
As we sit here in prison our words may not be heard by the empire or even some of our own family.

Frida Berrigan writes to me about a letter Dorothy sent to Phil in 1968, giving him love and encouragement for the suffering he is offering up, at a personal cost, for world peace.
Dorothy’s love for the Berrigan Brothers is something we can all hold on to in these times of hard work for justice.
Three months into this prison sentence I struggle to accept “undeserved suffering.” Years of prison time takes from one’s mind, body, and soul. I think of Mumia, a framed Black Panther, still in prison but at least not on death row. He should be walking, a free man, along with Leonard. “Free our Elders” –The Certain Days 2021 Free our Political Prisoners Calendar proclaims this theme for the month of March.

Steve Baggarly of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker, sends a beautiful, powerful letter, describing how the works of mercy there have adapted to the pandemic. He also reviews the history of slavery in the state of Virginia, the first foothold of this despicable industry in the colonies.
It is good to be reminded of the unfathomable levels of torture inflicted on a whole people with the building of the United States empire. Bodies literally folded into the building of such an empire. Similarly, Zornberg describes of Jewish bodies in the Egyptian empire.
The slaves became part of the mud of the Nile, or the Mississippi.

John Dear brings us his 1995 interview with John Lewis, a treasure like Dorothy’s letter to Phil. Lewis was beaten unconscious more than once in his nonviolent efforts to end hatred and bigotry.
There is nothing stronger than love in action, even as it is named “a harsh and dreadful thing” by the Russian writer Dostoevsky.
It is evident here at this prison.
Due to the finding of contraband, (cigarettes and cell phones) we are not allowed recreation time or walks outdoors. A bitter pill for me to swallow, losing the time outside in the fresh air and not getting exercise walking up the long stairs and steep hill.

The last time I was out, I heard robins’ songs, a sure sign of spring.
But our community here is always victorious when we retain our patience and respect for one another despite the harsh, humiliating conditions put upon us.
This coming weekend the days will feel longer with the “spring ahead” of the time change. I hear from my family that the lambs born are thriving and bouncing around, and my grandkids love to see them.
The death and Resurrection come in the spring, when life returns to the dormant trees and bulbs swell under the cold ground. Hosanna in the highest.
In the evenings, to pass the time, I knit and watch TV news. Now it is about the upcoming trial of the Minneapolis policeman who “took a knee” to the neck of a fellow brother, killing him, reinforcing violence and murder as acts of racism are flung int our faces. We know the judicial system should be designed to protect against such hateful action.
We are reminded of the Christian duty to love and cast out fear. To fulfill the law of love. That is the new order, the new way. Plant the seeds, water with redemptive suffering and hold fast to the nonviolence of Jesus.


Holy Week Approaching March 27th, 2021

by Martha Hennessy

The daily penance here is fitting for the season of Lent. Jesus must die for the nation and to bring the dispersed children of God together. The innocent lamb is slaughtered, like the hopes of so many of the women being brought into the prison system.

The Bureau of Prisons has 3.2 million prisoners and an annual budget of $84 billion.

Inmates here are finally being released. Some leave after receiving their second vaccines. For others, their time is up. And there are other reasons. Those who are passed over experience agitation and resentment. The conditions of release and the process to get there vary and are nearly impossible to follow. Information is missing or inaccurate. Anything can happen.
I remain here on an unresolved case in Syracuse, NY, where I protested the use of drones in 2014.
Meanwhile the U.S. has exponentially increased its use of drones to kill.

There is talk of a withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1st. An article in the New York Times discusses the forever wars and our permanent war economy.
Presidential war powers allow bombing anyone at any time, circumventing Congress. The CIA and Special Operations Forces do their local lethal work hidden from the U.S. public.
“Light footprint” warfare, ignoring the U.N. Charter, “preserving regional stability,” maintaining a limitless, unilateral military – is that what democracy looks like?
Pope Francis visited Iraq as a penitent. He spoke of wanting to undertake a walk of penance to give comfort to the suffering. He noted the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq.
Our media has kept the U.S. colossal war crime and Middle East debacle well hidden since the 1990s. ISIS and the dogs of war were called out and sent, as we have done around the globe in the 20th century.
The discussion around withdrawal from Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, has the U.S. mired in economic and moral disaster.

Peace and self-determination are what all people want in their homeland.
Money and resources are needed for the people’s education, housing, health care and environmental issues, not for militaries and ruling elites. The world’s people are so tired of the thievery.
People are now dying in Myanmar, resisting the military takeover of their government. Apparently, the weapons come from Russia and China.
Every warring country has client states around the globe; weaker states are pitted against each other, consuming more weapons.
The UN Security Council gets used in the same way, as a weapon.

Similar maneuvering goes on in here; we imitate the corrupt system and victimize each other. A single cigarette can go for $5. People go into debt to each other, staff makes a killing off of the black market, and inmates take advantage of each other in an exploitative economy. Items get passed down, including craft supplies that should be shared, not sold or exchanged.
For the past month, we have been punished for misconduct when a contraband package was dropped off at the wrong location (the assistant warden’s house).
The wording is “Camp Modified Operations, Due to Misconduct.” An added stand-up count requires us to stand for up to 20 minutes with our BOP ID cards. The Nazis did this to the Jews for hours at a time, forcing some to die on their feet.

My apologies again, dear readers, for the dark writings.
The state of the world is in great disarray.
Mother Earth struggles to maintain the balance.

We have ants in the dorms and people go around with “home guard” insecticide, spraying without asking. Even the chemicals used for cleaning take my breath away. I try to move away from them.
There is a massive insect die off going on in the natural world, with grave implications in the food chain. Many people are terrified by the sight of insects.
We have a walking group, the configuration of which changes as inmates come and go. We encourage each other to walk, and we are up to two miles in a day now.
Today, Palm Sunday, it is windy and raining,– we will see who is willing to go out or if we will be allowed out.
During the week, while walking, the sound of gunfire coming from the onsite shooting range accompanies us. We hear the different firing sounds of big guns, small guns and handguns. One inmate commented that there is a shortage of ammunition these days. Not here with the practice that goes on, – the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers with an unlimited budget and license to kill.
Dear God, I pray for the bitterness in my heart to be reduced this Holy Week. Every day there is still beauty here. I have to remind and encourage myself to see it, to recognize it. The Holy Spirit is strongest when we reach out and share love and concern for each other. The impact is huge in this setting. The women laugh, talk, care for each other’s hair, and carry on with life-giving tasks on a daily basis.
The ones who are placed in quarantine on the upper tier before release have joy on their faces. They are leaving, returning to their families or halfway houses, putting their lives back together. We miss each other, but can still see each other as we walk below, and they are about six feet above us.

Two sparrows wandered in through an outside door, looking for a nesting spot no doubt. They discovered the open window 25 feet above the hall and made their way out. Hearing the chirps inside was a real treat. The mocking birds are back and imitating all the other birds, music to one’s ears.

I remind myself that this setting is so much better than most other prisons, and my time is short here. One woman is six years into a 13-year sentence. Human adaptability and spirit are a wonder to behold.
I look forward to Mass this afternoon with fresh palm fronds. Last night a few of us got together for the beginning of Passover. Our one Jewish inmate had homemade matzo bread provided by the Rabbi. We sat outside at a picnic table and had cheese, banana, and chocolate to go with. She had a platter with parsley, bitter herb, and other items in her room. What a blessing to have each other and God, no matter what!
Christ as the first born from the dead shouldn’t be a stumbling block to the message “peace I give you.” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, bringing us peace and prosperity, if we want it. It is the full moon, windy and rainy, God is with us.