Fr. Bix begins 3 month prison sentence for July 2010 Y-12 disarmament action

Fr. BIll Bichsel, just before reporting to prison. Photo by Leonard Eiger.

Jesuit priest William “Bix” Bichsel reported to the SeaTac Federal Prison on November 10 after a prayer sendoff at Jean’s House of Prayer.

He was sentenced to 3 months in prison for his part in the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex resistance action in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on July 5, 2010.  Michael Walli, Bonnie Urfer and Steve Baggarly are also currently serving prison sentences for that action.

After completing this sentence at Sea Tac, Bichsel will be going directly into 6 months of house arrest for the second part of his incarceration for the Disarm Now Plowshares action that took place on November 2, 2009.   Two other Disarm Now Plowshares members, Susan Crane and Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, are still in prison.  Kelly is in solitary confinement at Sea Tac due to noncooperation.
You can find prison addresses to send notes of support to these and other anti-nuclear and anti-war prisoners of conscience here.
A recent reflection from Bix follows:
Thursday – September 29, 2011
Tacoma – War Memorial Park
Bill Bichsel

On this September day I was sitting on the knee-high, semi circular
wall that borders the viewing plaza of the Narrows Bridges. I don’t
know if plaza is the right name but it s a place to get a good look at
the bridges and the south Puget Sound.

I was there trying to get inspired by thoughts that would lift me out
of the lifeless malaise that I was feeling. No inspirational thoughts
were coming to me when up the sidewalk to the plaza came five homeless
looking people. There were three guys and a couple. I felt they were
invading my space – my plaza. My control and ownership feelings
yielded to the realization that the plaza belongs to everyone and that
they were probably paying more taxes than I to maintain the park.

I introduced myself to the man who had seated himself on the wall to
my right. “I’m Bill”, I said as we shook hands. He introduced himself
as George. I asked him if he was from Tacoma. “No”, George answered, “
I was born in Korea and lived my early years there. My mother is
Korean and my father was a GI. We lived on Portland Avenue from my 7th
to 10th year. I remember driving past the Dome shopping for

The man sitting on my left side said his name in a mumble, so I didn’t
get it. He was straightening out a page of the News Tribune. Because I
didn’t get his name, I referred to him in my head as ‘paper man’. An
African American guy with a red hat was leaning on the Narrows Bridges
sign. I said, “Bill” and he said, “Red” and our connection was made.

The couple was huddling in the middle of the plaza. It looked like the
woman was calling the plays. They sat down on the wall and the woman
joyfully announced to me that they were on a honeymoon. “I’m really
enjoying it”, she informed all of us. Her partner didn’t say

Paper man smoothed out the TNT newspaper and put a pill in the middle
of it. He began to break the pill into pieces with his cigarette
lighter. The woman jumped up and jerked her thumb at me as she warned
Paper man and said that I may not be cool. Paper man dismissed her
query with a wave of the hand. Then the woman confronted me, “Are you
cool?” I answered her, “No, I don’t like to see anyone take drugs.”
Paper man spoke out, “No biggie – it’s clonopin.” I answered that
clonopin is a drug. Paper man connected the pill to bipolar treatment
as he continued to crush the pill pieces into powder. Then he took a
piece from the news page and rolled it into a thin funnel. He put a
funnel into one of his nostrils and lowered his head so that the
funnel sat in the middle of the powder pile. With one snort he sucked
up all of the powder. Then he stood erect and bent his head back and
breathed deeply.

The couple sauntered down the walkway engaged in one-way
communication. Paper man, Red, and George were quiet and into their
own thoughts. In this quiet interlude I asked them if the name,
Caroline Fick, was familiar to them. “Yeah,” said Paper man, “she
jumped off the bridge.” Red added that she had hit the railroad tracks
and not the water. I asked them how they knew about her suicide. Paper
man thought that I was the one who informed him – over a year ago. Red
and Paper man began to list guys who came into the park whom Caroline
knew and had helped them with food, tobacco, and blankets. (She was
very resourceful and knew where to go for supplies for her homeless

Some of the guys that they mentioned had died in the last year. One of
the guys lost his leg and another lost his foot because of diabetes.
Most of the park homeless crew had teeth rotting out of their mouths.

One of the reasons I had come to the Plaza this day was to remember
Caroline. She was homeless the last year of her life after she had
been evicted from the Flamingo Apartments on 6th Avenue where she had
lived for 10 years. During the time that she lived there, she made
sure that her stretch of 6th Avenue - from Skyline to Jackson - was
clean of bottles and debris. Afterword’s, she would call me to let me
know that she had completed a clean sweep of her adopted area of 6th
Avenue. She would end her report with a crisp, “over and out,” finish.

Caroline was a very compassionate and caring person who easily came to
people’s aid. She was a small “c” Catholic who had a great devotion to
Mary and the rosary. She would feel bad and at times indignant if she
was treated poorly at her church.

For the last year of her life Caroline’s dad tried hard to get her out
of homelessness into a safe living situation. He was payee for the SSI
(Social Security disability) check that she received monthly. Without
his stewardship, all of her money would have been gone in a flash. I
worked with her father to find a suitable place. On two occasions we
had arranged for her to stay at the Family Shelter. The first time she
didn’t show. The second time, the Family Shelter didn’t think she
would be a good candidate because of her drinking.

I was thinking of her staying at Jean’s House of the Catholic Worker
where I live. However, the Catholic Worker has such a strong
prohibition against drinking that I didn’t think it would work. After
I learned of Caroline’s suicide jump off the bridge, I felt deep
remorse and guilt that I didn’t do more to help her out of her
homelessness. I felt the loss of a dear friend who would be ready to
help anyone she could. I still question my caution about not taking
her in.

I taught Caroline’s father at Bellarmine High School and came to know
Caroline as a teenage girl when I presided at her brother’s funeral.
Her brother’s death in a car accident caused her and her family much
grief and sorrow. In the accident, her brother was trapped in the car
which burst into flames.

Over the years Caroline suffered other pains and losses but never
played the self-pity part. She took things as they came. After she
completed high school she didn’t go on for further formal education.
However, she was very bright and learned things quickly. I still feel
a loss of her and remorse that I was too cautious in coming to her

Another reason that I came to the plaza is because of an experience of
the Resurrection that I had in that place. I try to reconnect with
that experience. The experience needs some background narration.

A few years back, in my preparation to do a protest action at the
Trident submarine base at Bangor, I traveled to the grave of Chief
Joseph in Nespelem Washington on the Colville Reservation. His spirit
speaks quietly and strongly to my soul. I wanted to spend some days
there on retreat living in the Jesuit parish church next to the
graveyard. Much of my time was spent being quiet next to his grave.
The spirit of the chief who quit his heroic struggle with the US
cavalry in order to save his people rises out of the earth. With his
words, “From where the sun now sets, I will fight no more forever.” he
stopped the violence of the US cavalry and the violence that comes out
of battle. His compassion, humility, and strength lighted his path of

Through the inspiration of Chief Joseph, I wanted to reflect more on
nonviolence. I had a tape on nonviolence done by Father Charles
Emanuel McCarthy which I listened to. In the tape, Charles McCarthy
spoke of the uncanny power of nonviolence when it is practiced as a
way of life. By way of example, he pointed out an incident in the life
Clarence Jordan, founder of the Kornneia Community near Americus,
Georgia. With the inspiration of Jordan, white and black farming
families had joined together in the 40s to form this community. This
did not set well with the white population of Americus. Once a week a
segment of the white population would drive by the community and shoot
their guns over the houses – sometimes into the houses. After failed
tries for understanding with the belligerent white population,
Clarence Jordan engaged the main perpetrators in a long conversation
and was able to defuse the violence. McCarthy attributed the outcome
to the life-power of nonviolence practiced daily by Jordan; and
further explained that by his actions, Jordan had witnessed to the
power of the Resurrection.

In my time of retreat and prayer at Nespelem, I had been led by Chief
Joseph to Clarence Jordan to the life giving power of the
Resurrection.  A week after my retreat in Nespelem, I drove to the War
Memorial Park. I drove there often in the hope of enlightenment of
heart and soul. Usually I would get an 8 ounce latte to take with me
into the park for my quiet time of reflection. And usually I would
fall asleep after a few minutes of trying to reflect. This day, I went
down the sidewalk leading to the war Memorial Wall but which also has
a branch sidewalk leading up to the plaza. As often was the case, I
would meet and talk with homeless people sitting on the side of the
walkway. This day some were familiar and some were new.

I followed the branch sidewalk leading to the plaza and slowly walked
in slow circles. As I walked I began to think of Clarence Jordan
witnessing to the power of the Resurrection. A feeling of deep peace
came over me. I was experiencing Resurrection as an outpouring of life
and hopefulness. It was a feeling of being in a gently flowing river
whose current was more like air than the ordinary river flow. It was
lightsome and joyful and strengthening. I felt this deep life-giving
power being present.

I wanted, in some way, to witness to this power of resurrection in the
place of death which was the nuclear weapon citadel at Bangor,
Washington. A while after this experience I did a protest action with
others at Bangor. We went to court and the case was dismissed because
of faulty government evidence. Later on – November 2, 2009 – five of
us cut our way into where the nuclear weapons at Bangor are stored. We
all experienced a great joy after being arrested, cuffed, hooded, and
forced flat onto the cold earth. It came to me that beyond my furthest
hopes, we were witnessing to the power of the Resurrection. Even in
this place of fear, death, and hopelessness, the power of life, hope,
and love can rise.

Well, on this September day I said goodbye to Paper Man, Red, and
George and headed down the sidewalk. What will become of them? In the
ordinary course of life in our cities and towns I know they will never
receive the resources needed for a full human life. They will not be
recipients of health care, education, employment, or housing. Nor will
they become respected members of an established community. They will
drift and die – unknown and un-honored.

These thoughts led me to an inner feeling of futility. I imagined the
inner workings of the US to be a robot-like monster with an insatiable
hunger that needs vulnerable people to feed on. This robot needs
homeless people, those losing their houses, prison and probation
populations, black and Hispanic struggling people, children, laid-off
workers, gay and lesbian people, and working poor families. This robot
is at the beck and call of the corporate militarized power command of
the US which sustains its functioning.

These thoughts brought me feelings of futility; thoughts of how deeply
embedded American people are in this culture of death when we allow
our vulnerable to disappear and consent to the use of nuclear weapons
which will bring global death to millions. I questioned whether my
actions of resisting nuclear weapon were in any way helping the
vulnerable ones.

Once again the questioning brought the realization that it is through
connection with these vulnerable ones that I can know what to do. They
take me by the hand and lead me to know whether I’m helping or
hindering our way out of the bondage to the death machine. They lead
me in the way of compassion; if they are not free I am not free. As
long as I’m in contact with them, I’m grounded in my work to resist
nuclear weapons which divert resources from the vulnerable.

The war Memorial Park is a good place for me to reflect. It houses the
brave servicemen and women who have given their lives in US wars. I
went to high school with some of the men whose names are on the
memorial wall. They were young, generous, brave, and dedicated. I take
time to honor them; I do not honor the wars into which they were

In the evening in the war Memorial Park there is the song of the birds
coming from the surrounding trees. The chirp and twitter of the song
slows down my pace, and a tweet and whistle and cooing and crooning
calls me to stillness – to listen to the harmony of creation. Their
song heralds peaceful meadows where people can live in peace. As long
as the birds can sing their different songs there will be an earth
harmony that can quiet our souls and unclench our minds. The bird song
announces peace and nonviolence in our land.