33 month prison sentence for Plowshares activist Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J.

On October 15, Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. was sentenced to 33 months in prison for his part in the Kings Bay Plowshares nuclear disarmament action of April 2018. Federal judge Lisa Godbey Wood also ordered that Kelly pay restitution of $33,503.51, jointly and severally with his six codefendants, and a special assessment of $310. Recognizing the Jesuit priest’s indigence, the court waived any fine and interest payments on the restitution. Three years of supervised probation will follow his prison term, with the conditions that Kelly must surrender all financial information requested by the probation office, make no applications for credit, and cooperate with submitting a DNA sample.
Fr. Kelly has already served 30 months in Georgia county jails since his arrest, and the judge said he will receive credit for time served. It’s possible that with statutory good time credit he has completed the 33 months, but that calculation has yet to be made by the Bureau of Prisons.
Together with co-defendants Elizabeth McAlister, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill and Carmen Trotta, the activists entered the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, and engaged in symbolic acts of disarmament. They were convicted one year ago on charges of misdemeanor trespass and three felonies: destruction of property on a Naval Station, depredation of government property and conspiracy to do these things.
Kelly now faces a hearing in federal court in Tacoma, Washington for violating probation on an earlier sentence for trespass at the Trident nuclear submarine base there.
His codefendant Elizabeth McAlister was sentenced in June to time served (17 months). Patrick O’Neill will be sentenced tomorrow, October 16, while Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta are now scheduled to be sentenced in mid-November.
More details to follow.
I was asked by Fr. Steve Kelly to be a character witness at his sentencing. While I am more than honored to do so, I want to be clear regarding my intent. I am not trying to affect the sentencing. My fantasy would be to have Fr. Steve’s character precipitate a conversion among those present in the courtroom. As anyone who has been involved in this case is aware, if you believe that Steve Kelly is operating from deeply held convictions and a radical faith in the gospels, he is a prophet. If you don’t believe him, he is just an opinionated criminal. As someone who knows Steve well, I assure you that the first assessment is the truth and the second is false.
I am no stranger to the typical U.S. courtroom where the “law” is treated as God while justice takes a back seat; where even the most fundamental morals are ignored for the sake of upholding the system designed to maintain idolatry to the Pentagon; where witnesses are sworn in with the admonition “to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God” and then essentially gagged in front of a jury of their peers through motions In Limine, denied the ability to speak the truth about why they did what they did, the horrors they are confronting and the spirituality behind their actions. Prosecutors assume the role of protecting the military as if the most powerful military in the history of humankind were not able to protect itself. Prosecutors assume the role of establishing the motives and character of those they designate as criminals and of whom they haven’t the slightest clue regarding their true character or motivations. Nor do they care to learn because, in our system, character and motives are irrelevant. The character of the accused is no more relevant to the purpose of the law than is the will of God. Entire careers and livelihoods are based solely on convictions and sentences. In what kind of system could a person with the spirituality, conviction and love of God’s children that Fr. Steve Kelly has, be dismissed as a criminal and left to languish for two and a half years in a county jail, while his basic message is expunged in the courtroom; the message that the most horrific and abominable weapons designed by human technology, weapons that have and will visit unfathomable horrors on the children of God and likely exterminate God’s creation, are allowed to exist and proliferate while the most basic of reasonable detractors are gagged and put away. As Steve often reminds us, “When the nuclear holocaust comes, it will be completely legal.”
Fr. Steve Kelly is a man of deep faith who speaks truth to power and accepts the consequences. That is his character. Any other assessment of his character is false. I know this because I have known Steve for decades. He has spent more than 10 years of his life behind bars, giving up the warm embrace and camaraderie of loved ones as well as the comforts of a truly-accessible easy life, to instead speak the truth that God sees nuclear weapons as an abomination. I defy anyone in this courtroom to make a case for a God who embraces weapons of indiscriminate destruction and human misery. It’s not complicated. We who accept nuclear weapons are wrong, wrong, wrong. Fr. Steve just says that with his life and body. That is his character. He has taken up his cross to follow Jesus, pure and simple. We dismiss that fact at our own peril.
So, the question before this court is, “What to do with Fr. Steve Kelly; what is the proper punishment? What shall we impose so that he and others of his ilk are deterred? How can we maintain the order and protect the military from those like Fr. Steve who may want to shine a light on a crime infinitely more serious than trespass and vandalism, namely the extermination of the human race?” The answer is, it doesn’t matter the punishment. Steve will accept it and continue his prophetic mission. The question ought not to be how to punish Steve but rather what is it going to take for those who have ears to hear but cannot hear, and eyes to see but cannot see, to give up their idolatry to weapons of mass destruction and turn toward the God of love; to once and for all beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more? My advice to those in this courtroom is to take an honest look at the true character of Fr. Steve Kelly and to try emulate it rather than defile it. Or don’t.