~ from FCI Elkton, Prison reflections by nuclear resister Patrick O’Neill, March 25


Prison Reflections from Patrick O’Neill (transcribed and edited by J. Mark Davidson)

Winter into Spring

“March has been an indicator of spring. The winter snow and ice has been gone for two weeks, and the “Rec yard” track is almost dry. The sub-30s temps have been gone for a while. Some of the locals say you can get snow in May in NE Ohio, so I’m taking it a day at a time, which is a good prison and Lenten practice anyway.”


“The guards have various degrees of enthusiasm for their jobs; some are more zealous than others. Guards can “shake down your cube” whenever they feel like it. They simply tell the occupants to “step out,” and they go through your stuff in search of “contraband” (which can be everything from an extra apple to too many postage stamps to a cell phone or drugs). A guy was caught with a cell phone in my “unit” (FB, Fox Bravo). Having a cell phone is a high-level infraction and will likely get you transferred to a higher-level custody prison. (Disclaimer – I no longer have a cell phone at all! Mine was deactivated when I came to prison and I guess I’ll have a new number when I come out.) Some guards will leave your cube trashed; others will be less invasive.”
“Within the compound lives a colony of skunks that roam around in broad daylight. The guys that work in the kitchen leave out bread for the skunks (they also rifle through the trash). Some of the skunks are the typical black and white variety, but some have yellowish fur and black underbellies, while others are a various mix of colors. They don’t fear the inmates or staff. They just live here. It’s unusual, I would think, for humans and skunks to co-exist in this fashion (RIGHT?) I saw one threaten another and turn into the “spray” position when they were both digging through the trash in front of my unit (AKA Fox Bravo, not Skunk Bravo!) I certainly enjoy seeing the skunks when I’m out of the unit, which is not often enough.”
An Accident
“This afternoon, someone had an accident and had diarrhea in the shower stall (and did not clean it up probably due to embarrassment). Well, you would have thought someone had left a bloody dead body in the shower stall. People were yelling, screaming, wanting to find the culprit. I just took a styrofoam tray out of the trash and began to clean up the unclaimed poop and flushed it down the toilet. The orderly did a rinse. People asked me why I cleaned it up, and I just said to calm everyone down.”
A Talk with the Chaplain
“Last night after dark, I get a call to report to the Chapel. I was allowed to walk there without escort – about 300 – 400 yards away from my FB unit. Once inside, there were people there – some inmates, one guy who was an assistant chaplain named “White” (that’s what he told me when he was sitting at a table in the Chow Hall giving out religious material such as the March issue of “Give Us This Day” and the Youngstown Diocesan newspaper). The other chaplain heard me say my name and said he wanted to see me and beckoned me to his office. He was holding an “Inmate Request to Staff” that I had sent to the Chaplain’s Office from the SHU (Special Housing Unit) the day after I arrived here (January 15). I wrote “I would like a Bible and a pastoral visit to the SHU C224. I am a Catholic, so if you have a Catholic Bible, that would be great. Or I would like an NIV, but not King James unless that’s all you have. Peace and gratitude, Patrick O’Neill, P.S. Good News is also great. Thanx. Eight weeks later, I met the Rev (Officer) Scott Kirchoff, a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) who had lunch with Bob Cushing when was assigned to the Georgia Federal Prison in Jessup. He said, “I was wondering how you got 14 months for a protest at a Naval Station?” He listened as I explained the Plowshares movement, mentioning that Phil Berrigan had been here on 9-11-2001. (He did not know of Dan or Phil.) He was not judgmental and seemed interested in what I had to say. We chatted for about 30 minutes. He had also worked at FPC Atlanta, so we had some overlap of experiences. He is ex-military, a hunter, 2 sons, huge biceps (“a man’s man” as my cousin John called my Uncle Billy). He said military chaplains were not very well suited to be prison chaplains (forget why). I thought they were the same things! Anyway, it was a nice encounter. He obviously enjoyed meeting Bob Cushing, and I told him I would let Bob knew he said hello. I was gratified for the meeting.”
“I just showed a new guy the L.A. Times interview with me in Selma 6 years ago when he got here about a week ago (probably around 30, J.T., African American)…”You the man,” he said, giving me a fist bump.”
Escape Unlikely
“The men go to “Pill Call” at the medical unit, which is about a 300-yard walk from the Chow Hall. Even though I have no pills to get, I take my food tray and walk to the medical unit and can spend about 10 minutes in the fresh air and walk about, so that’s the only time I got outdoors in that 96-hour lockdown. It’s very cruel. If they took all the fences down in this place, I bet no one (or very few) would actually leave. “Escape” can add 5 years to your sentence and this place is so far off the beaten path you’d never get very far before being caught. Yet we are held in lockdown for days on end. Fr. Steve Kelly has spent years of his life in solitary, when outdoor “Rec” is infrequent and you’re in a tiny solitary cell. It was a beautiful day today (cold, probably in the low 40s) but with bright sun and beautiful sky. If I could, I would have run for 10 miles and walked for 10 more.”
Underground Cuisine
“There is a pretty vast cooking underground in here – one small group of 5 Latinos who basically have a Mexican restaurant, and the Black guys who have a lot of soul food. The food is cooked on a makeshift oven called a “Stinger,” a clean mop bucket is filled with clean water. A heating element made out of contraband metal and a plug is submerged in the water, and the food is placed in bags that serve as “steamers” and the food comes out amazing…the Latinos sell their food, and I have had some shared with me. My bank robber friend, Andrew, whose mother is a Lutheran pastor in North Carolina, makes taffy out of various things – non-dairy creamer is a key ingredient…he made mocha taffy with coffee and cocoa today that was amazingly good.”

Chuck Fager book

“Right now, I’m reading Chuck Fager’s great book, Eating Dr. King’s Dinner, a memoir of the movement (1963-66) and Chuck’s work with the SCLC and King. It’s a great book. Chuck is now retired from Quaker House and lives in Durham with my Alamance co-defendant Wendy Mitchener.”
St. Francis
“Last week, my friend Joette Steger wrote to me about her study of St. Francis of Assisi using Richard Rohr. Francis started from the perspective that all creation is good (and connected). There was also Francis’ description of God as humble…God’s willingness to be restricted by the limitations of creation to be present in creation is evidence of God’s humility. Apparently, we human creatures will be humbled someday by the humility of God and the rest of creation. It will be another one of those examples where the first shall be last. We think we are better than the rest of creation, and some day we may find out differently. One of my daily prayers is to thank God for humility…and empathy (my ability to be empathetic). Peace, blessing, and love, Patrick”
March 24, 2021 – Important Timely Message: We want to let everyone know that after more than a week of not hearing from Patrick by phone or email or postal mail, he was finally able to talk to Mary for 15 minutes last night! As it turns out, Patrick experienced a significant drop in his blood pressure which resulted in him being taken to the hospital where he spent four days and three nights undergoing testing. It appears this may have been due to medication issues. He will be following up with cardiology upon his release. Stay tuned for a more detailed story and explanation from Patrick soon. Thank you for all your love and support and please keep Patrick and his family in your prayers.