~ from home confinement in NYC, Reflections on Release, by Carmen Trotta

Reflections on Release

My Dear Friends & Family,

As many of you have probably heard, I am OUT of prison and overjoyed for it!

That said, I am not, however, OUT & ABOUT. Currently, I’m on a strict home confinement. I cannot leave the apartment I’m in without the permission of a halfway house in the Bronx, under whose authority I am being “supervised.” So, if I want to get some exercise and fresh air at nearby Tompkins Sq. Pk., I need to submit a schedule telling them the address I’m going to, the reason I’m going, precisely what time I will leave, and again, at what time I will return. They can allow it, deny it or amend it. By way of verification, I’m required to call them the moment before I leave the apartment, and again, the moment I reenter the apartment.

I have high hopes that things will loosen up some. The staff at the halfway house, largely black and Latino, was pleasant and helpful, and my personal supervisor was positively upbeat and jovial. Indeed, this past week I asked her for permission to go to the wake, and then the funeral, of a old friend from my days at the War Resisters League, Linda Thurston. Both requests were accepted!

So, for the first time in 6 months I was out in public, and the specific public was a crowd of old friends and a hundred hugs. (Linda, by the way, was a black warrior for peace and justice, with an -ironically – rich history in opposition to the prison industrial complex. No need to say ‘God rest her soul’, the Divine, I would imagine, quite likes the presence of her restless and righteous spirit.)

More, just yesterday, my supervisor OK’ed parts of a weekly schedule, that my own little support team here on Lower East Side and I put together. She denied nothing, but some of what we asked for needs to be reviewed by another office. As it stands, I’ll get two visits a week to a gym, one visit each week to a grocery store, and of course I can attend the traditional Sunday Mass. But notably, at a parish that is not nearest to me, but rather, as I requested, one that has good acoustics. So, my supervisor heard my plea and stood to reason. Yes, I’m getting old. I even have hearing aids!

Now, as regards, “my apartment”: I’ve never lived in an apartment before. For the past 34 years I’ve lived and worked at the Catholic Worker. It is my home, and it was where I thought I would be headed when I left the Federal Prison at Otisville. But, as I’m out under the “Cares Act” during the time of Covid, the halfway house determined that the two Catholic Worker houses in Manhattan were “too heavily trafficked,”and thus would not be suitable – despite the fact that I’d been vaccinated twice.

I was supposed to have been released on May 18th, with 20 or so other inmates, but was thus held over until a suitable space could be found for me. Prior to May 18th, I’d spent 21 days in, essentially, 24 hour lock down, which was mind numbing. Ultimately there were 10 more days to come. In the interim, they asked me if I would consent to the next proposal which was to go to the new apartment of my dear friends Matt & Amanda. Matt & Amanda both lived at the Catholic Worker and even bore their first child there. Amanda still edits the NYCW newspaper. When they showed me the proposal I nearly cried, as I recognized that this would be quite an intrusion. But I was not given any time to think it through. I knew that they had left their old apartment because they didn’t have enough room, and now their two children would have a semi-stranger in their living room. If I refused to sign this I’d have been sent back into the camp, which would mean that any subsequent release, would entail another 21 day lock down. Needless to say, I lunged forward to sign the proposal. And here I am, in the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in!

Oh, the beloved community!

My hearing aids were also paid for by others. So I tell everyone these days that I’m like Ringo Star, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” The community is, it seems, not too far from the one that formed shortly after Pentecost.

I dwell upon the moment, mentioned above, that I “lunged forward.” I had a few friends at Otisville who were told they were going to be released, spent the time in lock down, and then were suddenly stricken from the list. Their grief is very deep, bordering perhaps on trauma. I thought this might happen to myself and my co-defendants , but in our case, we had only months left. Many of our friends had years to look at. Were this misfortune deliberately imposed on someone I would consider it criminal, a mind fuck. In any case it seems that some recompense is due.

As I understand it the Cares Act legislation comes from the Trump era, and had been interpreted perversely by Trump’s Office of Legal Counsel, providing that if the pandemic largely dissipates, the prisoners should be brought back into prison. Our friend and former inmate, Daniel McGowan, himself a dedicated activist focused largely on the prison industrial complex, is trying to quickly corral a critical mass of people to petition the Biden administration to contest such and interpretation.