"Y'all don't come back here, now, y'hear?" Parting advice to Toni Flynn and myself from concerned guards at Crisp County Jail in Cordele, Georgia, January 10, 2003, the day Toni and I got released, having completed a six-month stint for crossing the line at the SOA/WHINSEC in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Now, in early September, 2004, the advice given to Dave Corcoran and me here at Oxford Prison Camp in Central Wisconsin is basically the same: "Stay out-don't come back." This time the advice of soft-hearted inmate companions.
It's the second time at Oxford for each of us-Dave, just two years ago (again, for crossing the line at Ft. Benning and for me, fifteen years ago after fifteen of us, along with dozens of supporting friends, occupied nuclear missile silos in Missouri (Peace Planting '88).
We're sometimes referred to as "recidivists".
When people ask, "How many times have you been arrested?" I squirm. I actually have no idea, nor do I think it matters. Many others with fewer arrests, perhaps, have spent a lot more time than I have behind bars. That's true for the majority of our companions here at Oxford. That's true for someone like Mordechai Vanunu whose one sacred act of blowing the whistle on the hundreds of atomic bombs hidden by Israel in the Negev Desert has led him to all of 18 years in the harshest of conditions. Then we have Phil Berrigan, Carl Kabat, Helen Woodson and currently also, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson-dozens of others who have and are pointing the way for me, for us-people of conscience in our violence-scarred generation, telling us: "Don't give up the struggle."
Liz McAlister at the ELF gathering this past Mother's Day (May 16, 2004) echoes her beloved Phil Berrigan: "Don't get weary! Don't get weary in the face of a world that has embraced endless war and bankrupting military spending ($12,000.00 every second of every day). A world where lies pass for truth, sound bites for wisdom, arrogance for understanding." These words brought to us by Liz from Phil's last major talk. We have to take them seriously.
Oxford, as the name suggests, has become a learning institution for me (and for my dear companion, Dave). It's not a fair place, it's not just-not only for us, but for every single inmate here. It must be discontinued as a punishment place and turned to a free-wheeling retreat home. The surroundings are beautiful-woods with animals and birds scurrying all about. There's a tennis court, ball field, bacchi ball, soon to be volleyball-all wasted on me. I've always been clumsy at sports and why should I go to the "hole" for throwing a ball through a glass window. I could find better reasons to do so.
"A pretty prison" I've dubbed it-and awful, like the majority throughout the country; punishing inmates and families alike, when there are other creative ways to deal with nonviolent "crimes". Oh, there are crimes here-some new ones this week: The number of prisoners just escalated to 230 from 208, ten people relegated to windowless rooms, not quite the size of some closets I've seen. One urinal for 208-as of yesterday 2 more are in operation. With ongoing pressures of crowdedness (the camp was meant for no more than 140 inmates), I'm amazed at the patience and consideration of inmates, some who have to live in this environment for 10 - 15 years. Yes, Oxford is a learning place for me. I wonder how this happens.
Liz again: Commenting on Ardeth, Carol, and Jackie's trial and sentencing, she points out that such things "require a lot of reflection. Perhaps they are a mirror of our times, a mirror into which we must look long and close to better understand the nature of this empire and what we stand for and what we stand against." Then she adds: "What I find myself reflecting on most is the long view-and it is a tough perspective for North Americans who have yet to learn that the quick fix is neither."
Dave Corcoran, along with others arrested at the SOA/WHINSEC will be leaving here on October 1, 2004. My out-date is November 2-election day?
From this experience some things will be emblazoned upon my heart. I'm receiving powerful encouragement from hundreds of letters, from powerful reading, from wise inmates, from plenty of time for prayer and REFLECTION. David too. We carry with us the words of Jesus: "I have not come to give you a palliative peace-The peace I bring is a more interesting one. It goes deeper, challenges more. Love as I love you. Take some risks and for heaven's sake don't get weary. I'll help you handle it. You too are a recidivist in the making." Y'all come back here now, y'hear?
[Fr. Jerry Zawada is serving a six month sentence for trespass at Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known as the terror-training School of the Americas.]