Letters from Charlie Sept. 21 through Nov. 5, 2000
9/21/00 Thurs. 7:02 a.m.
Picnic table - waiting for the work van
It is an Indian summer morning, overcast but warm enough to comfortably sit
outside and write while waiting for the work wagon to take me to the
classroom where I can sit and write again during this period when I am not
told to participate in a given work project. Rumor has it that we (around
10 of us) will soon be doing some dry wall work. Not my favorite.
Lately I've been given to expecting surprises of one kind or another. They
may come in the form of meeting a new interesting person, a letter from an
unexpected source, the gift of a book, a basketball game, an invitation to
participate in a Yoga class, a decent meal, etc.
Still settling in. More and more aware of the blessing I've been given in
the way of time and place to do things which are good for body and soul.
Hope to be able to form habits that I can continue on the outside.
It helps to make friends. I feel much more like a beneficiary than a
benefactor. May soon be running out of pens; wonder where replacements will
Got caught with my hat on in the mess hall. While carrying a personal
plastic storage container for extra food to be consumed as an evening meal.
No big deal. Just a public reprimand.
Top bunk desk top
Surprise for today. Frustration and anger. Returned to the dorm after
supper to find a visitor's form on my bed to be filled out for "Family Day"
visitation. The form indicates that I can have a maximum of five people
over to visit me on Family Day. This news comes after I was assured by a
guard that everyone on my list could come. So now I have to decide on the
four adults other than Judy I want to visit on Family Day and inform
everyone of the situation. Right after this news a shout from the far end
of the dorm announcing mail call. I thought it was a little early, 4:50
p.m., but I walked toward the office anyway. Just before my arrival at the
guardroom door from which mail is dispensed, someone said, "False alarm."
The announcement was made by an inmate with a sick sense of humor. I'm so
happy I did not know who it was because I wasn't thinking or feeling
nonviolently. Caught completely offguard. Realizing that one must be on
guard to react nonviolently. Guarding against the beast within. Tried to
meditate myself into a space of interior peace. I was successful enough to
record the incident.
A good day of basketball, sweat lodge, telephones: Judy and George Neder
and toward the end of this day a religious discussion with a former
Catholic, born-again Christian. No need to elaborate.
Reached brother Pat tonight. He seems to be doing well.
9/25/00 Monday 7:10 a.m.
Picnic table - waiting for the work van
Difficult to express thoughts and feelings this morning.
The end of a week and month all in one. I'm wondering if this is really
where God wants me to be or is this the answer to my prayer for a
Beginning to realize how beneficial this government-funded experience is
Every work day, that's five days a week, I board a large utility van that
comfortably sits 10 people. We leave the camp compound at 7:30 a.m. sharp,
by the driver's watch. Our designated place of work, known as Vocational
Training Construction, is located about a mile away. This would make for a
nice early-morning and afternoon health walk, but we are compelled to ride
the van because the road to work passes over a main highway. One could be
tempted to take a right at the highway, walk to Lompoc and beg a Burger
King teenager for a value meal.
Enroute to our work site we pass the farm maintenance building where
several inmates work. Frequently, but not every day, one or two farm
workers hitch a ride with us construction boys.
The farm boys have been hitching rides with us as far back as my assignment
to VT Construction, about six weeks, without serious objection. But for
some unknown reason a VT rider became unhappy with the hitchhiker intruding
on our limited space and passed a petition around the 10 of us regulars to
sign. The petition demanded an end to giving hitchhikers a lift.
I refused to sign on the grounds that inmates should welcome the
opportunity to share with other inmates; also we should be willing to
endure some discomfort to help a fellow inmate. Well, at the time of my
refusal to sign the no-hitchhikers' petition, I was a minority of one and I
tried to explain to the majority that a minority of one who happens to be
right makes that person a majority, a majority of one. The validity of my
argument was not accepted. A vociferous discussion between four of us
followed to no avail.
I was told that we had to stick together, right or wrong, which reminded me
of bumper-sticker wisdom, "My country, right or wrong - my country."
I just ran my rendition of this hitchhiker episode by a member of the
opposition majority, in fact you might call him the leader of the majority,
or the majority whip. He corrected me on one critical point. He said, "The
cause for barring the hitchhikers is not unknown; when the hitchhikers
board the bus the rest of us must squeeze up and someone must sit on the
aluminum plate between the seats.
"In addition to this inconvenience," the majority whip continued, "the van
must stop at the farm and open the door for the farm boys to exit."
In summary, the reason for excluding the hitchhikers from the VT
Construction van is a series of little inconveniences that constitute an
irritant factor large enough to warrant the severe measure of fellow inmate
exclusion, which in my opinion is far more serious than the unintentional
creation of inconvenience.
When I saw the look of surprise and disappointment on the face of a fellow
inmate hitchhiker when he was told he could not ride with us, my heart went
out to the man.
A fine, relaxing weekend of Yoga, sweat lodge, basketball, reading, resting
and phone calls to Judy and friends. What a life. Am I in prison or what?
Back to work tomorrow.
I've been moved to read some history on the Second World War. I lived
through it as a pre-teenager in a naval project in Norfolk, Va. When dad
was away at sea my poor mother had to raise three boys alone, ages 10, 3
Letters from Charlie: Oct. 23-Nov.5, 2000
Mon, 13 Nov 2000 10:23:29 -0700
Have not journaled in two weeks. I've been disinclined to write. Mulling
over too many questions and situations. Still feel very positive about
being here, given the many options of a protester in need of expressing
dissent to his nation's complicity in atrocities.
Looks like I'll be here for at least six months, given the fact that the
appeal [challenging the severity of Charlie's sentence of one year in
prison for misdemeanor violations] will not be heard before January 2001.
Win or lose in appellate court, I can't possibly lose. No hopes or
expectations from a system of law for which I have little to no respect. It
is anything but a system of justice. It is a system of law that justifies
Looks as if the rains are coming. Reminds me of a play I saw a few years
ago written and acted by the homeless of San Francisco. The homeless should
have it so good as we have it here. Never a cold, wet night without shelter
or bed, never a hungry moment unless it's voluntary. I'm wondering how the
cold wet weather will affect emotional life here.
The appeal process is finally over. Now we sit and wait for the results of
a hearing by the Eleventh Circuit Court. One of the friends I've made here
is a judge who took an interest in my appeal. After reading our final
rebuttal to the government he made a suggestion that is included in our
final brief. So we now have a total of eight lawyers who have contributed
to an appeal that no one consulted early in the process gave a chance of
success. The best we can hope for at this juncture is a change of sentence
from 12 months (two consecutive six-month sentences) to six months (two
sentences served as one, or concurrently). Six months will fill my current
need to be in prison for now, but an additional six will be a bonus.
Have found some wax ear plugs, the best yet for creating private audio
space in the midst of close quarter living.
Oct. 29, 2000
Somehow the topic (today) sidetracked to prison life: the mindlessness of
both inmates and staff, rules and regulations and the need thereof. When I
took issue with the need for so many little rules, the boss said, "OK, take
Linky here" (like so many he has trouble with the pronunciation of my last
name) "let's say he has an island full of people, he's going to have to
have rules to maintain order, right Linky?" About this time my classmates
corrected him on the correct pronunciation, but Linky was too deeply
ingrained, so he went to Charlie. In response to his question, I said, "On
my island there will be only one rule."
"And what's that," classmates chimed.
"Very simple, the rule of love. Everyone on the island will be committed to
loving one another. We will have another-oriented society."
"Impossible," came the cry from several. This was followed by objection
after objection to the reality of my island where love is the only rule. It
was a great chance for me to talk about the nature of another-oriented
culture and its lack of need for rules and regulations because of a respect
for the rights of others. Finally, one vociferous classmate challenged,
"OK, let's say it works. Your island is a paradise. The word gets around
and one day you look out and see yourself surrounded by boats carrying
people who want to live on your island. You're going to need some rules,
"No," I replied. "We just start another island."
Later on at lunch the following day, one of the participants of the
discussion said, "You know, Charlie, you handled those questions very
well." Surprise, surprise, surprise.
A workmate, a lawyer by profession with whom I had an occasional discussion
on politics, religion, morality and U.S. foreign policy, asked me to
promise not to engage him in such discussions anymore. Well, "what can we
talk about?," I asked.
He thought for 15 seconds and replied with a smile, "Health. Health of OK."
I thought about this and wondered if we could include death as a related
subject of conversation, so I asked him for permission to include death as
a topic for further discursive exploration.
He replied, "No, too negative."
This young man is in his 30s. Soon to be released from prison, he intends
to pursue a life of making money and beautiful women, not necessarily in
this order since he has never had a problem attracting women.
He seems to have no spiritual values at this stage of his life, not an
uncommon disposition for many of the younger prison population. Sad! He is
obviously in denial and wants to comfortably remain that way.
"Give it a rest," I say to me.
Yesterday was All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation for Catholics. We
were given the day off. Nominal Catholics came out of the woodwork to join
in the celebration and a day of freedom from work. The service of the word
gave us the Beatitudes. The congregation, with the exception of me, was
invited to comment. The deacon giving the service said it wouldn't be fair
for me to answer questions, so I sat quietly and listened, not at all
impressed by the traditional commentary of the Beatitudes. I was all set to
render an opinion on the Beatitudes that has deep meaning for me, namely
that Christ was giving us a glimpse of what we could expect life as his
followers to be: namely, persecution. "Blessed are you who are persecuted,"
Temptation to be a part of a culture that champions the accrual of wealth.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Suffering and death: "Blessed are you who mourn." I developed an affinity
for this Beatitude while putting the names of SOA victims on a Latin
American memorial wall in front of the main gate to Ft. Benning, Ga.
Injustice: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for
they shall be filled," and so on:
Top bunk desktop
One day several weeks ago I wrote the following letter to God:
It is said that you said,
"Vengeance is mine."
I wonder if you really said that!
It seems rather selfish to me.
And I didn't think you were a selfish God.
Jealous, perhaps, but not selfish.
Must I accept on faith and faith alone
that you will take care of the rogues of this world:
The torturers, murderers, assassins, oppressors and outright scum?
Do I have to leave it all to you?
Do you have any idea who difficult
That's a big order.
Can't you trust me with just one act of revenge?
Or if not revenge, justice?
I mean leveling the scales.
Can't I vent my spleen just once: I promise
not to go overboard.
Immediate response (I didn't realize I was in the chat mode)
I understand your feelings, your wounded heart, your sense of righteous
indignation, your seething anger.
It was I who gave you a heart to feel, eyes to see and a mind to search for
I'm glad you want justice. Believe me, it will come. Don't you remember
what my Son said,
"Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice. You shall have your fill."
The problem is you cannot see far enough, feel deeply enough or understand
the relationship between present and past to avenge the wrongs of your
brothers. No purely human heart came entrusted with the awesome duty of
meting out justice. Not even a saint can comprehend the enormity and
complexity of evil well enough to render just punishment. That's why I've
reserved vengeance for myself.
So let it go, leave it to me, trust me and be at peace.
I love you.
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