Letters from Charlie January 4th through th, 2001
It's 7:03 a.m., nobody in this place but you and me. The chapel is filled
with the sounds of silence. I feel extra fine this morning, which always
scares me because I fear the conclusion of a good thing. I know! Live in
the present. Happy or sad, good or bad, "Embrace me," says the moment, "for
like you, I'm just passing through."
The tips of my fingers, the end of my nose are cold, but I can't see my
breath and my toes are okay.
An Oberlin student, Becky Johnson and a peace activist, Ann Tiffany, have
begun a protest, a prayer fast at the front gate of the Army Post, host to
the School of Americas.
So "Georgia is on my mind" again. I'm so happy they are there, two
beautiful women witnessing to all those military men and women who pass by
the main entrance every day. No, we will not go away. It's not how long it
takes to stop U.S. militarism, it's what it takes to remain faithful to the
commitment to resist evil, to return good for evil, to love rather than
curse the evil-doer. Seems to me I've heard this song before.
Where was I 32 years ago? Physically, in Vietnam, in the midst of human
carnage in the name of God and country. Some of the 19-year-olds had
printed "Kill a Commie for Christ" on the back of their helmets.
About to leave for my first choir practice. These are the men who sang
Christmas carols for us. Just finished talking with Father Roy. He says
there is a third person fasting with Becky and Ann, named Zack, also an
Oberlin student. How generous these kids are to give up their semester
break time for the cause. Must write to them.
6:47 a.m. Chapel
Five days of journaling in a row. Maybe I made a resolution subconsciously.
I've been thinking about this this particular mode of journaling.
Originally, I had imagined a daily record of thoughts and feelings and
events that I would one day re-read out of curiosity, if nothing else.
Perhaps as material for that one book I'd like to write before I move on to
the next dimension. Why?
Then the person to whom I send this stuff offered to type it up and save it
on a computer disk. "It's okay with me," I remember saying, "but that's a
lot of work." Next thing I know some of the material is appearing on a
web.site and being read by people who occasionally mention it in a
snail-mail letter or card. Actually, I'm flattered that anyone would be
remotely interested in what I'm thinking, feeling, doing and experiencing
here in a federal prison camp.
The challenge to be open and honest in a kind of public diary is good up to
a point. I'm not quite ready to go completely public with everything that
goes on within me, revelations of the dark, sinful, negative side of who I
am. Why not? Well, as I once mentioned to my unpaid secretary and editor,
the revelation of such material would undoubtedly nullify my canonization.
Just kidding here. Really! But, it isn't easy to be humble when folks are
forever telling me how courageous I am and what a source of inspiration I
am. Once people get to know me, they cease to be impressed.
Off to work
Prison camp experience has been made relatively easy for me by my support
the main person being Judy. At times I think the support role is more
difficult than the prison witness. For one thing there is no glory or
public recognition in it and we all like a measure of that heady wine.
More about journaling. I should say semi-public journaling. It occurs to me
that someone reading this via the net might want to question or comment on
something I write. If so, please do and I'll respond without mentioning
names, unless specifically told to do so.
For instance, not infrequently someone will tell me via a card or letter
that I could do much more good for the cause outside of prison rather than
within (the particular current cause being the closure of the School of
Americas). If there is a more efficacious witness to the evil of that
military institution, I'd like to hear about it.
Or perhaps some one may have difficulty with a married person leaving his
or her spouse to do the jail or prison witness. As long as we are on the
net we might as well make it an interactive exchange of ideas, feelings,
problems, solutions, etc.
Wednesday morning - 6:50
Cold and quiet here in the chapel this morning. Not a soul around. A grey,
windy day. I can hear the east wind whispering and see the gentle movement
of the eucalyptus limbs and leaves.
Sitting on this old, solid oak pew in need of refinishing takes me back 50
years to a little wood-framed white chapel located just over the
Georgia-Alabama line only 15 minutes southwest of Ft. Benning, Ga. It was
there that I began to try to answer what I thought was an interior call to
the Catholic priesthood. That chapel, unlike this prison version, was
heated. The heat was generated by an old, coal-fueled cast iron boiler
located in wooden barracks where we seminarians roomed, slept, studied and
attended classes in Greek, French and Latin. The heat was piped about 50
yards from the barracks to the chapel into cold radiators installed against
non-insulated wooden walls. It took at least an hour of clanking before the
radiators settled down into a steady, treat of early-morning heat to warm
the buns of young men trying desperately to learn to meditate and stay
If there was to be heat and if the heat was to journey from barracks to
chapel in time enough to warm it up for 5:30 morning prayers and
meditation, a brother, as we were called, had to rise at 4 a.m. to fuel the
furnace. It was a duty that few wanted, but I loved it. I think my
affection for the job had to do with providing a highly appreciated service
to over 100 young men like me, trying to answer a call from beyond.
Funny! I had no intention of writing about this this morning. Good
memories! Time for work already.
End 7:39 a.m.
The Conex at the Lodge
Testing out wool gloves given to me by a pair of residents (I prefer this
to inmates) who have taken it upon themselves to look after my needs.
Whenever they find something of value that they think I might be able to
use or wear they stop by my house (euphemism for the three-by-eight space I
share with a 300-pound Mexican of sweet, courteous disposition (thank God))
to deliver the object or objects like these wool gloves I'm testing for
legible penmanship. I cut the tips of the gloves back far enough to give a
better pen grip. Without thinking I cut the left glove, too. (I'm
There is rain enough for me to justify sitting in this seven-by-ten storage
container known as a "conex," recording the thoughts and feelings of the
10:35 a.m. already. Time to think about lunch. The mess hall opens at 11:00
a.m. In the space of an hour, 300 men are fed. We line up outside the mess
hall door and ever-so- slowly move toward the serving line, where two
residents wearing cloth versions of shower caps and plastic gloves dole out
the fare of the day. (I hate standing in a 60-foot long line unless it is
with someone with whom I share affection, a few values and a non-judgmental
disposition. Why can't more people be like I am, "perfect in every way?"
((Bye Bye Birdie, broadway play.) Sometimes we get bearded servers. Facial
hair must be covered, too. They look rather comical to me, but I don't
laugh ... Occasional laughter here goes a long way toward the prevention of
institutionalization. The blacks are the best at it. I can't help but think
that the African Americans' ability to adapt to difficult conditions goes
back a long way. Latin Americans, too, display this art.
Time for lunch. Don't have to go to the mess hall today, don't have to line
up; saved some of last night's fried, breaded veal for a sandwich.
Wednesday, 12:35 p.m.
Back at the Conex
The wind and rain are heavy now. I'm cold and damp from trying to garden in
the rain. Serves me right, I guess, but I was fighting guilt over not
working on a work day in a work camp. Who says I'm not patriotic? That
grand virtue that gets as many kids killed in the name of freedom and
democracy. To paraphrase Tolstoy, patriotism, that cruel ruse of the sick
to seduce the poor to go out and fight and die for an ideology that
supports a status quo, comfortable to you-know-who. Our economy, our
lifestyle, our phony democratic way of life depend on the development and
growth of the virtue of patriotism. That's why public, taxpayer schools
start us off in kindergarten, "I pledge allegiance to the flag, etc." I
wonder if they do that with the three-year-olds in Montessori? I don't know
the exact figures, but I strongly believe that very few children of the
wealthy class died or suffered wounds in Vietnam!
Wow! Do I ever sound angry? I fully expect to die this way. I like the
image of the enraged Christ, whip in hand clearing his way through the
obscenities of commerce, created by people who put money before the Father.
Following in the footsteps of the temple moneychangers, our political
leaders, with little dissent from us, destroy the temples of children's
bodies in Iraq. And our secretary of state claims: "5,000 infant deaths a
month are worth the price." Undoubtedly, she means the price of "freedom
By the way, did Kuwait ever become a democracy? What about Saudi Arabia and
Brunei? We need to go after those people.
End - 1:04 p.m.
p.s. I need to rest awhile, just sit here in the conex and listen to the
rain on the metal roof and the wind passing through the eucalyptus trees
that line the dirt road running westward toward the Pacific.
Don't know how long the writing flow will last, but I'm happy to have found
the place (the chapel in the morning) and the time to write!
Another bonus is the rainy season, which means I can sit inside my little
metal house at the Sweat Lodge, listen to the music of the rain on the
metal roof and write. No light in here, so I must keep the door open. It's
okay as long as the wind does not come out of the north.
Letters from Charlie January 11th through 17th, 2001
Thursday morning - 7:33
Trouble getting started this morning. There is always the weather. Another
grey, overcast day at Lompoc. Cold enough for sweat pants beneath my size
38 trousers. One of my former ex-Marine macho friends used to say women
wear pants, men wear trousers. Obviously, it made an impression.
Enjoying the silence of this empty chapel; empty of people, not furnishing.
There are pews: six heavy, seven-foot long, oak pews that could be artful,
refinished. However, I won't be here long enough to volunteer for the
project this time. Will there be a next time? Do you hear me, Lord? What's
that you say?
"Wait and see. Patience gains all things."
In addition to the oak pews, there is a wooden altar with a lectern to
match. Book cases filled with religious books of at least four different
faiths: Buddhist, Moslem, Protestant and Catholic line the rear west wall.
A tightly woven mauve commercial carpet that has felt the feet of
California convicts by the hundreds, maybe thousands, covers most of the
floor. Blue plastic padded chairs with chromed metal frames comprise the
remainder of the seating room in this 20- x 40-foot room.
This is just a utility building, dressed like a church where men meet to
pray, study, practice music, do yoga, watch videos and have discussions. As
far as I'm concerned, its most appealing asset is its non-occasional
End - 7:40 a.m. Off to the Lodge,
and lo and behold, here comes the Sun.
1/12/01 Friday - 7:01 a.m.
Another damp, sultry, rainy day. "Rainy Days and Mondays Get Me Down," goes
the song. I'm glad it isn't Monday. One does not need to get down around
this place. Surprisingly, there is an up- rather than downbeat spirit among
the residents. If not that, then a quiet state of resignation.
End - 7:32 a.m.
p.s. Not much material for a half-hour writing session.
1/13/01 Saturday - Missed
1/14/01 Sunday - Missed
Martin Luther King Federal Holiday
The picnic table at the Lodge
I've been working on the new compost pile most of the day. This is my third
composting station, each new one bigger than the one before it. This last
one is about eight-by-eight-by-one-foot, hopefully large enough to handle
compostible kitchen salad and scraps. This time next year the lodge people
will have some fine soil for their flower and vegetable gardens.
Some sow and some reap. Some work on the means, others enjoy the end.
Reminds me of the nonviolent movement to stop violence and create a better
In preparation for today's reflection on one of the world's greatest
humans, Martin Luther King Jr., I began one of his biographies last night.
The writer is Richard Deats, editor of the Fellowship of Reconciliation
End 2:33 p.m.
On to choir practice.
1/16/01 Tuesday morning 7:33 a.m.
The Chapel - yet another beautiful day
Of the many wonderful gifts we humans give to one another is something to
laugh about, and it is best when not expected. As I was leaving the dorm
this early morning I paused to wish one of my favorite neighbors a good day
and for some reason said to Sancho, "If you never see my face again, pray
for my immortal soul." He looked at me quizzically and inquired, "What?"
Sancho's English is limited, but better than my Spanish. He did not
understand the meaning of "immortal," but he did know "immoral." When I
pointed out the difference, we both laughed. First time I have ever asked
anyone to pray for my immoral soul.
Not a bad idea, given the human struggle to be good, better and best.
Little slips remind me of this when I hold a door for a person behind me.
He passes through as if my courteous gesture were his due without a word or
even a nod of appreciation and I unsaintly say, "You're welcome!!" I did
this twice this morning, within 15 minutes. The second time, 10 minutes
after chiding myself for my lack of self-control and inability to accept
the fact that some people are ill-bred. So please pray for my "immoral
End 7:37 a.m.
Off to work
Back to the regular, predictable schedule. Time seems to stand still and
move at the same time here because of doing the same thing at the same time
Love and Peace
Letters from Charlie January 18th through 31st, 2001
Jan. 18, 2001
Extra cold this morning. Enough to freeze pipes and bring an end to the
last of the flowers still blooming around the lodge.
Last night's mail and this morning's phone call brought sad news of one
friend in trouble and requests for prayers and other friends who put
themselves in trouble for the cause. Students from Oberlin College blocked
ingoing morning traffic at Ft. Benning, Ga., by holding hands inside of
pipes to prevent separation, while others carried a child's coffin over the
line enroute to the School of Americas, now called Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation.
How good it is in the evening of one's life to know that others in the
early morning of their adult lives are carrying on the struggle. College
students, risking prison and educational interruption to write essays on
justice with their bodies. It gives this aged protester a lift.
Years ago, when I was young and in my 40s, uninvolved in anything except
finding the right lifetime companion, a friend sent me a book, What to Do
Until the Messiah Comes. A testosteronic male could not possibly forget the
cover. Approaching 70, I still remember the cover girl stretched out prone
on her side so as to reveal her feminine streamlines only. She was
beautiful, lying there on the floor waiting for her masseuse. The book was
all about massage. I didn't get the sender's point then, but I think I do
I don't know all of the purposes of massage, but the limited experience
I've enjoyed tells me it relieves stress, aids relaxation and promotes a
sense of well-being.
End 7:38 a.m.
Bedtime 9 p.m.
Just finished a letter to a friend. Needed an envelope, so I climbed down
from this upper bunk and proceeded to the OIC (officer in charge). This
little act of climbing down to the floor was enough to motivate my neighbor
to say, "Charlie is coming out of his coma -- his book coma." Nice to know
how one is perceived in his neighborhood.
Off to sleep, "perhaps to dream." Looking forward to it.
Jan. 19, 2001
Friday 11:36 A.M.
Picnic table at The Lodge
Overlooking Lompoc Valley
Pleasant temperature, lovely blue-patched canopy, just cloudy enough to
filter the sunlight. My friend, the blue jay, comes and goes, unable to
accept the fact that his one crackered lunch is over.
Reflecting on this late evening season of my life. I'm just days away from
70. Haven't taken a good studied look in the mirror in a couple of months.
Oh, I check the growth of my head and facial hair now and then. The hair
drops over my ears and is growing around my neck. The hair over my ears is
thin, but thick enough to help muffle unwanted noise, like the
conversations of my neighbors three and six feet either side of me.
The wax ear plugs some kind soul gave me provide me with private space in
close quarters. Hair works its way into the wax at times, but that's a
small inconvenience to bear when you consider the benefits - silence.
The books I read take me into worlds of suffering and injustice. How brave
and loving are those who actually go into the poverty and squalor of worlds
we call third. The Catholic Worker folks find third worlds right smack in
the middle of the first world. In one case within walking distance of the
White House, the Supreme Court and Congressional buildings, where laws are
not made to insure equitable distribution of wealth. In fact, Congress
makes laws that aid and abet the concentration of wealth in the hands of a
few. I can faintly here the sound of moving feet, marching to drums of
revolution, just the other side of the mountains south of Lompoc Valley.
Wonder if I'll live long enough to see it, to be in a nonviolent
demonstration in downtown San Francisco or Washington, D.C., for a
cessation to hostilities.
End 12:12 p.m.
Back to work on the cactus garden and the fire for tomorrow's sweat. No
sweat for me. Judy is visiting. Maybe some day, some place (our new
backyard) we will sweat together. Good visiting day topic for six hours of
conversation. Some couples play scrabble. Not me. Judy always wins.
Where there is love
There is no need for courage
Because there is no fear.
Love drives out fear.
Looking on the unloved one,
Mean as he can be
I can't see his meanness
All I see is me.
Visiting day. Judy.
A great day, as usual. Judy loves my hair. Suggests a possible cut at the
appropriate time. I'm holding out till post release date, July 31, 2001.
More reason to hope for a successful appeal. The look now is of the Wolfman
from a Lon Chaney movie, or possibly the Man from La Mancha after the Quest.
Picnic table in the park
Overlooking Lompoc Valley, waiting for Judy's arrival
This is Christmas Eve stuff. I can see the visitors cars pull up from where
I sit. Soon I expect to hear my name blared out over the camp loudspeaker,
"Charles Liteky #83276-02, report to visiting."
A sense of fullness and well-being accompanies on a visiting day. Six full
hours of animated conversation. Never do that at home. Can't do that at
home. Not even on vacation. Too much else to do.
A beautiful, clement day here at Lompoc, five miles from the sea which we
cannot see or hear, but just knowing it's there is a comfort to an Aquarian.
Singing in the prison camp choir today at the Protestant service. They
needed an alto so I volunteered. I can sing from base to tenor, but cannot
read a note of music. Must hear and memorize. Can never accuse God of not
having a sense of humor.
1/22, 1/23, 1/24
Thursday 7:30 a.m.
The last three days have been a bit feverish. Problems with staff, problem
with a resident. If I can just remain focused on the concept that problems
are opportunities to employ one's creativity rather than occasions of
agitation or self pity, I'll be okay; may even grow a millimeter!
A reminder from Native American Ethics: speak softly and respectfully. And
from Scripture, "Be angry, but sin not."
End: 7:45 a.m.
My work site
Lunch hour 11:15 a.m.
Here at the picnic table with the birds, cactus and eucalyptus, plus a
gentle wind out of the west. The wind, some say, is or has a spirit endowed
by God to help all things grow. I'm more aware than ever of which way the
wind is blowing or where it's coming from.
This is my weekend to lead the sweat again. The resident whose turn it was
to lead is having visitors and nothing takes precedence over visitors. I'm
not as prepared as I'd like to be. Don't have my mind and heart wrapped
around something I want to share with others.
Last time, two weeks ago, our theme was the "Red Path." We are encouraged
to walk with the help of the Spirit of the North. I compared it to the way
of the cross that Christ bids his followers walk.
I'm thinking I might do Native American Ethics, not a bad subject for those
of us whose ethics are related to our current Lompoc residence.
Here I am learning from people once depicted as savage; distorted history,
cowboys and Indian stuff.
End: 11:55 a.m.
1/26, 1/27, 1/28 Missed
Post Super Bowl Monday
The Day of the Vacuum
What do we do now? What can we look forward to? Even in prison, where the
emphasis is on punishment, adjustments are made to accommodate the big
athletic event of the year. It's Christmas time for the couch jocks, the
gamblers and those of us who look forward to empty streets and prison
dormitories. I spent most of my time reading The Open Veins of Latin
America yesterday without the aid of ear plugs. It's all about the
exploitation of human beings, inclusive of slavery and torture by other
human beings who placed matter over mind and heart.
The Holy Roman Church of that era (Columbus and following) was of little
help to the poor. There were, however, exceptionally loving and courageous
people who stood up to both ecclesiastical and state power and said, "No,"
to slavery and greed.
I must say I have problems with the Christ who encouraged the slaves of his
day to be obedient slaves, serving their masters as they would serve God.
Why did he, the paragon of love, not condemn such an obvious violation of
loving behavior as slavery along with other less egregious sins? Had he
done so, many of us may have awakened sooner.
Yesterday's Sunday morning epistle from Paul on the beautiful qualities of
love does not include a phrase like, "Love does not enslave another."
End: 7:51 a.m.
Tuesday morning 7:15 a.m.
Among the many beautiful axioms of Native American ethics that I focus on
today is a reminder to give thanks for the blessings of yesterday.
I think of yesterday not only in terms of 24 hours ago, but of all the
900-plus days of my past that I can remember. I'm too blessed with good
days to remember to list them all, but as I approach my 70th year of life
it seems appropriate to recall salient events and people who have helped
make my life something to be grateful for.
7:34 a.m. already - Must save this block of reflection for some other time,
free from the constraints of my work schedule!
But for a faulty memory's sake I will mention the blessing of yesterday,
news of my appeal status: It was summarily denied, with no attempt to
legally justify the denial.
More about this blessing later!
End - 7:43 a.m.
Relatively quiet dorm room
Already settled in for the evening, except for a call to Judy. About the
blessing of an appeal denial! I feel completely liberated from the slighest
need to respect the law as it is now legislated by a legal system devoid of
justice. I feel free to leave this place whenever I decide to, never
clandestinely, just walk right out after refusing to cooperate with the
work program of this punitive, inhuman system, that functions on fear.
More about this appeal denial when I receive the paperwork in a few days.
All is well here; looking forward to the next six months. I feel like I'm
in a growing season. Not too bad with spring just around the corner.
Love and Peace,
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