Letters from Charlie – January 4th through th, 2001


Thursday morning
The Chapel

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.

6:40 p.m.

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.

Friday morning
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.

7:27 a.m.
Off to work

6:38 a.m.
The Chapel

Prison camp experience has been made relatively easy for me by my support people - 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.


3:56 p.m.

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
The Chapel

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 awake.

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.

9:52 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 right-handed.)

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 moment.

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.

1/10/01 continued
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 and democracy."

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.

3:00 p.m.

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.

Much love
Peace, Too


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 silence.

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.
The Chapel

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

1/15/01 Monday
Martin Luther King Federal Holiday

2:12 p.m.
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 world.

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 magazine.

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 soul."

End 7:37 a.m.
Off to work

Wednesday evening
9:46 p.m.

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 every day.

Love and Peace Charlie

Letters from Charlie – January 18th through 31st, 2001

Jan. 18, 2001
Thursday morning
6:52 a.m.
The Chapel

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 now.

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.

Work time

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.

9:18 p.m.

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.

8:17 a.m.
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.

1/25/01 (continued)
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

1/29/01 Monday
7 a.m.
The Chapel
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.
The Chapel

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.

6:54 p.m.
Upper Bunk
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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