Letters from Charlie – February 7th & 8th, 2001

7:15 p.m.
Top bunk desktop

Catching my breath here. Too much to do and too little time. Feel off balance. Need to do what I can when I can and let go of the rest. Need to write the members of my legal "Dream Team" and offer condolences. The single-paragraph, superficial appeal denial by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals came as a grave disappointment to all concerned. Now I know how Al Gore must have felt when his election was stolen!

The circuit judge's denial paragraph, like the prosecutor's short brief, did not discuss the issues, nor did they observe the law. So what do you do in the face of raw, arrogant power (supporting) a decision devoid of legal observance? I'm not sure what my lawyers will do, but I know what I will do, which is to continue to speak truth to power. Eventually, truth will have its day. In this case the day of truth will come too late to "set" me free, but I get the chance to enjoy six more months of Uncle Sam's hospitality at California Club Fed.

I've recently been invited to answer questions for an article to be published in the worldwide distributed military paper called Stars and Stripes. What an opportunity! It's like a birthday gift. The big Seven Zero that I never expected to celebrate. Yes, I will celebrate it here in the cactus garden next to the sweat lodge. I know it will be a day of great joy as I reflect on the many blessings I've received from start to near finish.

One thing for sure: I'm over two-thirds of the way home. I can't believe Strom Thurman, 99, is still in Congress. I never expected to be around this long, so I'll never say never again.

Physically, growing old is no fun, but becoming the gospel "little child" fills one with wonder and love in response to an appreciation of beauty, order, design and the remarkable interrelationship of all things. Native American spirituality has assisted me here. I'm grateful for the gift of so much life, and the gifts that support life to its end: good parents, brothers, friends, wife and heroes to help and inspire.

Playing basketball since age 12 has been a great source of pleasure for me. I can thank the political and moral activism that landed me in Lompoc for the renewal of my basketball enjoyment. Have just signed up for the winter league. I feel like an aged fighter who can't quit while he's a winner. In my case, being a winner is just being able to move. The players actually have a draft system to ensure balanced teams. I don't expect to go high in the draft this season. In fact, I may have the opportunity to be the last of the chosen.

9:15 p.m. End

Thursday morning 7:02 a.m.
The Dorm

Too cold for the chapel this morning, so I've returned to the dorm to warm up.

Recently, I received a letter from a man with two children and a wife who is beginning to feel drawn to the prisoner of conscience witness. He has asked several questions. I'd like to share my answers with those of you who may also be hearing the prison witness call. Please keep in mind that mine is a male response to prison life for men. From what I gather prison life for women is no better than it is for men as far as facilities and supervision go. However, prison life with women may be easier. This is, of course, an assumption based on my observation of how much better than men and woman relate to and with one another.

Question #1: What is prison like?

Answer: Prison is a unique experience that I feel one must live in order to appreciate! Strictly speaking I am not in prison. I am incarcerated at a prison work camp. The word "work" is essential. When you formerly refuse to work you are escorted immediately to another prison facility called the F.C.I. (Federal Correctional Institute) where you must also work, but not at jobs that financially help support the prison or criminal justice system.

The prison camp is for nonviolent, non-flight risk offenders. It represents the lowest level of penal institutional confinement. Living conditions are characteristically crowded. One hundred and fifty men are crammed into a 50-foot by 100-foot building that could be a warehouse. It is, however, heated. I liken it to submarine living; very little personal space, no real private space. Consequently there is a noise level akin to that of a crowded restaurant. Ear plugs help create some personal audio space (I'm plugged up as I write this).

Lights are officially turned off around 10 p.m. every weekday evening and at 11 or 12 on weekends. Once the lights are off, conversation ceases and most of us slip into slumber. If you are fortunate enough to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow you will miss the roar or communal snoring, punctuated by the sound of methane gas escaping colons throughout the dorm. Night before last, the combined sounds of snoring and flatulations reminded me of Professor Howard Hills' River City Band, with its 76 trombones and horns of every shape and kind.

Adjacent to my sleeping quarters is another dorm of 150 men who enjoy the same, not salubrious kind of environment. So, here at Lompoc, CA, Federal Prison Camp we total 300 inmates (that I prefer to call "residents").

At 6 a.m. we are notified that breakfast is served in the mess hall. The food is reasonably good or reasonably bad, depending on what a person's eating habits were on the outside. The food is plentiful. If anything, we get too much. I've had a lot of institutional cooking in my life, so I don't get too focused on food. However, I do miss before-meal appetizers and martinis.

By 7:30 a.m. we are off to work until 3 p.m. with an hour off for lunch. I've been blessed with what I regard as the best job for me in the camp; chapel and sweat lodge orderly. I work alone, far enough away from the center of camp to experience a modicum of silence and privacy. For seven treasured hours a day I pull weeds and water flowers, chop and stack wood, haul trash, etc. Needless to say I've grown to dislike returning to the din of the dorm. A social animal in this society I am not.

That doesn't mean that there are not some fine people here. There are and I've met some of them. But the only thing I really have in common with most of the residents here is our common life of incarceration. A protester who voluntarily puts himself in the company of men incarcerated for a grand variety of reason is a bit of an oddity. Prisoner of conscience? What's that? Prisoner of War against the Poor? School of the Americas protester? Needless to say it would help to have some protesting company. Someday! Maybe. I don't think too may people feel this prison witness calling. And those who do are not free of responsibilities enough to answer!

I neither encourage nor discourage people to embrace the prison witness. I don't think it's for everyone. Some folks have a hard time giving up control over their lives, which is exactly what you do when you check into prison. You no longer do what you want to do when you want to do it!

In addition, you are on your own, left to your own inner resources. You will, from time to time, experience the lonely-in-the-crowd syndrome. However, the person of faith is never really alone - and the sense of her presence is powerful and sustaining when she makes herself known. I figure I am here because I believe in a God of justice, who has gifted me with a sense of justice. She knows this, appreciates it and helps out in some marvelously simple and profound ways.

Outside support from friends and fellow movement members makes what could be a tedious, unpleasant experience relatively easy. Spouses can help the most or hinder the most. My friends, community, SOA Watch folks and wife help make this a growing, spiritual event for me!

The hardest part of prison life for me is the limited, occasional time I'm compelled to spend in the company or presence of insensitive, rude, callous, self-indulgent, self-oriented people. Among the staff they are the rule; among the residents they are the exception. I am amazed at times at the kindness I see expressed resident-to-resident.

This is just a little of what prison life is like for me.

Question #2: Is there anything that could be sent to make my life more comfortable in prison?

Answer: Nothing the prison officials would permit. Prayers alone fill the bill. Question #3: Do I get beaten up?

Answer: Not yet, and it's not likely in a prison camp. Question #4: What is it like being arrested?

Answer: It depends on the arresting person. Usually, the police and soldiers go easy on nonviolent protesters. Violence has a tendency to promote more violence. I've never been roughly treated at Ft. Benning, Ga. Question #5: What happens if you get sick?

Answer: You receive second-rate medical treatment. Prison is not a place to get seriously ill. Response to serious medical problems is not the best. It can result in serious injury and even death, so the stories go. A lot depends on the disposition of the staff member on duty at the time of an injury or sickness. Question #6: Do I have a family?

Answer: Wife only.

Question #7: How do I deal with separation from her?

Answer: Very well, thanks to frequent phone calls and monthly visits.

Question #8: How and when did I get involved in shutting down the School of the Americas?

Answer: By invitation from Father Roy Bourgeois in 1990.

9:30 p.m. End

February 20-March 22, 2001


Tuesday - 11:23 a.m.
The round picnic table with a view
of the cactus garden and Lompoc Valley

Dear Richard,

I could fill a small book with happenings since my last writing: news of the appeal denial, the re-appeal, 70th birthday, a two-day visit with Judy, Valentine's Day and a decision to answer as much correspondence before leaving as possible.

The appeal denial: Folks have heard about an appeal, but I don't think many know its nature. It was an appeal of sentence. We were surprised that the judge who was supposed to be so different from his predecessor, unaffectionately known in the movement as Maximum Bob Elliot, would decide on a year-long sentence for two nonviolent misdemeanors.

Emotionally, I was in a (good) place to accept the sentence, since I witnessed so many unjust sentences in the Columbus, Ga., federal courtroom since 1990 when Father Roy, my brother, Pat, and I were sentenced by Maximum Bob. We were charged and convicted of felonies then Roy, because of his prior record, received 14 months. Pat and I were given only six. The three of us split the restitution charge of $1,999. No fine was imposed.

We did not give a thought to the severity of that sentence. I was beginning to learn then that justice is not necessarily related to law, like the beautiful concave carving behind the bench in the Columbus, Ga., federal courtroom reads: Lex et Justicia (Law and Justice), the conjunction and joining two concepts as if they were equal or integral parts of a whole. Not so, say I and I said so three times at my pretrial and pro-se hearings.

Some feel that it is out of place for a defendant to address a judge in court as an equal. Not me. He or she may be my superior in terms of knowledge of the law, but certainly not in an appreciation of justice. On the field of justice, we are all equal.

I had no idea about how to begin an appeal process. In the course of relating my feelings and intentions to a friend, Harvey Harrison, who happens to have been educated in the law, to have passed the bar and practiced briefly, I mentioned that I was going to appeal my sentence on grounds of unreasonability. He responded, "I'd be honored to do it for you. I'll give it my best effort. What I don't know, I'll learn."

From the beginning, Harvey enlisted the help of his 14-year-old son, David, a bright, unassuming lad gifted with the same upbeat enthusiasm as his Dad.

Harvey and David discovered an article in a law journal on federal sentencing written by a young professor of law who was teaching at Emory University named Mark Miller, (who) is regarded as one of the best on federal sentencing.

Harvey did not hesitate to call him (and) Mark committed himself to help with the appeal. Mark, in turn, reached out to his professorial friends at Stanford Law School and Wake Forst Law School, Professors Robert Weisberg and Ronald Wright respectively.

Three professors of law at prestigious university law schools. Harvey Harrison and son, David; Debra Hannula, part-time judge and attorney from Seattle; Ben Sanchez and Patty Walmann from St. John of God went to work on an appeal of sentence. This was a legal dream team, all pro bono.

End for now.

3/13/01 Tuesday evening Top Bunk (desktop)

Sorry it's taken me three weeks to get back to this.

When the appeal was finished, formatted and sent to me for approval before filing, I was amazed at the scholarship and quality of relevant research.

3/14/01 Wednesday evening 6:45 Top bunk

The appeal listed (the following) violations of law by the federal district court (notwithstanding legal mandate):

1) The court did not consider the nature and circumstance of the offense and the history of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;

2) The court imposed sentence without assessing the relevance of each of the purposes of sentencing me;

3) The court did not take into account "the kinds of sentence available";

4) The court did not take into account the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct;

5) The court did not impose a sentence that is "sufficient, but not greater than necessary";

6) The court failed to state in open court the reasons for its imposition of the sentence;

7) The court imposed consecutive sentences rather than concurrent.

I felt very confident that the appellate court would rule in my favor.

On Jan. 24, 2001, in one nine-sentence paragraph, three appellate court judges negated over 60 pages of legal research and composition. From the judges:

"Having reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire record on appeal -- including transcripts of the hearing held to determine Liteky's capacity to proceed per se, the trial and the sentencing proceeding - we find no cause for setting aside Liteky's sentence. Although the court did not announce the rationale for Liteky's sentence by referring to the statutory purposes a sentence is to achieve, by articulating reasons for Liteky's sentences and by finding the sentences were not greater than necessary under the circumstances, it is obvious that the court followed the statutory mandates and that Liteky knew this throughout the sentencing proceeding."

On the one hand they admit that the mandates of (law) were not followed, and on the other hand they propose that they were obviously followed.

So what's next? The "Dream Team" has asked for a rehearing of the appeal before the entire panel of nine appellate judges. I suspect that they, too, will do an end-run, avoid the issue and summarily deny the appeal.

3/22/01 Thursday evening

Again, please forgive the widening writing gap. Too many chores and too little time these days. As expected, the 11th Circuit Appellate Court denied our request for a hearing on the appeal. I have no idea yet what the "Dream Team" will do. I must say I am curious. I know what I intend to do, which is "Speak Truth to Power" on every occasion. I have a chance to do so. People should know what our so-called justice system has become.

I'm just four months away from resuming the struggle on the other side of the invisible boundary lines that surround Lompoc by the Sea. I'm beginning to think of the next effort. It may be a nationwide speaking tour after a brief vacation. (There is so much to talk about.) Vets for peace, friends teaching at the universities, churches and members of my former military unit, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade could be asked to help. Have received an invitation from a friend at Manhattan College, N.Y. Would like to do it for about a year, then return to prison for a rest. Indeed, this time around has been a blessing for me.

Love and peace,


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