Two weeks ago I expected to be in a different residence today, celebrating
the memory of Romero in the "hole" across the road at the Federal Correctional
Institute. I had planned a work refusal based on a violation of conscience
that tells me not to participate in or cooperate with an institution that
uses prison labor to make money for a government that facilitates the abuse
of poor people. I woke up to the reality of prison camp financial complicity
about a month after arrival, but remained here on
the legal supposition that refusal to cooperate with this work camp penal system might reflect negatively on my excessive sentence appeal. I did not want to undermine a laborious legal effort by the best lawyers to force federal prosecutors and judges to obey the law as we, the citizenry are encouraged, expected and coerced to do.
So I compromised my conscience. The cost of compromise for me was living daily with the fear that I might misbehave in a way that would precipitate a journey to the "hole." If word, somehow, got back to the appellate judges in Atlanta that I was not a cooperative prisoner, a decision in favor of my appeal might be negatively influenced. (So the lawyers said.)
Months of waiting for the Eleventh Circuit Appellate Court's decision passed. Around mid-January, 2001, the decision came in the form of a one-paragraph summary denial. I've already elaborated on this.
Everyone involved in the appeal was disappointed because approval would
have required a modicum of justice and wisdom of judges sentencing misdemeanants.
In my opinion, appellant court denial without oral or written argument
is the height of arrogance and cowardice.
Sunday evening, 8:25 p.m.
The lawyers applied for a rehearing and were once again denied without explanation. The good side of the end of the appeal effort is that I no longer feel bound by the fear of misbehaving in response to one abuse or another from staff or inmate. However, there is the matter of the Sweat Lodge orderly transition to a respectful person I can recommend.
Next Saturday will be my turn to lead the Sweat Liturgy. I've chosen the two themes of courage and forgiveness, two of the salient virtues of Romero. Frequently, the themes rise from my own need of the moment.
In preparation for this particular Sweat I read a small account of Romero's life and struggle from peace and justice. I am deeply impressed by the nonviolent way he faced those who hated and threatened him and by the loving way he repeatedly forgave fellow churchmen who publicly denounced him.
I've recently come to the realization that I haven't really forgiven a person who offended me. And I'm finding the act of forgiveness very difficult. Like I'd rather not have anything to do with the person. How non-loving of me. How angry. I know the loving thing to do but I don't have the love to do it. So I pray and one day I may write a letter.
I could not have forgiven former friends and colleagues as Romero did.
I just learned that 26 people will be tried on May 22. I hope they are as happy as I am for them. I was beginning to fear that the Army was finally developing some wisdom after 10 years of supporting the SOAW prison witness. It also makes it easier for me to leave for a while.
Almost time for another trip into the unconscious followed by the beginning
of another week of gardening and wood chopping - good spiritual and physical
Love and peace,
Letters from Charlie – April 8th – 11th, 2001
I started April with a bang. It was around 3 a.m. I was dreaming. The first shot I took landed perfectly between the rim and the backboard, 10 feet above the floor. I've always been a member of the "white-men-can't-jump club." I should have known better than try to dislodge the ball. I was determined to lift myself high enough to fingertip the ball loose from its mooring. A running leap carried me within six inches of touching the ball, then I began to claw at the air as if it were something solid I could climb.
thing I knew I was flat on my back on the tile floor, five feet below the
top bunk. There was some sense of a free fall ... I do remember the noise
of a metal chair grazed my head or shoulder on the way down. That plus
the splat that followed awakened my bunkie who rolled over, took a quick
look at me on the floor, said, "You okay, Charlie?" - and just as
quickly returned to his dream when I said, "Yes."
Next, a big black man, clad in long underwear and a stocking cap, descended from his upper bunk across the aisle when he realized someone hit the floor. "Get up, Charlie," he ordered. "Not just yet," I replied. "I need to lie here for awhile. I think I'm okay."
Then arrives the guard with his flashlight.
"Yes," and he moves on.
Fortunately, as Gump would say, "I landed on my buttocks." I still have enough flesh there to absorb a five-foot drop, so no harm that I'm aware of was done.
I'm about finished reading All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragy. It's a true story of a journalist's journey from poverty to relative wealth, from high school newspaper writer to New York Times and from childhood to maturity, with some emphasis on his parents, a dysfunctional father and a saintly mother. Also, there is Leon Uris' latest, A God in Ruins, which I've just acquired compliments of a thoughtful resident, who searched it out of the library for me.
Today is Palm Sunday. Some of the residents did a great job of procuring and displaying palm branches around the chapel. I elected not to attend the service, nor did I go last week. Reached the place where I can honesty say I don't enjoy the services here. Just too boring, like canned soup over and over again. Will have to attend East Sunday, as visitors will be here and mass is part of the visit.
Have not been able to commit myself to the Church of Rome. I'm harder on the institutional church than I am myself is that I'm more patient with and understanding of the dark side of me than I am of the church. St. John's under Father Labib is another matter.
Need to take a break here. 3:40 p.m.
Wednesday evening, 9:13
It's almost time for me to call this a day and get on with the trip to dreamland. Paying more attention to dreams these days since I learned that they are a venue to the personal and collective unconscious, at least that's what Carl Jung believed and the Lakota Sioux lived. These days I'm enjoying a closer affinity with Lakota liturgy than I am with the Catholic version of communal worship.
The mail continues to arrive at a rate far beyond my ability to respond. I'll have a couple of weeks of solid writing to do when I return.
Working at the Sweat Lodge six days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. has taken most of the onus out of prison life. Seven hours of solitude.
New man in the neighborhood, top bunk to my left, just west of me. I'd say late 50s. Not negotiating the top bunk well. I cautioned him to tuck in. He has four years to go. Good Lord!
Best I get this off. Don't know when I'll get back to it.
Much love and peace,
Letters from Charlie – May 21st – June 4th, 2001
Sorry to be such a poor correspondent these past couple of months. Just have not been inclined to write. Stuff going on within me that demanded attention. In addition, an inmate that I respected disrespected me verbally and I did not take it well. He later apologized, but I informed him that I am not good at forgiving, because forgiveness connotes a willingness to continue a relationship and most of the time I don't care to continue the relationship. For instance, it took me two months to reestablish contact with someone who wrote and apologized for his behavior. I finally did a short bygones-by-bygones thing, but I really don't care if I ever see or hear from the person again.
I've never claimed to be a great lover.
On Friday, May 17, I was administratively transferred from the work camp, where I've been for the last nine and one-half months, to a higher security level correctional institution called the FCI (Federal Correctional Institute). Around 3 p.m., a young guard appeared at my locker (and) informed me that I was under arrest. He led me to the office next to the front door of the dorm where the camp administrator, his assistant and four lower rank officials (guards) were waiting.
Upon entry the administrator said, "You convinced us that you might escape." Consequently, they felt that it would be in their best interests (career interests) to preempt my possible escape by placing me in the FCI, a heavily fenced, concrete and steel low security compound only a stone's throw away from the camp.
I was a little surprised at the time, but subsequent reflection on prison employee (career) fear helps me understand their cautionary behavior. In prison lingo, "Check this out:"
One day a couple of weeks ago the PA (Prison Administrator) was doing his customary camp walk-around, which always includes a stop by the Sweat Lodge where I entertain myself on work days (usually gardening, sometimes chopping wood). Whenever he walks around my workplace I walk with him in the event he wants to ask questions or make remarks, which are not always positive.
(The point of my pencil just broke. However, I'm able to fasten the
pencil wood to a ball point pen insert, and continue for as long as it
lasts). To continue:
After the exchange of a few philosophical thoughts I asked the P.A.
if it would be possible for him to transfer me to the F.C.I. (I have several
reasons for wanting to leave this place, but I only mentioned one.) "I'd
like to see what's going on over there." He responded negatively, explaining
that my category of offenses did not qualify me for a higher security level.
In addition, he said, an action, breach of rule or a violation that would
get me transferred would probably be contrary to my
principles. At this juncture of our conversation I decided to let it go, but I wasn't satisfied with his vision of possible offenses.
As the days passed, I continued to think and pray for a way to exit this place with some kind of action that would sit well with my conscience, and of course be perceived as nonviolent.
Well, it just so happened that my quarterly team meeting with the P.A., assistant P.A. and my unit counselor, a lovely, efficient, mature woman, was called last Wednesday. After the usual formalities I was asked if I had anything to say. Just to get an enjoyable reaction, I told the team what I had previously asked the P.A. The lovely lady, thinking that I meant a transfer to another work camp, said, "You don't have enough time left to qualify for a transfer." When I told her where I wanted to go, she incredulously smiled, as if I were kidding, as did the P.A. and Assistant P.A. And again, the P.A. explained that I did not qualify, but apparently he and the assistant P.A. began to suspect that I was thinking of or planning something that would, indeed, qualify me for a higher level of incarceration, something more befitting a government protester of human rights abuses.
The next day, Thursday, as I was walking from the dorm to meet my lawyer
friend, Bob Holstein, the Assistant P.A. called me over to his truck, parked
in front of the Admin Office. He was sitting sideways in the front seat
with the door open and the P.A. was standing a few feet away, facing him.
The following conversation indicates that they were talking about me
and what I might do to get myself transferred. They were obviously concerned and I must say I enjoyed their concern. The conversation went something like this:
The P.A.: "Mr. Liteky, have you decided what you are going to do?
"No sir. I may well do nothing."
"But you may do something."
"Possibly," I replied.
Actually, I had been thinking. I went so far as to ask a very sharp
inmate lawyer what he thought the consequences of a simple "walk out" would
be, a preannounced walk out in the guard's office that would undoubtedly
result in immediate arrest and transfer. My rationale for such an action
I have been the victim of a grave injustice perpetrated by men who are supposed to be paragons of justice, namely, a federal district court judge, a federal prosecutor and nine appellate court judges (all 11th Circuit). All of these people in positions of great power over citizens' lives ignored the law and sentenced me as they pleased rather than as directed by statutes established by Congress (Statute 3553-U.S. Code).
It is my conviction that these men, prosecutor and judges, have committed, because of their positions of grave responsibility, grave crimes of injustice to our system of so-called justice and to the people who fall under their power. They all take a sacred oath to serve us justly and uphold the law.
In my case and for at least 50 cases of misdemeanant crimes before mine, the 11th Circuit Federal Court, located in Columbus, Ga., has failed to follow Statute 3553, which mandates the judges verbally articulate in open court the reasons for giving specific sentences. Three professors of law, from three prestigious universities (Stanford, Emory, Wake Forest) stated very clearly that the Columbus court and the 11th Circuit Appellate court "violated the law." This is not something I dreamed up.
Convinced as I am that these supposedly responsible men, men vowed to be responsible, have failed to be legally and morally responsible, I say to myself, "Why should I be responsible to an irresponsible court?" I accepted the legal consequences for my acts of civil disobedience directed toward the abolition of a taxpayer-supported military school complicit in crimes against humanity. Why should these men (and one woman) be allowed, not only to remain untouched by punitive measures of the law, but be allowed to arrogantly flaunt the law?
The district court ignored the law. The appellate court sanctioned the district court's arrogance and, in all fairness, its ignorance.
So what is a victim of injustice to do when the door to the room called a court of justice is slammed in his face so fast and so hard that the fetid air from the courtroom nearly blows him over? Well, he can throw up his hands, scream out injustice or leave the imprint of his boots on the courtroom door. Or he can approach the issue nonviolently and speak and write truth to power. Power, in this case, is vested in the people who make up our pitiful excuse for democracy. Faulty as it is, our system does provide us with venues of expression that can move some lawmakers to recognize injustice and act to correct injustice.
So I've decided to taker my case to the people, beginning with the statement
that "I no longer respect an unjust court's right to sentence me to prison."
Therefore, I feel free to simply walk away. I want the prison system, the
legislative branch of government, representatives of the people and people
themselves to see the hypocrisy, the arrogance and insensitivity (of) a
justice system running amuck.
So here I am at the F.C.I., where I've wanted to be for the last nine
months in what is euphemistically called the SHU (Special Housing Unit).
This is what is more commonly and vulgarly called, "The Hole."
I've been here in the "Hole" for 20 days, the best 20 days of my prison experience. I hope to remain here until my release, which as far as I know is July 27. I'm here because my caretakers perceived me as a flight risk. My citation or charge reads:
"Plotting to escape (walkout)."
I objected formally to the words "plotting" and "escape," explaining that such language connotes secrecy and does not fit with my open discussion of the kind of possible infractions that would result in a change of residence.
Hands behind my back, they cuffed me at the camp and leg-ironed me, drove me to the maximum security prison and processed me for transfer. Processing involves a change and forfeiture of clothing, inclusive of shoes and personal property like a watch. I no longer know what time it is. After processing they escorted me to a 15' x 15' pure white screened cell, where I waited alone for an hour.
Because of the gravity of my offense, plotting possible escape, I thought
I might skip the F.C.I., which is for low-security risks, and graduate
immediately to maximum security, where I could get to see and experience
the level of inhumanity my inhumane government has invented for violent,
hardened criminals. No such fortune. I was shackled up again and taxied
the "Hole" at the F.C.I.
First off, the hole is nothing like Hollywood depicts it to be. It is not a dark, cold, cavernous place far away or beneath the uncivilized world of low-security prison life. It is a very well-lighted, antiseptically clean series of still roomed cells (15' x 8'). Each room is a separate dwelling separated from its neighbor by steel walls and ceilings. Each cell contains six solid steel bunks (three double-deckers) welded to the wall. There is not a single free-standing piece of furniture to be found. Even the desk and swivel stool I'm sitting at and on are made of irremovable steel.
Besides three double-decker steel bunks there is a stainless steel single
shower stall and a combination sink and commode, also stainless steel,
to help fill up the room. No springs on the bunks -- thank God, since I
like a hard bed - a mattress over a 3' x 7' solid steel plate. The place
may be earthquake proof, just one more of the many benefits provided by
the comfort and protection of its residents.
Finally, the door. You guessed it, steel - a 36" x 84" no-handled door with a 4" x 18" thick plastic window for in- rather than out-view. Also, blow-torched into the steel door is a steel-hinged 4" x 18" steel service door for the reception of food, drink, laundry, mail and conversation between guards and other interested officials and cell occupants. This multifaceted aperture, located about 30 inches from the bottom of the door, is also used for cuffing prisoners before leaving the cell.
The walls and ceiling are not without color - looks like light beige apartment latex to me, peeling but not pervasively, soiled but not filthy. This is my new home for the next 52 and a wake-up days.
I must mention how much I enjoy the room or cell services provided by polite, uniformed young men and attractive women. They bring food, clothing, linen and mail every day. Over at the camp we had to stand in line for everything. I'm no longer embarrassed in front of a long line of inmates, many of whom get little to no mail, when my profusion of mail arrives.
To be continued.
Conversation between More and Cromwell from Man for All Seasons:
"Silence can, according to circumstance, speak"
(Personal Note: so can cooperation.)
More on conscience: "In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is
more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing."
Cromwell's reply: "And so provide a noble motive for his frivolous conceit."
More: "It is not so, Master Cromwell - very and pure necessity for respect
of my own soul."
(Personal note: In the soul is everything we are and can be)
More (to his daughter, Margaret, who is trying to persuade her father to swear an oath of allegiance to the Act of Succession of the Crown of England from the Church of Rome): "When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water (he cups his hands), and if he opens his fingers, then he need not hope to find himself again."
More (When he is about to be condemned to death): "Dare we for shame enter the Kingdom with ease, when our Lord Himself entered with so much pain?"
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