Letters from Charlie: June 13th 16th, 2001; Final Letters July, 2001

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Wednesday, June 13, 2001
My own little rectangle of the world

As of two days ago I began a spiritual protest fast, which resulted in another change of residence - this time an inhouse move across the hall to a one-person, 10' x 12' holding cell!

The BOP (Bureau of Prisons) translates fasting into Hunger Strike. The employees, upon hearing Hunger Strike, must initiate mandated procedures which include isolation, monitoring and efforts by staff members to discourage fasting, especially water-only fasting, my current choice. (They are deeply concerned about image and lawsuits.)

I'm delighted with the move. It affords me relative peace and quiet, more time to think, pray and write, daily visits from members of the staff, and vastly improved FM/AM radio reception. I hope to pick up the fourth Laker[s]/76[ers] game this evening.

At the time I announced my protest fast, I had no idea that I would be moved. Seems like I'm receiving one fortuitous blessing after another. Now that I'm here in my own little rectangle of the world, I may have to keep fasting to stay.

So far, I received visits from the warden, two assistant wardens, a psychologist and various counselors from the work camp from which I was "plotting to escape" (as they charged). There is no desk in this cell, just a steel bunk, bolted to a cement floor, overlayed with light and dark gray speckled tile. Another upgrade innovation is an open barred entrance door, which enables prisoner and visitor to converse in a civil way , rather than talking through the glass or food portal of an average cell.

I can be viewed from outside my new cell while lying on my bunk or sitting on the commode. So far no one has intruded upon my sacred movement moment.

Everyone wants to know why I'm fasting and what I'm hunger striking in protest for. These are reasonable questions, especially for people who are going to so much trouble to accommodate me. My response goes something like this:

"I'm not Hunger Striking. These are your words. I'm engaging in a spiritual fast for my own benefit and people in this institution I judge to be in need of prayer."
 

June 15, 2001
Friday afternoon
The SHU - Solitary

Today I terminated my fast at breakfast, a good time to break  fast. The fast was short-lived because I realized that the decision to fast was born of anger over an administrative order rather than any likeness of love. I was not getting the spiritual support I need to fast, which led me to believe that God was not pleased. My mind was as empty as my stomach. I had no good thoughts for my caretakers even though I prayed for them and other people in the business of oppression.

It felt good to feed the body, even with class C reasonably bad food. The noonday meal was not much better. No need to describe it. I'll take the vending machine cuisine anytime.

Now that I have stopped fasting I may be transferred back to my former cell across the hall where there are now two ex-campers. The downside is company I don't need right now, as I'd like to answer as many letters as possible. Also I'll miss hearing what may be the last Laker/Sixer game because there is no radio reception across the hall.

I'm just 41 days and a wake up now, so I think I can put aside all thoughts about an escape effort. It would be extremely difficult and five additional years would not be in order at this time, especially since I want to begin writing shortly after release. My spiritual maturity has been tested, which is good for a person who thinks he's good. I can't believe how spiritually immature I am after an adult life of 20 years working at it. I wish I could blame it on someone, but I had great parents and good teachers along the way.
 

6/16/01
Saturday, 4:45 p.m.

Well, as I suspected, I was moved from my single, spacious cell to the one I left; except that this one is at the very end of the hallway, which means no one is north of me. Should be quiet, right? Not so. The Mexicans to the south of me are young and noisy. To make matters worse, they have picked up enough North American disgusting vulgarity to tempt me to declare a fast again just to return to the spacious digs reserved for troublemakers.

I'm just warming up for "The Book," the one I want to write before God beams me up, down, over or simply out. I'm thinking more and more about The Book these days, and I've convinced myself that this is now-or-never time. I need to give it a shot.

For now, I'm in solitary confinement - just God and me - chatting about all the bad and good people in the world and what little we can do about it. He/ or She says (in deference to females who have been forever oppressed I'll use the feminine pronoun for God henceforth) about the bad and good people of the world, the poverty of the poor, the wealth of the rich and the enormous suffering  resulting from greed, abusive power and the objectification of sex: She says it's not Her fault. It is unquestionably ours. She stands ever ready to help, but we prefer to stand alone and moan and groan as if  She did not exist. "Read the Acts of the Apostles," she
says. "See how I helped the original and early hearers of my message of love, peace and salvation."

She continues, "You cannot realistically solve the enormous problems of a world grown sick from its inception. There will never be peace and justice until love is the ruling power, and you know who Love is. You must let me help you. Very simply, you must open your hearts and let me in. Tell your egos to step back and your ids to step forward, the true self in you who recognizes her or his connection to all of creation, who makes a preferential option, if you will, for community rather than isolated individuality. Community heals, helps and works as one on community problems. Community even reaches out to brothers and sisters mired in
individuality.

At this point, I had to say, "Enough for now. Have pity on my body. I'm falling asleep at the pen."

Good night,
Charlie
 

Sunday afternoon, 12:54 p.m.
June 17, 2001
The SHU

I'm still here. Significant moves don't happen on weekends unless, of course, there is an emergency, and I'm not planning to create one right now.

While meditating yesterday I rethought about something I originally imagined sometime ago when I was thinking about the evolution of our materialistic self-oriented, individualistic, youth-focused, capitalistic culture, which is so antithetical to the other-oriented, culture of love, service and community that Christ advocated if we were going to save ourselves. Damn! What a sentence! I hope you can make some sense of it.

I believe that injustice, individual or corporate, must be addressed, exposed and resisted as an essential, but certainly not a total component of an effort to effect significant change in our culture.

Those of us who are currently actively involved in resistance to and exposition of human rights abuses are relatively few. If our voices are to be heard we need more volume or more voices shouting justice from all over the place, especially in front of the idols of greed, pleasure, the temples of political power and the military power that suppress dissent. So where are these people to come from? I ask myself, and self replies, "What about the retired or disabled who are no longer compelled to spend their days and
nights making a living, who are financially independent enough to enjoy the freedom, do as they please with the limited lifetime ahead of them?" Principally, I'm speaking of senior citizens, of course, but not necessarily exclusively.

"Grandmothers for Peace" comes to mind, as an organization of seniors actively involved in all kinds of peace and justice endeavors, including the prison witness, and Grandmothers is not restricted to women. Men can become associate members. So why replicate an already existing organization that can accommodate seniors of both sexes who want to sacrifice of both sexes, who want to sacrifice some or all of their retirement time to devote to the many expressions of peace and justice necessary to effect change?

I have to think about an answer to my own question the next time.

Much love and peace.

In the struggle - in the SHU

Charlie

 


Final Letters from Charlie July, 2001

Date:    Mon, 13 Aug 2001 11:44:47 -0700
From:  Julia A. Dowd
 

Dear School of the Americas Watch supporters:

Attached and copied below is the last installment of Charlie Liteky's letters from Lompoc Federal Prison.  Charlie was released on July 27, 2001 after serving a one-year sentence for trespassing on the property of the School of the Americas in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience.


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7/8/01
Sunday Evening, 5:35 p.m.
The SHU (Special Housing Unit)

I'm still here in the place I most like to be in prison. My accommodations are much the same as when I first came to the "Hole" of the Federal Correctional Institution. I've gone from one to five cellmates, then most recently back to two. (Although a week ago, for a time, there were six, which, a six-bunk cell, was the maximum) -- too little room to move, too little air to breathe in a cell with three windows sealed. A note to the captain in charge brought relief.

I think I ended by last letter talking about the recruitment of senior citizens for the prison witness and possibly working through "Grandmothers for Peace." The Abraham Lincoln Brigade also comes to mind. How about an ad in the AARP magazine?

No doubt you have read about the trials and sentences of the SOA 26. Twenty-four of the 26 will soon be in prison. Thirteen of the 24 are over 60, with an 88-year-old nun leading the pack. Six of these seniors are older than I. Just when I was considering retirement, some stout-hearted souls come along and take my golf clubs away. Eighty-eight years old and going strong, this little woman from Iowa, Sister Dorothy Hennessey, and her younger sister, Gwen, the first SOA protestors to merit photo piece in the N. Y. Times. It was a great article.

It warms this aging heart to see so many seniors stepping forward, risking when they could be resting, some giving up the coveted playtime they worked a lifetime for. Reminds me of that scripture, "No greater love, etc."

As I suspected this year has been good for me spiritually and physically. I've come to know that I have many spirited miles to
travel "before I sleep." I haven't even scratched the surface of nonviolent gospel love and time's running out.

Physically, I'm lighter, stronger, faster on my feet and running high on the over-70 prison basketball draft.

10:15 p.m. Bedtime for this Bozo.
 

7/13/01
Friday, 10:55 p.m.
The SHU

This will most likely be my last letter unless I am somehow delayed here because of my "plot" to escape. I haven't made a fuss over being confined here because this is right where I most want to be right now. Two weeks from today at the morning hour of 10:00 I'm sure I'll have a different opinion about my whereabouts. I suspect everyone associated with me here will be happy to see me leave; fellow inmates because inmates enjoy the vicarious pleasure of seeing a mate return to what they commonly call "the free world;" prison personnel because their behavior will no longer be monitored and possibly exposed.
 

Friday afternoon

Lunch and commissary arrived. I requested a vegetarian plate around three weeks ago, partially because of tiresome meat products and partially due to a NYT's full page ad taken out in behalf of the steers being butchered alive on our behalf. Can't say as I'm feeling any better or worse physically, but physically I feel better for abstaining from consumer complicity.

From what I hear over my commissary radio and read in the NYT, a very violent world outside these confining fences awaits me. Killings in state parks over a parking place, pit bulls mauling little children (owners crying, "I'm sorry"), road rage resulting in the death of a little animal that just happened to be within reach of an irate driver. And on top of this violence, I read about U. S. sheep entrepreneurs exploiting imported sheep herders from outposts of the world where shepherds still tend flocks. The shepherds are left alone in the middle of nowhere, with a small trailer for lodging, no motorized transportation, not even a cell phone. Their bathroom is the great outdoors and a shovel, if they choose to bury. Boy, did my
temperature rise when I read that the only way we can save the sheep industry is by exploiting the needy.

(7.18  -- It just occurred to me as I was reading this stuff about road rage: Why are so many of us so angry these days? I wish it
were over the way our government supports the exploitation of the poor and the comfort of the rich!)

Just when you think you've seen and heard the length and breadth of atrocities, another unique version gets exposed.

Speaking of exposure in the context of illicit and immoral acts, I was pleasantly surprised lately while reading through Paul's epistle to the Ephesians 5. It has to do with walking, which I think is appropriate for an historical era like our own. We are always hearing by way of encouragement, admonition or inspiration: "You've got to walk the walk." Contained within the nonspecific "walk" are a grant variety of social justice issues.

What follows next motivates one to invite Paul to speak at the SOA rally in November. Ephesians 11: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Seems to me that this is exactly what we are trying to do. Concluding his "light" walk Paul says,

"Awake you who sleep.
Arise from the dead
And Christ will give you
Light."
 

Have you ever felt like you were walking among the living dead? Christ alluded to this at least once that I can recall when one of his would-be followers excused himself from the Christ walk saying, "First I have to go and bury my father." Christ replied, "Let the dead bury their own dead."

3:15 Break Time

P.S. I'll bet you're glad this is my last letter!
 

7/17/01
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
The SHU

Since Friday when I last logged onto our network, the new men arrived, sending the number of my cellmates to five. As of today, the last of the new arrivals has moved on and I'm comfortably alone in a cell with five empty bunks. I think the time in the hole has gone by faster than time at the work camp due somewhat to a greater lack of anxiety here, a deeper peace of soul that accompanies a less burdened conscience.

Also, the caretakers here are more professional and respectful of inmates. A friendly upper-level prison officials' face filled up my see-through window this afternoon ad inquired about my well being. I told him I was doing just fine, that I appreciated the accommodations of the "hole" and complimented him on the quality of the staff. He smiled, then asked me if I would be returning some day. I said, "No, I don't think so. I hear they are opening a new prison at Atwater (around Modesto). I'll probably go there."

"Isn't there another way?" he rather plaintively responded.

"Oh yes," says I. "We write letters, lobby Congress to pass bills to close the SOA and demonstrate. But the prison witness is very powerful. Very soon an 88-year-old nun will be entering prison for the same reason I'm here." He shook his head incredulously and I continued: "Very soon  24 people, half of whom are senior citizens, will be entering prison - none of them in California, however." He seemed relieved.

In a way, I think citizen protesters of human rights abuse can serve as a kind of a taxpayers oversight committee to observe and expose the maltreatment of the imprisoned. The well being of prisoners is not high on the concern list of most of us. I know it wasn't a matter of great concern to me until I became a prisoner!

I understand there is a shortage of vocations to the Bureau of Prisons, especially the guard branch. A prison official said, "It's not often you have a child say, 'I want to be a prison guard when I grow up.'" It's a tough job that isn't getting easier with increased demand for space. I think it was Christ in Paul who encouraged followers to visit the imprisoned, but what do we do beyond providing the emotional and spiritual support to help the imprisoned bear with this situation? I tend to think we need more insiders to critique the quality of our care, a good spin-off mission for SOA protesters.

End
8 p.m.
 

7/18/01
Wednesday, 12:50 p.m.
The SHU

My private cell continues. For me, this time alone with God, my thoughts and feelings is as close as one can get to the very best of prison accommodations. Selfishly, I cling to these moments alone, knowing that at any second I may hear the metal on metal sounds of keys turning locks and the 6" " 18" metal service door open outward. These sounds can carry a variety of messages: food may be served, mail delivered, clean linen and clothing exchanged, and on Friday mornings, requested commissary items arrive in a brown bag tagged with a bill and receipt for me to sign. These sounds can also indicate the arrival of a new cellmate, another stranger, whom one can hope is not strange.

Having welcomed at least 10 new cellmates, none of whom have been as odd and unkempt as me, I'm relatively at ease with the arrival of a person about whom I know nothing. I'm ready to say welcome, extend a hand and offer my first name once we are both uncuffed.

Entrance to a cell can be a little threatening when you are suddenly locked in a room with three to five strangers, clad in orange jumpsuits with lowcut sneakers to match. So far, I've always been on the receiving end. All of my 11 former mates have come and gone; one home to his wife and family - the rest to population here or prisons elsewhere.

2:15 p.m.

I'd better get this in the mail before it gets too big.

Charlie
 

July 26, 2001
Thursday Evening
The SHU

This is my last letter from Lompoc. Even though I'll be (released) tomorrow, I feel the need to record a few thoughts before pressing against the exit door.

My disposition at this moment is one of profound gratitude to God, friends and the many people around the country who have expressed their support with letters and cards. I'll refrain from names of friends for fear of exclusion. I need to thank others for visits, too, good friends who sacrificed time and money to make the 650-mile roundtrip to Lompoc. Speaking of finances, my gratitude goes out to all who took the burden out of Judy's visits with their generosity.

I received enough cards to cover the walls of this 6' x 12' x 9' cell with the many faces of San Francisco that I love. Daily, I was reminded that I have a home to return to and friends that make my hometown one of "dear hearts and gentle people," as the song goes, "who never ever let you down."

I know that there are some, perhaps many, who find my reaction to our government's policies and secret nefarious doings, a little extreme. And they may be right, but I simply don't know what else to do. I think the prison witness is a very powerful way to say "no" to injustice. Judging from the reaction of hundreds of people, many of them active military, I feel like this slice of life given to prison  as been worth some witness value. So many have said they are going to get involved in the cause of closing the SOA.

I'm looking forward to whatever God lays out for me. A couple of months ago I started thinking about what's next. One of prison's benefits is forgetting about the future for awhile and enjoying the presence of God's company in the midst of an environment devoid of much in the way of compassion. There are exceptions, of course, among both inmates and prison staff. When you see or experience human concern and affection in this setting it is extraordinary.

In addition to a few friends I'll remember here, men I'm leaving behind for awhile, there is one person in particular who came into my life via a book given to me by a Jewish chaplain. I knew very little of Dorothy Day beyond the co-founding of the Catholic Worker Movement. The book, Revolution of the Heart, edited by Patrick Coy, introduced me to Dorothy's life of sacrifice for the poor and her contribution to the gospel concept of nonviolence that the institutional church moved away from in the 4th or 5th centuries. From the 1930s till she died, shortly after addressing The International Eucharistic Congress in 1976 at the age of 79, she clung tenaciously to the early church practice of pacifism. The institutional church had all but abandoned pacifism and adopted instead the Augustinian doctrine of the just war. Dorothy resurrected it practically on her own.

She did civil disobedience and went to prison for her beliefs. While in prison she ministered to others. I was struck by an account given by a woman prisoner, who asked Dorothy, "Here we are treated like animals, so why should we not act like animals?" Dorothy's reply was: "Animals are not capable of the unmentionable filth that punctuates the conversation of prisoners -- I can only hint at the daily, hour, obscenity that pervades a prison."

I was happy to read that someone of the saintly character of Dorothy Day would find prison language and conversation as disgusting as I do. So I've been given a new saint to pray to for growth in nonviolent love and patience to interact with people whom the Spirit has not yet touched.

Other gifts have been an introduction to Native American Spirituality, which has given me an appreciation of the relatedness
of all creation, and Yoga, which makes the tension of life manageable without medication.

Back to the future, I think it may be time for me to write a book or to try one more time to do what I've tried twice and stopped for the lack of passion for life and for the victims of oppression, especially those abused with U. S. complicity. Now I think I have a story to share and the passion to share it. We shall see.

More immediate plans for the future will begin tomorrow when I turn my back on this place and walk across the parking lot to greet Judy, you, Harvey, David and others at the state park.

It's now time for one to sing the song, "How can I wait till tomorrow comes?"

Much love and peace,
Charlie


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