Letters from Charlie August 21 through September 19, 2000
8/21/00 Monday 5:30 a.m. The Chapel
My first attempt to journal. I've been looking for the right time and a
place I could count on every day. I prefer the first waking hours of the
morning, which can begin here as early as 5 a.m. when we are first permitted
to leave the dorm, where around 144 of us are warehoused for the night.
Finally, I have found what could be the right spot, a closet with a light in
the rear of the camp, a non-denominational chapel which Iím told is rarely
locked! Looks like I'm not the only one of 300 inmates in search of silence
and solitude. Two other inmates have arrived.
8/22/00 Tues 6:50 a.m. Picnic Table
Woke up around 3:30; couldn't fall back to sleep. So I laid around till 6
a.m. However, I do have a half hour before the utility van comes to pick
about 10 of us up and deliver us to our assigned place of work, called V.T.
Construction, which is supposed to (be) a combination of back- and hands-on
work in the fields of construction, electricity and plumbing. This week we
are scheduled to lay a concrete slab inside a silo. Having moments of
silence here, waiting for the incarnation, so to speak, of thoughts and
feelings, insights into self and the system I'm living in. I don't feel that
I'm doing time. Itís more like this is my life for awhile, living in the
exclusive company of adult males each one on his own level of spirituality
absence thereof. It's easy to be around those who have begun their journey;
not so easy to share with those who have no idea of their spiritual
potential sex, sports, prison life, occasional political talk, subjects I
can, at best, talk around. Listening is limited.
8/23/00 Wed 6:55 a.m.
Time is moving rapidly on. Three weeks down already. Still in search of the
ideal journaling place. This morning I've chosen a chair in the aisle on
southern end of my bunk. I have around 25 minutes to gather a few thoughts.
Occasionally, Iím asked about why I do what I do by another inmate. Rather
than go into an essay answer, I've decided to respond as the Jonah
House-Nuclear Holistics do, 'It's a simple matter of what I feel is an
obligation to resist evil. What follows thereafter depends as much on the
person asking the question as it does on my disposition at the time. I've
reached the conclusion that I must refuse to work for this expression of our
federal government on the grounds of its connection to the larger expression
of institutional violence, namely, the federal government itself. All I have
to do is refuse to work and I will be ushered to the hole in another
compound, called F.C.I. I have to wait for the right moment to do this since
such a move will again affect Judy. Must prepare her for the change. I do
pray and meditate over decisions like this, moreso now than ever. Prayers
like, "God, what do I do when doing what is right hurts someone else,
especially one whom I love?"
I've been struggling with this matter of following one's conscience when it
dictates or involves an act (usually of self-sacrifice) that will cause pain
to a loved one. Gandhi, in his autobiography, says:
I know, too, that performance of one's duty should be independent of public
opinion. I have all along held that one is bound to act
according to what to one appears to be right, though it may appear wrong to
others. And experience has shown that that is the only correct course. That
is why the poet has sung: 'The pathway of love is the ordeal of fire, the
shrinkers turn away from it.' The pathway of Ahimsa, that is, of love, one
has often to tread all alone. Related to direction along life's
pathway, Gandhi says: True guidance comes by constant waiting upon God, but
utmost humility, self-abnegation, by being ever ready to sacrifice one's
(the underline is mine). Its practice requires fearlessness and courage of
the highest order. I am painfully aware of my failings (so am I, but
awareness can lead to improvement through prayer. I hope so). But the light
within me is steady and clear, there is no escape for any of us, save
through truth and non-violence. The book from which I quote Gandhi is
entitled All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Relfections, compiled and
edited by Krishna Kripalani, Continuum, New York, 1982. No doubt out of
print. I find it helpful. What I wonder about is how Gandhi achieved such a
high level of non-violence. Was it prayer, fasting, meditation,
vegetarianism, voluntary poverty and celibacy? I am a vegetarian as of
today. This is an easy place to begin since the meat served here involves a
8/24/00 Thurs. 7:06 a.m. The Chair in the aisle next to my bunk
The proving ground for nonviolence continues to prove me a novice in the
field. Some person I do pray for, and right now it's best for me to do so at
a distance. Acts of kindness on the other hand far outweigh verbal violent
behavior. I'm very fortunate to have the three Afro-Americans, with whom
providence has gifted me, in my immediate neighborhood. Have a bus to catch
to my work site. Will no doubt be planting flowers today. Reading a short
account of the Tragedy of Colombia. Incredible suffering, torture and death.
Adds fuel to my endurance of place of mitigated punishment.
8/24/00 7:50 p.m. The Library A Table for two
Relative Quiet (Charlie touches on a point of clarification of his
response to a question in an interview the day of his incarceration, July
Relative to the irony of surrendering to an institution associated with the
government against which I protest: In addition to surrendering to what I
perceive to be God's will for me, I am surrendering to a superior material
force, that I do not choose to violently fight (for more than one reason).
My hope in prison as well as out is to speak truth to power and resist
injustice as I am led to do. Inspiration to act this way or that comes as a
meditation or one-on-one prayer or through the silence I try to maintain
while working. (This is probably the most difficult silence to maintain
amidst the plethora of body-bound bullshit of my fellow inmates, who can't
wait to whore, eat and drink upon release. Not all, but too many of my
working partners are so oriented. These poor fellows seem to have little to
no awareness of the spiritual side of their nature. I don't judge them. I
just feel sorry for them.)
8/25/00 Fri. 7:04 a.m. Bedside
Big day today a little anxious since this is the hour I'll be presenting
the enclosed statement on paying fines to the federal government. Pray to be
calm and joyful and non-confrontational and sympathetic to all who feel
bound to work in this system (that is) suffering from the absence of human
Statement enclosed (entry of August 25 refers)
To Bureau of Prisons, Lompoc, California
In anticipation of an inquiry into my intentions to begin payment on a
$10,000 fine ordered by the Eleventh District Federal Court, Columbus, Ga.,
June 8, 2000, I have prepared the following statement:
First, I need to say that I hold a fine of $10,000 for the commission of two
simple misdemeanors (nonviolent acts of civil disobedience Type B) to be
blatantly unreasonable and grossly unjust. To be sentenced to (a) year in a
federal prison and given a $10,000 fine by an employee of the institution
offended rather than a jury of my peers is a prostitution of the
Constitution. In 1991 I was charged with a felony for damaging government
property at the School of Americas, Ft. Benning, Ga. Convicted by a jury of
my peers I was sentenced to six months in a federal prison and ordered to
pay $633 restitution. No fine was imposed. Now, approximately 10 years later
I am given a sentence twice as long and a fine 11 times greater for
that cannot be compared in gravity to the felony of 1991. When I was
asked to arrange for payment of restitution in 1991 I refused as a matter of
conscience to give any money to a government complicit in crimes against
humanity committed by men trained at the School of Americas. I have given
considerable thought and prayer to the morality of paying fines to the U. S.
Government, a government not only complicit in crimes like torture, rape and
assassination, but a government arrogant enough to disregard World Court
decisions when the ruling is not in its favor. My position on the payment of
fines to the U. S. Government remains the same as it was in 1991, with the
following exception: if the U. S. Government will pay indemnity compensation
to the victims of graduates of the School of Americas
I will make arrangements to pay fines directed toward me as a result of my
civil disobedience. In the meantime, the government can take whatever it
wants from me just as it takes whatever it wants from the Third World poor
via the training of third world militaries at schools like the School of
Thank you. Nothing personal here.
Charles J. Liteky #83276-020 Lompoc Federal Prison
8/27/Sunday 9:43 My bedside office, standing on a chair using my top bunk
as a desk. Works well.
(In this letter Charlie opens by reflecting further on an exchange about
non-violence with his "boss" after requesting a change of work assignment)
When the boss in the carpenter shop said, "It's a violent world over there,"
I did not interpret this as a threat. I think he was giving his apologia for
the use of force in violent or dangerous situations. I do know that I was
calm and ready to accept whatever consequences would follow from what I
conceived to be an act of conscience. The nonviolent person will suffer with
joy for an act of conscience. I felt good when I was reassigned without
hassle. Seems I had a chance to witness to a man with a little power. My own
experience with metamorphosis tells me that most of the time change,
especially spiritual change, is a bit-by-bit process. I've become content
with planting seeds. Life with the bully lately I've seen him only
distance. I don't think he knows that I exist; has no idea he is a problem
to me. I pray for him. One day I may set down to eat at his table, try to
engage in some light conversation like, "Where did you get your attitude?" I
agree with the spiritual axiom that disturbance caused by others is an
indication that something is not right with us if we react negatively. Steep
is the road that leads to the kind of spiritual maturity that looks or sees
immediately the sick soul of violent people or institutions. What I feel and
think when faced with violence tells me who I am at that particular moment
like Gandhi says, "I accept my limitations" and keep on truckin'. There is
too little time to be sad over what I am or am not.
Love and Peace,
Letters from Charlie: August 28-September 19, 2000
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2000 13:45:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Julia A. Dowd
Dear SOAWatch West Members:
Attached (and copied below) is a second installment of letters and journal
entries from Charlie Liteky written at Lompoc Federal Prison where he is
serving a one-year sentence for his actions of civil disobedience in
protest of the U.S. Army School of the Americas.
We hope to circulate Charlie's letters on a monthly basis via e-mail. If
you would prefer NOT to receive this additional e-mail from us, please hit
reply and write "NO LETTERS" in the subject line of the e-mail. Unless you
indicate otherwise, you will continue to receive regular SOAWatch West
Letters from Charlie Liteky: August 28-September 19, 2000
I'm still wondering how Gandhi arrived at such a high level of love for
mankind. He calls his life an experiment in truth and says that all of his
actions proceed from his all-consuming love for mankind.
I ask myself the question, "Do I love mankind?" and I have to say no. I
love the attributes of God, like beauty, truth, goodness, justice, mercy
and love. Therefore I can say I love God. But mankind, that's a tough one.
We are such mixed bags. This is a good place to examine a controlled
segment of human kind - almost exclusively male with the exception of a
couple of female secretaries and a case manager, who is a good example of
what working in this system can do to a person, even a woman.
I've given up on finding a specific place of solitude to write. Will have
to do this when and where I can.
Tuesday, 7:10 a.m.
Running a little late. Cement work today. Ugh! Well, do what I can. Had an
interesting walk with an inmate last evening who is writing a Korean War
historical novel. He is already a published author. He is creating a scene
in which an officer comes to a chaplain after slaughtering hundreds of
charging human-wave Chinamen. Wanted to know how I would have handled it.
Took me back in time to Vietnam and a similar situation. This was the
surprise of yesterday.
Third day along the vegetarian way. Yesterday an eccentric inmate gave me a
half-hour lecture on the merits of not eating meat. When I asked him if
eggs were ok, he said he eats nothing with a face on it. Eggs? Too much
cholesterol for him. Hmmm!
Aug. 31, 2000
Waiting for the work van
Wake-up time is erratic these last couple of days. Have difficulty
returning to sleep after my 2 or 3 o'clock pit stop. Been working on
preparing a 30' x 60' x 8" hole in the ground for a concrete pour scheduled
for tomorrow. My work crew of six to eight people finished all the prep
work yesterday, so hopefully today will be one of letter-writing and
Had my first opportunity to prevent a fight yesterday when two men became
upset enough with one another to face off, one with a brick in his hand. I
was right there so all I needed to do was take an easy step between them.
The situation didn't escalate. I think one of the parties involved is short
(a term used in reference to time before release). This tends to make a
person a little tense.
Friday evening, 7:30
Top bunk desk top
This is one of my best places to write, standing on a metal folding chair,
leaning across my bunk bed that very nicely serves as a desk. Two bright
fluorescent lights provide plenty of light.
I came into prison on the tail end of cold and flu. Had a week and one-half
of health and now I'm beginning another two or three-week sick cycle. Runny
nose, coughing, that kind of thing. When I mentioned my new cold to an
inmate who asked me how I am doing, he told me a story about the Lompoc
valley region that goes back to the Native Americans. Ever since the days
when we white men spent so much time slaughtering our red brothers, this
region has been called "The Valley of Sickness." The storyteller seemed to
think this condition is caused by the ever-changing climate.
Our big cement pour took place this morning. I left the heavy work of
raking and screeding to the younger, heftier boys. I'm now qualified to
supervise the laying of cement slabs, compliments of Uncle Sam. I woke up
this morning feeling low. There is
sadness over the spiritual poverty of my workmates and the prison
instructor manifested by a constant flow of sexually descriptive language
and situations. Reminds me of the service, but worse. They, the inmates,
have somehow acquired a pornographic video which they watch over and over
when the boss is not around. Women are viewed as sexual objects and that's
it. I've not yet remained in the room for a viewing, not even out of
curiosity. I'm not surprised by the language or the attitudes. Just
Hopefully, I'm easing my way back into ordinary Lompoc living.
Our phone system was down for two days due to a stabbing at the Big House.
The word is that it was a gang-oriented injury. Don't know how these rumors
get started, but from all I hear murder is not an uncommon occurrence at
I'm forcing this writing so I'll close here and continue tomorrow.
No journaling since 9/4/00 due to an ongoing cold, cough and state of
fatigue. At the moment I'm waiting on a job assignment for the day. Over
the last week I've helped round up calves for feeding and health care, the
most useful and enjoyable work yet! However, these beautiful young
creatures will soon be slaughtered for veal.
Finally, feeling like writing. Half way through antiobiotic medication
given at sick call and feeling 100 per cent better, but not out of the
woods. Had visions being perpetually sick here. The doctor encouraged me to
develop the daily Vitamin C and E habit along with a glass of milk for
Vitamin D. So new habits to take along when I leave.
The past week is like a blur across the calendar. All I can remember is
work and sleep, coughing and sneezing and visiting with Judy.
Back at my regular job site, called V.T. Construction, where we are
supposed to learn the various modes of construction. Sol for all that we
(eight inmates) have done is lay a 30' x 60' x 8" concrete slab which will
serve as a platform for silage storage.
Emotionally I'm fairly well settled into the program here, trying to love
each day, moment by moment, aware that I am in the presence of God, trying
to be nonviolent in an environment that motivates cynicism, sarcasm. So far
the challenge to nonviolence has been to control violent fantasies related
to people and circumstances.
Wed. - work site
Good news. The appeal (dealing with the consecutive, six-month sentences on
Charlie's misdemeanor violation) is finished and filed. My God-given legal
team, of at least four lawyers and the university professors of law, has
been incredible in their efforts to form and file an appeal brief in a case
that many good lawyers ruled out as hopeless. There now seems to be a good
chance that I may be released within the next three months, which will be
okay. I just hope my many supporters will be equally supportive of my next
action. I know I have many miles to walk along the path of nonviolence
before I can accept personal affront gracefully.
Spiritually dry. Reflection on my interior disposition is difficult. I've
not yet learned to live totally in the present. I'm ever-ready for
something to happen, hoping that my response to an aggressive word or
action will be nonviolently appropriate. I do want to remain where I am, in
camp, until the appeal is either approved or denied. There is a good chance
of approval and early dismissal, say in three or four months. Then I'm
faced with the decision of when to act again. There is always the next
time. There is no turning away from a life of resistance as long as the
injustice prevails. There must, of course, be consideration of others.
Looks like I'm beginning to leave letter-writing and journaling to my work
site. Bad habit because I can't depend on it.
Good weekend. Played my first game of competitive basketball. Not too bad.
It was two-on-two. Hips are sore. Hope they are not freezing up with
arthritis. Have been invited to join a threesome to play every Saturday
morning. These fellas take their games seriously. They maintain an ongoing
win-loss record. It's a good way to get to know new people.
Respectful of my age they discourage me from playing too hard, especially
when the mind says go and the body's too slow to respond, but tries anyway,
resulting in a fall. This may be my last hurrah.
Spiritually, I'm working on morning, noon and evening meditational pauses,
along with some scripture and spiritual reading, which currently is The
Historical Jesus, which gives me new interpretations to passages like "the
Kingdom is God is within you" (more about this later).
Basically, my readiness to move on into the next life is related to the
misery I see here, not my own unhappiness. I've had a full, rich privileged
life associated with good friends, an almost perfect wife and some
extraordinarily advanced people who assure me by their lives that, indeed,
there is a source of all goodness willing to share that goodness or love
My suffering, which, hopefully, will end at death, is vicarious, but none
the less acute. Besides an empathy for the poor and oppressed, I feel a
nauseous disgust for that side of our humanity that can be so incredibly
cruel. I shudder to think that I could be as cruel as the cruelty I abhor,
but I must admit that there but for the chance of circumstance or the grace
of God go I.
I read and enjoyed (Jonathan Livingston, Seagull). What I remember most is
the theme (to) be what you are. Don't be afraid to be different. Kind of a
self-actualization quest. The relationship between length of life and
mission seems valid as long as one believes in a director other than
oneself. I may feel finished, but what do I know.
Sept. 19, 2000
What a way to work! Writing letters to friends.
Played my second round of one-on-one basketball yesterday with younger but
less skilled opponents. I won two and lost one and survived. My opponents
were a little surprised at first, complimentary even. But who likes to be
bested by a senior citizen in a physical contest?
(Charlie refers to a statement by Gandhi: Nonviolence is not a garment to
be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an
inseparable part of our being.) I like the quote. Oh for the day when one
can love so much that he feels compassion for his aggressor or oppressor. I
haven't even passed a nonviolent test for the first time and I can't
remember how many times I've failed. I've yet to meet the man who earlier
put me on alert. He lives at the opposite end of the dorm. I hear his voice
occasionally, pass him enroute to one place or another. Never see him in
the mess hall. To tell you the truth, I have no inclination to get to know
the man, but I do pray for him occasionally.
There are a couple of other men I also void; the two transvestites who
occupy the first double bunk to the right as I enter "A" unit. Both walk,
talk and look a little like females. One fel/lady runs around six feet tall
and weights, I'd say, around 230 and is in his/her 30s. Not an especially
attractive person, male or female. Definitely not my type.
The other person makes a good-looking man or woman! Reminds me of "The
Crying Game." Did you see it? Great movie. She/he drives a front loader.
Comes across as a gentle person. What amazes me is how well these two are
accepted in this world of sex-deprived men. One hears an occasional remark,
but that's about it.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, this is a California prison.
My motivation is to seek help to become what I am not, namely, the kind of
person who can love like Christ, Gandhi, King, etc. I know I get nowhere on
my own, other than intellectual connection that love to the nonviolent
level is the best of all ways to go. But intellectual connection does not
carry with it the inner strength to face violence with its associated
I have not yet read or heard about what enabled Gandhi to reach the heights
of Ahimsa that he did. My presumption is that his disciplined way was one
of prayer and fasting.
Thanks for the Chronicle editorial on Colombia. At least we have an early
start on opposition to the "New Vietnam." As much as I am opposed to some
of the activity of the revolutionary group there, I find myself hoping they
can hold out against the super power as the Vietnamese did. It's the same
ole ploy with different actors.
Had an unusual opportunity last night to hear the story of an 80-year-old
Holocaust survivor, a German Jew who managed to escape via an underground
movement in Germany to smuggle Jews to safety. He made it into Yugoslavia
from where he was forced once again to flee. Next time to Italy, then
allied with Germany. So he became a partisan and fought as a German Jew
against the Italians and Germans. He met and married an Italian woman and
eventually made his way to the U.S., where he began a new life. His wife
and son became Pentecostal Christians and gradually lured him into
participation and subsequent conversion.
His story was moving and his conversion interesting, but then he began
evangelizing, which did not go over well with his prison audience,
especially the Jews. I also found it offensive and said so, along with a
Unitarian minister in the crowd. The poor, well-intentioned, converted Jew
with a heartbreaking life story unintentionally poked a religious hornets'
next. I hope it was a wake-up call for him.
Yours in the struggle.
Love and Peace,
Fried fish strips today. Not bad. I've begun carrying a plastic bowl
(purchased at the commissary) to the afternoon meal and I nibble a bit and
load the rest onto the bowl to be microwaved for the evening meal. Saves me
the irritation of standing in line for the evening meal.
The little things we learn to do to enhance our lives!
Till next time!
Love and Peace
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