June 20, 2011 (from Joe Power-Drutis)
Four days ago I said goodbye to Jackie and Sue and they began the
difficult journey back to Washington. Jackie had healed sufficiently
to allow her to return home safely. The time the three of us had
together was abundantly rich in grace.
Shortly after we said our farewells I left for Ocilla to visit our
friends Ardeth, Carol, Bonnie and Mike at the Irwin County Detention
Facility. On this visit I was unable to see Steve Baggarly due to a
shortage of visitor slots, but we had a time of deep connection the
first time I went down to Ocilla 3 weeks ago. Jean Gump was released
for family reasons 2 weeks ago and will remain with her husband Joe
until her sentencing in September.
Four hundred miles separate Knoxville and Ocilla Georgia. Once I
turned off I75 and began the last 20 miles through the Southern
Georgia farming country I was treated to lush open fields and stunning
stands of trees. When I arrived at my destination, outside of Ocilla,
I did a double take; surely this was a farm, not a prison.
Trucks, farming equipment, trailers, and multiple out-buildings dot
the landscape; nearby farms use these buildings to house grain and
cattle; but, here in this faraway place, privateers erected farming
style buildings to house human beings. I doubt if anyone in Ocilla
raised a fuss when this prison for profit moved in to become the main
employer of their poor Georgian town. Warehousing is nothing new,
Tacoma’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center
blends perfectly with the other warehouses in the tide flats.
These are only two examples of detention facilities that stretch
across America to house more than three million Americans; many more
if you count undocumented immigrants. Stripped of most rights they
suffer treatment such as Jackie did as well as numerous other
punishments throughout their days.
It is into such places that Steve Kelly, Lynne Greenwald, Susan Crane,
Anne Montgomery, Bill Bichsel, Ardeth Platte, Mike Walli, Steve
Baggarly, Bonnie Urfer, Jean Gump, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson
have gone with their eyes wide open. As a result of civil resistance
against nuclear weapons, each one of these great souls exists in
worlds few of us could bear to witness. The ministry they share in
four different facilities shines a light on the horrible sub-culture
that is the US penitentiary system.
I feel incredibly blessed to read letters from these dear friends and
to visit those I could in their prison journey. Their stories bring us
closer to them and those they care for “on the inside.” When leaving
Ocilla this past weekend, the memory of the Spirit that was alive in
their eyes will stay with me always.
This morning another fine spirited woman joined the ranks of our
incarcerated friends. Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, one of the thirteen
Y-12 nuclear resisters, appeared in Federal Court and forfeited her
freedom. She delayed the beginning of her sentence after the trial and
although she could remain free until sentencing in September, Mary
decided to begin her prison journey now. I know how much Ardeth, Carol
and Bonnie look forward to having their friend with them. Because the
judge permitted Mary to self report to Ocilla, Mary was able to show
me her home community at the Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, an
hour’s drive from Knoxville in a lovely but poor area of East
Tennessee. An educator for nearly 30 years, Mary shares her life with
many others, off the grid, in the spirit of sustainability,
spirituality, and community. Their web site is: www.narrowridge.org
Tomorrow, June 21st, Mary and I leave for Ocilla where she will self
commit in mid afternoon. I remain amazed by the grace and privilege
that I have received since arriving in Knoxville two months ago.