A small band of the faithful gathered on a cold, rainy Palm Sunday at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in Seattle, Washington. It was fitting that this year’s Palm Sunday fell on April Fools Day. On that day a little over two thousand years ago God’s Foolish One came riding into town on a donkey. Although there were no donkeys present at SeaTac on Sunday, followers of the nonviolent way converged on SeaTac Federal Detention Center, where Steve Kelly, SJ continues to dwell in his “solitary” monastery – the Special Handling Unit (SHU).
The Palm Sunday Vigil at SeaTac was intended to show the community’s love and support for Steve and Susan Crane, both prisoners of conscience, incarcerated by the State for their nonviolent, direct (Disarm Now Plowshares) action in 2009 at the U.S. Navy’s nuclear weapons storage facility, Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific. Susan is incarcerated at the Federal Corrections Institution, Dublin (California). Their act, performed with three others that year, was intended to shine a bright light on the darkness of the U.S. government’s huge stockpile of immoral and illegal nuclear weapons. Although they broke the “law” as defined by the state, they were upholding not only a higher law, but were also upholding the laws of the land that our government blatantly ignores so that it can continue to hold its nuclear dominance over the world.
And so it was fitting that we gathered on Palm Sunday (with palm fronds waving at the passing cars) as each of us carried the Gospel message of peace, love and nonviolence. We vigiled, sang songs and sent our (vocal) messages of love to those on the inside. At one point the assembled crowd walked down as a group toward the prison entrance doors. A prison official rushed out to confront the group; you can imagine we weren’t invited in for tea. The group peacefully turned around and walked back up to the public sidewalk to finish our vigil.
Among those assembled on Sunday were Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ and Lynne Greenwald. Both are members of Disarm Now Plowshares, and previously completed their prison time. It is good to have them back on the outside doing what they do so well – helping others. When everyone was gathered together back at the sidewalk after the visit with the prison official, Bix told a brief anecdote of his time on the inside. He had been fasting for better conditions for all prisoners (among other things). One of the prison guards came up to him and said, “What’s this I hear about you not eating?” Bix explained that he was fasting”, to which the guard replied, “Oh good; I thought you might be on a hunger strike.”
After sending our prayers and messages of peace to Steve, Susan and all who live and work at SeaTac and other prisons we left the SeaTac prison. Hopefully, the message of peace was received somehow, somewhere in its nonthreatening way. The only threat we left behind was a nonviolent message to the Pax Romana that continues to exert its choke hold on the land.
“Hosanna to the son of the most high! Hosanna in highest heaven! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (of Peace)!