|Public Letter from Josh: Solidarity Fast Begins|
October 26, 2001
On October 31 at 7pm, Eric Robison, Martha Hayward and I are starting an 18 day solidarity fast. Other co-defendants may be joining us as well, but I don't have confirmation of that at this point. Eric is a co-defendant from Spokane, Washington who is incarcerated with me here at Sheridan for 6 months. Martha is a special ed teacher from Michigan who was sentenced to 3 years probation; Judge Faircloth refused her request to go to prison with her daughter Rachel and sister Mary, who are both serving 6 month sentences in Pekin, Illinois.
We will be fasting for 18 days, through the evening of Nov. 18th, the day thousands will gather at Ft. Benning and engage in civil resistance to close the SOA/WHISC. I may chose to continue the fast until the 21st, the day I am to be released.
The purpose of our fast is threefold:
1. To remember the victims of violence perpetrated by U.S. militarism, especially those in Latin America terrorized by the training at the SOA.
2. To call for the permanent closure of this School of Assassins.
3. To protest the imprisonment of political prisoners, from Arab Americans currently being detained illegally to those imprisoned for the content of their speech.
Fasting in prison is a long and honored tradition among dissenters, from suffragettes arrested in Washington DC for picketing the White House for the vote, to Turkish prisoners fasting for better conditions. I am proud and humbled to be able to follow in the footsteps of so many who have struggled for justice before me, and with this fast I renew my commitment to this struggle.
I certainly feel a little nervous about the fast. Prison officials seriously frown on inmates organizing resistance; a group work stoppage of food strike is actually the same category of offense as killing another inmate and a worse offense than escaping from a low security prison. We do not know how they will respond. We expect to be put in the hole, and hopefully will continue to have access to mail and phone and books. They will try to convince us to break our fast, and keep tabs on our health as well.
They will also attempt to serve us meals even if we tell them we won't eat. They will probably serve us meals that are better than normal to entice us, but they may not know we are vegetarians, so the tempting animal fillets and flesh chunklets will not be hard to resist.
I am down to about four weeks left, and will have my last visits this weekend. This morning a man was released who has been locked up for 26 years for some huge bank scam in which no one was physically injured. It is always wonderful to watch people leave, especially after they've been locked up for decades.
It is strange to think that in a month I will be leaving – and all the people I have gotten come to know in prison will still be left behind in this place. Jason, a 19 year old who arrived on the prison bus with me and has been teaching me guitar, has a 9 year sentence still to go. Eric will be here two months after I’m gone because he self-surrendered. While we are just passing through this system, for many it is their life. Not just those locked up but their families and friends too. For all the hardship, isolation and belittlement I’ve experienced, I knew it would end soon. But that’s not so for many others. Wholesale incarceration does not work and it is not a solution. We have got to find other ways to deal with the society we have built.
So I am excited to leave this place, but the thought of leaving also creates heaviness in my heart.
In local news, the bocci league is over and our band learned a new song. Dreamcatchers, a booming prison industry, are being made at a feverish pace (by prisoners for other prisoners) as the holidays approach. The rain has started and I am filing a complaint against one of the cops for unprofessional behavior. (it's not an interesting story).
I hope you are all doing well.
peace and struggle,
Josh Raisler Cohn
Federal Prison Camp
PO Box 6000
Sheridan, OR 97378
Update, November 2
(from Jeanne Raisler, Josh's mother)
Today I was very happy to receive a call from Josh. He sounded wonderful, ands the good news is, he and Eric have not been put in solitary confinement!….at least not yet. When they began their fast on October 31, they posted flyers explaining it around the Yard….the next morning they were called before Special Investigative Services, after which they and the other inmates assumed they would be taken to ‘the hole’. They were questioned closely about their intentions, and ordered not to distribute more flyers, or to talk with the other inmates about their fast or the SOA. But at this time, they’ll be allowed to remain in the general population. The prison administrator seemed pleased that A) they had given the prison a ‘heads up’ on their fast by sending him a copy of their press release; and B) they are drinking juice along with water. The warden argued for putting them in the hole, but he was apparently voted down for now. The other inmates did not expect to see our guys again after that hearing, and they were very happy and surprised that Josh and Eric will remain with them. There has been a strong show of support among the inmates, who are offering to donate their juice rations, and help out in any way they can. Josh and Eric will continue to work in the laundry during their fast, because not working is cause for being put in solitary confinement.
5525 Illinois Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20011
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Madeleine Breen of the Dominican Sisters of Peace