Dear family and friends,
I wanted to share with you that I participated once again in the protest action at the School of the Americas/WHISC at Ft. Benning, GA this year on the weekend of Nov 17. I have been told not to return with a formal "ban and bar" letter, so there were consequences this year. Let me tell you about them.
I am doing fine. Most important, my soul was at peace and calm and focused throughout the whole experience because of spiritual discernment and preparation in advance.
You may wonder what happened to me. I was with a group of five people who crossed onto the base together. There was an opening provided for us in the fence and we walked onto the base and then up a hill on the Ft. Benning side to an open area. Military police were waiting there for us and asked us to stop, which we did. They took us into custody, putting plastic wrist restraints on pretty tightly. I asked them to call the Commandant and tell him I wanted to dialog with him and deliver some letters. They refused, but let me keep the letters in my handcuffed hands which were behind my back. We were taken to a large hanger which is where they do the processing. We were told to stand facing a wall in lines about three feet from each other. We were not allowed to talk or turn around. So I started humming softly some peace songs. Pretty soon others picked up on that so we were told we couldn?t hum either. One Sister at the front of the line said. "Pretty soon, they will say we have to stop breathing, too." We stood as we waited to be processed one by one. For me, that was about half and hour or more. They took our jackets and everything we had on us and put items into a grocery bag which they sealed with duct tape (a new use for it!). I again asked to see the Commandant and was told they didn't think that would be possible. We could only keep on 1 layer of clothes, so I was glad I had on my turtle neck shirt which was warmer than what some people had. They asked for our basic information and photoed and fingerprinted us and then they turned us over to U.S. Marshals (a new development from other years). The Marshals were in another corner of the hanger. They started the process all over again, forms, including our bank account info, fingerprinting etc. I was told I had to take off my wedding band. I explained that I have arthritis in my knuckles and couldn?t take it off. "Then we will cut it off" I was told. I knew federal prisoners are allowed to keep their wedding rings so I said calmly, "You will have to cut off my finger before I will allow you to cut off my wedding ring." Another Marshall hearing the confrontation hurried over and told the other Marshall, "We don't do that anymore." The younger 19 and 20 year olds were intimidated with lies and threats as well and several of them were really frightened by it. Then they put us in shackles...heavy chain around the waist attached to heavy handcuffs and a heavy metal cover over than and leg shackles. It was, I am sure meant to be demeaning and intimidating, but if you can picture a silver haired nun about 4 foot 2, waddling off to the bus for transport, with a serene smile on her face, you know, for most of us, it didn?t succeed.
We were taken to the Muscogee County jail and, again processed...you know the routine by now. We were held in UNHEATED isolation cells, 3 to a cell during this process and issued the prison garb much like hospital employees wear in surgery...v neck, short sleeve tops and pajama bottoms and plastic sandals without backs. The temperature went down to into the low 30's that night and when everyone was processed we were divided into two groups of about 30 women each and taken to the historic Columbus Stockade (circa 1850). We had a large room with bunks with iron frames. Thin plastic covered mattresses, no pillow, a bed sheet sewed into a sack and a thin, raggedy thermal blanket were issued to each of us along with a mug, a toothbrush, toothpaste, small motel size soap and shampoo. But each of us got our own roll of toilet paper..in fact, that was available in abundance. The communal bathroom had two toilets and a sink that did not work and two shower heads in one corner. The drain was clogged with filth and dead water bugs. It was a pit. There was a dirty mop and bucket in a corner, so I mopped the area as best I could without the disinfectant soap I requested. At least we could use it if we kept our sandals on and rolled up our pants against the water that was always there because the showers overshot the drain for them. We had to use the water fountain on a wall in the larger room for water, to brush our teeth etc. and it sprayed so high and over its drain that it hit the bunk next to it unless we held our mugs in front of the spray to catch it.
We were told we had missed the dinner hour and that we would not be fed until we were awakened at 4:30 for 5:00 a.m. breakfast...but they lied. Once we were all processed in, about 10:00 p.m., trays appeared. Our supper was black eyed peas, mystery meat in thick gravy with grease already congealing on the side and soggy corn bread. Watery and VERY sweet Koolaid was the beverage offered.
There was no heat and they would not give us any extra blankets, so we shivered through the night. One of the windows which was covered by a large towel was really a grate to the outside and the cold air poured in. We had a TV set on a large cooler we could watch.
But our entertainment of the evening was the drummers and puppetistas from the vigil who came back on three different occasions through the night to let us know there were supporters outside. It was great to hear them, though we couldn?t be sure they heard our cheers in response.
It was a miserable night. My legs cramped painfully from thigh to ankle and I got up several times to try to walk out the knots. None of us slept very much. The worst treatment was of those who had brought and needed to have their medications. They were denied access to any medication, even though it was with their belongings at the jail. This includes two diabetics and a number of people on heart medication which they really needed, as well as meds for high blood pressure etc. They continued to ask for over 24 hours without receiving them. Outragous!
On Monday, we went into the courtroom attached to the jail for arraignment. I was in the first group of 20. Guess what? The air conditioning was on, even though outside temperatures did not warrant it. So we continued to shiver.
One special moment was when Tom Cleary who is in his seventies and very frail asked the Judge to have the heat turned on because he was so cold and thought the cold he experienced overnight was making him ill. The Judge asked that that be done, but when Tom asked for a jacket, the judge said no. So our attorney, Tom Quigley asked if he could give him his suit coat jacket. He started taking it off and wrapping Tom gently in in and the Judge dismissed the gesture with a turn of his hand. But it was a precious moment and was made even more relevant by the Gospel reading for the following Sunday. It was Matthew 25, the last judgement ..when did I see thee naked and clothed thee? It was the clearest witness of the two kingdoms I have ever seen. Then Tom Cleary said to the Judge that the young man sitting next to him was shivering and needed a coat, too. He asked that a jacket be brought for him, but the Judge said no.
We were all given $5,000 bonds which meant we had to put up $500 each--86 of us. This was also a new, harsher development as we have always been released on our own recognizance before. Actually 23 of us were second time crossers and the government wanted $10,000 bonds for us, which we successfully decreased.
Then it was back to the cells. I had not called to ask for bonding because I wanted to stay with the young women until they were able to leave...some of the Hispanic women indicated they didn?t have anyone to call to post it for them. But the SOA Watch staff called all over the country and money started pouring in for our bonds. In fact, the 3 Western Union outlets ran out of money, so much was wired. I was out late Monday night, about 10:00 p.m. A Sister from Austin and I had a room together in the Howard Johnson (it is just three blocks from the jail.) Then we went back to see the last people arraigned on Tuesday before I left with a 19 year old student on Tuesday afternoon for Milwaukee and Chicago. I was back in Milwaukee by 6 p.m.
Our trial date is set for the week of January 27. We don?t know what will happen, but we usually have 6-8 weeks after sentencing to go home on our own recognizance and are given a report date and a prison to report to. That could change, but I don?t expect it will because people back home will already be upset about how we were treated. My body is a bit achy and tired but I am in good spirits and picking up my life where I left off.
This is probably more than you wanted to know, but I think it is really important for people to see how peaceful, calm, nonviolent direct actions of dissent from U.S. foreign policy are being handled. Imagine what has happened to those being held in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, and to people of middle eastern descent who have been arrested and questioned since 9/11.
I never felt I expressed my love of my country and its Constitution and founding principles in a more patriotic way than in participating again in the SOA protest. And I will be keeping on, because it is a spiritual journey for me. I will try to live my life with integrity and with love. And, if we have to go back to Ft. Benning next year, I will have to consider returning to witness against this terrorist training camp in our own backyard.
There were about 12,000 participants this year and we were each individually wanded with metal detectors to enter the area at the gates the Columbus police has assigned for our peaceful demonstration. A solemn funeral procession with the calling out of names of priests, nuns, teachers, union organizers, men, women and children killed by SOA grads is the heart of the events and we decorate the fence around the base with crosses with these names on them and with flowers, military medals being returned etc. The number who crossed around the fence on to the base and were arrested doubled this year. You can read more on the website for the Columbus Ledger Enquirer (www.ledger-enquirer.com)
We will be in Oak Park tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day) with Jon and Anne and the beautiful Montgomery and Joel and Christy and Judy for a traditional family celebration. Some of you will be quite surprised by what I did. But most of you know about my journey with the people of Central and South America. It is their love and forgivenss and their stories that I have carried in my heart. It is their truth that needs to be told. Especially now. Our love to you and your families,
Statement to Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth
January 27, 2003
Columbus , GA
At SOA/WHISC Trial
(My first action at the trial was to follow through on my plea of: ?Not
guilty, stipulating.? This means I agreed to sign a stipulation that I had,
indeed entered the base last Nov. 17. I made a few changes to this legal
document, mostly very minor ones which made my position stronger.)
In the last paragraph they said:
?Following the reading of the proclamation on November 17, 2002, the
defendants re-entered the Fort Benning military reservation for the purpose
of demonstrating against the continued operation of the Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation/School of the Americas. Each defendant
was instructed by United States Army authorities to proceed to a collection
area, where he or she was apprehended. Upon apprehension, each defendant
was processed and held for arraignment within forty-eight (48) hours. Each
defendant entered Fort Benning for reasons of conscience and belief in an
effort to call public attention to their claims ( I CHANGED THIS TO
?DOCUMENTATION?) OF THE COMPLICITY OF SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS GRADUATES IN
THE MURDER OF THE SIX JESUIT PRIESTS AND TWO WOMEN (caps mine) as well as
other events and issues related to the School of the Americas/Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.?
Interestingly, they let my change STAND. I added a last paragraph of my
?I also entered the base to deliver a packet of letters to Col. Richard
Downie, Commandant of the SOA/WHISC. I asked at each encounter with
military personnel on the base that they call Col Downie and inform him of
my request to speak with him personally and deliver the letters. This
request was consistently denied.?
They agreed to accept the wording as amended, and I signed the stipulation.
The judge then told me that, had I asked to see Col. Downie at any other
time, he was sure arrangements could have been made for me to enter the base
(even though I was legally banned and barred from doing so) and deliver the
I explained that I had, indeed, seen the Commandant the Friday before trial
for breakfast at Ruth Ann?s Restaurant and delivered the letters. He seemed
quite amused and asked what I thought of the Commandant, whom he has not
met. I replied that the Commandant and I respect each other and that I feel
he believes passionately that the SOA/WHISC will advance the cause of peace
and freedom in our hemisphere. We share a goal of helping to bring peace to
the peoples of Latin America. It is the means by which to get there that we
disagree about. He asked if our dialog had been civil, which I assured him
(The Commandant promised to read each of the letters?there were about 25 or
30?and hoped to respond to at least some of them. We actually had about an
hour and a half together which I found fruitful. He was a foreign officer
and says he has been in every country in Central and South America except
Surinam. I am going to send my testimony as well as the rock I mentioned
which is from El Salvador, as a memento of our conversation. I would
welcome the opportunity for another breakfast meeting when I return to
I was then sworn and took the stand.
---STATEMENT BEGINS HERE (finally!)
?Good afternoon, Judge, members of the court, members of the media, friends
The poorest people in our hemisphere, as you know Judge, are thethe people
of Haiti. They have taught me an important lesson in their simple but
profound proverb, ?WE SEE FROM WHERE WE STAND.? For I do not feel that I
stand on one side of a line or the other, but as part of a large circle of
humanity?a circle beyond time and space and national boundaries.
We each see our part of the truth from where we stand in the circle. We are
shaped by that part of the truth we see and we speak and act based on where
we stand. I have chosen and been chosen to try to stand with the poor and
the powerless in my life journey, and that has made all the difference.
I?d like to tell you about these three rocks, Judge, and what they mean to
me. My I approach the bench and share them with you? They will help you
understand where I stand.
The first rock (the one on your right) is a piece of sidewalk from a street
in inner city Milwaukee, where I live. Every time there is a homicide in
Milwaukee, a group from our congregation-based justice organization, MICAH,
does a prayer vigil at the site of the homicide, inviting the family and
friends of the victim to join our circle, to share something positive about
the victim to guide our prayers. We always close with the Lord?s Prayer and
offer hugs of support around the circle. We mark the sidewalk near the
place where they died with an indelible purple ink stencil of an angel. It
is a public witness to the truth that every life is precious. In the past
10 years we have left well over 1,000 angels on our city?s streets. This
rock cries out. ?STOP THE KILLING!? ?STOP THE VIOLENCE!? ?EVERY LIFE IS
PRECIOUS!? Some might say we should be prosecuted for defacing public
property, but most see a higher common good served in holding up the value
of each human life. It is a way to heal our community.
The middle rock is from Viet Nam. We sell them at the Third World Shoppe in
Milwaukee, where I volunteer. It was during the Viet Nam war that I first
began to publicly dissent against U. S. foreign policy. Viet Nam provided
my first experience of low intensity conflict?warfare directed at a
civilian as well as a military population. For me, this rock symbolizes the
particular horror of the My Lai massacre. When Lt. William Calley gave the
immoral, unjust order to destroy the entire village out of fear of the
enemy, more than 500 of the 700 villagers were systematically rounded up and
murdered?.men, women and children. Helicopter transport pilot Hugh
Thompson defied this direct order by putting his helicopter between the
villagers and the soldiers who were killing them. He took as many as he
could?about 17, I believe, and carried them to safety. Sentenced to life in
prison, William Calley was exonerated before this district court under Judge
Robert Elliott after having served less time in prison than a low-level drug
dealer gets n my state. Hugh Thompson defied a direct order to say: ?STOP
THE VIOLENCE? ?STOP THE KILLING? ?EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS.?
We know how many U.S. lives were lost in Viet Nam. Over 50,000. What a
waste! They are commemorated with a beautiful memorial on the Capital mall
in Washington, D.C.
Though many more Vietnamese lives were lost, we don?t know how many,
because they were never counted. We didn?t say ?EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS!?
But those countless lives were precious to their loved ones and friends and
those lives were precious to God.
Hugh Thompson and his co-pilot, Larry Coburn, have joined Mike Boem who
served with them at My Lai, in taking some responsibility for My Lai. They
have partnered with the people of My Lai in helping to rebuild this
devastated area. A peace park has been built?and a school, and community
development projects like the marketing of these beautiful rocks has begun.
The veterans returned to meet the surviving people they rescued or their
families, a few months ago when the peace park was dedicated. A historic
reunion. This rock cries out in hope: ?STOP ALL VIOLENCE!? ?stop all
killing!? ?ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS!? Mike Boehm joins us annually in November
at the gates of Ft. Benning to add his voice as we sing out the names of
victims whose precious lives were taken in Central and South America at the
hands of graduates of the School of the Americas.
The third rock is from El Salvador. It symbolizes for me, the Rio Sumpl
massacre at the border of El Salvador and Honduras. I heard about it from
the wife of a Lutheran pastor there. I am also the wife of a Lutheran
pastor. She was a teenager at the time. Low intensity warfare, perfected
in Viet Nam had been taught to Salvadoran military at the School of the
Americas. Chased from their village by Salvadoran military intent on
killing them, the women and children and old people ran through the woods to
the river, only to be mowed down in its waters as they struggled toward the
other side. The rocks of the riverbed ran red with their blood.
Mike Boehm met with the women who survived this massacre and heard their
stories. And he told them the story of My Lai. After hearing it, they went
to the river, selected a stone and gave it to Mike. ?When you go back to
Viet Nam,? they said. ?take this to our sisters there. We have not healed
from the wounds of our war, and we know from their story, that they have not
healed either. But perhaps in sharing our pain, we can begin to heal each
other.? That rock is a sacred symbol cherished by the women of My Lai and
has inspired a ?Sisters Meeting Sisters? project to bring these women
together to share their wisdom, their pain, and how they are healing
themselves, their families and their communities. This rock, too, cries out
?NO MORE VIOLENCE1? ?NO MORE KILLING!? ?ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS!?
THE SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS HAS A NEW NAME?THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE INSTITUTE
FOR SECURITY COOPERATION. It is rerouted in the chain of command under the
Dep. Of Defense, which we used to call by another name, too?the WAR DEPT.
Maybe we should call it that again as our President and our government call
for a unilateral first strike in an unjust, an unconscionable war with Iraq.
We see from where we stand. Standing with the poor of our hemisphere my
question about the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation ,
Judge is: ?WHOSE security are we talking about?
In a speech Martin Luther King Jr., whom I was privileged and honored to
march with in Selma, in a speech at Riverside Church in New York in 1967
quoted a sensitive American official overseas who said it seemed to him that
our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. Increasingly by
choice or by accident, Dr. King said, this is the role our nation has
taken?the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing
to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense
profits of global investment.
?I am convinced,? he continued, ?that if we are to get on the right side of
the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of
VALUES. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ?thing-oriented? society to
a ?person-oriented? society.
When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are
considered more important than people, the giant triplets of RACISM,
MATERIALISM AND MILITARISM (caps mine) are incapable of being conquered.
?A true revolution of values,? he continued, ?will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many past and present policies. A true
revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of
poverty of wealth. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world
order and say of war: ?This way of settling differences is not just.?
?This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense?WAR IS NOT
Since you will not allow a defense based on faith (here the prosecuting
attorney jumped up and loudly objected that my statement was a faith
statement. So I restated, with the judge helping me find the right word)???
Since you will not allow an acquittal with evidence based on practicing my
faith, on universally held values, necessity or international law, I stand
before you as defenseless and vulnerable as those innocents who were, and
who are being tortured, raped, intimidated, coerced and murdered at the
hands of SOA/WHISC graduates.
We see from where we stand. My heart has been broken by standing with the
poor and powerless of our hemisphere, but I have also learned from them to
hope?TO HOPE, and to work for a revolution of values. So I, too, say,
?STOP THE VIOLENCE!? ?STOP THE KILLING!? ?ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS!?
?CLOSE THE SOA/WHISC!?.
Our beloved and esteemed attorney, Bill Quigley, raised an argument with the
Judge before sentencing about my objection to the law Bill Clinton signed
into being not quite three years ago that takes Social Security monthly
retirement payments away from Federal prisoners for any part of the months
of the time of their sentence. For me, that will probably means 7 months of
payments lost. The Judge said he was unaware of the law, but he did not
give me (and hopefully never again any others) a fine. Fines usually range
from $500 to $2500 for those financially able to pay and that has included
people on retirement in the past. I hope to follow up and add my support to
any lawsuits being filed and any efforts to change this unjust law.
Sentence: 6 months to be served in a Women?s Federal Minimum Security
No fine. $250 bond posted to assure self report on date and time to follow
(this usually arrives between 4-8 weeks after trial.)
When I asked to approach the bench to retrieve my rocks the Judge said, ?You
can have two of them, but I am keeping this one?for healing.? He picked up
the rock from Viet Nam. My first reaction was, ?How arrogant! That is MY
rock!? But I took a deep breath, centered on the principles of non-violence
I struggle to live out and said, ?Take it, Judge, as my gift.? I learned
later that he had lost a younger brother who enrolled at age 17 in the Army,
and who died in Viet Nam at the age of 26, never having seen the infant
daughter later born to his wife. We can reach across the issues that divide
us and touch each others hearts if we remember that we all carry our
personal pain and struggles and we all yearn for a world healed from the
wounds of war.
I wrote to the Commandant to thank him for our visit, and decided to send
him the rock from El Salvador. He, too, yearns for a world healed from war.
That leaves me with the rock from Milwaukee. I shall have to discern more
deeply what it means to grow the MICAH vigils into other actions to heal my
community from the wounds of violence and death. EVERY LIFE IS INDEED
Waging peace in Milwaukee, Joyce Ellwanger
My learnings continue. A few days after this was written my pastor, Rev.
Mary Martha Kannass, asked me to come in to talk about the trial. She had a
beautiful letter written to me by youth in the confirmation class.
Accompanying the letter was a small box. In the box was a rock they went to
the Third World Shoppe and bought for me to replace the one the Judge took.
It was the last one in stock. It was a time for the tears.
The rock I sent to the Commandant ended up in a display case at the
SOA/WHISC in a blue velvet case with a "silver" rim engraved: ""Healing
rock" from El Salvador donated by Joyce Ellwanger. Judith Kelly, a
co-defendent who visited after her February trial was kind enough to send me
a picture of it. It was a time for questions.
Obviously, God is not finished using this as a learning experience.
Perhaps my brothers and sisters from the Lutheran Church in El Salvador will
replace the third rock when they next visit, and I can again have the
physical symbols of the solidarity I feel within that circle of the human
family who stand together and say with the testimony of their words and
their lives, ?STOP THE VIOLENCE!? ?STOP THE KILLING!? ?EVERY LIFE IS
5525 Illinois Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20011
Join the cohousing community of Sunrise Mountain Farm
Madeleine Breen of the Dominican Sisters of Peace