+ the following should b a separate chapter- on the actions other than the balto 4 and cat 9-it has a lot of material quoted from other sources- reviews and such- thus is not part of narrative of my experience written by me so much
As we went to prison, anti- draft actions continued apace. George Mische reports more than 250 (what source)! A favorite- the “DC 9”, broke into Dow Chemical Headquarters in D.C. in the first action against corporate America. The same night a raid on the main Selective Service offices in D.C. was planned, but the SS had shunted their records by truck to a less vulnerable building at the last minute. Had they been tipped off? Some argued that had infiltrated the movement. The D.C. 9 had trouble with a window; as I remember it, they wanted to cut it neatly and pull it into the building, having taped it, so that it wouldn’t fall on anybody outside under the window on the sidewalk, but they had taped the wrong side. There had been a dramatic photo of Mike Dougherty behind the broken plate, a gusted swatch of papers floating down in front of him......M.S. trying to rip too big a book in half, A.M. calling to his wife as the cops came, the whole group singing their own version of the“Battle Hymn of the Republic” as they were shoved into a van. It had been the first group to take on a corporation rather than a draft board. Dow Chemical, manufacturer of napalm and herbicides, was a perfect choice. When we returned to the same office to demonstrate during the trial, Dow had installed a guard and camera aimed at the door.
The DC 9 statement courtesy of the "Hippy Land Site?":
"Today, March 22, 1969, in the Washington office of the Dow Chemical Company we spill human blood and destroy files and office equipment. By this action, we condemn you, the Dow Chemical Company, and all similar American Corporations.
We are outraged by the death-dealing exploitation of people of the Third World, and of all the poor and powerless who are victimized by your profit-seeking ventures. Considering it our responsibility to respond, we deny the right of your faceless and inhuman corporation to exist:
You, corporations, who under the cover stockholder and executive anonymity, exploit, deprive, dehumanize and kill in search of profit; you, corporations, who contain (or control) Americans and exploit their exaggerated need for security that you have helped create; you, corporations, who numb our sensitivity to persons, and capitalize on our concern for things.
Specifically, we warn you, Dow Chemical Company, that we will no longer tolerate your refusal to accept responsibility for your programmed destruction of human life.
You, stockholders and company executives alike, are so willing to seek profit in the production of napalm, defoliants, nerve gas, as in the same spirit you co-operated with the I. G. Farben Company, a chemical manufacturer in Nazi Germany, during the Second World War.
You, who without concern for development for other nations or for their rights of self-determination, maintain 100% control over subsidiaries in more than twenty nations.
You, who in the interest of profit, seek to make it in the military interest of the United States to suppress the legitimate national desires of other peoples. Your product is death, your market is war.
Your offices have lost their right to exist. It is a blow for justice that we strike today.
In your mad pursuit of profit, you and others like you, are causing the psychological and physical destruction of mankind.
We urge all to join us as we say "no" to this madness. "
(Signed) Rev. Robert Begin, Rev. Bernard Meyer, Rev. Joseph O'Rourke, S.J., Rev. Dennis Maloney, Mr. Michael Sasaki, Rev. Michael Dougherty, S.J., Sr. Joann Malone, SAM, Rev. Arthur Melville, Mrs. Catherine Melville. "
quote from Sam Smith's "Multitudes- an unauthorized memoir"
"In 1969, my friend Gren Whitman called from Baltimore to borrow my office "as place for the press to meet before an action." I asked what was up. "Don't ask," he instructed."I don't want you to know. That way you won't be liable." I agreed to help. The reporters and the activists arrived at my office at the scheduled time and within minutes departed on their still-unidentified mission. Later that day I learned that nine protesters had broken into the offices of the Dow Chemical Company and spilled blood over the files in an anti-war protest.
The next morning Kathy woke me saying that I'd better look at what was in the Post. In the upper left corner of the front page was a story describing the attack. In the lead it said that reporters had been told to meet at the offices of the DC Gazette and gave the address, 109 8th Street NE.
I was upset and angry. The Post, it appeared, was setting me up for retaliation -- legal and otherwise. My only role in the affair had been to provide a gathering place for my news colleagues and now the Great Prude of 15th Street was out to punish me for having done their reporter a favor. I called a lawyer friend who came over and calmed me down.
Nothing more came of it. Which, however, is how I came not to trust the Post. It was a time of hidden agendas and multiple agendas. The police had found a few black militants willing to disrupt white peace groups and a few white radicals willing to do the same. A member of the DC Statehood Party steering committee was, I'm pretty certain, a police informer. When I referred in passing to reported police ties of a certain ostensibly radical black councilmember, he gave me a wink the next time I showed up at the council press table and never denied it.
On May Day in 1971 (note by dave- i was at Lewisburg and guards from Lewisburg were shipped down to DC to handle this demo) the police arrested 13,000 people in DC --including reporters and bystanders -- in what was probably the largest mass arrest in American history. I noticed a prominent black militant trapped in one of the corrals the cops had improvised. About a half hour later, he was out of the corral and talking to a top department official. Then, not long after, he was back inside the roped off area. You learned to look for things like that just as I had learned to keep looking behind me at demonstrations so I could see where the cops were moving. Which is how I didn't get arrested on May Day 1971.
Some of those trapped were detained in an old sports arena; others were herded onto the playing field of RFK Stadium. That night the temperature dropped to the thirties. I went to the courthouse -- crowded as a Thanksgiving weekend airport – sometime after midnight to bail out Gren on personal recognizance. I wore a coat and tie and when the judge asked if I were a DC resident, I stood at parade rest and replied, "A native, your honor." My friend was released.
For three days the DC police department had literally ran amuck. In a searing report , the American Civil Liberties wrote later: "Between May 3 and May 5, more than 13,OOO people were arrested in Washington, DC-- the largest mass arrest in our country's history. The action was the government's response to anti-war demonstrations, an important component of which was the announced intention of the Mayday Coalition, organizer of the demonstrations, to block Washington rush-hour traffic. During this three-day period, normal police procedures were abandoned. Most of the 13,000 people arrested -- including law-breakers caught while attempting to impede traffic, possible potential law-breakers, war protestors engaged in entirely legal demonstrations, uninvolved passers-by and spectators -- were illegally detained, illegally charged, and deprived of their constitutional rights of due process, fair trial and assistance of counsel. The court system, unable to cope with this grand scale emergency caused by the police, was thrown into chaos."
During the Mayday police riot, people were beaten and arrested illegally, locked up by the thousands in makeshift holding pens with inadequate toilet facilities and food, or stuffed into drastically overcrowded cells. People on their way to work, patients going to see their doctor, students attending classes, reporters and lawyers were all caught up in the sweep arrests. Most of those stashed in the DC Jail exercise yard were without blankets throughout a night in which the temperatures fell into the thirties. And in the most symbolic display of contempt for the law, more than a thousand persons were arrested in front of the Capitol where they had assembled to hear speeches, including several from members of Congress. When Rep. Ronald Dellums tried to keep a policeman from arresting a member of his staff, saying, "Hey, that's a member of my staff. Get your hands off of him. I'm a United States Congressman," the policeman replied, "I don't give a fuck who you are," then hit Dellums in the side with his nightstick and pushed him down some stairs." webs does not let me enlarge the font!?!?!?!?
Milwaukee 14, Camden 28
As of 2010, Bob Graf, of the 14 had put together a web site, with news updating the participants: I wrote to him:
As the Milwaukee 14 stood around their burning pyre of files, John Higganbotham sang from the "Wizard of Oz", "Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead."
Jim Forest of the 14 writes interestingly about one response he got re the 14:
“ Dear Mr. Forest,
My husband and I are planning to attend the Anti-War March in Washington this coming weekend. The very thought of going to DC has brought back memories of similar marches we participated in when we were much younger and living in Milwaukee.
You wouldn’t know it but we have thought of you often since September 24, 1968. Without a doubt, my husband’s 1-A records and very likely his induction notice were destroyed in the action taken by the Milwaukee 14. There is no telling how that action changed the course of our lives, but I am sure it did. The truth is I am embarrassed that we never thanked all of you for what you did for us.
Our going to DC may be in part a way to reconnect with our past, but there are so many parallels to the ‘60’s that it’s startling. And although you helped spare my husband from serving in the military, we have a son-in-law who is a career Marine. He and our daughter will celebrate their 5th anniversary in spring although they have been together for only one of them. Steve has been in Iraq more than half of almost every year they’ve been married. He has missed every Mother’s Day since the birth of their son in 2003 and will miss the birth of their second child in July. He will be leaving at the end of February for his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. His story isn’t unusual among today’s volunteer military.
So I hunted up our Peace buttons and a pin my Mother wore that says “War isn’t healthy for children and other living things.” And we’re going to join the expected tens of thousands of people in DC in the hopes of making a statement of protest against this current war, hoping that our son-in-law and everyone else’s son or daughter will come home to stay.
Unlike the mostly young crowd we were in when we marched in San Francisco in November of 1969, I am betting we’ll see lots of people our age, probably other people who will have the same “déjà vu” feelings we have.
And while you may not be in the crowd with us, you will be there in spirit.
With more gratitude than you know, “
following Jim Forest responds to some questions from a student:
>> What do you think is the effect, now 38 years later, of the act that you, and the rest of the 14 did that day?
I was amazed at the impact — more than I would have expected: a two-page photo in Life magazine of the action, front page coverage in newspapers across the country, reports on TV news programs nationwide, national press attention while the trial was going on, respected poets coming to Milwaukee to do public readings in our support, lectures given by various scholars, supportive mail from all sorts of people (one of the astronauts on the first moon trip sent me as photo he had taken of the earth from space). One of the “epistles” in Leonard Bernstein’s “The Mass” was a letter about visiting me in prison.
Now, 38 years later, of course it’s just one item on a long list of protest actions that occurred during the Vietnam War. What surprises me is that it hasn’t been altogether forgotten. I recently received a newly made Milwaukee 14 poster!
>> Do you think that your actions that day had an affect on the draft?
Sure. For starters it closed down conscription for a time in a major US city. In Milwaukee for several months the only people who were sent to the war were volunteers. Judging from the mail we received, I think we helped more draft-eligible people decide that they would not take part in the war. More people became conscientious objectors. The fact that about half our groups were Catholic priests (and one a Christian Brother teaching economics at Note Dame) meant that our action had particular impact on the Catholic Church. It probably was a factor in the opposition to the war that was increasingly voiced by the Catholic hierarchy.” End of interview
There were more and more refinements of ceremony at the destructions and new ways of surfacing or coming up out of the underground to announce that an action had taken place. Some persons acted, then did not wait to be arrested as we had. Some destroyed files and did not claim responsibility. Others made it difficult for the feds by coming forward to take credit for hitting several draft boards without specifying which. At Camden, N. J., a large group claimed that they had destroyed files along with the few who actually had. Dan Berrigan reports in his autobiography (again underline) "To Dwell in Peace" that after one action "files were mailed back to their owners, with a note urging that the inductees refuse to serve". Peace Warriors is a book by Ed Mcgowan devoted to the Camden action.
A book entitled Peace Warriors Camden 28 action- by Ed Mdgowan., along w Jerry Elmer's and Murray Polner's is required readings on that actions. Did the FBI try to link the Camden action to Harrisburg 8 action? (a thought of George's?) Ed was a member of that draft action group, 8 of whom attacked the draft board in Camden, N.J. in 1972.
I’d like to find out what has happened to the members of said groups- what are they doing now? (talk to Ed more maybe,
Doug Marvey) Some of these, as earlier mentioned were actions unlike our blood pouring where folks did not wait around to turn themselves in but surfaced later, and there were many actions against draft boards where the actors wanted to get away with it and had no intention of turning themselves in. Does the FBI have a record of those draft board actions?
This is the book Mische says he will write, What about sh tslinging Barry Bondhaus? the “Big Lake One”? George claims to have vistited him and tells me about him in 2007 when he visits.
Anthony Giaccino's definitive film on the 28 that is shown on 9/11/7 on PBS. Of all the trial presentations- it is far and away the best- others being “Trial of the C-9”, “In the King of Prussia”- directed by Emile d’Antonio (also very impressive) "Holy Outlaw" by Lee Lockwood, and the upcoming magnum opus by Joe Tropea.. The dvd “Convicted” about the Plowshares nuns and an action in Colorado- is also wonderfully done.
Speaking of groups with numbers, defendant Mike Doyle appealing to the jury in his closing statement mentioned how the Vietnam War had reached into towns in South Jersey and killed (my transposition) the Millville 5, the Pennsauken 3, the Salem 9, the Pennsgrove 6, the Vineland 10 and the Camden 31- (these were N.J. residents who died in Vietnam).
It turns out that John Grady, whom I had met, had possibly organized a few of the later actions, just as George Mische had possibly organized some of the middle actions, at least played leading roles. The FBI suspected Grady of masterminding the attack against their own FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. I devoured McGowan’s book, found it fascinating. In it Ed presents all the detail of this complex action and remarkable trial. It was the only trial where the group was acquitted, the Harrisburg 8 trial resulting in a hung jury. Because the trial IS so meticulously presented, part of the book is somewhat boring but it picks up towards the end when you get to the testimony of the defendants.
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said at the time: “I think Camden was one of the great trials of the 20th century.As Ed writes: �� community members sided with the resisters against their government’s war on its own dissenting citizens.” The jury had taken matters into their own hands and listened to Grady when, in his closing, said that “legislators are crying out for your courage and God willing you will give it to them with the final two words” (in other words “not guilty”.) This was a rare moment in U.S. history- but, of course, not the only one! McGowan’s book goes into some fine points about the legal thinking on this kind of civil disobedience. The Camden Judge- Judge Fisher, had given the defendants more leeway than any other of the action Judges, but even he, as had the other Judges, made that old tired point that our prosecutor Steve Sachs had- that the law is sacred and that the charges referred to strictly criminal actions with no “inquiry into designs, motives of any law enforcement agency (i.e. the government’s “creative involvement through Hardy) would be relevant. (Prosecutor Barry’s argument in the Camden case, perhaps sensing that he was losing the case, was that the jury’s “breaking the law” by siding with the defendant would lead to chaos and anarchy).
Where had I heard this before- only over and over again ad nauseam at the trials of all our draft board actions. Most of the Judges wouldn’t even allow testimony on defendant’s beliefs in like Judge Fisher had, and he had even been somewhat helpful on the matter of jury nullification, instructing that while juries “don’t have the power to do it, they HAVE done it”. This was not a stupid jury nullification, as at O.J. Simpson’s trial where he was acquitted of murder he plainly comitted, but a wise one. For the law is just as subject to change for the better as anything. It is not “written in stone”. Bad law has , like bad property, no right to exist.
It turns out that the 8 who had actually gone into the draft board (the other 20 acted in various support modes) had been informed upon and were caught dead in the act by the FBI. The FBI by this time were taking the Draft Action groups very seriously - suspecting them of having broken into the FBI office at Media, Pennsylvania- which action proved very embarrassing to the gumshoes - revealing their sneaky, cointelpro actions. I set out to contact Ed, and got the Grady’s number in Ithaca, N.Y. from Willa Walsh of the Baltimore Catholic Worker house- Viva House.
John was a dear, leprechaunish, Dylan Thomasish, Irish, curly haired lad- who had an unforgettable laugh. I had nursed the hope ever since meeting him of hearing that laugh again. John was so bubbly and full of life, you couldn't ignore him. And yet he died about a month before Phil and had alzsheimers for the last 8 years of his life. His daughter, Claire told me that alcoholism had been a problems and that he had separated from the family but later returned to Ithaca.
The Gradys and Mcgowan had been at Phil’s funeral- but I didn’t start reading the Camden 28 book until a few days later.
Liz Berrigan told me that John had “fried his brain” I’m sure she would agree “pickled” to be a better choice. I thought of Dylan Thomas- whom John resembled.
Other salient points of Ed’s book? : one of the sad point of this action was that it had not gone as planned- due to informer Robert Hardy. Some of the defendants made the argument that “despite their intention to raid the Camden boards, they had run out of gas and were jump started by the FBI in the person of Hardy, that the FI manufactured the crime” (Hardy had facilitated the action supplying a ladder and rope, even offering a gun to Keith Forsyth on the night of the action)” that the FBI “just didnt comprehend the informal recruitment practice or the non- heirarchical form of the Action Community- they thought it was set up like themselves”.
Ed supplied some antecedent cases of American history- cases which had led to “jury nulllification” (which was the great triumph of the Camden case): William Penn, John Peter Zenger, tea parties in Boston and Philly, Fugitive Slave Act cases, etc. Howard Zinn, who had written a foreword to Ed’s book, had mentioned such cases in his People’s History of the United States. Howard had been at Phil’s funeral.
Joan Reilly had quoted a striking poem that dealt with the generation gap, father son problem that had been a part of my life, a poem by a Vietnam vet: “It may be we cannot change./ You shout we hope to make you see/ How we have changed./ While you have chosen to be father,/ We have fought/ And are fighting/To be brothers to our sons”, and Mike Giacondo quoted Buffy Sainte Marie’s song “Universal Soldier”: “He’s a Universal Sodier,/ and he really is to blame,/ His orders come from far away no more,/ they come from him, and you and me./ And brothers can’t you see,/ this is not a way to put an end to war.”
Richard McSorley died in the 90's I believe, and I was struck by the Irish contribution to our part of the anti-war movement- the Walshes, Gradys, Berrigans, Doyles, etc..
I thought of the similarity between the Camden 28 and the Watergate, what was it 7? Big difference was that the Watergate burglars had been on the wrong side!
One naturally wonders, who will carry on in Phil’s footsteps. The government hopes no one! Then too, with his constant one action after another style- I wonder who has this beat at the Justice Dept. or FBI? Are they at the funeral? Probably. And yet, have they, over the years, learned to handle these types of actions a little less brutally?
Ed Mcgowan makes clear in his book that the government and FBI had taken the Catholic left very seriously after the embarrassments to Hoover of Dan’s underground and the Harrisburg trial and the Media FBI office raid. There is even speculation that the “western White House”- Nixon? was involved.
At about the same time that the Camden 28 film aired on PBS- 200?) , my brother, Jonathan- was dying ashamed- and often bawled crying when I visited (I couldn’t understand him to figure out why). I realized that a big part of the problem was that J was dying without the benefit of community. Phil, his fame notwithstanding, died surrounded by family and fiends, his every need attended to. But my brother had estranged all but us- his two brothers and sister and mother and one daughter and the step daughter. My brother did not share (nor did I) our mom’s faith in an afterlife and God. J was dying without interests and values. It was hard to watch. Phil was tethered. Tethered to Jonah House- his peace movement community. Frida’s description of her father’s death in an interview with Amy Goodman for “Democrary Now” is very moving, and to me, at the time of my brother’s dying, consoling.
Besides using each action to organize new protesters, we hoped that the government would decide it cost them too much to prosecute after such inspiring trials as the Catonsville 9 or the Milwaukee 14. But the government went right ahead with its prosecutions, knowing that it cost the movement time and money whether convictions resulted or not.
The actions were connected depending on how much organizing persons of previous actions felt like doing; some, notably George Mische, did a lot. Without their guiding hands or "outside influence", the actions would never have occurred (of this more later). Pacifists would stress the point that the means determined the end or that the means would be in the end. For example if you came to power violently, your new regime would maintain power violently, the dogmatic pacifist would say. Thus after we poured blood on files we did not try to escape or hide but publicly awaited our captors. Also draft action groups took pains to avoid violence. But this philosophy could not extend to truthfulness.
At the time, to relate details of such organizing was dangerous and would have brought charges to the conspirators.
The Quakers had a powerful maxim: "Speak truth to power." But our preparation had to be secret.
I had been up to Milwaukee to attend the trial of the "Milwaukee 14" . I made friends there with Jim Forest (see above) ,who later introduced me to WIN Magazine- where I wrote some articles and book reviews. I published a poem about it through “Gunrunner Press.” Francine du Plessix Grey wrote a definitive article about the trial in the New York Review of Books- “The Ultra Resistance”. Each anti draft action produced something new technically as well as spiritually.
As we had, each new action employed the “media” in different, interesting ways. Damage done to files had escalated from Barry Bondhus’s shit through our blood to the Catonsville napalm nand more files were destroyed. Draft Boards were being torched without any one waiting around to take the credit in the classic Thoreau/Ghandian style. The “Boston 2” used black paint; records were cut by scissors, tarred, dumped in laundry bleach.
J forests’ daddy warbux photo here?
George Mische vists me on 9/17-19 and upon reading this (9/18/'10) excoriates me and says that this just proves no one should ever talk to me- I am afraid we are going to fall to argumentation yet again on this latest visit. (George's wife, Helene told him not to visit me in that he might implode/explode). Me? (I don't want G to die on me in my house) but I'm going to keep merrily on writing- am I going to get permission for the stuff I write- no, I am not. I am an undergound newspaper reporter- an outlaw reporter-I'll write what the f k I want- even if I censor out certain words myself. I have a point of view- I tell G : what?!- you're a censor now? . G tells me that Bill O C' never stopped apologizing for this episode. I guess we never stop trying to control the narrative. Now, it's Joe Tropea's turn (making a film "Hit and Stay" about the anti draft actions)..
So- there may be some wrong things in this interview- and so? I tell G- point them out to me and I'll correct them. G always insists on respect for each and every member of the Catonsville 9- and emphasizes the persons beside Phil and Dan who took part in actions. He tells me I should get permission from those I write about- that's what he would do. OK- I tell him- so you're full of rectitude. Full of rectal tude, would be more like it.
(George tells me this is bunk on 9/19- see G if you are reading this- you paranoid mf you) (see how fair Davy is?!?!?)
According to George, who had always a gift of gab, Phil termed him "indiscreet", but George had become increasingly critical of Phil (and Dan) as big, media struck egos who needed to be more positive and stop “guilt tripping” people into joining the actions. George had confronted Dan on this issue (as had Bill O’Connor) but, apparently did not have much interchange w Phil after the Iron Mtn. Meeting (he states that Phil had tried for a reconciliation). Once Phil got out of jail and had "purged"
G asks me "where did you get the word "purge"?- i think from the interview)
At the Iron Mtn meeting, George said he handed over the names and addresses of some 100 + potential action participants to Phil and told him, O.K., you take it from here, then leaving for ? (G drove a cab for awhile? instead of organizing more actions.
Then, George said, Phil had come contritely back, needing his help after all. There is no doubt George was an organizer par excellence; he had a dogged, bullish tenacity regarding travel, calling meetings and doing all the things needing to be done to pull off actions, not that Phil lacked them, just that George had them more. (and in the same manner George was a bull dog at fighting- witness his continuing the struggle once he got into prison where I was content to rest).
I have always liked George but found him to be awfully blustery- he scares me- he’s always so self confident- so abrupt. He has helped me a lot- especially with the job at NCCJL. I look forward to his book- and I learn alot when he visits which I write down unbeknownst, hopefully to him and I told him I hope his book will address some of the issues he raises about leaders/ martyrs and why he thinks Phil and Dan actually harmed the “Catholic left”. He asked me what I thought of it and I told him I never saw any Catholic “left”- it was a Catholic “peace movement”. Knowing as much as I do now- the Catholics had never tried to be nor been left, although Phil called himself a leftist. Maybe Tom Melville- especially from his Central American experiences (see Tom Melville’s books ). I told George get off his mad at P and D kick- did he have some kind of must disobey the father/ authority figure like I did? For Chrissakes (especially his) Phil and Dan needed all the support they could get, I thought- and Jonah House and the Plowshares Actions. “Tap tap tapping on missiles”, George said, poo pooing/belittling them as achieving nothing.)
by Michael Quinn transcribed by Margaret Phelan, dated 11/15/(73?) (what are these FD signs free webs keeps putting up? sic- ��) sheds light on the whole period- homey, up close and revealing details. Joe Tropea brought it to my attention in 2008. Bill recounts a humorous story about the blood pouring: there was to be a symbol trom the steps of the Customs House for him and the press to come in: “something about tying a shoe string…we saw this handkerchief and it happened to be a janitor, then Tom came out and a big truck blocked our view of him-……” . Then Bill describes going over the the Customs House with the press- but I don’t remember Bill as being on the scene.
On Catonsville, he states: “they weren’t satisfied with the blood pouring- Phil wanted something bigger and more difficult to discredit (abiguity of blood as a symbol). Tom was very ambivalent about it- Phil put a lot of moral pressure on him and by that time, George had come in. Have you heard any stories about George?
George is kind of a crazy Dostoyesvskian maverick. He can set down and drink a bottle and a half of whisky and he’s rude and he’s lewd and he’s a chauvinist number one. I think Dan and Phil were paying him money and he was hitting different parts of the country trying to bring people together. He opened a place up on S or P St. in D.C. and planning meetings for the Catonsville 9 took place there. Many of these meetings I chaired. Not withstanding that I was not going to be in the action…faintly flirted with coming into the actions. Didn’t like the moral tone, one.
Two, I didn’t particularly want to see myself in jail, I’ve been in jail a couple of times. I felt I could do other things, make other contributions. And said that I would hang in because the actions were real. I thought the priests could use their celibacy for a change.”
Interviewer (I): “How involved were you with the action in Catonsville”?
B O’C: Involved enough that they finally charged me, “ (DE- I never knew about this- I was pretty much out of it at this later point (in one of my “funks” as Bill pointed out to me around the time of the Catonsville trial). Bill goes on: “Flyers had been put out referring to the violent Democratic Convention in Chicago- If you like Chicago- you’ll love Baltimore”. Film star, Tim Robbins, in an interview with Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now"- discussing the play, the "Trial of the C 9", wisely points out that after Chicago and the Jerry Rubins and the Abbie Hoffman and long haired weathermen and SDS' ers- the "trial of the nine might open some otherwise closed minds-- the clerical garb- the reasoned arguments. I realized that, despite all the arguments by prosecutor, Sachs, about the sanctity of the law- the rule of law- he failed to realize that the 9 were staying within the law! they actually showed up for court- they WERE honoring the law.
Bill describes getting the blood for the blood pouring from the Gay Street Market) and how we met at the Bill Moore House to do it- near Greenmount in Baltimore. Bill had walked through the South ( with a sandwich board reading “Black and White- Eat at Joe’s” and had been shot by a sniper. A friend of ours from the Civil Rights movement- Hal Smith, had set up a foundation in Bill’s honor.
Back to the interview- Bill speaks of flying out to Milwaukee and helping to organise the “Milwaukee 14” action (in which they burned files). “Then I flew back to Baltimore because I was handling most of the press. I did that for the blood pouring and Catonsville. I did it for Milwaukee. I did a lot of it for the Women against Daddy Warbucks”. DE I note he doesn’t mention the “DC 9” Dow Chemical action.
I: “What was hoped to be gained by the actions against draft boards?”
B: “ You mean how did people think that was going to put an end to the war?” I.: “Idealogically?” B: “We wanted to broaden the base- we saw that at least around the Catonsville 9 we were able to build a community, which went from the Interfaith Peace Mission to the Baltimore Defense Committee.” (DE- I remember feeling a bit left out of the Defense Committee- in which Gren Whitman played a large role- but then, I was in a blue funk anyway. Thank God Louise took care of me.)
B: “That’s when it really did involve lots of Catholic, but pardon me, not a disproportionate number. This was really kinda grass roots stuff. People were really moving. The elitism was no longer there. But what began to develop is I found myself in two movements- the grass roots movement with many people who made enormous sacrifices (DE- not compared to ours- we faced 50 years in prison and a great deal of money if fined!), giving up jobs. Supporting themselves on a little bit of money. Working hard as hell around the clock. Just wanted to end the war and they didn’t care how long it was going to take.
And it was pretty damn brutalizing. Looking back everybody talks about that. Broke up marriages and I think some of those marriages might have stayed together. Very hard to live with one another. Marilyn and myself went through some hell. In one scene Berrigan and I were here endlessly. Marilyn came down and I heard- Bill! I went to the kitchen, M had all the bed clothes, the sheets, the pillow and said, ‘I’m going down stairs and sleep. You want to sleep up there with Phil Berrigan, that’s alright.’ I found it very difficult. Increasingly difficult to reach Phil..until I said to him: ‘we have to talk.’ I don’t know if you want to hear the nitty gritty of those talks or what was discussed.” (DE= sounds like B is a bit defensive here.)
Bill proceeds to describe actions at Fort Myers and picketings at homes of Rostow who was considered the architect of the Vietnam policy. At one of the Fort Myers demos- (not one that I was on-DE)- “Some of us managed to get in. That’s when they wrote out we would get three years in jail for each one of us and a thousand dollar fine if we returned. Berrigan looked like Moses who had just come out with the Decalog, saying, ‘Bill, Bill we have ‘em by the balls’ (DE- a favorite saying of Phil’s)- but we weren’t arrested and I suggested to P that we’ re not getting arrested because of the priestly collars so why not let me put together a small contingent of people and we’ll get arrested but he was never interested in that. That’s the first kind of doubt that I had of what Phil might be into. His own ego problems. Very stubborn sort of guy you know. (DE- sounds like Phil might have weighed the effectiveness of such arrests and that Bill is being too critical – the way Bill was.)
I: “How do you see your own philosophy of a revolution?”
B: “I saw Phil as a pretty gung ho guy, I knew that he was kind of a war hero. I intuited considerable violence in the man, “ (DE: so did I and Phil admits as much in Lynn Sachs- that, at the time he was very judgmental. And yet I never sensed physical violence- just commitment top the cause. The same commitment comes through in the photos of John Brown- although Brown was in favor of violence. Bill also came across as violent- but not with the fine-ness of Phil. I never agreed with Bill and George’s critique of Phil, and I think Phil knew it).
Bill goes on: “He (Phil) certainly didn’t have the soft A.J. Muste (I don’t think Bill knew squat about A.J. M. - AJ's approach was any thing but soft!!! note by dme) or Ghandhi (not was Gandhi's) kind of approach. We were raising some basic questions- what revolution means in an advanced industrial society. What finally developed between Phil Berrigan and myself is the way that Phil abused his charisma to trap people on guilt trips. And I could tell you numerous episodes about that but I…” breaks off. (DE- this I think Bill got from George but maybe George got it from Bill- it’s bs if you ask me. Makes me wonder if Bill was an informer (me the paranoid).
I wanted him to examine the manipulations, the guilt trips, the moralizing to trap people to make ‘em feel inferior and yet bring ‘em into the actions. (DE- I think B here underestimates those of us who took part in actions)- psychological violence and what it does to people (DE- I guess B would say I was one of the victims)- and I was going to present this to him one night but I saw clearly that he was adamant- not that he was going to defend the viable position but it was closing in on him. His options were becoming less and less. Finally it worked up to a show down. Phil just couldn’t deal with that. Brutalizing Tom Lewis at that point…. Bill then gives a portrait of Tom Lewis that adds nothing.
Bill continues, “We all knew it. John Hogan said to Phil that night: ‘Look Phil, if you say something is blue and a hundred people say it’s red, that does mean it’s red, and certainly you should entertain the possibility that it might be red.’ That’s when Phil threw a book against the wall and put his jacket on and left. Mary Moylan was scrambling eggs…they said, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ I said it’s obvious. He’ll be on that phone tomorrow calling saying, well, come on, let’s get together.
here is where I cut some very revealing material- any body reading this who wants to know? get to me quick- i'm 69- could die any day!
I still thought I could work with the man (DE- he was only a prophet of the stature of a Jesus, after all). “Then there was this big meeting in New York- they were talking about developing a real kind of National Liberation Front” (DE I was thrilled to read this- although it smells a bit of Bill’s hyperbole- when you read about the real NLF and the sacrifices they were making under John McCain style bombings- you have to admire them).( the five pointed star of Vietnam’s flag =’s workers, farmers, intellectuals, traders and soldiers). “There are details of that I couldn’t possibly go into. But it involves…some very big people. Black and white. I had a lot of misgivings bout it. (As did Carl Oglesby if you read his memoir- Ravens in the Storm especially the part where he is arguing with Bernardine Dorhn). I thought it was premature- people talking over their heads, but we went ahead with it.
This particular meeting was a kangaroo court in which Phil had finally gotten the message, that Mische was going to hurt the movement, and wanted him out. So we met in this unoccupied church, freezing our asses off in an out of the way place in New york (DE I remember Gun Hill Rd.). And agin, Phil sat there and could not confront Mische. Mische’s a tough mother-f ker. It was five of us there, four of us. I had to do all the talking. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life.” (DE- aw gee).
I “You ran the entire meeting?”
B Yeh- I had to do all the talking. Phil did not have it in him to stand up to Mische…I had to tell M, ‘Look George, we can no longer work with you…and then after we got G out of it, we had this series of big meetings that we back and forth, New York, Baltimore, maybe one or two in Washington with more and more people coming into it. Meeting with many blacks that are now dead, blown up ( DE-Ralph Featherstone?) One of the big ones now in prison. “
Bill goes on to say how “particularly whites were looking to Phil to say things. Jim Harney would say: ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about’ and I would say, this is what he’s talking about” ( DE-as if B were the translator)…”and still Phil was for getting actions, actions and organizing actions. And of course he himself is not an organizer” (DE- debatable), but he would use his charisma” (DE- what’s wrong with that?). “There were other people that would go around making all the great sacrifices” (DE- but P was also making ‘great’ sacrifices). Driving a God da m automobile you know like a jack-leg preacher all over the country, picking people here, picking people there, and then maybe after they’d got so many people together, Phil would fly out and talk to them…and some of them didn’t really have the conviction and I objected to that”.
I “What kind of things were important after Milwaukee?”
B “Dow Chemical, I put that together.” (DE- need to talk to Jo Ann Malone about that- I believe she told me at Tom Lewis’ funeral that George was not the instigator- I don’t think we talked about Bill, but now I realize that Jo Ann Malone, for some reason, would not talk to me (DE) and doesn't like me?)). “It was at that point when I was breaking with Phil. I couldn’t work with him any more but there were two actions to go off at the same evening, one in the draft board, one Dow Chemical (the DC 9), Dow Chemical went, the draft board didn’t because somebody had leaked it and they were there waiting for them”
I “Is that the 18 in New Jersey? (Camden 18- it was actually 28) Were you involved?”
B “Yeh but I wasn’t involved…at that point I told Phil I don’t want to work with you any longer, you’re not giving me anything. Your position is hardened and rigidified. At that point John Grady was kinda the brains in that whole thing- Camden, Buffalo….He had five kids and I knew John. He knew what he was getting into. (and G tells me more about John's roles in the Flower City Conspiracy).
DE I have tried a couple of times to see if any one had a recording of John Grady laughing. He had the most inspired, insane, guffaws- his laughter was infectious, hilarious- you would hear him across a room and just want to hear what was going on. He had curly hair that seemed Irish to me- he reminded me of Dylan Thomas or some kind of leprechaun- just seemed like a wild man- although of course he wasn’t- he was creative his spirit often “occurs” to me when I think back to those days… but he came to a bad end, tho- as I remember- drink? Divorce?
The Camden 28 action is superbly documented in a documentary by ? Giacchino that actually played on Public Television. It was an action fraught with drama- especially with the story of the informer. It is available as a dvd for purchase.
Bill goes on: “I felt that up to Dow, the actions were important; after that I thought we needed to withdraw for a period of months, break down into small meetings and really hit many of the questions that we had been avoiding,” (DE- this smacks of hindsight).
B “We had 25 people here, AFSC kind of people, college professors, college students, house-wives, gathering in the dark here, who were going to go down to the Customs House and handcuff ourselves with Japanese handcuffs and we had chains to go through the doors so that they could’t draft anybody that day……..that’s the kind of thing we wanted to build…and you know…we couldn’t do it as long as Berrigan kept hammering on these draft actions in which there could not possibly be growth.” (DE- this is bs- they could have gone ahead with such an action and Phil would have loved it).
B goes on to talk about building a mass movement, saying it “never took hold” he talks about Nixon’s first election and a counter inaugural, how the draft actions, starting with the blood pouring and Catonsville did "bring people in"”and he mentions the fact that Berrigan and Lewis- "Why would these two guys who had already gone to jail and were going to serve a long time go into another action? Plus Dan’s coming in lent some weight….the Milwaukee 14 because it was more of a grass roots action without any charismatic, elitist figures in it.” (DE- a good point). Bill says he felt at about the time of the Dow Chemical action in ��, “I felt certain that things should not proceed in that vein. We needed things where we could turn on masses of people.”
“It was effective when the Vietnam Vets came into Washington with their wheelchairs and their crutches and threw their medals over the White House fences and on to the lawn. Even when they took over the Statue of Liberty…”
Bill quotes Dorothy Day, “everything that’s wrong with us is what’s wrong with the filthy system.” He quotes Gramsci, the Italian communist who said “when you are a revolutionary what is demanded is pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.”
“I’m saying that Phil Berrigan will use anything, the moral pressure, the psychological manipulation to get people to do things. Consequently he often surrounds himself with very weak people, or people who are just naïve. Well-intentioned, well meaning and they may go in and do any action or two, But ultimately they’re going to see that he’s not building community. If he were building community we would be with him.” DE- and here I feel fairly certain Bill was talking about a me. The stuff he says about building community is bs- Phil did build community- it continues to this day- Bill never built jack s t.
All this being said, my IO (Intimate Other) and partner- CP for Comunist Party says- what movement came out of the sixties- you built nothing- you were angry and you at least paid a price. I counter that SDS had an analysis. Yes, but SDS broke into the factions- one being the Weathermen and the other leading no where- RYM. Our own Catholic left had no real over all analysis of society, although, counter to what Bill O’C said, a small community continues and has its supporters- just as the group to which CP belongs- SPARK. They’re both miniscule groups- but I would say Jonah House and VIVA House (part of a Catholic Worker) network- draw more youth and volunteers than SPARK does.
In Aug. of 2008, a few of us met in the same room where this interview had taken place to go over details of publishing Bill’s poetry- enough money had been raised at his memorial service to do it. I found it mawkish, amateurish, sentimental. But I had to give Bill the credit of his work for the 9 and for being a forceful individual- and basically for the good. He HAD done a lot of work- as a meeting chairman- he was great.
Jerry Elmer writes interestingly of this period in his book Felon for Peace- here are two reviews by Joe Tropea and me for the Amazon site:
A crucial work, November 18, 2009
Memoirs are a
mixed-bag. Some, like Bill Ayer's Fugitive Days are filled with
pages of anecdotes and passion. They're endlessly interesting and
entertaining, but may leave the reader feeling more like they've
just read a novel rather than a memoir (read: history). They may
even leave the reader with more questions than answers--not
necessarily a bad thing. With Felon for Peace, Jerry Elmer has
offered an analytical work that manages to be highly personal,
entertaining, and informative. It leaves the reader with a perhaps
more useful set of questions.
review by a fellow peacenik and draft board attacker, October 21, 2009
eberhardt-aged 68-poet and member "baltimore 4" (poured
blood on draft files in 1967 with Father Phil Berrigan)- web site
is google david eberhardt then poetry and prose- i discuss many of
the same issues that Jerry does.
A (very sketchy) Chronolgical List
As chronicled on a site called "HippyLand" and in a list by filmmaker Joe Tropea in 2009 as he prepared for his documentary film on the draft actions:
starting in 1968- (ie after our Baltimore 4 action and the Catonsville-9) Sept. 24- Milwaukee 14;
1969: 3/22- DC 9; May 20, -Pasadena 3; May 21, Silver Spring 3 (Les Bayless?); May 25, Chicago 15; JulyÞ, Women against Daddy Warbucks- NYC; New York 8; Aug. 1st; Oct. 31, Beaver 55- where? Akron?; ("who were not 55 but only 8 and were named whimsically by Tom Trost"); Nov. 7, Wash. Dow Chemical offices hit again; Nov. 7, Boston 8; Nov. - Akron 2;
Daddy warbux photo here? Or see above
1970: Feb 6, East Coast Conspiracy (Philadelphia?) ; May 19- We the People; June 13-14-Rhode Island Offensive for Freedom (RIPOFF- Jerry Elmer); Jul 10- Minn 8, July.- New Haven; summer- Delaware actions; Pontiac 4; Sept. 6- Rochester Flower City Conspiracy; 12/18--Hoover Vacuum Conspiracy; 12/24- San Jose 1.
1971: Jan- Harrisburg; Mar. 8- Media Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI; Apr. 29- The 4 of Us; Apr. 30- 2nd Harrisburg; June- Citizens arrest of Curtis Town; Aug 21- Buffalo 5; Aug 22- Camden 28;
1972: 3/2-Hickam 2; 3/ 27- York 5; July- Great Lakes Conspiracy; Nov.- CREEP 17;
1973: Aug. - White House Prayer Raids;
1974--Mar.- VOPRO 4; Apr. UN4
Believe me, there were plenty of draft boards destroyed with no one taking credit! The hoary (whorey?) newscaster, Walter Cronkite, stated in 1971 a count of close to 300...and I'm sure there were more....and then Plowshares began at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. We had somewhat seriously disrupted Selective Service. The Milwaukee 14 had burned files from 9 different Boards.At one point , according to Liz McCallister, all of the Delaware draft boards were "done". By the time of the Camden 28 trial- where the defendants actually participated in choosing the jury- the jury incredibly found them not guilty- although the defendants did not deny their actions..
There was a momentous raid on FBI offices in Media Pa., where no one stayed around to take credit and no one was arrested- the FBI's Cointelpro Unit had been revealed- that they had proactively been trying to infiltrate, spy on us, and disrupt us with dirty tricks! Of course- in Camden, partly do to their enabling, the jury acquitted the 28-one of the actors had been an FBI informant and had provided support that the action could take place. The FBI had snookered him into believing they would let the action go "so far" and that the participants- who were friends of his (he was a parishioner in Father Doyle's church!) would not be facing serious charges- they would only let the action go so far- then the FBI went back on its word. During the trial, this same informant's son was killed in a horrible accident- and who were the persons that came to the funeral and offered him support- even though he was snitching them sout- the members of the 28! He did an about face- changed his testimony- contributing to the acquittal- a rare moment in American jurisprudence.
There is also a wonderful similar list of the Weather Underground's bombings in the Dan Berger book on them- Outlaws of America.
But me? I was on my way to the "big house" , once you got used to it of course, peace and quite of prison. The din around me was subsiding. We had hurled ourselves against the trundling, sh t filled behemoth of America long enough- it was time to curl up in the belly of the beast- safe from it's blandishments and assaults.
A Review for Amazon and an Interchange on the book With Clumsy Grace- Charles Meconis
A Clumsy Grace concerns anti draft board actions by the "Catholic Left-1961-1975. This review is somewhat personal- the best kind?- in that I was close to the incidents described. You will be able to read my biases!
Reading it,- I realized that a lot happened around the time of the Harrisburg 8 trial that soured people on Dan and Phil Berrigan, the most famous of the movement participants, (and Phil Berrigan certainly qualifies as a founding father on these types of actions) - which continue to this day as the "Plowshares Movement".. Certain participants, like Joe Wenderoth and Neil McGlaughlin felt ripped off- manipulated- that certain hypocrisies and character flaws and ineptitudes came out...I had wrapped myself in the safe prison blanket of Lewisburg and the Farm Camp (I had poured blood on draft files with Phil Berrigan in 1967) - not choosing or wishing to be involved the way Phil did.
As a hero, perhaps Phil Berrigan did not come off in a stellar light- as his letters to his future? wife, Liz McCallister are quite snarky- even about his own brother. Not to mention the fact that Phil had fallen for smuggling letters out of the joint by a person- Boyd Douglas- the only con allowed to go out of the prison and study at Bucknell U, who turned out to be an informer?!? At one point he writes to Liz- "the whole violence/non-violence bag" in a cavalier sort of throw away style; but this was Phil!- a charge ahead, ex military, no nonsense organizer for the peace movement- like George Mische. Also he was supposedly hypocritical advising absinence while courting his future wife, Liz. My opinion? So what- we're all human folks. (Except for killers like nixon and the bushes- they truly are NOT human- well- I guess the actually are.)
Hopefully the film maker, Joe Tropea - who is making a documentary about the anti draft actions- look up "Hit and Stay", will shed more light on the complexities of this period of time-although what more is there to way than what Charles M says in this book? The role of informants as the FBI became more and more alarmed at our effectiveness is fascinating. The FBI began to realize that we draft file destroyers were haveing a real effect!
More recently, Md. State Police were spying on activists (round about 2006 and 7) and may still be doing so at the time of this writing (2010). With all the Homeland Security money, and given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be surprising if government agencies hadn't continued all their wrong doing as regards us citizenry. Most likely they have continued it, trying to avoid all the mistakes of the past.
The more I read Meconis' book- the more it upset me-not his writing but some of the material on which he reported: the Harrisburg 8 and the Camden 28 as failures? the Catholic left "destroyed and over"? (Neil McGlaughlin's statement?)
Of course there had never been a "Catholic Left" in the sense that we truly understood the left- we didn't! not the left of Karl Marx or Debs or the Unions of the 30's and 40's or my good friends with SPARK (the Trotskyist group). Did we know for example that an "International Communist Union" was illegal? We had no clue. But we were a "Catholic Left" in that many of the actors were Catholics and our actions definitely leaned towards the left. You could see by Meconis' book that several of the draft action actors became more left- like me!
But the two actions thoroughly described in the book- Camden 28 and Harrisburg 8 gained amazing acquittals exactly because of the boneheaded informer in the one and a change of heart by the informer in the other (see the Giacchino film- "The Camden 28"). Neil Mcglaughlin' s statement in the book about the death of the Catholic left? - what revisionism- what an overstatement and unnecessary despair from Neil.
As long as Catholic Worker Houses like Viva House or Art Laffin's in DC continue- as long as there is a Carl Kabat awaiting trial for attacking a missile base in Utah (2008?) ,or the latest Plowshares group attacking Trident subs in the state of Washington (2009?) - as long as we can read the Sermon on the Mount- the "Catholic Left" continues- o it may not be successful in the terms of the world- it never pretended to be. The attitudes of some of the actors Meconis interviewed might as well have been stated by CoInTelPro (the FBI department that spied on and tried to disrupt the peaceniks), for Christ's sake!
This was the same FBI that had tried to derail a saint- Martin Luther King- and yes, King also had clay feet. We're all human, folks.
Anyway, thankfully, the Meconis book ends on a positive, praiseworthy note. Liz McCallister (Phil Berrigan's widow) and Jonah House get fair play, God bless em.
This book is a must for any students on this issue or any persons who are going down the same non-violent path- it demonstrates the power of this idea, so much maligned in this military county. Books like this will change the world!
The other two premier books on the topic? Felon for Peace (underline) by Jerry Elmer, and Disarmed and Dangerous (underline) by Murray Polner.
From: Charlie Meconis
To: David Eberhardt
Sent: Saturday, October 16, 2010 2:49 PM
Subject: Re: hi- george mische hipped me to you
Hi David, great to hear from you and thanks for the kind words concerning With Clumsy Grace.. Coming from someone with your level of involvement I am honored. It was both a labor of love to preserve history--and my PhD dissertation examining the action community as a case study in social movement theory. The book was the "popular" version, stripped of all the academics. I used the lessons to inform my actions with the anti-nuclear movement here in the Seattle area in the 80s when Jim Douglass was a key figure. I also shared my interview transcripts with Polner.
I certainly agree with
your list of faves re the action community. I'd really like to get
my hands on a copy of the The Holy
Outlaw to show my daughter (who's 27 now),
and even talked to people at the NET archives about it, but they
have no plans to release it in any modern form. Too
another of Charles' letters- following some intemperate remarks by me:
Wow, what a turnaround in your response to my book from you first e-mail early in!
I'm sorry that you are so upset. I'm saddened that you stoop to words like "bs" and then compare my work to something from CoInTelPro. Those words really hurt. Surprising from an advocate of nonviolence.
As someone who took part in a draft board action, attended both the Harrisburg and Camden trials, who was arrested at the White House with Dan, who remained friends with Phil and Dan (Dan presided over my wedding), who worked closely here in Seattle with Jim Douglass in the 80s, and who spent 4 months in prison for trying to stop the building of the Trident base here, and then took part in the attempted blockade of the first Trident submarine and was indicted on a 10 year felony charge for that action in the tradition of the Action Community, I think your judgments of my work are off the mark.
I think the fact that you were involved primarily in the early days of the Catholic Left and I was there for the later period might explain some of your apparent disappointment. I felt it was important to tell the truth about our movement, both good and bad, as the participants themselves expressed it to me.
Please finish the book--especially the Conclusions chapter-- and then get back in touch with me and I will glad to continue our dialogue. And thanks for the lead on renting "The Holy Outlaw" from AFSC. I have also sent some money to the making of the new film Hit and Stay, I hope they can finish it, and hope that more of your interview makes it in.
I had extended apologies as you can see by the finished review that precedes this:
Not sure where this preceding chapter- on the other actions- should go- as of now
Narrative of Dave continued; Capture at St. Gregory’s, then prison- Up Against the “Wall”
To return to my itinerary, after this interlude of accounts of other actions and an interview w Bill O'C Our capture at St. Gregory the Great’s occurred on etc.
My young bride- Louise- was one of the speakers at the “Up from Under” Ralley which we did not attend- what must have gone through her mind?
Somewhere else did I say that an article in the Baltimore News American- headlined “Berrigan and Pal” flushed from closet in New York- an obvious swipe from this right wing fish wrap.
A short trip from the FBI offices landed us at "West Street", also called the "New York Federal Detention Center". It was like a long, deep dive requiring several compression changes. West Street had been a parking garage. It was no Tombs or Rikers Island, two notorious city prisons, but it was grim enough. It had glass brick windows, no clear light came in.
Prisoners were continually bathed in gray and neon, as if we were on stage. The cells were like cages in that their ceilings were bars and there were bars on the sides. Lights glared down on us from above at night. Like all New York prisons it was crowded, a cruel redefinition of space.
My usual paranoia increased many fold, which was probably wise. An extra tall "hack" or "screw" (the inmate lingo for guard or, if you wanted to be nice, "correctional officer") looked us over in the strip down reception room. It was a high room with tiers of racks of abandoned clothes. Did anyone ever leave? To our right, a frightening oval steel door .... was this to solitary, a gas chamber? Horrible possibilities raced through my mind. Then the door swung open to reveal a long line of clothes, to be deloused or cleaned.
We were issued standard white mental ward p j’s and a dashing blue Dept. of Navy bathrobe. They gave us a can of Craig Martin tooth powder, an obscure brand which consoled me as it suggested that the government favored the underdog in at least some matters. (I deceived myself in this regard. The government mainly favors overstuffed dogs).
Then to our cell, the segregation tank where they kept 10 or so others, newcomers and troublemakers. I was just dozing off in a welter of self pity, pretending my arm beside me was my wife. Suddenly the seg area exploded into screams for help and peals of laughter. A sickly youth in one of the seg cells had just swallowed a razor. "Oh no, not again ... the sheets, the sheets!" his roommate was shouting and, "guard, guard!" All I could see from my angle were two feet jerking spasmodically and blood daubing the sheets. Why were other inmates laughing?
First, because they knew that the kid was sick mentally but shrewd enough to try to get into the even more crowded mental hospital, Bellevue, for treatment; second, if he died, it was one less troublesome inmate for the hacks; why else would they allow razor blades in his cell (or had he smuggled them in?); third, his cell mates kept yelling but no one came.
As it turns out he hadn't really swallowed a razor blade but something x rays showed to be plastic. He had cut his wrists for the blood. He got his transfer to Bellevue; I got my introduction to prison life. It was an inflated atmosphere of garish and grimy hues. It was a place of many games, of humor, rumor and exaggeration. Of course, entertainments at West Street were nowhere near as developed as those at the "big house", the penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where we were headed.
My usual feelings of purpose and acceptance gradually returned after a slight disorientation, like small, sharp beacons
of clear light in the dirty chartreuse grime, like the fresh green Koolaid we got for lunch or like our exercise hour up on the roof. Robert Lowell had paced this same little roof area and described it in his poem, " Memories of West St. and Lepke"
from Life Studies:
"I walked on the roof of the West St. Jail, a short
enclosure like my school soccer court,
and saw the Hudson River once a day..."
(Did you know that it has all been done before?)I began to clear some space for dignity and hope and survival.
On our second day, one of the longhairs in our tank assumed an asana position of yoga meditation on the floor during the exercise period. It seemed so beautiful amidst the pacing, gnarly faced cons it made me want to cry, as had the beautifully colored Koolaid. Maybe it would be possible to be yourself after all in here, I hoped. Tenzing (his nickname) had been busted at U.S. Customs coming in from Nepal with smuggled drugs. In our discussions, he spoke up for self concentration and inward development, contrasting them with our brand of activism. I complained about the prison conditions and he said, "Look, before this place existed it existed in someone's mind. Relax. We each have our karmas, even warriors have one. Accept it." It was a crucial philosophical fork in the road, one I kept coming to in my life: you
could accept things or you could reject them and try to change them. He would repeat the Buddhist prayer "Om mane padme hum ... ". Tenzing's calm was powerful and eased my panic.
I had participated in an act on the other philosophical extreme although I had a strong contemplative side. Black Muslims were also activists although they stressed self defence and daily exercised in another Eastern art, karate. They cleared space for the spirit in an activist way. Their bodies would fairly snap up in unison into the various stances, their heads shaved and gleaming. At the big prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, karate was forbidden as too subversive. Since the Muslims had rioted there in February they weren't allowed any group calisthenics, not even running in twos on the track. Yoga I'm sure, was allowed, although one black I knew tried some yoga on "the yard" and was labeled a karate type Muslim anyway; the tower guards had little knowledge of such arts.
Tenzing's Buddhist point of view reminded me of the Quakers who had founded the penitentiary system in the U.S. as a way for the criminal to meditate and thus repent and change his ways. It made sense for some inmates who had been spinning out of control on the streets and needed to mellow or dry out. But this system, the removal of a man to boredom away from general human communication could also drive a man or woman crazy. (Compare to thoughts of Thich Nhat Hanh later).
Characters abounded in prison, or would be characters, and Bill was one who engaged us in conversation. He claimed to have hired out as a mercenary in many conflicts after World War II: Cyprus, Indonesia, the Congo, Cuba, the middle east.
Maybe he was a government informer, maybe a very disturbed man; at any rate his present incarceration dated from "carrying an illegal handgun into Vietnam". Whoever Bill was, he knew violence and weapons. He speculated how would Cambodians find ammo for the captured Chinese made AK47 rifles we'd given them. Later news reports stated that we manufactured it ourselves. Bill got a charge out of enlightening us on some of the finer business angles of the war, reminding me of a beer distributor who had written Carlings' Brewery about the war, "It looks like a good thing, beer wise". If you're shooting at a man, best aim for the head not the heart, thus stopping him from seven seconds of reaction time; blood rushes to the lacerated area; the victim makes a peculiar gurgling sound. "Viva la morte, viva la querre, viva la mercenaire".
Inmates at West Street talked about Lewisburg, "the wall", in reverent but disgusted tones. They offered up endless advice about it, e.g. "if one of those faggots comes at you, you have a nice razor ready" ... and so on, how scary could they make it sound and what would my reaction be? They spoke of it in terms of rhythm as if it were a giant drum. If there had been a disturbance there and there were many new restrictions, it was "tight" due to the "static", like a gang fight is a "rumble". I almost expected to hear it throbbing from afar as I approached.
The man "who tried to kill President Nixon" was unusually nervous as we headed through the Pennsylvania countryside, chafed absurdly at his handcuffs, and went too often to the open piss pot in the middle of the bus. Phil and I chatted with a young Frenchman in the seat in front of us. He was headed to one of the tightest joints of all, Atlanta. Marion and Terre Haute were two other maximum security prisons. He rated leg irons since he had caught a ൰ year bit" for smuggling heroin. Supposedly it had come into the U.S. in Renaults and ski poles. He was likable and articulate enough to joke about fellow French con and writer, Jean Genet, "that queer". I kept my eye cocked for all literary possibilities. Dope pushers from around the world ended up in federal prisons, but most of them were South American.
One young man originally from Colombia, South America, was in the federal system on a draft "rap" like us, a "rap" or "beef" being the crime charged to you, a "rap partner" the person arrested with you. His case was confusing because of citizenship entanglements. Despite his short sentence, it appeared he would be doing "hard" time, that is, difficult or unhappy time serving his time. His case was more accidental than purposeful and political like ours. Like so many he had hoped to get away with something. He was telling us about the chicha in Colombia, a drink that slowly ruins the brains of the peasants and workers addicted to it.
By now we were all anxious as we approached "the wall" and new and more horrible stories and lingo passed up and down the aisles. A Puerto Rican chap was chatting about this or that inmate getting "snuffed" or "iced". Suppose I am talking to a muscle man's "girl friend" and he doesn't like it, he speculates, he might "snuff" me. "Snuff, ice," I query, what does that mean? To kill, my friend explains, charmingly. If it's with a knife, it's to "shank". "What does a guy with two or three life sentences care if you die? This is his home", he went on, undoubtedly enjoying my reaction.
Fear ate at my brain like the chicha. My nervousness was going to be too obvious, I worried. I'm going to have to be cool, or I'll be marked for exploitation. They say Lewisburg is full of racists, hillbillies and right wingers, I worried. Thank God they cut my hair.
If I'd thought much about it, I'd have realized we had little to fear from our fellow cons. Father Berrigan was a priest, a saint who didn't mind joining them in prison, and therefore he was a figure of great comfort due great respect. Since we had struck a blow at the government itself, the government which cons hated because of their own sentences, we were actually especially welcomed to the "community", if you could call it that.
At last we arrived. "The wall", Lewisburg, looked like an elaborate neo Renaissance monastery, I believe it had been modeled on one in Spain. It had been built as a WPA project in the thirties. Cathedral like decorations, curlicues and parentheses were carved in the stone over the entrances and around the doorways, and eagles and other icons were stamped onto the gutters giving the place a kind of ghastly charm. A high Moorish style tower looked down on the sleepy college (Bucknell) town of Lewisburg and the Susquehanna and Buffalo River valleys.
We proceeded through the wall, 40 feet high and another 40 feet deep so they said to prevent tunnels. The bus discharged us at R & D, Receiving and Discharge. Ever attuned to new language and jargon, it turns out I had just entered a "reservation", not a prison. We were addressing "correctional officers", not "hacks" or "screws". I would have to get used to a new lingo with all its nuances. For example, the favorite prison phrase of "mother fu ker" with one intonation could be an endearing and friendly greeting. Used with a slightly different inflection or with "punk" added it could be the worst of insults.
A mural with smiling convict faces beamed down upon us from the R&D room wall: "Don't serve time", it said, "let time serve you." You could tell by their clothes that the convicts were holding various rehabilitative jobs: landscape gardener, tin welder, office machine repairer, surgical assistant, etc. But such job training was by and large non existent. There was a Federal Prison Industries shop which produced metal trays and file cabinets used by the government for the military or other government agencies. Also, prison officials used inmates in various jobs to operate the prison: kitchen worker, janitor, infirmary orderly, etc., if you could call that job training.
The education department published a description of some rather absurd courses: fly tying for fishing, Mormon religion, for example. There were also some useful offerings like carpet laying or computer operation. I never found out whether these classes actually occurred. Some inmates tried to be positive, joining the Jaycees or the ABCDs for Afro Black Cultural Development or the various religious groups. Often these were inmates with long sentences hoping to make a good impression on the parole board.
Mostly inmates spent their time "laying up" or "hanging out". They were creative at a million and one games and intrigues some legit and some not. Besides such regular sports as baseball and card games, Lewisburg had part of the yard set aside for weight lifting and there was a track, boccie ball pits, even a few tennis courts and a miniature golf course. It was best to avoid the more dangerous games, endless food and pill heists, homebrew manufacture, craps, football and other betting pools and gambling of all kinds.
Lewisburg inmates of the period included car thieves, bank robbers, bad check writers or drug addicts from the District of Columbia and drug smugglers from around the world. Crimes involving interstate activity became federal crimes so there were a number of teamsters/ truckers. Crimes committed on military bases or Indian reservations were handled federally.
A large group of inmates came from D.C., another from New York/New Jersey. Some groups stood out like the hillbilly moonshiners or the north Jersey mobster/mafioso types (called the "pointed shoe mob") or the "fly" ghetto blacks. Inmates didn't want to talk about their crimes, others didn't mind at all, endlessly discussing the details of their cases, how the criminal justice system had the wrong guy. It turns out many had not only done their crime, they had gotten away with many more, at least to hear them tell it. But there was truth to what they said about "bum raps" for, as I had learned in my own case, indictment wording was always approximate, the government never quite got it right. Thus an inmate would say "I didn't rob the bank" because actually he had made fraudulent loans and so on. Some inmates joked about their crimes, others were proud of them, one guy mentioned boastfully his, "suspicion of nine homicides".
Why did so many of the cons have tattoos, a wealth of menacing ones: knives, knives entwined by snakes, panthers, skulls, skulls with hatchets embedded, "Born to Lose", but also charming, peaceful tattoos as well, many a "mother", floral wreaths, peacocks, a cheery little Woody Woodpecker, and on one South American's back an intricate devotional head of a long haired Christ who looked like Che Guevara. One inmate had tried to change the "Let's Fu k" on his arm to "Let's Rock," but the job went wrong and came out a curious, "Let's Rack." The tattoos seemed to raise upon their owner's skins the bruises of their egos magical equivalents. The tattoos were not only pretty, they demonstrated commitment to the extreme.
The absurdity of rehabilitation was apparent from "jump street" (the beginning) here in R&D. One of the faces on the mural, the surgical assistant's, was shown bandaging itself. He was wrapping gauze around and around his own head in a sort of turban. He had covered one eye and was just about to cover the other. Probably the inmate artist's idea of a joke. Blind justice, I thought.
But it seemed that at Lewisburg justice had both eyes open to catch the smallest and most pitiful fry with which to stock her prisons. There were some very bad people there, but many seemed mere two bit losers. Once in prison you had to be careful not to "catch a new bit", i.e. get some new charge like fighting which would add time to your sentence. That had happened to the birdman of Alcatraz.
Some inmates didn't want to leave, like the hill billy who escaped from the farm camp outside the wall a week or so before his release just so he would get new time. Or another Carolina boy, as the legend went, who came up to the front gate with a suitcase drunk as a lord demanding to be let in. Maybe prison life with its three "hots and a cot" (meals and a bed), was better than life on the streets for some. But these were the exception.
We were in a model police state. The police, indeed, let you in and out of your "house" or cell ("crib" in the lingo). I shuddered to think of the electronic devices coming for tighter prison control. But 25 years later as I worked on this book, the techniques of electronic monitoring proved mild enough. They consisted of bracelets you plugged into a device on your phone when the computer from hq called you, or electronic perimeters beyond which you couldn't go without alerting the command center. These devices actually allowed minor criminals to spend their sentences at home rather than in jail.
The Lewisburg staff treated us like children or numbers. Most of the rehabilitation personnel shuffled papers, fitting given jokes about Lewisburg as a place for "paper hangers" (those with such charges as bad checks, embezzlement, fraud, etc). The staff hung paper too. We looked scornfully down on them, they were doing life bits, were lifers after all, that is they would be coming in and out of prison every day until they retired. (As it turns out, I later became a lifer also, spending most of my career working for Offender Aid and Restoration at the Baltimore City Jail.)
After "R and D" came "A and O, Admissions and Orientation". We got one five minute lecture on brushing your teeth and the standard institutional battery of I.Q. tests, but nothing on prison life or regulations. They wanted you to find that out knock by hard knock.
After two weeks in A and 0, Phil and I were moved, not to a minimum custody camp as we expected, as were other draft cases, but into the "population" of the wall itself. We were considered escape risks, they told us, we had become fugitives, hadn't we? They claimed it was routine.
Meanwhile, outside the wall in "the world", Dan Berrigan continued to embarrass the F.B.I. richly during his time underground, giving interviews, writing articles, traveling widely, popping up here for a speech, there for a sermon.
I was moved into a two man cell with Phil and into a rather cushy job up in the front of the prison away from the bulk of other inmates, inscribing desk plates. I was not heartened to hear an explanation that this was "for my own protection". Protection from what?
In his 1970 book In the Service of their Country, War Resisters in Prison, Dr. Willard Gaylin had written in detail about resisters exactly like me some one or two years earlier. They had been in the wall, at the farm camp and at Allenwood, although Gaylin had changed all the names of the institutions and the resisters so that, I believe, he could get the Bureau's permission to interview freely and publish. A psychologist, Gaylin spent considerable time analyzing resisters' motives, backgrounds as well as describing life at Lewisburg. His book would have made a very good manual had I known about it at the time.. Part of the book covered a protest by a small group of resisters at a federal prison which sounded very much like Lewisburg, (Gaylin tried to disguise the locale). It was eerie to read about these unidentified men and their actions so similar to ours and not know who they were. Dave Dellinger had written about resisters at Lewisburg in the 40's in his book From Yale to Jail. (I had yet to read Whittaker Chambers (or was it ?) book also about Lewisburg). The Communist labor organizer, John Williamson, had been here in '51.
Another draft resister friend on his way through the "big house" to the minimum security camp at Allenwood had spent a night out of the receiving section in general population and had been solicited by a homosexual. He complained and the Associate Warden called us both in for a chat.
"Since the C case," (that of a conscientious objector twice raped the preceding winter) he said, "we want to be very careful for your protection, such an unfortunate incident, another such and I think I'd have to resign". They moved the other resister out of the wall quickly, but had no intention of moving me. In fact, after they searched our cell and found some radical writing, they moved me to the hot bed, allegedly, of fags, the laundry, claiming they "didn't want me around government records", they wanted me to "see the other side of life". Actually, for me, all of prison was the "other side of life".
Also, the Associate Warden told me, my youthful looks, my wire rim "hippie" glasses set me apart so they had assigned me the cell rather than the open dorms, the "jungles" where all the homosexuality allegedly took place. I was glad to move in with Phil for the company as well as the safety. I wondered later if they had bugged our cell in some way to see if they could catch Dan. As to the homosexuality, always a major topic among men in prison, what I didn't know was that much of the aggressive homosexuality was rumor. If you carried yourself in a macho way, you'd be left alone (maybe it also helped if you carried a shank). Maybe the prison authorities played on the inmate ignorance and fears in this regard.
The strong inmate was the admired one among other cons. He kept to himself and his small circle of friends. He never informed on another inmate or "snitched them out". Thus the weak inmates were the fags and snitches.
Prison authorities used the cons' racism to divide and conquer them. Veterans of the civil rights movement, we were surprised to find so much old style segregation. We ate in the black section of the dining hall for a while as if to integrate it, actions which may have seemed strange to cons and prison staff alike. We intended to make them think by transgressing the long accepted taboos. The prison farm camps, one at Allenwood and one right outside the wall, were integrated enough but not the wall. Some inmates may have known the stands we'd taken for civil rights. I doubt that any mistook the tall, angular Berrigan for a "fairy" kept by some powerful black, the only reason a white generally would be eating with the blacks. Me with the hippie glasses? A different story. Maybe they thought I was Phil's little mistress. Endless speculation surrounds each gesture in prison and analysis and characterization are pastimes. Had I gone into the black section alone, I might have been labeled gay and attracted marriage interests. An integrated marriage, black "pitcher" and white "catcher" would be quite the vogue.
The segregation was tragic to those of us who had been in the civil rights movement. There were few black officers when we arrived. "Yahms?" you say, I asked an Italian acquaintance. "What do you guys mean by yahms"'? "Mool yahm," he pronounced it in full for me, "for eggplant, the purple black skin." I tried to find it later in an Italian English dictionary but couldn't.
The blacks or "brothers" were generally less prejudiced. But they had their own divisions of their own. The Muslims, for example, kept aloof.
It seemed quite a privilege to sit down at a table with north Jersey mobsters without an eyebrow lifting Despite my fears I settled in calmly enough, making some friends beyond the draft resister or to play an amiable game of ping pong with an alleged murderer. There was little violence noticeable. Out on the yard on balmy days you might note the homosexual couples, some weight lifting, others stroking each other on the grass like any park lovers.
Things started well enough for me on the new job in the laundry. For awhile I worked on the "sheet mangler" with a black Muslim who also had a draft "rap" (like "beef" meaning charge). He addressed me sneeringly as "Sir". "Sir" was a very common way that prisoners addressed each other in general, but this had the connotation of blue eyed devil and white oppressor. Another co worker was one of the prison's foremost characters, a hashish smuggler from Beirut who was a talented jokester. The legend went that he had once drawn pin stripes on his blue prison suit with a magic marker and walked off the minimum custody job he had held outside the wall. He got as far as downtown Lewisburg but was immediately spotted (by his nose alone) and re-arrested. He told me that he had planned to jump into the Susquehanna River. As if that have carried him out to sea back towards his beloved Lebanon?
I moved "up" in the laundry into the position of laundry clerk, "dogged" by my WASP appearance and college degree. I became somewhat isolated from friends in a back room with one white and a few black cons. One day the white approached me in a confidential way in the mess hall. He had overheard two blacks scheming to "take me off" which meant rape! I was alarmed. My confidante wouldn't specify the attackers, following the honored prison code. He just dropped his poison pellet, then withdrew, leaving my imagination to work overtime amidst the steam and the clanking presses. I tensed and the whole atmosphere tensed. These persecutor/victim situations would develop at any time in prison, as they do anywhere, organically, without a word spoken, through glances and gestures alone.
Was I really in danger? It isn't easy to "corn hole" an unwilling victims, I reasoned to myself. Easier if a gang is involved, I worried, but ... maybe I'd push them into one of the vats of melting soap. Probably my informer had made the whole thing up just to see how I'd react. That's what persons who were on the scene told me later. "Just prison talk," they said. I had a slight reputation as a poet. One giant frightening black guy wanted to recite a poem to me that he'd written about "reefer" (he was in on a narcotics charge). Another guy asked me to write a "nice" poem he would send to his girlfriend. There was unquestionably more appreciation for poetry inside of prison than there had been outside. It was a society of conversationalists, forced to spend time close to each other. There were less diversions than on the street. Story telling, insult trading, jokes and verbal embellishments were appreciated, as perhaps among some primitive tribes in the rain forest. Also, whether because they had more extreme experiences to describe or were describing them in prison where description was an art, and the prison characters seemed earthier or more dramatic than the white middle class circles in which I'd grown up.
The laundry worried me and I tried to get a transfer. It wasn't easy; inmate requests were generally ignored. I tried to get help from the chaplain and got "shot" or arrested for being out of bounds as I went to see his assistant. Prison movement was carefully regulated. Once in the prison "court" I explained my situation and the job change was accomplished.
How much of a fog was I in? George M in his version tells me he told me I was in danger and I poo pooed it. He went to Charly Allen, one of Hoffa's fixers and got me the transfer. I was transferred to a Warden’s office- shuffling papers; amuzingly, the Warden said one day, “Weren’t you arrested for destroying files?”, and I was quickly removed from that job.
From the laundry experience, I learned that the "asshole bandits" didn't pick on unwilling victims. If you seemed weak they'd approach you. If you were weak, they might try to rape you. Some cons, after all, would never hold a woman again. Generally, there were enough willing partners to go around. If masturbation by "Rosy Red Palm and her five calloused daughters" or ole "Miss Fist" got boring, a blow job was fairly readily available for all, draft resisters included, because you could pay to get one or find someone who would do it.
My mind had dwelt on homosexuality and violence since we entered prison. As with the homosexuality, the violence was nearby just out of the corner of your eye. Fights could flare up over very petty, ridiculous issues, a box of corn flakes on the chow line for example, or choice of television programs.
There were killers around but if they were after you, you'd probably be aware of it and they would have their reasons. As with the homosexuality, things were complicated, the usual gray, the usual in between. There wasn't that much blatant or irrational violence (at least that was true of Lewisburg at that time). The homosexuals I met were the gentlest of inmates.
Lewisburg was a gentle place compared to state joints where the inmates were poorer and less educated. There, maybe you would have to carry a razor in your soap when you showered, or be careful how you looked at another inmate. Lewisburg had less of "fools" (a very derisive word of the period), I thought (as if I were proud of the place). Maybe these types were at the worse federal institutions. As the century wore on, Lewisburg became worse and worse. A documentary on it in the early 80's showed that it had become a much more violent place.
Some of the killers, like Carmine Galente whom I met later at the farm camp, were calculating hit men, but most of the murderers I met were not. R, whom I met later at the farm camp, had entered prison in 1941 just after I was born. He had killed an F.B.I. agent on an army post. He had never given up hope and was a model prisoner. He was a Warden's houseboy and spent spare time attending "Yokefellow" (a religious group active in prisons at that time) meetings or tending sunflowers in a little patch out by the fire engine garage. He was the prison's chief softball umpire. He had already made parole on his life sentence and was now working on another 12 year bit. He hoped to be paroled finally to work at a half way house in Harrisburg.
I had not suffered much physical violence for my views. The gas station attendant had pushed me around and the draft clerk at the Customs House had bopped me on the head with a paperback bible. Later, when I got to the farm camp, another inmate gave me a glancing blow on the chin because he disagreed with my choice of T.V. programs. I was on the T.V. committee that decided which programs played on the first floor day room set and which played in the basement. It was no big thing.
One ex prizefighter's (a bit later at the farm camp) (according to him) playful greeting to me was, "I'll crush Eberhardt's fingers so he won't be able to play the piano anymore." It was his way of saying hello. And at the time of the Kent State killings of four students by national guardsmen, some right wing inmate posted a sign on the bulletin board "Guard 4, Hippies O".
It occurred to me that more violence came from the feds than from the criminals. The feds were the ones bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age. They were the ones manufacturing H bombs. Society and its government were the violent ones, their conditions of poverty driving my fellow inmates to their stupid and desperate acts (not to ignore their own responsibility). The government and society, those hallowed abstractions, were inhumane killers in most bureaucratic, corporate and abstract ways. They killed on a larger scale.
We met the famed union organizer and leader, Jimmy Hoffa, in the wall while we were there and engaged him on the issues of violence and non violence. You might see him most often in the visiting room and it was alleged that he conducted much Teamster business through his lawyer there. I think the prison officials had him tucked out of the way from influencing other prisoners by giving him his job in the bowels of the prison basement stuffing mattresses. He stuffed them so full and hard, how could any one sleep on them; they were rounded like giant culvert pipes.
Jimmy had a lot of experience with violence, and to judge by the number of other teamsters at Lewisburg, a lot of experience with organized crime. He would bang his yardstick down on the counter as he made a point: "You pacifists, whadda you know about organizing and picket lines? Goddamn, you're never gonna get anywhere. You need fists and guns!" Looking back I wish I'd talked with him about the Kennedys. Probably would have gotten an earful of bile, but nothing too revealing. Some later conspiracy buffs cited Hoffa as a player in the assassination.
My greatest prison story: I thought I'd play a little joke on Jimmy one day and snuck up behind him as he was walking down the main corridor. I grabbed his shoulder from behind and told him to "watch out for that nonviolence, Jimmy." A little later one of his giant goon squad members approached me as delicately as he was able in the dining room and drew me aside, confiding in his best Jersey accent: "Hey kid, Jimmy doan like being touched an, uh, doan do that again." Jimmy had enemies from struggles out on the street who were also doing time at Lewisburg, so the rumor went. Supposedly that was the reason that Vinnie "the Pro" Provenzano was at the farm camp and not inside the wall where Jimmy could get at him.
When I think of the questions I could have/should have asked Jimmy, himself an author (Hoffa-The Real Story), my interchange seems a bit juvenile. We know so little of the labor struggles- what was the role of the Communists, how do you feel about Farrell Dobbs of the Minneapolis Teamsters (some of the Minniapolis organisers had also gone to Federal Prison- although because of their principles, not because- like Jimmy- of jury tampering). John Williamson was one Communist who went to Lewisburg in '51.
One of Jimmy's union buddies told me later when I got to the farm that he shared Jimmy's poor opinion of Phil. Phil had mentioned Hoffa in his Prison Diary of a Priest Revolutionary, describing the prestige Jimmy enjoyed in prison and the favors he might do friends. "Berrigan was a stool pigeon," this inmate allowed, "you doan go carrying stories outta here; you come in here, you're a convict first!"
Contrasting my brief interchange w Jimmy was Phil's more extended conversations- he discusses the same in two books: Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary and Fighting the Lamb's War. I get the feeling that Phil was as ignorant of the Hoffa history with the left and the Minneapolis teamsters under Farrell Dobbs as was I- maybe a bit naif about the corruption and violence and ties to the mob. Of course, Dobbs may have been a generation earlier than Jimmy.
The movie "Hoffa"- with Jack Nicolson as Hoffa and Danny Devito as one of his close aides- is fascinating as it relates to all of this. Hoffa is shown as the master of violenct tactics- he fire bombs- Detroit Wheel Works- he meets with Italians to arrange a coalition- the film smacks of "Once Upon a Time in America"- the love affair with violence- it makes you wonder; as Jimmy talks about "negotiating", in the film, one of his helpers has just put a gun to Devito's head- and then makes a comment about "negotiating". It's all very convincing and comical. To think I had touched the hem of the garment of this history? It thrills me. And then perhaps to have "made history" myself- or know those who did- (in a good way of course)...there's something that draws persons like myself- and not just in a self aggrandizing way.
How far could Hoffa have gotten w the Teamsters without violence? My thought is: it rather depends on the circumstances. The movie makes clear Jimmy's connection with the Italians and the mob- which I experienced first hand at Lewisburg! (my "rendevouz w history" moment (of course I had tried to make history of a different kind) - imagine if one of the mobsters had said- "Hey, kid- we wuz part of the labor movement- u iz part of the peace movement"- who's gonna win kid?") In the movie "Hoffa", starring Jack Nicolson and Danny Divito- it comes time for Jimmy to report to Lewisburg- the prison is a model- somewhat realistic- but in the movie it is in a valley in the distance with no trees. Huge tractor trailer trucks line the way as Jimmy's van approaches with the marshalls- all the teamster drivers honking their horns. Did this happen? ..the movie is fabulous, in many ways....screen play by David Mamet!
Poem: in mem. James Hoffa-(chek Di Vito movie "Hoffa")
Labor Day, 9/7/9 9 (In Poems from PIB)
To long haul 18 wheelers-teamsters, unions, assembly lines,
The friend of labor is a friend of mine!*
At hearings, Bobby K tars J w communism- he snaps back: Never- No.
J's violence all American- firebombing to show-
Power to management, and management will cave
From Detroit Wheel to Dayton Tire –the worker’s not a slave!
Jimmy abducted from Machus Red Fox, 15 Mile at Telegraph, the spot’s
Now- Andiamo's , Italian chain, and it’s not
Hard to figure out what happened: Union politics or personal vendetta- Jimmy's gotta go!
The likes of Tony Giacolone, Tony Pro .....
Just google FBI report run by once great Detroit News-
American labor 2009 seems in a snooze.
The left built labor- J pretends he hasn't heard.
To organise, to strike- they're not forgotten words.
Yr. 8 hr. day, 40 hr. week, yr. over time?
Altho- when i think of it- was Jimmy really a friend of labor (in the long run)- with those tactics?-this is the essential discussion re tactics and philosophy and violence and all the rest- but Jimmy was NOT a philosopher- didn't the teamsters of Detroit quash the more left teamsters of Milwaukee- and don't forget- this was the Jimmy Hoffa who would not let his teamster bus drivers take the freedom riders- he had his good side- he had his very bad side! Lived by the sword, died by the sword...but, Jimmy was not a philosopher.
In the features section of the DVD of the movie "Hoffa", Danny DiVito tells one of the funniest literary jokes I have ever heard: a snobbish British patron of the theatre comes out of a Broadway production and a bum approaches to ask for money. The patron says haughtily: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be"- Shakespeare.
The bum replies w "Fu k you!" - David Mamet
Not long after his release, Jimmy disappeared, allegedly a mob hit victim. The stocky, short, bull headed man that had lived by the sword- he died by it- two bullets to the head- “My friend didn’t suffer”- according to hit man Frank “The Irishman Schirren (sp?) who had confessed to killing Jimmy for the mob in 1975 to a lawyer, Mr. Brandt who wrote about it in his book You Paint Houses Don’t You, (I think that’s the title) referring to the mob slang for a killing- to “paint a house”. Schirren, a good Catholic boy, had gotten his killing experience from World War II, where he had a job of killing prisoners. He had been Jimmy’s friend- but as he told it, if he hadn’t “hit” Jimmy, Jimmy’ been dead and him too!
George tells me another story as we discuss the movie on 9/9/9. How Jimmy arranged for food to be brought to George and friends in the visiting room after the food line was supposedly closed. George is trying to reach Joe Wenderoth in connection with his book- I ask him has he gotten an editor? George criticizes me for editing the Wikipedia entry on the Catonsville Nine to bring in a mention of Plowshares Actions- he feels that the Plowshares Actions amount to zippo. I tell him, we just disagree. I tell him I think he has a point- why does he have to slam it into the ground all the time?!?!
Carmine Galente, whom I was to meet at the farm, the bona fide mob hit man, later became a "godfather" after he got out. He'd "whacked" many on the streets, to hear the story, and I imagined I could see it in his eyes: they were cold and black. But in the context of the farm camp he seemed harmless enough, mixing up evening cocktails, playing handball or tending cantaloupes and eggplant in his little garden. Galente may have killed the Italian anarchist, Carlo Tresca, in the early days, but at that time I had no knowledge of this part of Galente`s past.
I mused on these who lived by the sword as, one by one, they met violent ends on the street, Jimmy, Vinnie and Carmine. Perhaps Jimmy was compacted along with automobiles at a mob run junk yard or sunk deep into some bay or buried at the meadowlands or as was popularly believed in the end zone at the Giants football field there- although it seems likely that after he was abducted from the Machus Red Fox Restaurant, he was shot and then cremated- the Detroit News printed the final FBI summary- Hoffex.. After he got out, Carmine was blown away by a shotgun blast was it as he sat smoking his De Nobili cigar, or at the barber shop?. Pace Carlo Tesca.
Phil's thoughts about the Weathermen? were.... "I pointed out to them that violent means never justify nobel ends. They laughed at me." Fighting the Lamb's War. About the left? Phil told me he was a leftist or on the left- but I never saw much of an analysis on it from him. (why is this colored blue?)
The subjects of murder and rape worried me less after my transfer from the laundry. They floated off behind me as we approached new rapids. Politics again. Unbeknownst to me, Phil was regularly corresponding with outside friends to plan a new action. Unbeknownst to the both of us, the government was working with an inmate informer to catch Phil with evidence of a conspiracy/plot to put bombs in heating ducts under Washington D.C. and to kidnap presidential adviser Henry Kissinger. Phil was not above speculating about such a scheme. The inmate, a certain "Boyd Douglas" was the only con at Lewisburg who was allowed to go outside the wall to attend classes at the nearby college of Bucknell. He had a weird career of arrests and, to hear him tell it, had earned the privilege of college after submitting to medical experiments in prison which somehow went awry, leaving large scars on his arms. He'd sued the government and won ten grand and the agreement for college.
Boyd was not the sort of person we were used to; he was a clean cut, articulate confidence man. (Maybe like Whitaker Chambers?) He was easy to get along with, had a sense of humor and suited Phil's purpose well acting as a courier for messages going out related to a actions being carried out by a group which came to be called the Harrisburg 8. I can't speak for Phil, but it took me a while to realize that well dressed, middle class looking, knowledgeable guys could also be total liars and poseurs. There were more of these guys in the federal than the state prisons. Boyd may have been an F.B.I. employee, set up at Lewisburg prior to our arrival for the purpose of surveying Phil's activities or helping to capture Dan.
Phil was "drawing heat". He was arbitrarily searched several times. They ransacked the chapel vestry where he dressed three times a week for the private mass he was allowed to say. They were looking for contraband wine, the associate warden told us. They wouldn't let us go to the minimum security camps, Allenwood or "the farm". Phil may have realized why this was happening, I didn't. The planning for the alleged actions indeed existed and probably went so far as a couple of overt acts, which was all they needed to make a conspiracy charge out of it.
One Sunday after mass, a hack warned us not to accompany friends of ours from the nearby minimum security farm camp to the exit to the yard. We returned to our cell block but not all the way to the cell and waited for the chow line to open with some of the other guys who'd attended mass. When we got to the dining hall, a lieutenant approached: "I'm putting you two on report," he said, meaning we would have to undergo a trial within the prison's disciplinary process. "You were in the wrong chow line, you should have gone all the way back to your cell."
Phil exclaimed, "We've got 'em now ... by the short hairs". This was one of Phil's favorite sayings. "Let's plan our moves well." There were few acquittals from the prison court and Phil felt we would refuse the punishment we'd be sure to get, then issue a press release, go to the hole, fast and draw attention to our demands for minimum security.
I believe Phil rather disapproved of my "talking too much"- always a flaw for me - to the guards in the hole. Phil undoubtedly dissed me behind my back- it was a feature with him (he would talk down about his brother Dan, even). Renowned peacenik, John Dear (over 75 arrests and 25 books- see my review of A Persistent Peace) , who was a cell mate of Phil's after a Plowshares action in North Carolina, told me in 2011 that Phil used to yell at him "What are you doing for peace" and they were both in prison with John facing 20 years. We had a good laugh over that. John said he thinks of Phil as if he were on Mt. Rushmore, and that Phil reminded him of the revolutionary leaders he had met in Latin America ( on which basis- John also was a friend of Brian Willson's).
John had been kicked out of New Mexico for his anti war work; while a parish priest there a battalion ( I believe this is correct) of National Guardsmen marched to his residence and surrounded it, shouting pro war slogans (I never saw this shocking inceident reported in any lame stream media). John came out and gave them a sermon. Would be nice to have on video!
Boyd took our releases out to the all important media, undoubtedly stringing Phil along to get more information on Dan and the Harrisburg 8 plans. All went according to plan and the next day found us up on the third floor of the segregation wing, the "hole". These were cells stripped down to a mat on the floor and the usual metal sink/john combo. I concentrated on writing, meditation, the Bible, bowels (because of the fast) and the window. The window was fabulous, framing prisoners going by to the yard by day and during the evenings the prison's castle style tower from which a hawk dove to catch pigeons or swifts.
The hole came with its own special set of prison games. For example, my cell door opened onto a corridor with cells to each side and a cell directly across. There was an elaborate communications network: if you wanted to send a note down the hall, your correspondee would extend his arm straight out the window in his cell door and you would throw a weighted string over it as if casting for fish. Sometimes two or three lines were out in this fashion. If the hack's keys rattled in a door up the hall, the packets came scuttling back to their senders.
To contact inmates on the next floor down we would knock on the pipe that came up through the floor and speak down along it at the seam. At night you could squeeze notes through the steel mesh over the outside window and drop them down on a fish line. In this manner, I met Richard Chandler, a resister and non-cooperator who had been in the hole a half a year, practicing non violent resistance and civil disobedience devoutly every step of the way. If they let him out he promised to march towards the nearest exit from the penitentiary and they'd have to drag him back to his cell. He might keep his food tray from them once they'd shoved it through the hole in the door, or he would hide from the count behind his door or his sink. While we were there, he had reached through the hole in the door and tore the number off of his cell, replacing it with the message "I am not a number". He'd suffered several beatings and been sprayed with Mace for such actions, and had been often taken to the basement part of segregation, the worst part. He had first been brought to the hole for refusing a job assignment. When I met him he was debating, since his release time neared, whether to leave on his own or non cooperate further and make them carry him out.
This kind of resistance was radical to me. Few movement people went as far as Richard; it's hard to live, in prison, the society, the world without this or that compromise. Some might put Chandler down, describing his personal hang ups or lack of tactical wisdom. I found him admirable and courageous. It sorrowed me to think that no one was publicizing his protests. He would just have to remain a word of mouth legend.
Regarding Richard's departure, Phil advised him if he wanted to reform prisons he ought to get back out on the streets. Richard signed his notes "PLUFT" for peace, love, understanding, freedom and truth. It struck me that J for justice would be good to add, but where, for pronunciation's sake, would I put it?
In the rarefied atmosphere of the hole, the humorous and painful stood out as well as the courageous. I wanted to check out the guy in the cell beneath me before I spoke through him to Richard. I yelled down to him, "What are your politics?" After several tries he seemed to hear and his answer filtered back..."interstate transportation", the charge against him. Exactly! That was his politics.
One day we could hear an inmate all the way from the basement hole where he was bellowing crazily; this reminded me of an inmate at West Street who would throw his head back and howl like a wolf. They spoke for all of us.
There were some newspaper articles about our situation, and friends and supporters were visiting the Bureau of Prisons in D.C. and writing the Warden. A group from Baltimore and Washington came up and held demonstrations outside "the wall". The day after we went into the hole, the Associate Warden came up to persuade us to quit with a promise of no reprisals. After a week they moved us into the prison hospital because we were fasting. After a week of that, we decided we'd made our point; the administration had agreed to talk.
Soon we got the move we'd worked for, me to the Lewisburg Farm Camp which was just outside the wall and Phil to the federal facility at Danbury, Connecticut. Probably, it wasn't solely due to our protest, for Dan Berrigan had finally been caught and putting him and Phil together at Danbury might facilitate the federal's new case against them. Or maybe they felt that the new conspiracy case (developed through Boyd Douglas) was adequate. Maybe pressure from Senator Gooddell, of New York state, had carried the day.
Norman Carlson, then Director of the Bureau of Prisons wrote me in 1992 (I met him as he did consulting work, having retired, on overcrowding at the jail where I worked). He stated "the Bureau of Prisons was not told by anyone in the Department of Justice or the White House how to handle the situation."
While fasting, a psychologist and writer, Robert Coles, had come to visit us and written an article protesting our treatment. He concluded that I was in imminent danger of mental collapse- total b s. The Bureau sent one of their own psychiatrists up from D.C. to interview us. "You people are like salmon", he told me, "trying to jump Niagara Falls. You can't take on the whole prison system. It's like lying down on the railroad tracks; the train is going to crush you!" (It was the usual anti idealism bit). In 1987, to protest U.S. policy in central America, a friend of mine, Brian Willson, was sitting on tracks to stop an arms shipment and actually was run down by an oncoming train. (I had worked in 1974 and 1975 with Brian after getting out of prison; we manned the headquarters for the National Moratorium on Prison Constructions in Washington, a project sponsored by the Unitarian Church). The train did not slow or stop, it ran over Brian. Still, he survived! It severed one leg and the other had to be amputated. But, to answer the psychiatrist (17 years later, mind you), the train had neither crushed Brian nor his spirit. The event had increased his stature as a peace warrior. In an interview with Amy Goodman of the TV news program "Democracy Now" in 2011, Brian spoke about his experiences to say: "Our task is recover our humanity- recover the ancient human archetypes of empathy, mutual respect and cooperation; people do not take repression forever. Obedience to hierarchy is very dangerous. Pain and adversity are creative stimulants to jumping out of the box. " Although Brian said he regretted the loss of his legs, after Vietnam (which is when I first met him- see my chapter on Offender Aid and Restoration) he was glad to have become more visible to the movements around the world; after what he had seen caused by us in Vietnam he could "no longer follow orders"!
Brian and I reunited on Tues., Nov 15, when he spoke at Johns Hopkins University; I sent the following to the local paper- “Re Veterans Day (it had just occurred)- a member of the peace movement since he saw what we were doing in Vietnam- where he was a Lieutenant and saw that the body count reported was of civilians-he saw a dead mother clutching her two dead infants staring up at him- charred black stinking of Dow Chemical napalm.
Brian was later run over by a train in 1987 protesting Reagan's munitions shipments to Nicaraugra, Is Brian a veteran? He now walks on prosthetics. Are there veterans of the peace movement?
How about Iraq or Viet veterans for Peace?
I say, let's have a different kind of valor- a redefinition of valor- let's march in a peace parade- join Ghandi and King in a non violent movement- where valor is not just killing others- follow the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount or, just follow the commandment- Thou shalt not kill.... How about that? O I know all the arguments.
I detailed for the Bureau Dr. (“headshrinker” the inmates would say) the harassment we'd been receiving. "That happens to everybody," he said. "But everybody doesn't have to take it," I replied. "What's more psychically healthy than fighting for your rights?" Luckily he was young enough to jump out of his job role and give us a clean bill of mental health. He could have recommended that they send us to the dreaded federal medical center at Springfield, Illinois. Cons dreaded Springfield because of what they'd heard about the medicine practiced there. Only well organized support (which most inmates lack) had saved Chandler from going there. There, the rumor went, they'd give you shock treatment and turn you into a vegetable.
The psychiatrist's questions later reminded me of other government bureaucrats I'd met. They shared the American trait of fatalism, a world trait I suppose, as in "what will be will be" or "God's will". I think our point was, "God's will my ass!" A lot of them were similarly fatalistic as are many Americans generally. "Hopeless" is another word to describe them. I asked my probation and parole agent whose side would he have been on at Christ's trial. "Well", he supposed, "I’d probably be doing the same thing 1"m doing now" i.e. advising Pilate as to the appropriate sentence. "After all," he went on, "Christ got what he was looking for, didn't he? I mean the crucifixion was a fulfillment of prophecy. Not that I'm not sympathetic. I feel sorry for snakes too. They've had to crawl since the fall. It's not up to me to make them walk." I met this in the nature of things, can't be helped argument all the time. That or some variant of the lines uttered by Adolf Eichman, found guilty at his trial in Israel of war crimes: "I was only doing my job."
People give up in the face of the thousand betrayals, by parents, friends, situations, which surround them like a steady wind. I heard it all the time. People will give up and die rather than resist saying, "When you're time comes, it comes". Resistance and struggle are difficult and the first tendency is often to give up. Few opposed Hitler in Germany's mad race to destruction. Education would be better defined as that which teaches hope, teaches struggle. Ignorant persons everywhere will give you their reasons why nothing can be done and nothing will change. They will sit there and chew on a hay stalk, whether they are the powerful or the poor. What is it about us that makes us so passive? People come to believe the maxim, "old age and treachery will always defeat youth and idealism".
After the psychiatrist's visit, I was able to leave "the wall". I was sent to the farm camp in a bucolic setting surrounded by corn fields and overlooking a long ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. It was a relief to be leaving; inmates who grew old and died within the wall would be buried in a little cemetery behind it. If no one came to claim the body, the joke was that it would be buried standing up until the sentence was finished, then be lain flat.
My stay in the wall had been difficult, but none of it, looking back, was any worse than the years I had spent at the prison like Mount Hermon, my prep school in Massachusetts. There too, our days were ruled by bells and whistles; there too the male culture reigned. Given the separation from parents and a snug childhood, given the study halls and pressure for grades, "Hermon's Hump" as we affectionately called it, was worse than prison! At Mt. Hermon, you not only suffered, you had to perform. If you survived Mt. Hermon, you could manage most anything life had to throw at you. That was the point, it was a "prep" school.
In 1989 I returned to the old school, then crossed the Connecticut River to a field high on a ridge at which I'd longingly gazed while "imprisoned" there in adolescence from '54 '58. I'd looked at this green notch as a symbol of freedom, in the same way that I gazed out at the Allegheny mountains or the farm fields and silos from my cell window at Lewisburg.
Sure enough, when I reached it, the once far away green lozenge was a field of beauty, with hummocks of dark green ground juniper and glistening white birches behind. From this field the school in the distance had shrunk to a far away blur as it had in memory. I felt I had exorcised the place. I was free at last, I could dismiss even the occasional bad memory of the place.