My young bride- Louise- was one of the speakers at the Up from Under Rally which we did not attend- what must have gone through her mind?
+ An interview w Bill O'Connor (best (most negative?) part
left out to protect G's sensibilities) (G what have you done for me lately?) this section is not going to be in my book For All the Saints, anyone planning to quote materials should chek with George Mische and Marilyn O'Connor to get their reactions and disagreements
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.
According to Bill O'Connor, George had been "purged" at a meeting in New York City at an Episcopal? Church nicknamed Iron Mountain (up in the Bronx- Gun Hill Road?) which occurred before we went underground in 1970. (At a later meeting on 5/6/? George claims to have readied an action that would have included 100 persons and he told me that the action would have included Cardinal? Boyles? files and other targets. But Berrigan brother Jerry had attended some meetings and represented George to Phil, then being held in jail, as trying to become the guru of these catholic left actions.
(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 OConnor) 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- hes 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 Melvilles 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 dont remember Bill as being on the scene.
On Catonsville, he states: they werent 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 hes rude and hes lewd and hes 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. Didnt like the moral tone, one.
Two, I didnt particularly want to see myself in jail, Ive 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 OC: 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- youll 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 Joes and had been shot by a sniper. A friend of ours from the Civil Rights movement- Hal Smith, had set up a foundation in Bills honor.
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 doesnt
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?
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.)
Thats 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 didnt 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, Im going down stairs and sleep. You want to sleep up there with Phil Berrigan, thats alright. I found it very difficult. Increasingly difficult to reach Phil..until I said to him: we have to talk. I dont 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.)
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. Thats 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 Phils)- but we werent 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 well get arrested but he was
never interested in that. Thats 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 Georges critique of Phil, and I think Phil knew it).
goes on: He (Phil) certainly didnt have the soft A.J. Muste (I dont 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- its bs if you ask me. Makes
me wonder if Bill was an informer (me the paranoid).
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 couldnt deal with that. Brutalizing Tom Lewis at that
. Bill then gives a portrait of Tom Lewis that adds nothing.
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 its red, that does mean
its red, and certainly you should entertain the possibility that it might be
red. Thats when Phil threw a book against the wall and put his jacket on and
left. Mary Moylan was scrambling eggs
they said, Whats going to happen now?
I said its obvious. Hell be on that phone tomorrow calling saying, well, come
on, lets get together.
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!
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 Bills 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 Vietnams
flag =s workers, farmers, intellectuals, traders and soldiers). There
are details of that I couldnt 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.
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. Misches 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 Ive 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 dont know what the hell youre talking about and I would say, this is what hes 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- whats 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 theyd got so many people together, Phil would fly out and talk to them and some of them didnt 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 dont 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 wasnt involved...at that point I told Phil I dont want to work
with you any longer, youre 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 wasnt- 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 couldt draft anybody that
..thats the kind of thing we wanted to build
and you know
we couldnt 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 Nixons 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 Dans 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 thats wrong with us is whats 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.
Im 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 theyre going to see that hes 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 OC said, a small community continues and has its supporters- Jonah House and VIVA House (part of a Catholic Worker) network- draw many youth and volunteers..
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 Bills 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.
Section on other draft actions was moved from here to before "Farm" chapter
I had extended apologies as you can see by the finished review that precedes this:
Narrative continues for For All the Saints
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 NY 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, the beginning of a cruel redefinition of space to which all prisoners must adapt.
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 that moved hung from a track as in a dry cleaners, to be deloused or cleaned.
We were issued standard white mental ward p js 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.e. an off brand tooth paste manufacturer). (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?
Wasn't the kid sick mentally but shrewd enough to try to get into the even more crowded mental hospital, Bellevue, for treatment; ( had he smuggled the blades in?); his cell mates kept yelling but no one came.
Besides, as it turns out he hadn't really swallowed a razor blade but something x‑rays showed to be plastic. He had cut himself for the blood as if suicidal? He got his transfer to Bellevue; I got my introduction to prison life. It was an inflated atmosphere of garish and grimy hues- stretches of peace interrupted by outbursts of horrible violence- like a war zone, I guess. 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?- it occurred to me, cosmically). I began to clear some space for dignity and hope and survival.
Speaking of "cosmic", 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- the activist side- 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
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".
To the "Big House"- Lewisburg Federal Prison
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". The prison could be "loose". 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, chafing absurdly at his handcuffs, and going 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 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"preceding 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 (or was it "Moorish") 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 or just to keep busy.
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. Some 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 the beginning or "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.
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- as in Pelican Bay in California. 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. I promulgated such alternatives to incarceration working later for the National Coordinating Committee for Justice under Law- founded by Catonsville 9 member, George Mische, who was kind enough to hire me! and later for the National Moratorium on Prison Construction which was sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee- with S Brian Willson (see his Blood on the Tracks) and Director, Dick Scobie.
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 Alger Hiss' 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 prison 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.
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. Writing also was appreciated!
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 Wardens office- shuffling papers; amuzingly, the Warden said one day, Werent 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.
My next job ended on a comic note: after the laundry, I had been transferred to the Warden's office- to clean and help with filing. One day, the Warden reasoned, Hey- wasn't this guy brought into prison for destroying draft files? I was moved post haste.
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 shades of gray, the usual in‑between meanikngs. 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.
Some one in Security in every jail and prison in the country always has a nice display case of weapons home made by inmates- shanks, etc.- to show visitors.
I had not suffered much physical violence for my views. The gas station attendant out in Baltimore County had pushed me around because of my civil rights activities 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 just 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".
Much more violence came from the feds than from the criminals. The feds were the ones bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age and forcing naked children to run from napalm (the iconic Vietnam photograph).. 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, no one could 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!" (quoted to a peacenik companion- ws it George Mische?) 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 Minneapolis organizers 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 workers not a slave!
Jimmy abducted from Machus Red Fox, 15 Mile at Telegraph, the spots
Now- Andiamo's , Italian chain, and its 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?
Yr. friend of labor is a friend of mine.
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 didnt 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 Dont You, (I think thats 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 Jimmys friend- but as he told it, if he hadnt hit Jimmy, Jimmy would have been dead and him too!
George M tells me another story, that one day in the Wall visits went on through the lunch hour and lunch was brought out to Jimmy; he ordered that even though the food line was closed, screws serve everybody- draft resisters as well..
Carmine Galente, whom I was to meet at the farm, was the bona fide mob hit man, later became a "godfather"? (what was his rank?) 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.
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. You'd think Phil would have suspected Boyd. George Mische and Tom Melville had warned him,
Boyd was not the sort of person we were used to; he was a clean cut, articulate confidence man. 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.
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. 8 persons were indicted and went to trial as the "Harrisburg 8".
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" (i.e., the balls) . 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.
Phil disapproved of my "talking too much"- always a flaw for me - to the guards in the hole. He undoubtedly dissed me behind my back as he did so many others, even his brother Dan, - it was a feature with him, one of his less endearing attributes. Renowned peacenik and Jesuit, John Dear (over 75 arrests and 25 books) , 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 and this was when 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.
Phil undoubtedly dissed me behind my back as he did so many others, even his brother Dan, - it was a feature with him, one of his less endearing attributes.
After watching the movie- United Red Army about the Red Army factions in Japan (2012) - I wrote the following.
We must reaffirm and debate
our own revolutionary status...
Did you talk to the police?
Yes, when they let me eat.
Casual conversation is not silence!
For the revolution to succeed
Self criticism is necessary.
The river passes beneath our base camp
Pure glacial green- it pure praxis
Speaks clearly as geese call
To each other- seek out defeatism
You should not have talked to them!
To which Jim Forest (of the Milwaukee 14- books on Dorothy Day) replied:
Phil Berrigan disapproved of my "talking too much"- always a flaw for me - to the guards in the hole (solitary confinement at Lewisburg Prison).
I too believe in conversation -- talking too much is basically just talking. Silence can be violence.
He undoubtedly dissed me behind my back as he did so many others, even his brother Dan, - it was a feature with him, one of his less endearing attributes.
I too experienced times when Phils mouth -- or his written word -- went off like a hand grenade in my face. Phils nonviolence was not necessarily verbal. He could be cruel and quite manipulative. There was at least one period when he was inching away from nonviolence altogether.
Phil was right about me and I, Maoistically, admit my shortcomings. You must take a step back. If you are in a struggle- things change- you must think on yr feet. You must strategize at every opportunity- outwit your enemy. It will come down to things like this!
I am less for outwitting the enemy than converting him, but indeed one must think (and pray) on ones feet.
I liked you poem. What a dark wind blew within Maos Cultural Revolution. It is so much easier to burn a barn down than to build (rebuild) a barn.
Ive gotten a copy of the book on the Catonsville Nine and now am trying to find time to read it.
In Christ's peace,
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- (this shocking incident never reported in any "lame stream" (Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's endearing term for the "main stream" media and actually quite true). John came out
and gave them a sermon. Would be nice to that have on video! He later received an apology from then New Mexicao Governor (need name).
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.
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. (Where did we get the string?)
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 new and radical even to us. 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. (In1974 and 1975 I worked with Brian after my job with George Mische and the National Coordinating Committee for Justice under Law ended); 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 (his book published in 2011 is Blood on the Tracks). 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 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, 2011 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 and stinking of Dow Chemical napalm..Brian had never mentioned any of this when I worked with him.
Flash forward to 2011- the same night that we met again in 2011, there occurred a wonderful demonstration: Rove spoke at Johns Hopkins in one of their speakers series- He was wonderfullyl disrupted, contrasting a lone effort by me at the Meyerhof Symphony Hall, where I had stood up ;and yelled "No platform for a war criminal" in front of 4200 sedate suburbanites listening to him debate John Dean.
At Hopkins, he spoke for some 10 minutes before some 50 youths from Occupy Baltimore began to interrupt. The rest of his speech was pandemonium- and this was very refreshing to me- to see a war criminal who for years had spoken with impunity, revered by the medea, surrounded by thuggish body guards- as was George Bush- a person responsible for the deaths of 4000 + U S soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians! This showed how effective such a demonstration can be. Rove was no longer protected- and he really showed his anger. It was wonderful to see the tables turned- as they seldom are in this country!
The youths followed leaders in the Occupy fashion- e g, shouting: you say Bush years, we say night mares; or, Karl Rove you got caught- war crimes, torture- thanks a lot, or We are the 99 %. A whole list of phrases to chant was provided, e.g:
"War crimes with a Hopkins twist/Inside there's a terrorist.
We said no, 2003/ to lies abt WMDs./ We were right and rove was wrong./His "courage" fake- all along./Now Hopkins pays to hear this rat./What kind of "consequence" is that?
Lies and spin, Fox News garbage.../ We won't forget yr years of carnage.
No more lies, no more spin./ The 99 % will win.
Don't give rove a victory lap./His book is full of crap.
Make some noise! Raise a fuss./ Stay out here and chant w us"
Rove called the chanters arrogant and I walked out hollering back at him: what about the arrogance of a war criminal and some one hollered shut up back at me (unfortunately, the Hopkins students were fairly opposed to our lchants- although molst just seemed to be highly amused- taking cell phone photos, etc. For the second time I got to confront Rove and NOT be arrested..
What follows is my response to one of the JHU students who organized the event- she had written disparagingly of us in an editorial printed in the local paper- the Sun:
1) chanters in the audience were not cowardly- when you face arrest and or brutality (thanx to HU security for good handling- wait until you are pepper sprayed) speaking to some one like Rove- you are not cowardly.
2) Rove has a direct part in the deaths of 4,000 U S soldiers and countless civilians-he had power once- he deserves no platform now
3) You should be joining others of your generation who are taking a stand- or- if you are a woman of your words- join the ROTC and b a commander in Afghanistan- you are coming across as a richee rich.
4) How much was Rove paid- was S Brian Willson who also spoke at Hopkins- was he paid? Google S Brian Willson. Where are your priorities young lady?
Flash back to Lewisburg :I
detailed for the Bureau Dr. (headshrinker the inmates would have called him) 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 Bureau actually refined and experimented with ways of solitary confinement and "mind game/controls" on later radicals- espcially Susan Rosenberg at Lexington, Kentucky which she details in her book- American Radical. It sounds harsh, and I try to use words prudently but, they essentially tortured her.
The psychiatrist's questions 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"- the protestant version of Islam's "Imshallah".. I think our point was, "God's will my ass!" A lot of them were fatalistic as are many Americans generally. "Hope-less" would be an apt description. Upon my release, I asked my probation and parole agent whose side would he have been on at Christ's trial. "Well", he supposed, "Id 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; they 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. We need education that which teaches hope, teaches us how to 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.
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. Well, that was the point, it
was a "prep" school, wasn't it.
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.
In the same vein, at Lewisburg, I promised myself, I would similarly return to Lewisburg and look down upon it from the mountains in the distance. On 9/18/'99 I did return. I found the perspective skewed from that in my mind- the mountains were further away and more to the left and as, girlfriend, C and I drove towards the front entrance we were warned that we were trespassing. Luckily we had already shot a few photos and we proceeded to drive around the reservation to see what we could see- finding more vistas with the unmistakable prison tower to photograph, a tower one notices in Lynn Sachs documentary on the Catonsville 9. C and I drove around the prison perimeter.
In 2002 I read Alger Hisss (the accused Communist and spy) account of his stay at Lewisburg (1951-4) in Recollections of a Life. I liked Hisss quiet, readable style and his description of West Street where I too had begun my sojourn as a prisoner. Hiss was more thorough and careful than I in establishing the basic facts about the prison. Although 20 years earlier, some things about the place had not changed. He describes, for example, the solidarity of the Italian inmates which I too observed. At one point a rose breasted grosbeak started singing in the yard bringing Hiss a surge of intense enjoyment. A small group gathered, watching and listening silently. I cannot think of another time when my spirits were so lifted that I was oblivious to my grim, oppressive surroundings. Hiss, like me, was a writer and poet and had written a poem from his lozenge of a window in the wall as had I- my Blue Hair. Hiss had observed pheasants flying in over the wall. His description of the prisoner reaction to the execution of the Rosenbergs is moving. At one point, he, like me, had a reason to feel in danger himself, although it came to naught. His description of various inmate characters and surroundings like the prison library were all too familiar. Unlike me, Hiss had been too proud to seek a pardon. Of course my pardon- from President Reagan in 1983, enabled me to work at the Baltikmore City Jail- although, I'm not sure they would have prohibited me, given the number of staff members I observed to have criminal records!
In my career of prison/jail work I would hear from time to time that Americans had invented the prison system. They had not. What is meant is that we (Quakers in Philadelphia) had invented the penitentiary system. Tony Hiss points out in his book that the last 2,500 yearspegging the date to one of the earliest prisons we know about, the vast underground Mamertine Prison in ancient Rome. Another fallacious statement one kept hearing? That it costs $25,000 or more per year to keep a prisoner- used by prison abolitionists to say- why not send the prisoner to college instead. I had myself been an abolitionist back in my Moratorium on Prison Construction days. But in fact, given the industry that it is, yearly costs of keeping prisoners are only so high if one takes into account debt service, the cost of building each cell, the salary of the guards, etc, etc, but the real costs are probably much less.
2002 I met an inmate at the Baltimore
Center who had been at
Lewisburg from 1974 until the early 80s. As revealed in a Home Box Office
Documentary- Doing Time, my alma mater had become a much more chaotic,
dangerous and violent institution during this period. The inmate told me this
had been because more dangerous prisoners had been moved to Lewisburg from the
federal prison in Atlanta which had always held more dangerous sorts (was it
because Cubans had burned part of that prison down that they were moved?)- and
that the Cuban prisoners were a very angry lot whom Castro had kicked out of
Cuba-sort of the real rejects of that society- the lowest of the low?
(sometimes I had joked with other staff members that people we counseled were
the cream of the crap).. Also, he felt that prisoners from D.C. (but hadnt
they always gone to federal institutions?) were no longer of the calibre of the
usual federal inmate- the old school inmates who knew how to carry
themselves- i.e. stay out of trouble.
The din of eventful current that had roared around me for four years subsided as I moved to the Lewisburg Farm Camp. I was able to relax a bit from the landscape of issues into a landscape of interesting human faces, my fellow cons. My first job assignment was an easy one: wiping up tables in the dining room. My co‑worker, Joey, who had also just arrived from the wall, needed light work: he had entered prison with four bullet wounds to the stomach. These weren't draining properly. He was involved with the Mafia and Carmine Galente was showing him around. The two approached me, Carmine fingering the required mafia De Nobili cigar in its holder: "Nowa Joey, dis here's Ebahart and uh Ebahart I want yuse to make it easy for Joey here, uh, he's got bad health and Joey dis here's a good kid and he'll show yuse the ropes, he's one of tha Berrigan gang, you know, da priest and dem nuns and so fort..." "Yeh, da fadder," Joey says devoutly ... "ain't it a shame."
Another mobster, J, who lived in our eight‑man dorm was a charming old guy, so used to the big spender role on the streets that the inconveniences of the farm life incensed him: the food, the work, etc. He didn't like his assignment at the power plant so would find some nook in which to read because of his "bad back" or would parlay many trips into the wall on hospital sick call so he could communicate with friends. Or he would spill coal and misread meters. It was all fairly nonpolitical but it amused me and one day I pointed out to him the similarity between his actions and ours of non‑violent resistance and civil disobedience. He understood. He made himself into such a nuisance that he achieved a transfer to one of the plummiest positions of all, attendant at the prison gas station. Very few trucks stopped there and you could play gin rummy all day. J ate upstairs in our dorm or in Carmine's room from their own private stock of smuggled goods: salami, anchovies, etc.
A chain link fence provided the farm's only security perimeter and, to hear it told, you could sneak out and pick up "drops" of various goodies left by relatives on nearby country roads. At Lewisburg's other minimum security facility, Allenwood, inmates actually met their loved ones in the woods or would go as far as registering for a night at the local motel, it was said. Another route into the farm camp for contraband was through the visiting room. The same Joey from the dining room became the official visiting room attendant, a combination waiter and polaroid photographer. He would take items from visitors over to the ice machine and shove them deep into the ice, to be retrieved later when visiting was over and he cleaned up. I proudly made use of another route for contraband some time later on in my sentence as I "hired" accomplished thief "Iceberg" to walk casually down the road alongside the camp building. He would take a few steps to the side to reach the bushes by the visitors' ladies rest room door, where Louise, according to instructions, had dropped a six pack of miniatures. The only bad part of this arrangement was Iceberg's cut, a whopping three out of the six little bottles.
The high point of my smuggling came when I brought a fairly large manuscript for Louise into the visiting room. I had rolled it up and put it in my crotch, so that if, in frisking, the officer felt it, he would assume it was a hard on. Guards didn't get too close to your privates at the farm anyway, although in the wall you had to strip naked and they would even look up your ass.
Iceberg, so‑called because he had locked two FBI agents in a freezer, became a good friend. He was a loose, tall, thin and gawky individual with more than the usual convict guff and bluster. He was from Hoboken and had once admired the mob but had become too independent for them. A petty thief and addict, he delighted us with stories of his crimes, how, for example, he and his partners would size up the obituary columns to plan burglaries of houses whose owners were away at funerals. Or he might be out for a stroll, "geezing" as he called it, sizing up any and all items to steal and pawn for dope money. He would walk close to the curb with an eye developed for unlocked cars or cars with packages, packages with coats thrown over them, etc. What a thrill to "cop" some unidentifiable package, maybe around Christmas time, ducking into a hallway to open it. "What if it was some kid's Christmas toy?", I'd play the gadfly. "Aw, I'd give it to the first kid I meet," said Iceberg, all heart. Once, according to him, he stole his own bail bondsman's suit. The man was driving him home from jail and made the mistake of stopping to talk with Iceberg's parents. Ice had "checked the suit out" in the back of the car. In the same motion he made to push the car lock down he pulled it back up, then came back in a minute to take the suit. "Rough neighborhood," he later commiserated with the bondsman.
Iceberg seemed to be cooling out during his stay in prison, prison was good for him. I found out later that he'd returned to his life of crime upon release. Only a few inmates, pool players, writers perhaps, could refine their trades in prison. Most cons returned to lives of crime as soon as they got out.
Some of the thieves looked down on others who had "no scruples". D, for example, had returned a fancy accordion and one old lady's TV set. S planned to steal for the revolution, Robin Hood style. D would choose a 10 grand job over a 50 grand one to avoid hurting anyone. But J didn't care whom he hurt if he had his mind on taking something. "When I was a kid", he explained, "somebody stole our Christmas money from my mom in the lady's room at Macy's; I never forgot it." (Probably it was somebody like Iceberg.) "Ever since," he went on, "I figure I'm entitled to my share!"
"Doc" Hampton or Dr. Jive was a drug specialist. Not hard drugs but downers, the several different multi‑colored "dolls" or tranquilizers obtainable from the prison hospital. He was an articulate black doing ten years for hijacking trucks. I think he was a Teamster. There were quite a few at Lewisburg because they had transported stolen goods across state lines. D had carved out a prison career for himself as pharmacist; inmates presented him with their acquisitions for identification; some even came to him for diagnosis of small ailments. We were friends and I was able to kid him about his sleeping his "bit" (sentence) away. I would find him nodding in front of the T.V. "Why spend your time snoozing? His retort was reasonable enough: "How would you spend a ten year sentence?" I wondered at what cost Doc acquired his peace for we were in the same dorm and some nights he awoke screaming from some recurring nightmare. "Poor circulation," he would explain, or jokingly tell me, "I almost caught him last night," referring to the hated partner who had snitched on him at his trial.
Because of his truck‑driving skills Doc was prison fire chief. The fire truck for the main prison was housed at the farm camp and I volunteered to join the six man crew. It was a desirable position since we got to take test drives around the perimeter of the institution and occasionally go outside the prison to train with local fire crews or put out some nearby fires.
The local Lewisburg Township Fire Department was a sharp outfit. We did some training with them and I waxed quite poetical about them. Since they were, I believe, unpaid volunteers, I thought of the anarchist societies proposed by Prince Kropotkin which would be based on mutual aid, as I sat and chatted with them amongst the snorkels and oxygen masks, the great yellow hoses and bright shining red trucks. One of the grumpier older inmates on our prison crew questioned my right to take part. What if we got a fire at a draft board or ROTC buildings? I wouldn't try to put it out and might endanger his life, he reasoned. His objections were far fetched to the others however, since they figured we wouldn't be called to many such fires. I got into some interesting discussions with the town firemen about burning draft records. One said he thought it would be O.K. as long as we took the files out of the building!
Checking hoses and equipment on the other side of the main prison next to the placid Buffalo River was a treat. You could open the hose nozzle wide and pound the river with a hard jet of water or turn it to its narrowest setting,"spray, curtain, mist" in which case the fine spray would steep Hamp's kinky black hair in silvery dew balls. (Doc's last name was Hampton.) I wrote a poem about it. Prison was great for reading and writing.
The crew joked about a possible prison fire and the political issues it would present, i.e. should we help put it out? Often, prison fires were set by our fellow inmates. Luckily we never had a bad prison fire. The only one we were called to inside the wall was a very small one in the Education Department, probably the work of some disgruntled scholar. It was out by the time we got there. As we uncoiled our hoses under the Warden's worried gaze, one of the gas mask boxes fell open and out spilled someone's stash, tins of pate, canned shrimp, vienna sausages and other wonderful delicacies!
We jokingly appraised each situation as to possible "good days" or days of credit off our sentence that we might earn. One inmate claimed to have thrown the Warden's dog into the Buffalo River so he might rescue it and make parole. Once we were called to a fire at the Associate Warden's house. Hamp had never liked this particular prison official, so he took a very circuitous back route driving very slowly at about ten miles per hour. Luckily for the Associate, the town crews had already arrived.
At about this time I wrote a poem- in mem- Diana Oughton? I have a copy but I don't think it was very distinguished. The only line I remember is "Susquehanna run softley" , after the Spenser "Sweet Thames, run softly" .
we were called to a brush fire up on Dale's Ridge overlooking the far blue Allegheny mountains. With them in front of us and the
institution far behind, in the sweat of the work under heavy yellow slickers
and in the pungent cedar and pine smoke, spiritual feelings rushed over me, an
experience akin to the Indians in their sweat lodges. I got all mixed up in
calm and bliss and sexuality and sadness as I thought of the nearby Susquehanna
and Buffalo Rivers,
flowing gently like Spenser's Thames. The
cedars can burn explosively like an oil fire, a fellow fireman told me; I
imagined this happening, to go along with my epiphany.
Between us and the mountains, the ridge dropped off precipitously and deep and I thought of the long geologic maneuvers which formed it and the valley below. This was a sort of epiphany being in this moment- about as good as it gets, the kind of moment we live for: unpredictable, unplannable, a moments that would well up again in my memory the way moments do all down through life, making life totally worthwhile, with no assistance from anyone else ..emphatic, necessary, hieratic, vatic, oracular, the kind of memory you fondle and embroider and lie about and make poetry out of.
These are all the wealth we need to survive (besides food and shelter in bad climates) .and, dont forget- political struggle.
Dont let me make prison sound TOO nice- this was 1971- the year of Attica- it was the year George Jackson was murdered in California. Phil B errigan saw prison as a place to be- to unite with the poor and downtrodden and I recommend the experience (at least here in the U.S.) for the callow youth of today. Being imprisoned in Syria would be no joke. The point is: take some action and take some risk!
Letter from prison: (this is also included in Capt. entitled "Tree Calendar") The many pheasants in the corn fields around the farm also presented romantic images. Hunters couldn't follow them onto the "reservation". Inmates were allowed to trap them and put them in crates for shipment to sparsely pheasanted parts of Pennsylvania or maybe to the banquet tables of federal prison officials. If you were on one of the outdoor crews you might stop to visit the pheasants in the tractor shed and admire them peering glum but fierce from between the slats of their little imprisoning, lobster‑trap crates. You would especially notice them in the fall when the corn had been cut. The burningly phosphorescent males looked like freedom as they scooted up out of the corn stobs with a whistling sound to escape you. Their iridescent vests for courtship displays like pigeons' or the blushes of purple tetra fish reminded me of my sexuality and how much I missed Louise. Or they reminded me of beautiful privacy and meditation as they flew up evenings to roost in skeletal trees.
Always they were gorgeous with strange autumnal hues: coppery chests with freckles like those in the tubes of iris flowers or like the shimmering markings on an eye's iris. They had white rings round the necks ... which inmates dearly loved to wring. They were delicious cooked between the rungs of our radiators. (Prisons are kept hot; lethargy results.) To feather, gut, joint them, it helped to know someone in the butcher shop.
Winters the pheasants would sometimes make the mistake of flying over the main prison wall to look for food on the ground over steam pipes where snow had melted. Supposedly, an inmate had caught one from his cell window by dangling a pin, bent fishhook style, on the end of a line. I imagined the raucous squawking in the clear blue Pocono air!
Mornings we dozed toward winter on our work crew in the general farm shed. The work of the year was largely done, the root cellar filled to capacity with apples and potatoes. Zillions of snowflakes blitzed the surrounding fields until they looked like the flakes of sugar frosted cereal. The snow wiped out our vistas of the far blue mountains. We could only see the minute details of the close black and white land looming bitterly larger and larger. We could feel the full weight of our unjust sentences ... time itself an unjust sentence!
Did we deserve this? we were almost tricked to wonder, the slave's terrible question. Had we not chosen to be here? Wasn't this our fault? We would interiorize our sentences and grow to accept them, a final brutality, as the snow came in on a slant over the Alleghenies, beauty and horror together. Luckily, we war protesters were not alone, we had loved ones and vast support systems. Christmas brought us cards from all over the world, even North Vietnam as I remember it. We had belief. We had humor. All these things enabled us to be sarcastic and angry. We would never become "losers" like some of the regular cons for we knew our mission, we knew who we were. Society might despise us, but deep down it knew we were right (or did it?).
We took our place beside the "common" car thieves and bank robbers. Pheasants are so dumb they will enter a wire cage trap, unable to retrace their steps out of the little hatch to freedom. Society stands behind the prisoner smugly saying, "You have seen this happen to a person also." Undoubtedly many of the inmates would return to crime upon release, as we all return to the ruts in our mind which are familiar. But we not only knew the way back into society, we rejected it. And so, in a way, we were free.
Such philosophizing, writing it down, playing pool or the piano or guitar helped me pass the time. Story telling was a well developed pastime. Jesse, an elderly, earthy, illiterate black man from Baltimore, regaled us with some of his favorite tales as we sat out cold fall days in a farm shed after the potato crop was in. He had killed a Chinese fellow at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. and complained that no "chink" was worth all the time to which he'd been sentenced.
Once he was in a bar on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore and had finally located a choice whore for the night's entertainment. She was a darling, all in satin with gorgeous, mincing feminine ways. He took her to a hotel downtown and wanted to dispense with preliminaries and get right down to it since she looked so fine. So he asked her to take off her clothes. "Well," she said, "first let's turn out the lights." He wanted to watch her undress but she kept insisting, so he turned off the light and they proceeded to bed. Next she wanted him to undress her piece by piece in the dark as if ... as if, he began to get the feeling she wanted to hide something from him.
"Aw, have I got myself a queer?" he began to wonder to himself. "Well ... well, was it?" we all burned to know. Then he felt that hard thing between "her" legs and he knew..."Good God almighty!" "You went on ahead anyway?" someone asked him. "Damn right, I wasn't gonna miss out on those , get me a taste of those "cakes". Another story of Jesse's was his "with or without the dog" story. Jesse goes to this whore house; it appears to be one of the nicer ones with lots of girls to choose from just like they show in the movies, so he goes upstairs with this lady and when they get into bed she asks him does he want it "with or without the dog?" This confuses him but the place seemed pretty special so he told her "with". She went out of the room, then came back and they got down to business. All of a sudden in runs this little poodle and commences to f k Jesse in the ass. "I jumped so hard, I ran my head up against the head board and my head was bleeding. I'se so mad I jumped up and kicked that little dog halfway across the room!"
Catonsville 9 member, Tom Melville had wonderful stories about the mobsters, Tony Prevenzano and Carmine Galente. Tom had had considerably more relation with Tony and Carmine at the farm camp than had I. He shared several fabulous stories:
Tom described a committee formed for a memorial day picnic consisting of himself, a Jewish lawyer from Ohio and the mafia mobster Tony Provenzano, "Tony Pro". Tony had a reputation in prison and was accorded respect by the other prisoners. Tom told us that he tried not to look Tony directly in the eye. The feds had allowed the committee some leeway, they were authorized to choose whether it would be hot dogs or hamburgers for the picnic. The Jewish lawyer piped up that he had researched the matter somewhat and that the general feeling among the prisoners was for hamburger. Tony glared at him icily. He then picked up one side of the table where they were meeting and upended it, squashing the lawyer underneath. "We're having hot dogs, and don't you mother fu ing forget it!" was his rejoinder to the lawyer and that was that!
Once Carmine drew Tom aside to complain, "how come there aren't Italian bishops in the U.S.?, how come it's always Irish? huh? The mother fu ing pope is Italian? Where's the Italian bishops?" Tom said that Carmine always criticized at the top of his voice and what he said, went. He kept younger Italian mobster types in strict control. Tom had heard him screaming at one unfortunate fellow con that Italians must never be caught playing handball with the niggers, they must only play with fellow Italians".
Tom's best Carmine story he called the story of the "Irish mafia". It seems that Tom had taken on or been assigned the duty of movie picture director. Always the front couple of rows in the movie room were reserved for Carmine and his retinue. But, in a playful mood, Tom had decided to play a little joke on Carmine and, having arrived to the showing of a film before Carmine, who could afford to wait until the last minute, Tom took a seat right up in front in one of the sacred rows. The loud bantering and exchanges that always preceded any gathering of cons stopped immediately and in hushed whispers the other cons debated what might happen to Tom for this transgression. One of Carmines's men came on the scene, a forerunner to the main Carmine group, and seeing Tom in the row, accosted him in shocked tones, "What the f k are you doin here?" Tom told him thoughtfully to tell Carmine that the Irish mafia had arrived. "The Irish mafia," the runner asks and runs off, doubtlessly thinking that Carmine will have to deal with the new challenge ruthlessly. Carmine arrives and comes up to Tom, looks him over and starts to chuckle. "You!? You is the Irish mafia, this is the Irish mafia?" Carmine pauses for a moment and then addressed the entire gathering. "From now on," he says, "dese front rows are reserved for the Irish and the Italian mafia!"
One time mob boss Joe Salerno was observed on the evening television news as he was being interviewed in New York about the very subject of the mafia. Salerno was complaining to the reporter that the term mafia was discriminatory and that the more respectful term of Italian American would be correct. Carmine jumped up enraged and poked a finger at the screen. "We're gonna get you when we get out, you cheap no good sob mother fu r, we're the mafia and we're proud of it!"
Some inmates I met were in the federal system for crimes they'd committed in Vietnam. Usually, these military folk were incarcerated at Leavenworth, but they could be transferred to other federal prisons for various reasons. Bill had killed a fellow soldier. He had been on guard duty when the other guy came back from town drunk. He had tried to play a joke on Bill or hadn't given an appropriate response to Bill's "Halt" or maybe Bill was high.
Bill started his sentence in the Long Binh jail. He told me there had been a "race riot" there and in the confusion other inmates had opened his cell and he had left the stockade to go downtown to see his "mamasan". According to him he returned the next day just in time to make the "count". His account of the "brothers" settling scores by beating or killing some of the red neck hillbilly guards were details left out of media accounts I had read when the riot occurred.
Another black inmate I met earlier when we fasted in the hole would not give us all the details of his Vietnam crime. He had apparently participated in or actually arranged a crossfire between two army units, two U.S. units! Men died in this incident which also had racial overtones.
The Attica prison rebellion occurred while I was at Lewisburg; we watched it obsessively on T.V. I got my two cents worth by writing memorial to the inmates killed:
What mother fu kers these to draw the line
Between reactionary, revolutionary suicide.
There are no monuments to them outside
The walls at Attica, only "Johnson J. Pig"
"Guard", I see
And "Sacred To His Memory". Cons
Must fend for their own memory stones
Which they do daily looking through frames
Cell windows make: they see
Views long polished by desire
To call it quits to bluff, bust into fire
(And yet inmates had only clubs, the pigs
Had (# of calibre- 70 ought 6?)long range").
As usual violence changed nothing so to the chant
"Attica means fight back!" you sadly add the words
The Attica rebellion did lead to the construction of a new maximum security penitentiary. How would you like to have died for that?
In his excellent book on the Weather Underground, Outlaws of America, Dan Berger writes that after Attica the Weathers "placed a bomb in the New York Corrections Office in Albany, N Y. The bomb went off after 7:30 pm (none of the Weather's bombs hurt any one!- my note D.E) "near the office of Russell Oswald, the Commissioner of Corrections"- to me a beautiful response and fully justified in the same strategy as ours- "Some property has no right to exist". The Weather bombings truly brought joy to our hearts- not to mention most of the worlds'! Berger quotes their communique, calling the prison system out- "how a society run by white racists maintains its control". Still very true (as of 2010).
Building a political movement in prison, however, was next to impossible. Black Muslims had managed to recruit members. We protesters entered the system with hopes for reform, but only a few hard core radicals tried to get anything together. Most inmates were strongly individualistic, they were not joiners, so that one outbreak at the Tombs in New York dissolved as inmates rushed to rob the commissary for candy bars and the hospital for drugs or went about settling old scores. No one wanted to do the hard work of organizing.
There was a short‑lived strike in the wall just after I left for the farm. Several other federal pens also had strikes, but jokes were made about Lewisburg's, it was supposedly the home of "fags and snitches". A joke circulated that women at the Alderson federal prison had sent up some boxes of tampax for the strikers. The strike did not last long and had but token results: coca cola added to the list of commissary items, a new column in the prison newspaper, a new warden, supposedly. The Bureau would juggle wardens around to stave off trouble. The new warden at Lewisburg brought in new pool tables and all day yard privileges. They said he had been a bastard at El Reno, while the "bastard" we had at Lewisburg, went on to McNeil Island in the state of Washington.
Real grievances like the low pay for labor for Federal Prison Industries went unmet. The February before I arrived at Lewisburg, black Muslims had "rebelled", leaving one guard seriously injured. When I got there, inmates enjoyed saying that he would be a vegetable, in a coma, for the rest of his life. But the results for the Muslims were serious: new charges which would keep them behind bars for many more years. (story of George in Carmine's room refusing to eat w the mob/mafia unless they invited everybody- blacks included)
The judicial and prison system seemed most afraid of blacks and Communist Party members (although there were few of the latter). Many of the guards at Lewisburg at this time were white country boys. It stood to reason that the most dreaded convict would be a black communist, although the one I met, a guy doing a 30 year bit on a red spy case out of the 50's was tame enough. He was the warden's secretary!
I also met a spy, supposedly a Russian major, at the farm. He was trying to get publicity for his case. If the U.S. was so anxious to get its POWs out of North Vietnam, why not a swap? he would propose.
A Marxist friend in the wall considered himself an organizer. The feds thought so too and he was almost shipped out to the Springfield medical facility to get treatment for a spinal problem. Cons dreaded Springfield because of the medical practices that took place there. Luckily his grandmother died, and my friend was able to get his ailment checked by a real doctor when he went to the funeral.
Neither blacks nor reds nor we pacifists were getting very far when it came to changing the prison system. They could bring new charges on you, have you transferred. One approach by prisoners was to use the courts, filing writs, suits, etc. Probably this caused more change than other methods. The American Civil Liberties Prison Project led in filing such cases. The Berrigans had entered a case on behalf of all federal prisoners seeking less censorship of writing and speech; a judge told them they had failed to exhaust all legal remedies and they got nowhere. Other jailhouse lawyers were at work. Vince for example, at the farm claimed to be near his goal of winning back 2,000 years from the government for various inmates.
It had been good to leave the wall for the farm's more peaceful atmosphere, removed from the hard driving Phil and peace plottings and informants. The farm proved conducive to poetry. My thoughts turned to Louise:
BLUE HAIR (fr. Blue Running Lights)
(Lewisburg Federal Prison)
I want to see
How your face changes
When you c m.
What are we
Put on earth for?
When you bend over
Your breasts blade
More real than the
Mountains we kept watching
From our cells,
Couldn't reach them!
The state evaporates
As you approach, but it
Kept us there! We would
Hills 'til they formed rare
Thighs, faces and blue hair.
a photo missing here (thanx to webs)- of Louise in visiting room where Hoffa conducted his business- at the main prison- "the wall"- Louise has hippy sandals- actually I think it is at end of 2nd chapt.
My time for parole approached at 21 months; it was rumored that they made you do about the same amount of time a draftee spent in service. Close to the end of my sentence, I was doing what the convict calls "short time". The night before I left I had but one more "wake up". An acquaintance, Slim, asked me for some help writing a letter to his judge on some legal point. There was no question he could use some help since he was illiterate. I sat down with him and he offered me a drink, which wasn't out of order though I didn't care for one. We proceeded and I realized someone else had helped him about a week before on the issues which were patently ridiculous anyway. I began to wonder, he doesn't really need any help when, goddamn if he didn't next ask if I'd like to hear a record and I realized I was in the middle of a seduction scene. I was shifting to go when, in a quick, fumbling gesture, Slim put his hand on my thigh. I left in a huff. Here was stammering poor Slim reaching out to touch me when he realized I wouldn't raise a stink about it since I was leaving the next day. It was something he may have thought of doing for quite some time.
The feds paroled me January 24th, 1972. I had hoped for it but not expected it. I had kept my nose clean since arriving at the farm. My resister friend George Mische, who had arrived the same time as Phil and I did, was released to a D.C. halfway house without parole. We speculated that this was due to his participation with several other resisters in a protest at the nearby farm camp of Allenwood. There was to be no parole for Phil either whose newest trial began in Harrisburg on the day that I got out. Our old friend Boyd Douglas was the government's star witness, fortunately, because the jury didn't believe him. Phil was acquitted except for a minor charge of contraband letters to Liz McCallister (who later became Phil's wife). One reporter wrote, "the jury must have seen that the kidnapping plot consisted of a few hours discussion among friends and was never implemented because it could not be carried out without violence and because the peace movement had neither the will nor the competency to carry out such a task." There's no doubt that kidnapping or at least a citizen's arrest of Henry Kissinger and the blowing up of heating ducts under D.C. or some damage to them had been considered. Phil had written to Liz, "Nonetheless, I like the plan and am just trying to weave elements of modesty into it" (capturing Kissinger). "Why not coordinate it with the one against capital utilities?", i.e. the ducts.
Just as he had carried the momentum of the blood pouring onto Catonsville and the burning of files, Phil had continued anti draft actions and militant planning into prison. I, on the other hand, had always been quick to look for a chance to rest, a door through which I might walk to a different life than continual protest.
Phil had even written, "About the plan" (the Kissinger and ducts)‑ the first time opens the door to murder" (I believer Phil meant the government might kill the kidnappers)‑the Tupamaros are finding that out in Uruguay ... When I refer to murder, it is not to prohibit it absolutely" (did he mean to murder Kissinger?!)" (violence against non‑violence bag); it is merely to observe that one has set the precedent, and that later on, when government resistance to this sort of thing has stiffened, men will be killed."
Reading about Doug1as, the informer in Phil's Harrisburg case, reminded me that an informer, George Demerle, had been involved in the arrest of Sam Melville, the inmate writer killed at Attica. Perhaps both felt they were doing something for their country. Boyd claimed that as a devout Catholic he was greatly shocked by Phil's plottings, unlikely given Boyd's long history of scams and shams.
Demerle, the agent in the Melville case, had informed the government that Sam was planning to bomb army trucks, which had led to Sam's arrest and conviction. Phil and I just missed meeting Sam at the West Street Federal Detention Center. He had been doing 13 years at the time of his death (in the Attica uprising) for his part in a series of politically motivated bombings, the United Fruit Company, Marine Midlands Bank, the Whitehall Induction Center and New York City Criminal Courts Building. Apparently Sam had taken more than his share of credit for these acts in order to shield friends. (Compare and contrast- story of Mark Rudd, Ayers and Dohrn)
Agent provocateurs and double agents were especially complicated figures in their motivations. They were activists like us, but they usually acted only out of self interest and trotted out the right wing political beliefs when convenient. Sam's girl friend wrote of Sam and agent Demerle, "The games they played were similar, but for George it was all games. It was easy for him to disguise his motivations because they were so shallow. Sam's whole drive was against the objectification of human beings, George was an oddly passionless human being", she wrote, but it turns out he had some beliefs. He "told a right wing gathering that he had become an undercover agent in order to protect society from the violence of the radical left."
Only the F.B.I. knows how much they relied on informers. Documents stolen (by Grady) from Media, Pennsylvania office showed that they used them. One informer had an apparent change of heart and revealed that the F.B.I. had paid him to lead a raid on draft board offices in Campden, N.J. He had actually carried the raid off for them despite his own beliefs. These double agents came up with various justifications for their work. One that I got to know in Baltimore after my release from prison had been working for the underground newspaper "Harry" as a photographer. At the same time he reported to the police on drugs or "subversive" hippie activities. But once revealed, he claimed that he had thought of himself as a kind of referee between the movement and the police. We wondered from time to time, looking back, were there ways we could have spotted some of these informants. "Their shoes, their shoes are always different," joked a friend. But cops and agents, if they could not be prevented, could at least be subverted for the purposes of revolutionary work. One group required its members to work so hard that any informant was contributing so much to revolutionary change as to probably outweigh the negatives.
1993 First Reunion
On May 21st, 22nd and 23rd of 1993 a reunion was held for the Catonsville 9. I was part of an afternoon panel discussing the "future of faith resistance". Six of the nine were present, and the day was emotionally draining for me, meeting those who had changed my life, those whose life I'd changed. I had been shoehorned onto the panel. The organizers of the event had pretty much forgotten about the Baltimore 4, but old friend Bill O'Connor told them I should be included.
At one point in the morning's proceedings, original black and white news footage from one of the local TV channels was run on a big screen. As John Hogan tossed a match onto the pile of draft files and the nine backed away, there was a tremendous roar (was this an added sound effect?), a sound like wind and the nine made their various comments as they stood over the impressive draft file bier. Tears welled to my eyes. The image of fire was strong, as it had been when Norman Morrison immolated himself, at Gandhi's pyre. I thought of the flames of pentecost and certain Messaien organ pieces, I thought of the viking boats set afire and pushed out to sea. The flame seemed like the wind of life itself- a liberating flame.
Tom Melville also painstakingly detailed feelings of his at the 1993 reunion at Goucher College, reading from a lengthy position paper. He had been down may of the same paths as had I, struggling with issues of pacifism or violence in self defense and issues of Phil's leadership. Brendan Walsh resented Phil's single minded focus on jail as a requirement for entrance into the Berrigan club of the actions and he and George hinted at several hurt or embittered persons as a result. Their ideas reminded me of Bill O'Connor who had long expressed criticisms of Dan and Phil and the "Plowshares" way of doing things. I usually came to the Berrigans' defense, odd when I thought about my embitterment and despair on being "left out". But then I had made it clear at the time that more arrests and more jail time was too hot for me to handle. The Berrigan path was a hard one. They had a right to be single minded, why hold it against them. Phil really had been the only member of the nine to carry the draft actions forward for the last 20 years in many "plowshares" actions which were similar to the blood pouring and the Catonsville action.
The critics also saw Phil as stuck in a mode of protest that was not drawing new adherents or building a mass movement. I countered that Phil kept a poetic flame alive, that I liked the biblical nature of the acts and that I wasn't sure Phil had a mass movement as priority. Obviously, to most, the time was not ripe for revolution. In a way it was the same with Phil and the Plowshares actions. Besides, Quixotic as they were, Phil might say that his actions simply had to be taken- to satisfy his own conscience.
At any rate, discussion took place late into the nights of the reunion. Phil had to leave on Saturday afternoon and I had the feeling his side of the story might be considerably different from George's, Brendan's (sp), Tom's and Bill's.
To me, the sour grapes seemed un-called for. There seemed a bit of self defensiveness that could have easily been generous praise for Phil`s noble actions. It sometimes seemed that George defended what they had been doing for the last 20 years by bad mouthing Phil, exactly that of which they accused him. The macho one upmanship continued. Wasn't there room enough in the world for George's labor organizing, Brendan Walsh 's Catholic Worker soup kitchen work at VIVA House, my work with offenders, Tom Melville's teaching as well as Phil's plowshares actions? But a point Brendan made was that the plowshares actions were like preparing a soup that no one came to eat, that had no nutrition. He liked an observation he had heard that if non‑violence isn't about winning, then why be for it? Brendann was mild in his criticism compared to Gerorge- he's more of an even keeled guy.
I wondered if we graying activists would meet again like this; we did. Dan especially looked ill. One old lover refreshed my memory on details of how we had got together which I had incredibly forgotten. I had actually forgotten one of my lovers? Now that was disturbing, for of all things I treasured...
The reunion concluded with a blood pouring demonstration at a local defense plant's corporate headquarters, Martin Marietta and I attended as did Tom Lewis and Dan Berrigan of the nine. It was heartening to see young persons splashing blood on Martin Marietta's corporate headquarters doors and I could see that we had actually been pioneers. I stood alongside Dan behind a banner being held up at the main entrance to the Marietta plant on Sunday and listened to a discussion he was having with a young demonstrator. The youngster asked after the famed Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, "what is he doing now?" Dan had been with him recently, and he described Hanh's casual approach to peace sitting in meditation and saying of a nearby tree which he was observing, "that tree has just won the Nobel prize for peace. As a matter of fact," Hanh said, "I've conferred the prize on the tree". "That sounds like zen", I said. "Well", Dan replied, Hanh is a zen master.
Two members of the 9 were not present for the reunion. David Darst, a ? brother and poet had been killed in ? in a fiery car accident. Mary Moylan died in 1992, after having come up from her "underground" and returned to nursing work. According to her sister, she had died blind (and friendless?), having lost contact with the others in the nine (except for George?). George felt that Mary should have been invited to the reunion and that Dan and Phil or the organizers had treated her miserably. He had picked her up and taken her to a Camden 28 reunion.
Discussion at Catonsville
In November of 1999 I attended a discussion led by Lynn Sachs at the Catonsville library. Lynn had collected interviews with the remaining nine and was proposing to do a documentary movie which became "Investigation of a Flame". Bill O'Connor and Brendan Walsh were present at the gathering of some 30 folk. The daughter of the Selective Service clerk who had suffered a slight cut was present. She said the 9 had sent her mother sympathy cards from prison. A local poet informed the group that, upon occasion, across from the military cemetery down the hill, a somewhat official sign appeared, stating that the act had occurred, a kind of disappearing historical marker; he implied that he knew who put the sign up. Willa Walsh made the point that we should not treat the Catonsville 9 action as a kind of memorial to be encapsulated, separate from what is going on in the present- that the same work goes on. I felt a wash of emotions. I told them that I hoped the act was a "Joan of Arc" sort of historical import, but that you had to lobby to get into history, that if there is meaning in the universe, the act will be a milestone, if not, well, at least it was great guerilla theater. Lynn was donating her Catonsville nine materials to the library where it would be available for study. The main library in Baltimore- the Enoch Pratt- also had a small C-9 web site.
+Visiting Phil in Jail, Towson, Md. (a version of this was published in the Baltimore Sunpapers) (I am proud of that fact because I have not published very often. The fact that they ran it means it has been edited- and to find a good editor? that's half the trick with writing- prose or poetry!)
I visit my old friend, Father Phil Berrigan, at the Baltimore County Jail on Saturday, 2/12/'2000. He is there for an attack with three others on A-10 warplanes, nicknamed "warthogs" at the Lockheed Martin National Guard airfield out Eastern Avenue on December 19, 1999 To Phil, the warthog is an "engine of hell".
This most recent protest concerned a topic of special interest to Phil these days- the use of depleted uranium, for the airplanes he and his friends demonstrated against use this substance in their munitions, used it in the Iraq and Kosovo conflicts because it has greater penetrating power. When this substance fragments into a dust it has long lasting injurious medical effects. In a position paper on the subject that was given to the Sunpapers after the recent arrest, P states that we Americans are still having a love affair with nuclear weapons: "Certainly, in a 55 year old love affair with the bomb, Americans have not measured the cost of this idolatry- spiritual numbing, social denial, moral paralysis. Certainly a $19 trillion price tag since 1940 for past, present and future wars suggests our addiction to war and bloodshed." And here Phil quotes the Bible: "Your heart is where your treasure is." Is this how we Americans want to be remembered? For treasuring war and violence?
Phil may not be a member of the Catholic Josephite order as he was when I first met him, but he is still a priest. For me he is and always will be a "father figure" since he was a mentor to me before and when we poured blood together at the Baltimore Customs House in 1967 to protest the Vietnam war and later when we spent a month or two sharing a jail cell (at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary). Phil was my third "father figure" for after my own father, the great civil rights leader, Walter Carter, another outstanding Baltimorean, had been a mentor of mine.
At that time I worked at the Baltimore City Jail (called Detention Center) at Fallsway and Madison street. In 1971 I spent a total of 21 months in jail not as an employee but as an inmate (for the blood pouring). It always interests me to just go into another jail as well as visit an old friend. I know jails and prisons well. In part, I owe my criminal justice career to Phil.
The Baltimore County jail is a clean, well lighted place- new compared to our old City Jail (unless you count the new Central Booking building at Fallsway and Madison). On this day, the visiting room is antiseptically empty. Phil appears behind one of the glass partitioned cubicles.
My old friend Phil- Phil the prophet. I am somewhat awestruck for I grew up in the church and I always think of the biblical figures as a bit larger than life. Of course they weren't. They too, ordinary people, sat in holding areas, waiting for the Roman or Israeli state's next move. In the book of Matthew in the Bible, Chapter 13, Jesus teaches using various parables: At one point he says, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and his own house". Luckily for us here in Baltimore, Maryland the other part of this quote from the book of Matthew, referring to Jesus, does not apply ( "He did not do many deeds of power there because of their unbelief)," for Phil has, in my opinion, despite our unbelief, done us quite a few deeds of power here close to us. We are fortunate, if only from a literary standpoint. Never let it be said that the day of heroes is past, or that we don't have positive role models like they did in the Bible.
Of course these are not "deeds of power" to every one- but to me, let me explain in a bit- they ARE still acts of power. To many these are very controversial and, indeed, wrongful acts. Phil feels he is following a higher, moral law (although weapons like these are also outlawed by various laws that ARE actually on the books such as the Hague and Geneva Conventions), and he and his friends will argue that in court.
I want to refresh my understanding of Phil. I pretty much know why, but again I want to ask him, what makes you do these acts of civil disobedience, so hard for the average person (like myself) to do the first time, let alone continue doing them? Phil has done many actions like the one at Martin Marietta since our blood pouring on S. Gay street in 1967, and as a result has spent approximately 10 years in prison!
I tell him I don't mind going in and out of jail every day (because I work there), but I like to go home at night, i.e., sleep in my own bed.
Phil is a striking looking individual-at 76 he is tall and handsome and, to me, seems to look the part of prophet/ hero with his dignified white hair. In 1998 he was nominated for the Nobel peace prize.
He makes me think of those great prophets of the Bible, Amos and Hosea, or, with his craggy looks, another great activist, albeit violent- John Brown, another person who acted strongly in Maryland.
While Phil, is not totally without honor in this- his home base, he does not, to my liking, get enough exposure. I would have thought more would have been done for him and his comrades around the Martin Luther King holiday- for if any one exemplifies Martin's teachings- color aside- it is Phil Berrigan. In an article on King of / /2000, Colman McCarthy writes that King's "uncompromising, contrarian devotion to nonviolence is often forgotten".
But, back to my quest- what makes Phil tick, what gives him the "juice", that power of conviction so many of us lack? Well, you might answer, we have several very fine composers in Baltimore at this very moment, do we have a future Johann Sebastian Bach? That is to say, geniuses - and P is a genius of Ghandian non-violent civil disobedience, mark my words. Such persons are rare! These actions take a lot of courage and self sacrifice.
Is there a psychological component to it? a la Freud did Phil like his mother and hate his father and therefore want to rebel against authority? He smiles, "my parents, Dave, were like yours (and Phil had met my parents). They were loving...my father was a union organizer."
There is an element in Phil that revels in "no nonsense", he actually enjoys pointing out the truth. He revels in it. Also, there is a good deal of anger and the resulting scorn, seeing how far short most other persons fall! One of the gestures I associate with him is the shrug: he sees so much around him that is bogus, he sees the weakness of human behavior transparently. It is not a shrug of despair, rather one that says, "Well this is going to be a hard struggle". Generally, however, he is quite modest about his motivations; he tells me, "Dave, it's the killing".
I ask his wife, Elizabeth, does she think that Phil is an uncommon, a rare person. "No", she says bluntly. Well, why then do so few commit ongoing strong acts of non-violent civil disobedience? I get the feeling Liz has been asked this before, as she responds, "That's a question they have to ask themselves."
Phil would say that he responds to the issues in the way he does because it's only logical. And yet, having done the same thing myself at one time, it is still hard for me to see how he can CONTINUE to do these things- they take a lot of courage and self sacrifice.
In a letter I get from Phil in prison, he informs me, in answer to my basic question: "What makes our ilk" (typical Phil turn of phrase) "tick. I guess it's faith in Jesus and obedience to His command: 'Follow me!' - death to self, confronting systemic evil. I'm no better than the next guy w the above, but I work at it." You can imagine how I treasured this note.
After hearing a lecture at the Hubble Space Telescope on the event (when a meteor crashed into the atmosphere above New Zealand) and seeing the film "Deep Impact" about an asteroid crashing into earth causing an Extinction Level Event, I realized another thing about Phil: he sees the fragility of life and fights to protect it- he sees the basic value- love of fellow, love of wife, love of children, family, the family of humans. Would that other so called "leaders", like George Bush or Al Gore had some inkling, some clue. I came to think that so much of those passing for personalities on the world stage were possibly sociopathic egotists, seeking a "moment in the fun", fame, wealth or power for often ignoble, even psychotic reasons. Normal persons, persons like Phil (like me even, modestly thinking) never "got any play". Absurdists, comics come closest to the truth.
Normal persons live their lives- they do not pontificate, do not endlessly explain, do not hurt others, etc. etc. This is a reason why Chopin and Rachmaninoff should be played quietly, rapidly, with no fuss, no banging- delicacy is an attribute that personages want. I'm not sure that protest is normal to most humans- but, backed into a corner we will fight- or, in our case, educated to hate injustice, we may act on our sense of outrage.
I cannot help but think of the violence in Baltimore and be glad that Phil is here and I also think of another revolutionary- although this one was not non- violent- and how no one has particularly mentioned him either during black history month- Nat Turner. He acted the way he did in his uprising against slavery in part because of the Bible. The good book, as we say.
Tactically I wonder, what does Phil hope to achieve with these sorts of actions? I know that he sees going to jail as very important, and yet many criticize him saying that going to jail makes more sense in a time of upheaval, helps more to build a movement. Persons like Phil stand out more during the upheaval periods. The anti-war movement was practically non-existent during both the Iraq and Kosovo conflicts.
But...here's the BIG but- it was there- there WAS a peace movement- small as it was, and there still is! Phil is still interested in building a movement.
With former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark to defend him, Phil's trial (date yet to be set) should be quite an event don't you think? And yet, given all our happy mood in these happy times (well, maybe not for all), it may sink from view like a stone beneath the glassy surface (Ms. ? added "glassy")- getting minimal coverage.+
A "Festival of Hope"
On 3/19/2000 I attend a "Festival of Hope" in Catonsville, a program arranged by Jonah House for persons coming into town for Phil's trial which begins tomorrow in Towson. Tom Lewis is there and I get him to autograph a book I have just purchased from Southpaw Press- Trial Poems by Dan Berrigan with illustrations concocted by Tom when he was at the Towson Jail after the Catonsville action. Tom is kind enough to draw a picture of me as we wait for the meal; I look somewhat like Blake's "Ghost of a Flea" head- but nothing like myself. The function is warm and reassuring- with about 200 peaceniks, many from out of state, and with many old friends present. The program reminds me of the sixties, with an opening procession of de rigueur peace puppets: weeping women and giant skeleton in an Uncle Sam hat. But the speakers are refreshing enough- with one telling us about depleted uranium and other legal fine points; Liz McCallister and her daughter, Frida are there, and Father Richard McSorley, now 85. Frida speaks amusingly of Phil's letters from jail- one of which he signed, "Phil (Dad)". She jokes about Phil's choice of such words as "satrap" and kids about the phrasing those of us who get his letters all know such as "I'm sitting here is this dustbin" (meaning the jail) or "dumpster" as he termed it in his most recent letter to me. John Dear speaks kind words of his fellow Jesuit, Ned Kelly, who is one of the four protesters in the County Jail. The mc jokes that John is known as G'Johndi in that his adherence to non-violence is so pure. The evening is full of good food and humor and there are several little kidlees running around- rather well behaved at that! One of the little girls has a paper mache butterfly at the end of a stick and she strikes me a fitting symbol of the whole event- she is arrestingly cute and positive.
Another Catonsville Reunion
There is a screening of a new film by my new friend, Lynn Sachs, at the Md. Film Festival- May 3rd, 2001. Several of the nine were going to be there, so I could revisit my own mixed feeling about this wonderful demonstration once more.
This takes place at the Senator Theatre on on York Road. I am invited to take part in a panel discussion after the film is shown (as well as on the 5th at the Charles Theatre)- but I, wisely, say nothing on Thursday. With Bill O'Connor and George Mische and Steve Sachs on the panel, there's really no need for me to get a word in edgewise- they have a lot that is good to say.
Lynn's film: "Investigation of a Flame", is delicate and understated. Lynn intersperses moments of near abstraction- the colors of leaves or flowers- azaleas or fall maples in Catonsville and buckwheat flowers from the Baja where she interviewed Tom and Marjorie Melville. These interspersions make the film more artistic, more painterly. To me, having been close to the action of the 9 and all its intensity, the artistic interspersions in the film give room to breathe. They seem almost like prayer- they draw you into the film, which is basically interviews with some very verbal and opinionated people (such as myself). Lynn after all is a film maker- she emphasizes the visual, and so does this film, even though it is a documentary. After the Saturday showing, Bill O'Connor (as usual the critic) faults the film and rightly so for not being straight ahead radical enough, not being more of a propaganda film. But Lynn points out that she has put both sides into the film- not just our side but the prosecutor's, Steve Sachs and the draft board clerk, Ms. Murphy's- so that the audience can decide for itself, to make the film more interesting, to put tension into the film. The film is not preachy- and that's good. Thus it stands a better chance of drawing in others than ourselves!
George Mische tells me he got a "chuckle" out of my kind thoughts bout Lynn's film (being a mild put down, I guess); his character looms large for me at the premiere as it has in life- he is there from St. Cloud, Minnesota with his wife Helene. George is a larger than life figure with an abrupt, blustery, gruff, and opinionated manner one could quite easily find annoying were it not for the fact that he is right much of the time and has a warm heart underneath. He seems to have thought of a witty rejoinder before you have even spoken to him (I jokingly call him Mr. Charisma).
He certainly figures large in my life, having helped me find a job down in D.C. with his National Committee on Criminal Justice and Law when I first split from Louise back in 1974 or so. He may beat me to the thunder I feel in writing a book on the draft board actions- but he is definitely the one to do it, he took part in organizing so many. Besides- as of 2009- my memoirs are free to all on the web. Just credit me if you take anything.
George points out how the government had jacked up the value of files destroyed by our blood pouring- hence making our "crimes" felonies rather than misdemeanors and that when he realized during our trial that they didn't keep copies of files- "well, let's burn them" was a thought that led to the Catonsville action.
George and Bill O'C sometimes reminded me of types who might turn on their fellow revolutionaries and kill them as had Robbespiere in the French Revolution, but maybe that's putting it too harshly. Bill O'C is another "abrupt" one- at times he hs been very rude to me and undeservingly so; I feel George is more my friend, and have always felt grateful from the days when I split from Louise; he even "fixed me up" with a date one time back in those Adams Morgan days on Lanier Place. He certainly helped launch my career in criminal "justice"
George made the excellent point he has reiterated over the years- that many persons participated in many actions- that we should not just focus on the Berrigans, not merely focus on martyrish self purification, that there are many ways to be a dissenting protester and that persons should rely on themselves rather than mythic style heroes.
After attending our blood pouring trial, George realized that there were no copies of files- "well, let's burn them" After the blood pouring George had lived in a communal style house in D.C. and he points out that of the others living there, many went on to future draft board actions. George tells me that he "split" with the Berrigans on that very point when he went west to organize and that he told Paul Mayer- another activist much involved at the time that we needed persons to stay out of jail and speak to the media and educate, etc. That is Paul took part in an action, he, George would be pissed. Then, he tells me Paul did participate in several actions.
Again, there are a few persons who make a big point out of the devisiveness between George and the Berrigans, but nine member, John Hogan tells me not to "let it worry me". There are so few persons who are willing to do what the Berrigans do in the first place, I figure, that is what Tom Lewis and Dan and Phil and Liz and Jonah House and the Plowshares activists do, that we should applaud them and support them. Besides, it is a great tactic- a great educational tool
In the film, Phil makes the point that he can best relate to the poor when he is in jail- and will continue to go in until he dies! Maybe others could relate to them best as I do going into the jail for eight hours every day- or as Brendann Walsh does every day from his Catholic Worker "Viva House" soup kitchen down in the ghetto every day on Mount Street?
George also makes good points about building a movement and how many persons other than Dan and Phil took part in the draft actions which came "full circle" with the Camden 28. He tells how the jury, practicing jury nullification, acquitted the 28. George had drunk at a bar across the street from the courthouse with the Judge and the prosecutor, and both of them were in favor of the protesters! In George's usual I-know-the-behind-the-scenes-juicy-stuff manner, he states that the government infiltrator in this action had, upon orders from Erhlichman and Haldeman at the western White house, furthered the action. Hopefully, George will tell the story in his own book about this infiltrator's further misfortunes, a son impaled when he fell on a fence (similar to a scene in the horror movie "Omen II")?
In other words, we helped build a movement that saw, by the end of the war, many more persons agreeing with us- even in the field where GIs "fragged" their officers and B-52 crews refused to fly missions and veterans threw their medals away (Dewey Canyon demonstration)!!
Bill O'Connor became the Sir Thomas More expert of the ceremonies, rebutting prosecutor Steve Sachs who was also on the panel. Sachs had repeatedly quoted More on the supremacy of the law, how the law is sacred, and he had a goodly segment in Lynn's film quoting from the Robert Bolt play, "A Man for All Seasons". Sachs called More the patron saint of lawyers. But Bill did him one better, stating that he (Sachs) had not only been a slow learner at the time of the Catonsville trial, he obviously had learned nothing since! Bill had seemingly read up on More in anticipation of this very event and quoted him at length on how the rich rip off the poor and other radical passages-I believe from Utopia. A bit later I did some research of my own on More to discover that More himself (although a great wit and writer) comes across as a bit of a sophist, so devoted to his understanding of the Catholic Church that he bizarrely stood on principle (refusing to swear allegiance to King Henry) when he could easily have saved his own life- a puritannical person who relished the burning of Protestant heretics (what does this refer to?). But then too, in the context of his times, I had to admit that More was a man of principal- willing to die for his conscience- a man of conviction. But the patron saint of lawyers? For that, better some one who would do anything for money- like Judas. Steve was the perfect politician and lawyer- two professions whose members will, indeed, have to squeeze though the needles eye to get into heaven. If the law is created by humans, it is bound to be erroneous and therefore bound to need changing! Of course More probably thought the Roman Pope to be Gods spokesman, a ludicrous enough idea in its own right. In the passage that Steve quoted from the Robert Bolt play, A Man for All Seasons, More is talking to Roper about Im glad I didnt live in those days.
In his magisterial, professorial (and somewhat pompous) style Bill went on (and I really wasn't bored) at length on Thursday's and Saturday's panel- although by the time we got to Saturday I was actually relieved that he only discussed three of the six points he said he was going to bring to our attention (he seemed to relish saying how he would make "six points" as if we were in a class taking notes). I had my picture taken with Steve and told him at the reception that I was going to read "A Man for All Seasons" and Thomas More's own works and prove him wrong. At one point late in the party I brushed by Steve and made a, to me, memorable joke, "What would Sir Thomas More say?..." and got a laugh out of my old enemy. Steve is not on the 2nd panel at the Charles Theater on May 5th, and I joke with Bill that Sachs makes a good foil- we should hire him to accompany us. Maybe Thomas More would have told Steve that in order to save his own soul, he should have, in conscience, refused to prosecute the C 9?
A more significant photo in my scrap book is the one I had taken with Ms. Alva Grubb; I really believe Ms. Grubb "stole the show" in Lynn's movie, for she showed the most emotion on our behalf. She had sat on the jury that found we four blood pourers guilty, but broke down in tears in Lynn's film as she said she had actually agreed with us (in her heart). I realized that the peace movement has a lot of educating to do to get such persons to act on their gut, their "heart" (which is after all really their brain). Ms. Grubb had gone along with a pushy male jury foreman- maybe the guy I had met at the soccer game? (see page?) I had already spoken with Ms. Grubb on the phone (Lynn had told me about her). After all we were "guilty" of destroying files (although I think not really since they could easily be cleaned). In the film she states admiringly that we made decisions that would change our lives and that Phil had the courage to keep on doing so. Lynn Sachs also stated that this had interested her to make the film- how people can make such momentous decisions. I realized that I had changed my life, but had done it realizing that I probably could regain position in society because I knew I was right and would be exonerated (also I had obtained a pardon from Reagan). Had I known of it at the time I would have offered her the following quote, which was sent me out of the blue from a person I bought some Bach cantata scores on ebay: "One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum". -Sir Walter Scott
Ms. Murphy, who had been the clerk of the Catonsville draft board and was now in her nineties, was in the film and the audience on May 3rd. She has (pathetically) maintained a strict anti- communist, patriotic position- i.e., I was only looking out for my files and my boys attitude throughout the years. She still opposed us. Her son took part in the panel in her place. He pointed out that she was pretty traumatized and cut up that day (trying to hold on to her! files)(the fact that the nine sent her flowers and an apology card is in Lynn's film). He also stated that the files the nine burned were actually 4-F files (that is disqualified due to physical disability) and that burning them caused difficulties for the 4-F persons who had to re-register. Was this so much lying propaganda on his part? This was shades of what happened to us in the blood pouring demonstration when I made a point of going to the 1-A files (qualified for induction) because I knew they were the important ones, i.e. due for call up, from being a draft counselor. Tom Lewis states that he remembers some 1-A files burned at Catonsville!
I had seen the action at the earlier "reunion" at Goucher and found it to be very moving in its entirety just as it was shot by the TV cameras present, but Lynn has broken the action up with interspersions of interviews and snippets of abstract colors and footage of astronauts on the moon and footage she had gotten from a person in Catonsville- of demonstrators at the C 9 trial, as well as home movies of his sons in boy scout uniforms and also veterans day marches in Catonsville.
One person makes the excellent point that Lynn's film is especially good with the panel discussion afterwards and questions and answers. Phil wrote me from prison when I sent him some photos stating the obvious point that Lynn's politics were hardly "up to the level of the 9's".
George reminded me after the Saturday panel of Bob Malecki, now living in Sweden, whom we met in jail and who took part in many draft file actions, If he did some 100 of them, no wonder hes in Sweden,
Over all I am reminded that things are "slipping away", time slip slipping away, surely as the brilliant red, green azaleas of Catonsville and yellow buckwheat of the Baja (where she interviewed the Melvilles) bob up and down in Lynn's film, surely as the chrysanthemums shone brightly around the Pentagon when Norman Morrison burned himself to death (one person asks me what I thought of that); George and Steve ask after Mengel (the fourth member of our blood pouring action)- does any one know what has happened to him? I have to answer, no, in fact, no one that I know does know. I realize after all is over that I have asked no one about their children- not George, not Tom, not Marjorie. I have had no one over to my house. And after all that these persons have done for me? George runs into Jim later in Minnesota and he and I have re-established contact as of 2011).
Poem on Morrison
A scant month or so afterwards, Timothy Mcveigh is executed for blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, and I am struck by the difference between our destruction of property (Some property has no right to exist-does Mcveigh create a "slippery slope"?) and his so willing destruction of human (even childrens') lives. I feel it's too bad no one like Phil ever had a talk with him, for he seemed like a pretty smart guy. He had been a soldier for capitalism in the Gulf War and brought his training home. One has to question government tactics at Waco and Ruby Ridge. McVeigh plainly a "lone wolf" with no educated knowledge of right and left issues- and yet- did the militia movement negotiate with the FBI re the Monatna freemen- as author ?- states- telling the FBI that if they did not negotiate there would be attacks on law officers? SHADES OF GREY! same author talks about the 2nd amendment applying to the possession of guns- not the regulation of same!
A somewhat related debate on tactics? At a Faith and Resistance Retreat in DC in 2009- Liz discusses the case of Helen Woodson with George Vesey (Helen is still in prison- she had been a steadfast resister from her Plowshares action even walking out the front gate at Alderson, until, after one relase she went into a bank with a starter pistol- which Liz rightly criticizes.) (Apparently, she had taken the money and made a fire of it in the lobby, saying- "This is what you worship- money!" which we would all agree- was inspiring). Like Rubin and Hoffman's demonstration tossing money on Wall Street.
After a bit, Lynn sends me a copy of the interview she conducted w me- I come across as a rude windbag (like George and Bill)- cutting off her questions, talking over her, going on endlessly about poetry and resistance- not that I don't say some good things. What is L trying to accomplish with the extreme close up- you see my eyes, bits of my face, my hair, but never me as a person sitting on the couch.
I realize how pathetic the legal arguments at the time were- especially those by the prosecution- but also those by the nines lawyers- Kunstler and Buchman. A book about their father is published by the Kunstler daughters in 2009- Bill was a "trip", but, as a lawyer for us, he needed to tell the jury- in more direct ways- that they held the key. By acquitting the nine a wonderful precedent could have been set concerning property that has no right to exist. O well- live and learn. John Hogans comparison of the nine throwing themselves between a runaway car and a child seemed especially telling and Dans rhetoric was sometimes impressive- he states that the public order is a massive disorder. He notes that the boxes of burnt files produced in court are about the sizes of childrens coffins, etc., he adds the poetic touch.
And Yet Another Reunion- 2/27/2002 (I have a video tape of this)
I prepared remarks for yet another showing of Lynns film at the Catonsville Community College on 2/27/�?. The showing and panel discussion had been organized by an old friend- Professor Mike Sanow, who had been in the same mens consciousness raising group as myself back in the early eighties. After the film I took the stage sitting between John Murphy, son of Mrs. Murphy who had been the clerk of the Catonsville draft board at the time of the action and, on the other side of all people, my old buddy, Steve Sachs. Of the 9, Phil Berrigan, who had gotten out of prison in December was there , and Tom Melville, who had flown all the way from the Baja. The room was almost filled- maybe over one hundred people- mostly students but with some people from the surrounding Catonsville community as well. Ms. Grubb, member of the jury for our blood pouring trial, Joe Nawroski, a Vietnam vet, and Lynn Sachs were on the panel as well.
Thinking ahead to the panel I had tried to put myself in the shoes of some one of age for the draft and realized thatnow there is no draft. But, they did have to register. Did they want to take that step that would put them in harms way in the next conflict. Get involved, I told them: Pick a bad law and go break it. Its good to go to jail. Its educational.
I had spoken with our Thomas More expert, Bill OConnor, the morning of the panel, thinking I could cut Sachs off at the pass and steal some of the rule of law, sanctity of law arguments I felt sure he would make. This time I would be ready for him. Steve liked to wonder that if everybody did what the nine had done there would be anarchy- wouldnt people who opposed the nine then have the right to go burn down anti-war offices, etc? Well, I pointed out- if law protects bad power, or bad wealth, then it should be changed. The law changes over time. Anti integrationist Governor, George Wallace broke the law, yes, but then the civil rights protesters came along and also broke bad laws and built a movement that achieved change for the better. The golden rule: Them that has the gold makes the rules. Look at the law from that perspective.
I pointed out that I liked Lynns film- especially the flashes of flowers. It was not a heavy political film, it did not pretend to be- Lynn was more an artistic than a political person, but the film aroused good discussion, especially accompanied with a panel such as the one we were on.
I mentioned that there was a strong religious element in the nine action; that old hymn with the stirring words (and it didnt hurt that the music was also grand): By the light of burning martyrs, Jesus bleeding feet I track (although the way I repeated it made no sense- Jesus bleeding track I tread) (see Daves remake) . Also: For no greater love doth a man (or woman) have than s/he lay down his/her life for his her brother.
It was good to hear Phil hold forth again; he was as usual lordly, authoritative, stentorian (and I use these words in a positive sense). He pointed out re Steves arguments about the law that Pope John had said, Nations and governments are as liable to moral law as are individuals. Also that M. L. King had said A bad law is no law.
Other bits of interest on that day? Phil pointed out that, to him, our blood pouring had been too misunderstood, the fire of Catonsville was needed by way of clarification. He also pointed out that women had been invited to participate in the nine action so that the female clerks (i.e. Ms. Murphy, who had recently passed away and whose son sat beside me) would not be so threatened by the male members of the nine. Then had been genuinely sorry that one of the clerks (Mrs Murphy?) had her hand or finger cut trying to hold on to the wastepaper basket in which they were carting the files off. They had sent an Im sorry card to Ms. Murphy from jail- this is shown in the film. Mrs. Murphys son said that after the premier of Lynns film at the Senator Theatre, which I had attended, at the reception at the Evergreen Mansion, some of the nine had come up to his mother and apologized again- and that it had moved her deeply. As an activist herself it must have grated on her terribly to be considered a war criminal. She was exactly the type of person the 9 were trying to reach- and reach her they did. Here again- the all important point of education- how you reach people, how they change if they are opposed to you!
Joe Nawroski, who had served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam from ��-67, made excellent comments from the perspective of the Vietnam vets. He pointed out that there were different worlds existing at the time- where I came from- the blue collar neighborhoods of Dundalk, Essex, indeed, Catonsville- everybody went to Vietnam. We did not see it from the perspective of the nine. Joe talks about blue sky thinking- that it is good to see Americans supporting our current war effort and that something must be done in response to guys who would fly jet fuel laden planes in the World Trade Center towers. A line must be drawn. Agreed.
Steve Sachs got a pretty good drubbing from us and the audience as well. His weak defenses were starting to show. He pointed out that he had not been the prosecutor of the nine-0 rather of us four blood pourers- but, of course, he had been in charge of the office even though underlings did the actual prosecuting. He pointed out that the parents of boys dying in Vietnam- parents in Catonsville in fact would demand no less of him that he prosecute us as traitors. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him. I thought afterwards that I should have asked him about my fathers string pulling behind the scenes- his efforts to get probation for me by going through the furrier, Mano Schwartz to influence Judge Northrup.
A black fellow in the audience stood up and asked us what we thought of World War II? I misheard him and thought he was talking about Vietnam. Had I understood, I would have said that, and I had heard this earlier the same day on the radio, that when the black G Is returned from the fronts and fighting in W W II, they were not about to tolerate the same old Jim Crow that greeted them. If they had risked their lives overseas, they could damn well risk them here. Thus- the beginnings of the civil rights movement!
I call Bill O Connor the next day to report of the goings on. He tells me about a couple of good quotes in General McArthurs book The Warfare State. Our government has kept us in a continual state of war fever and, Can global war be outlawed from the world? Bill tells me that Phil does not like Lynns film- that his word for it is shallow.