John Dear SJ: Fr. Bill Bichsel’s ordeal: Cruel and inhuman punishment
June 1st, 2011
…since Obama’s inauguration, over 2,600 people have been arrested for similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and injustice, a stunning number given the total lack of media coverage on peace and justice movements. (Bill Quigley, in Common Dreams)
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling against California’s prison system as “cruel and inhuman punishment” was not a surprise — except in the sense that it was said publicly. Many of us who have experienced our criminal injustice system first hand know well how horrific it is. The court ruled that 35,000 California prisoners would have to be transferred or released because the system is so unjust.
The case sparked new discussion on overcrowded prisons (156,000 prisoners suffer in California prisons built for half that number), but it started years ago because of the atrocious lack of health care in California’s prisons. Many prisoners died needlessly over the years, usually because they were not given their medicine.
It’s not surprising either that our violent, imperial nation has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. The most recent figure says we have over 2,292,000 people in prison. The so-called “war on drugs” and mandatory sentencing laws against nonviolent offenders are partly to blame for this huge prison population.
Prison is bad for one’s health, to put it mildly. During my last stint in the Las Vegas Jail for the Creech 14 action, I was stunned as the woman in charge of the main admitting area where a hundred of us sat in chains or handcuffs, yelled at us and threatened us. Then, she ordered an officer to beat up one prisoner, and he threw him against the wall. Nobody blinked.
NCR – June 10, 2011
Certainly one of the worst places I’ve ever been is the Robeson County Jail in North Carolina near the South Carolina border. Built for 75 people, it held 400 people when I was there for a few weeks in 1993 for our Plowshares action. One human rights report claimed that over 25 people had died in the five years previous to my stay. Most of them had been denied medicine, and were simply found dead the next morning.
I remember an elderly man serving a year for a nonviolent offense that Philip Berrigan and I had befriended. He was in the cell across the hall from us. We occasionally talked. He told us of his heart condition. We saw pills delivered to him every day. About a month after our transfer to another jail, we received word that he had died. He had argued with a jailer, so the jailer did not give him his medicine, and he died that night.
This week, many of us will gather in San Francisco to celebrate the release of Franciscan Fr. Louie Vitale after his six months in prison for protesting the “School of Americas,” our U.S. assassination and terrorism school at Fort Benning, Ga. Louie’s in fine fettle, as determined as ever to do what he can to resist our wars and weapons. We go to honor his indomitable spirit (See: www.paceebene.org).
Last week the Nuke Resister [added updated link, but it comes from Common Dreams here – LaLa] reported that since Obama’s inauguration, over 2,600 people have been arrested for similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and injustice, a stunning number given the total lack of media coverage on peace and justice movements. As our prisons continue to worsen, it’s amazing that activists are willing to risk imprisonment for social change.
At the moment, some friends are currently languishing in Tennessee and Georgia jails for civil disobedience at the Y-12 nuclear complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn. (See: www.jonahhouse.org). This past weekend, one friend suffered severe chest pains and was refused medical help. We are hoping and praying for her healing, and mobilizing folks to work on her behalf.
Read the rest here.
Also follow this blog for updates on those in prison because of their actions for peace and humanity.