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Courage Sister, you do not walk alone
|November 14, 2001
Dear friends and family members,
Tomorrow I board a plane bound for the School of the Americas protest at Fort Benning, Georgia. On Sunday I will be joining other peacemakers in a procession wherein we will trespass onto the Military Base and risk arrest. It may be that we will be ignored altogether, or be detained by the Columbus City police before we even cross over the property line. It may be, however, that we succeed in entering the Base only to be promptly arrested by the military police. If that happens, I along with my fellow protesters, may face trespassing charges, a trial, and up to six months in a Federal prisonÖ
Toni Flynn was arrested along with several others on November 18, 2001, for processing around a fence and onto the property of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. She was handcuffed, photographed, finger printed, and detained at the Base for several hours and then released. In April, 2001, she and 43 other protesters received notice to appear before Judge Faircloth in Columbus on July 8 for a trial and sentencing.
On July 12, 2002, Judge Faircloth sentenced Toni to six months time in a Federal facility. She reported immediately and is now incarcerated at Crisp Co Jail in Cordele, Georgia.
Crisp Co. Jail Advent
Itís a dark evening in Advent. Everything ñ every event, every observation, every thought, every prayer, is reduced to smallness. There are no big stories for me to tell you from this tiny pinpoint upon which I have been balancing since last summer. I remain confined in this jail, a prisoner-of-conscience, invisible to the rest of the world, locked within my cell for 23 out of every 24 hours of each day.
The destinations to which I am escorted during my one hour ìoutî vary according to a loosely enforced schedule and the whims of the jail staff. Some days Iím taken to the courtyard where I walk round and round. Other days, it could be to the library, the visitation room, the chapel, the doctorís in-house office.
No matter; the smallness follows me wherever I go in here Ö
Crisp Co. Jail, August 2002
The message from my friend Alice came to me over the telephone and shattered my spirits. ìBrace yourselfî, she warned, as she informed me that the Federal Marshals and the Regional Bureau of Prisons had dictated that I would not be transported to a California facility near my home. Rather, I was to remain here in this dreary jail and far from friends, family, and my fellow protesters.
The concept of living on the pin point of cell block D-3 for five more months was more that I could bear. I curled up in my bunk and stayed there for 24 hours, missing all three of my meagre institutional meals and neglecting my shower needs. My fellow inmates, who had grown used to me holding a novel in my hand, praying before eating my food, writing at the day room table, and playing cards, wondered about my suddenly reclusive behaviour. I didnít care. I wanted to sleep and forget my fate.
The next day, Alice showed up as my visitor. I didnít really want to see her. Rather, I didnít want her to see me. I had changed from a valiant peace protester into a broken jail inmate. My eyes had dark circles around them, my hair was unkempt, my skin was lacklustre and pale. But knowing she had driven two and a half hours just to spend 45 minutes with me, I accepted the visit. Ö
Upon returning to my cell, I fell into another funk. Ö My mind was reeling about this jail and the injustices that abound ñ the lack of human concern on the part of the Correctional Officers and even amongst the women. Our captors are virtually invisible, so minimal is their contact with us. We hear their footsteps in the corridors outside our closed, locked door, and the clanging sound of their keys dangling from their waist belts. We see their rubber-gloved hands when they open the horizontal hinged slat through which they pass us our food trays, our mail, our medicine. We listen ñ obey ñ their commands made to us over a loud speaker system. And, unless we raise a ruckus, we rarely see them full-bodied and face to face.
And ruckuses do break out between the women. Pushing, shoving, slapping, hair pulling, and mostly verbal abuse occur at regular intervals throughout any given week. At first it terrified and appalled me. But now I think I understand (though I still shudder). How else can they feel any sort of strength or power except to ìone upî their own? The staff is remote, indifferent, and out of sight; the judges, lawyers, juries are all in the distant past; the society that deems addiction a crime and not an illness is unreachable and has already won its hand against them. And so, they turn on each other when things get too painful to bear. Or completely withdraw, as I was beginning to do.
It dawned on me that I was being called to make a choice Ö to succumb to depression or to rise up and show concern in whatever small ways this limited world of ìjailî would allow, for myself and the eight women in my confined company. I pulled myself from bed, showered and combed my hair, remembering my body as part of the larger Mystical Body. When dinner arrived, I woke the newly arrived woman up and offered her a seat next to mine. The kitchen had not yet received her name and she had no tray. I offered her my salad and bread. Ö ìEatî, I urged, ìit will helpî.
Crisp Co. Jail, October 26, 2002
Day 106 of 182 days
8:00 am: Just finished an hour of yoga and ìliteî aerobics Ö Got my headphones on, listening to Public Radio. Outside my window Ö mist; everything is enveloped in gray.
9:00 am: Sorting through my mail. Iíve sent hundreds of letters home and have accumulated a couple of hundred more ñ about 80 are as yet unanswered. In addition to praying intercessory prayers, Iíve committed myself to answering all my mail, even if only a few lines to express gratitude. If I didnít already believe in a loving God, Iíd certainly be in the midst of major conversion Ö so many people, strangers, friends, family, sending word to me, ìcourage, sister, you do not walk alone Öî One stack of letters is from Catholic nuns. Some taught me in grammar school! And high school too! Another stack is from people Iíve never met Ö from everywhere! All over! Australia, the US, Canada, England, Ireland, Guatemala. Did I ever imagine these connections? Thereís an Irish hermit nun who lives alone on a hill in Co. Leitrim, Ireland Ö a pig farmer in Iowa ÖThe Body of Christ, filling this jail cell, this 10 ft. X 4 ft. space.
11.00 am: Walking round and round in the courtyard. Only two of us out there, my cellmate and I. The mist is tickling my face. Iím praying a rosary for peace, fingering the beads intently, as if the rotations and prayerful repetitions might really help prevent a war. As if Ö if only. From here, prayer is the only peacemaking I can offer. That and the loss of my freedom, the voluntary surrender of my body for the sake of Godís community Ö
12 noon: Lunch is a drag. Gooey white bread, processed cheese. No orange today. No carrots either. I take a bite, pondering on the consequences of saying ìyesî to God.
2 pm: Lying on my bunk. Reading Marianne Elliotts The Catholics of Ulster Ö
4 pm: Later afternoon. The mist has dissipated. The sun casts long shadows. Thank you, God, for the gift of my narrow window. And for my shadow stall. I shampoo my hair and shower. The water pours out of the nozzle in spasms. First icy cold. Then scalding hot. Jail showers are not about comfort.
5 pm: Another ìB&Bî dinner. My cellmate and I refer to the sorry fact that everything on our plate is either ìbeige or brownî brown beans, beige potatoes, brown gravy, beige biscuits.
8:00 pm: Back on my bunk ñ more radio (thank God for that comfort) Ö Iím growing homesick for my family. My tiny new grandson, Andrew James, has been breathing air, sleeping, eating, and crying for all of a week now and Iíve not laid eyes on him in person, let alone held him in my arms. His picture is glued to my wall with toothpaste. I gaze at his image. Ö Iím 3,000 miles from home.
10:00 pm: My cellmate is listening to Fox News Live on TV.
11.00 pm: Lights are lowered (theyíre never turned off). TV is silent for now (thanks be to God!) Iím covering myself with the thin, hole-ridden coverlet issued me upon my arrival months ago. My long johns serve as pyjamas. Iím trying not to think about the predictable cold eggs and lumpy grits of tomorrowís 6am breakfast. A guard enters ñ I pretend to sleep. She flashes a light in my face and exits. The metal door clangs shut and her keys turn. Locked in. Iíll pray for her. Iíll pray for my cell mate. For all the prisoners Ö My children. My grandson Ö Perhaps Iíll chat with Jerry through the air vent tomorrow and read the Sunday Gospel with him. But thatís for another day. Now, to sleep.