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Star Wars Prisoner of Conscience

By Jeff Dietrich  
  Jeff Dietrich is a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. He spent 6 months in jail in 2001 for trespassing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in protest at the National Missile Defense programme (known as Star Wars). We present here his court statement and some extracts from his letters.

Statement in Court

Yesterday, August 6, was Hiroshima Day. It is the day we remember the 250,000 men, women and children incinerated by the first nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima 56 years ago.

Twelve years after the end of the cold war there remain some 10,000 nuclear weapons world wide, still poised for the insanity of global destruction. The equivalent of a million Hiroshimas.

And rather than eliminate these insane weapons forever, our government has decided to maintain their viability by developing Star Wars. At a cost of $240 billion, Star Wars represents a theft from our nation's poor and hungry, from education, housing, health care and domestic improvement, for a system that willnot work. It is a violation of International Law. It is a violation of God's Law.

In protesting Star Wars, I fully realize that I broke the law. But in that context it is important to remember that all of the crimes committed by Adolph Hitler, from the bombing of civilians to the gassing of Jews, to the invading of non-aggressor nations, was sanctioned by German Law. I am here today, inspired by those courageous German law breakers: Dietrich Bonhoffer, Sophie Solle and Franz Jagerstatter, who chose to obey God's Law rather than Hitler's law.

I am inspired as well by that rich tradition of American law breakers: from the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights Marchers, and I call upon this great cloud of witnesses, dissenters, resisters and saints, to be here now. And I pray that God will give me courage to return to Vandenberg, and other places of death, in the spirit of these brave witnesses.

I consider what I did to be an act of conscience and I am fully prepared to serve the maximum sentence for that act. But it would be a violation of conscience for me to promise cooperation with fines or probation.



Kern County Jail

August 8, 2001

Dear Community:

Deepest gratitude to all the folks who showed up at court and even more gratitude for the ones who organized it. I was shocked and proud. In some ways, being in jail is the easiest part. All you have to do is focus on the "one thing." But on the outside this one thing has to be added on top of the myriad of other things. Humble gratitude for your love and support. It was a great day in court and who but fools and Catholic Workers would count it a success to receive the maximum sentence?

Love & Resistance, Jeff


Kern Co. Jail

Sunday, September 2, 2001

Dear Community,

"Hey, Superman, you doin' OK?" That's Oscar shouting across the entire dorm, checking in on me. He's a dark, swarthy Armenian who alludes to extensive Near-Eastern criminal connections and parades around the dorm with a kind of god-fatheresque grandiosity, checking in on all the action.

Now, I know you are laughing at the fact that anyone would call me, of all people, Superman. But it started when I first came in and I was doing a lot of physical exercising. In fact, I was doing more exercising than all of the really buffed-out guys, but still remained the possessor of the most underdeveloped physique this side of Woody Allen! The "Superman" name is just the result of Oscar's sense of irony, but it has stuck with me and continues to mystify all of the newcomers to the dorm.

But these days I feel less like Superman than at any time in my life. Though I continue to recover, I have been sick for almost two months. And for three weeks of that time I would describe my condition as extremely ill, with headaches, fever, malaise, and Iymphatic infection as well as localized infections on my hand, knees, buttocks, and in my nose. And while I have had extensive medical care with weekly doctor's appointments, multiple blood tests, and medication administered three times a day, I remain a bit skeptical of its actual quality, as it has taken almost two months to get a definitive diagnosis. It was only last Friday that the doctor told me that I was suffering from staph infection.

Now, if I did not have so many doctor friends, I would not know that staph is very dangerous and that even though I currently feel better, my continuing malaise, headache, and muscle pain could indicate that the infection remains dormant within my body and might reappear at a later date in a more virulent and resistant manifestation.

But that's the problem with doctors, and lawyers too. They are ethically required to inform you of the worst that could happen if you do not take their advice. "You might die; you will surely end up in jail." I miss my sessions with my tattooed prayer partner, Cisco. He would constantly remind me that nothing is in the hands of doctors or lawyers, or even courts or judges. Everything is always in God's hands. He always gave thanks for his life, even though he was in jail; for clothes to wear, even though it was a prison uniform; for food to eat, even though it was tasteless jail chow. And finally he gave thanks for the gift of his time in prison, for the lessons learned, the insights gained, and the revelation of God's special presence here amongst the imprisoned.

Unlike those of us born to middle-class privilege, the poor are not affected with a superman complex that leads one to expect the best quality health care or legal advice or education. They simply know, because they are without power or prerogative, that their only hope comes from God. The poor humble us with their profound recognition that life, precarious though it may be, is a gift from God that can be neither earned nor merited.

Thank you again to all who pray for me. Please know that I pray for you also in the recognition that "all will be well, all will be well, all will be very well."

My love and affection, Jeff


Sunday, September 9, 2001

The Hole, MDC-LA

Dear Community,

For the inmates at Kern Co. Jail, the rare transfer to MDC, or Metropolitan Detenbon Center, the relatively more humane Federal prison in Los Angeles, is an experience akin to the Ascension or Resurrection from the Dead. It is the quest for the Holy Grail a near religious experience striven for by all but attained by few.

"What could be better," I thought, as the deputies escorted me toward my new heavenly abode. After the requisite strip search: "Lift your feet, lift your nuts, squat and cough" and a change of uniform.

I did OK with the photo and finger prints and medical exam, but I flunked the work evaluation. "What do you mean you won't work," said the shocked interviewer. "I mean I am not going to work." "You know if you don't work, they'll send you to the hole," he said. I could feel heaven slipping through my fingers. I was sliding from paradise to the hole before I even reached the entry gates. "Do you mind if I ask why you won't work?"

I was feeling a little less committed than I actually sounded when I told him, "I am a political prisoner, not a criminal, and I refuse to cooperate in my incarceration." At least it sounded good.

I was quickly cuffed and escorted out by two burly guards who took me to the Administrative Segregation Unit, where I was placed in a tiny cell. They told me to strip and left me naked and alone. No clothes, no mattress, no pillow, no blanket. As I inspected the solitary piece of furniture in the room, a metal bed frame topped by a steel grate, I wondered what was the purpose of the brass fittings at each corner. And it suddenly struck me that they were anchors for four point restraints. "Whew! !," I thought. "This could be really difficult!" Fortunately, I was only there for ten minutes. But the time passed real slow. Re-cuffed and reuniformed, I was escorted to my new home, cell #643.

After the naked cell, anything would be a step up, but cell 643 was almost coy. There were books and magazines in footlockers, a calendar and pictures on the wall, coffee, tea, and candy bars in various containers around the small desk, and even a radio playing country western tunes.

Jimmy, the owner and architect of cell 643, was not thrilled with a new roommate so soon after ridding himself of his last pesky tenant. "The guy was suicidal," said Jimmy. "And when I offered to help him with the project, the cops took him outta here and then they charged me with threatening an inmate with bodily harm. Those cops got no sense of humor."

It's still something of a mystery to me but a short time later I was removed from cell 643, I think perhaps because some administrator figured Jimmy might hurt me. But quite the opposite. Before I left he gave books, magazines, paper and pen all of the basics for my new life in the hole.

Now I am alone in this tiny 12x7 steel-plated cell with toilet, bed, and desk. I never made it to the heaven of MDC where privilege and comfort abound. But it is the same in jail as in life; they bribe you with privileges and coerce you with threats, to force you to cooperate with injustice and turn a blind eye to the power of death at work in the world.

Now I am in the hole, the lowest you can go, a kind of hell you might say, where they keep the fuck ups; the ones who cannot make it even in jail; the recalcitrant, the uncooperative, the anti-social.

But this is also the kind of Spartan, monk-like cell where I am certain that they must have kept Dietrich Bonhoffer, Sophie Solle, and Franz Jagerstatter. And now in this place of desolation and freedom, I find that I "ain't got nothing else to lose."

Love & Resistance, Jeff

September 11, 2001

The Hole/MDC-LA

Dear Community,

Oh, my stomach is wrenching. I am devastated by this tragedy and frightened by what is to come. At first my prayers were just for the victims. But then I looked out my window and saw police. I think they are evacuating the Federal court and the Federal Building as well. At first I thought I was in the safest place in the world. Who would want to bomb a prisoner? But of course the Federal court and the Federal Building next door are prime targets. If they go, we go! Kern Co. Jail is looking better and better.

Finally we are learning that there are no safe places and there are no innocent people. The chickens have come home to roost. We reap what we sow. We spend S300 billion to build a shield in heaven and they come in under the fence.

My cell mate, "T-Top" who is looking at a lot of time, looked over at me and said, "It makes our problems seem so tiny." I am in mourning. I can't even bring myself to say, "we told you so," because we've been saying it for so long that even I didn't really believe it any longer.

Babylon is fallen, Babylon is fallen. But there is no rejoicing. So I sit here, a prisoner for Peace, at ground zero, so to speak. Praying for the victims of today and the victims to come. But in truth praying perhaps even more for my own sorry ass as well. Trusting in the Lord, but hoping that the police and the Federal agents surrounding this compound might actually offer some protection in this world grown so tragically unsafe.

Yours in Faith, hope, and tears, Jeff

Jeff Dietrich is now freed from prison and can be contacted at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, 632 North Brittania Street, Los Angeles,CA 90033, USA.

  Even After All This...
Statement issued by The Catholic Worker Movement after the events of September 11th.  

We are Catholic Workers and we are still pacifists. We too are heartbroken over the events of September 11, 2001. We too grieve the horrific and untimely loss of thousands of lives. In further response, we turn to the non-violent roots of our founders, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. We remind ourselves of their (and our) commitment to the Christ of Peace and to the creation of a new social order within the shell of the old. An order accomplished, not with bombs, but with mercy; not with massive counter-attacks, but with restorative justice.

We are Catholic Workers and we are still pacifists. Our grief will not be short-circuited with cries of vengeance nor with acts of retribution. We will not cooperate with incitements to become that which we most oppose, namely perpetrators of violence. We will honor the deeper levels of grief, acknowledging the woundedness inflicted upon us, and the woundedness that our nation has inflicted upon others.

We are Catholic Workers and we are still pacifists. We will dare to ask the difficult questions: How is it that the United States was the focus of such an unspeakable attack? Could it be possible that most of us, as United States citizens, are ignorant of the injustices done to others in our name? Will we ever openly repent of misdeeds done to the peoples of our own land: Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, other immigrants, the homeless and the poor? Can we acknowledge the suffering and death we have imposed upon those who live in other lands: The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the poor of Central and South America, the people of Iraq? And how many others?

We are Catholic Workers and we are still pacifists. We too are afraid of the possibility of more terrorist actions in our own cities. We too are afraid for our children and their futures. We too have helped to bury the dead- the impoverished on our streets who die in obscurity, unloved and unremembered by society. We continue therefore, even in the wake of our own fears and grief, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and the imprisoned. We hope for the day when our nation provides adequate funding for these, the forgotten in our midst, rather than use our money for the proliferation of more and more weapons of mass destruction on our earth and even in the heavens.

We are Catholic Workers and we are still pacifists. We dream impossible dreams, see unbelievable visions. We conjure up such hopeful images as U.S. planes dropping, not bombs, but food bundles and messages of hope to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. We view this paradoxical moment in history as a pause where in we - every one of us - can desire and work for the well being of all. We pray for hearts to change. The hearts of our leadership, the hearts of our opponents, even our own hearts when we are tempted to incline toward self-righteousness or despair.

We invite you to participate with us in all of our wildest dreams and visions for peace. For now we sadly know that our affluence, our power, our weapons, our possessions cannot serve as protection from harm. We invite you to clamber off the wheel of violence. It is the only worthy legacy we can offer to those who have died. We invite you to join us as we re-examine our consciences, our spiritual paths, our concepts of God, our commitment to a better world.

We are Catholic Workers and we still believe ... the only solution is love.

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