1994 Dec 4 – 3rd Letter from Yanton (Prison Writings)
December 3/4. 1994 2nd Sunday of Advent
FROM BASEMENT ORDERLY TO KITCHEN DISH TANK TO THE CHAPLAIN’S OFFICE
Anyone who’s been through the Federal Prison System knows that one’s status or position can radically change at a moment’s’ notice. This has certainly been the case for me with my work assignment these first few weeks at Camp. When I first arrived our counselors told the new arrivals that it would be best to seek out our preferred job assignment because if we did not, one would arbitrarily be given to us at our first team meeting. I know I did not want to be assigned to the kitchen. I worked in the kitchen the last time I was here. It wasn’t a bad assignment but I was always around food. And the kitchen help got to eat the best and as much of the food as they wished. Having very little discipline in this regard, I knew I wanted to stay away from the kitchen. Nor did I want to land a job with the landscape crew. There was never enough work to do there, yet you had to always look busy for the whole eight-hour shift or risk getting in trouble. Besides that, during the winter months, the landscape guys are the ones who have to get up at all hours of the day or night to clean the snow off the sidewalks and driveways. I was looking for a job where I could get my work assignment done with time left over in the day where I could read, write and/or exercise. The first week I inquired at the usual places, the education department, the library and gym. All of these places had all the workers they needed. I also half-heartedly went to the Chaplain’s office and talked to Rev. Jerry Bailey to see if there were any openings there. I knew Rev. Bailey from the last time I was here at Yankton. We hit it off well then and it was good to touch base with him again. I say I half-heartedly asked about getting a job in the Chaplain’s Office because the Federal BOP has a policy about inmates working in their professional areas: attorneys can’t practice law. i.e. aren’t assigned to the law library; doctors can’t practice medicine, i.e. aren’t assigned to the prison medical clinics, and ministers aren’t assigned to the Chaplain’s Office. Aside from the good visit that we had, Rev. Bailey told me that at the moment there were no openings in his office and that he had a considerable long waiting list of guys wanting to work in his office.
That’s when I started looking for a good orderly job. Generally speaking, orderly jobs are not so bad. You are given a particular area to keep clean. Once the area is done, the rest of the day is usually yours to do with as you wish. My first preference was to work in’ my own dorm, Durand. That way I would not have to leave my residence hall to get to my job – a plus during the winter months. I talked to the daytime duty officer in Durand. He remembered me from my last visit. Luckily there was an orderly job open in the dorm basement. It was mine if I wanted it. I said okay and immediately got the job. It was a good job. It didn’t take me more than 2 1/2 hours to do the work. Except for the days we expected an inspection, I was able to have my afternoons off to do as I pleased. I worked as the basement orderly for about a week and a half when I noticed that I was still designated unassigned on the camp roster. When I brought this to the attention of my boss, the daytime duty officer of Durand, he told me not to worry, that he would take care of the situation. (In fact, as long as I was designated unassigned, I was not being paid the 12 cents an hour the job warranted. My boss was saving a few cents a day by not getting me officially assigned to the basement orderly job plus getting a job well done.)
Life continued to go on like this’ until the day my team meeting was scheduled. A team meeting is when the representatives of the camp staff meet with an inmate and brief them on what is expected of them, of any changes in their legal status, what programs they are allowed to enter, what financial obligations they are responsible for, and if they don’t have a job, what job assignment they will be given. I inadvert-ently missed my first team meeting. I did not see the list of names that were posted for that day’s team meetings. Since I was a no show, the team members thought I was not cooperating with the program. They automatically assigned me to the kitchen dish tank. The kitchen dish tank is one of the most undesirable jobs in the camp. Men are assigned to the dish tank as an entry job for a better kitchen position or for disciplinary reasons. In my case, it was for~ disciplinary reasons. I spent the following long weekend washing dishes hoping I could find a way out of the kitchen as soon as possible. I could have stayed on in the dish tank and gotten a better kitchen job assignment. A lot of the kitchen help and the kitchen foremen remembered me from the last visit to the camp. But I wanted to stay away from the kitchen this time and the food it tempted me with. That Saturday. Rev. Bailey called me over to his office. He told me that a job just opened up in his office and that I. could have it if I wanted it. I raised my hands and said, “Alleluia! I’ll take it!” It took me another week to reschedule my team meeting. With Rev. Bailey’s backing I got reassigned to the Chaplain’s Office. At this time I’m not sure what my responsibilities will be in the Chaplain’s Office. All I do know is that I’m not in the dish tank any more……
TO COOPERATE OR NOT TO COOPERATE?
With the Resistance and Prisoners of Conscience tradition there is an ongoing discussion as to what extent a person should cooperate with the prison system in which they are being held. The basic principle is simple, since we are wrongly being imprisoned by an unjust justice (sic) system, why should we cooperate with our imprisonment. Some prisoners of conscience have taken their non-cooperation to great lengths. Once found guilty they literally do not lift a finger to facilitate their imprisonment. I mean they go limp the moment the judge passes sentence. They must be bodily carried wherever they are taken. Some do not eat or drink. A few even refuse to use the toilet facilities and have sat in their own excrement. Admittedly, this is a very extreme example of non-cooperation. To do this kind of witness people must be sure of themselves and very disciplined. I know I do not possess such sureness of self or discipline to practice this kind of total non-cooperation. Yet, the people I have read of who have practiced this extreme form of non-cooperation have my utmost admiration and respect. Others have chosen lesser forms of non-cooperation. Fasting and hunger strikes are some of the better-known forms of non-cooperation.
Prior to my coming to Yankton FPC two years ago, three other non-violent nuclear resisters were sent to serve their time here. This was during the camp’s building stage. All three refused to take job assign-ments that in any way helped to build the camp. They were immediately given disciplinary transfers and spent the rest of their sentences in solitary confinement in county jails or higher Federal security prisons. Again. I have nothing but the highest admiration for their choice of non-cooperation. Everyone does their own time. And everyone must decide what degree of non-cooperation they are willing to engage in. There have been times in the past when I have not cooperated to some extent with my imprisonment. I have fasted. I have refused to work, and I have refused a direct order. And I have suffered the consequences; usually being placed in solitary confinement. In recent years, once in jail, I have chosen mostly to cooperate. It is in some measure an indication of my unwillingness to suffer the consequences. It is also my way of just being with the regular prison population, experiencing the common fare and trying to be a witness and support to those I meet along the way. The question of non-cooperation is a daily thing. My position could change at any time, depending on the circumstances or the situation where I find myself. In any event, it should always be an option, a reminder to myself and to my captors that I am not completely in their control, that I can be a free person even in the most confined and unfree of places.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. It is always on holidays that one is reminded of the high personal price of imprisonment, even in camps like this one in Yankton. Every inmate here knows that he is not doing his time alone. His wife, children and extended family and friends are doing it day after day with him. In many cases, especially in the Federal Camps, the inmates are living better material and more secure lives than their loved ones on the outside. The awareness of this fact weighs heavily on many of the men here. We’ll have a good Thanksgiving meal, the BOP will see to that, but for most there will be a bitter taste to it knowing the difficult times and circumstances in which their families are suffering because of them.
94 12 04
Advent is a season of patience, of hope, looking for the coming of the Lord, the one who frees the world from all bondage. Advent is a season that speaks to the soul of every prisoner. It is a daily reality, imprisonment for those who do not know freedom. More on this in my next letter.