1994 Nov 4 – The Inside Word – (Prison Writings)
Greetings from the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota. It is a joy to be writing for this first issue of The Inside Word. I am grateful for the many friends and our prison support team who have made this newsletter possible. Many thanks to the following folks: Kathryn Epperson of Logan, IA who is dealing with my personal affairs while I’m locked up and who is coordinating Brian’s and my Prison Support Fund. Beth Preheim and Michael Sprong of Marion, South Dakota are editing, designing and doing layout on this publication. A crew of support people from St. Patrick’s Parish in Council Bluffs, Iowa, are printing, folding, labeling and mailing this newsletter to you. Of course, thanks go out to the many folks who have given time and money to support our on-going witness for disarmament… you know who you are.
After doing only six days in the Douglas Co. Correctional Center in Omaha, I was chained, shackled and ushered up to Yank-ton by two U.S. Marshals. The last time I was sent here, it took the authorities 40 days to get me from the jails of Eastern Nebraska to Yankton. My previous stint in Yankton was during the summer months. Now it looks as though I’ll finally get that Dakota Winter experience. So send warm thoughts with those cards and letters – every little bit helps.
Yankton is a Lakota word meaning “end village.” At one time it was the last white settlement for riverboats heading up the Missouri River to the Dakotas and Montana. However, it is hardly the end of the line in the world of federal prison ~’Ul1pS. “Camp Yum-Yum,” as I referred to FPC Yankton during my last stay, is one of the premiere facilities in the entire federal prison system. A tongue in cheek article in a 1991 issue of Penthouse magazine (so I’m told) ranked FPC Yankton the third most posh prison camp in the federal system. I look forward to telling you more about this institution and my experiences here in upcoming issues of The Inside Word. For the rest of my space in this issue I offer excerpts from my statement at sentencing before District Court Judge L. Strom in U.S. District Court, Omaha.
Statement at Sentencing
[Editors note – Frank’s original plea of “no contest” to the charge against him was refused by Judge Strom. Subsequently, Frank entered a plea of “not guilty.” After a summary trial, lasting only 12 minutes and consisting of one government witness testifying against Frank, Judge Strom found Frank guilty of repeated illegal entry at Offutt.]
October 20, 1994
First of all, I’d like to say that my problem is with the federal government, its systems and structures, the powers and principalities that run this country and rule the world, not with any individual person, least of all your honor the Judge or any members of the prosecution team. My words and judgments today are not meant to be a personal attack on anyone in the service of this court. As for one’s individual worth or moral stature, I don’t count myself any better than anyone else in this courtroom today. I did indeed break my Offutt “Ban & Bar” letter last May 29th; I do not dispute this fact. My “no contest” plea means I simply do not admit guilt to any crime. What we (Brian Terrell, myself and eight others) did at StratCom’s Headquarters gate at Offutt AFB last May 29th was a community service, a call to conversion, not a criminal act. As our May 29th statement read: We are entering the grounds of the Strategic Command Headquarters today in order to express the need for conversion of this nerve center of global death into an instrument for peace and justice. We do so as members of the Lakes and Prairies Life Community, which works for peace and justice throughout the Midwest and the Great Plains through nonviolent direct action.
On this Memorial Day Weekend, we remember not only the combatants who have died in past wars, but also al1 victims of wars and those millions of potential victims who are targeted by weapons controlled at this very place. We are also mindful of the daily victims who reap the harvest from our continuing investment in war: the young who are dying of vio-lence in our streets, women and children in poverty, the injury to earth itself. We are here to renollnce StratCom and all it stands for, to rededicate ourselves to resistance to institutionalized violence, and to call on all people to conversion of heart from fear to hope, from violence to love, from injustice to justice, from war making to peacemaking. Let it begin with us.
I hold little hope that true justice will be served here today. The Federal Justice System had already tipped its hand and declared its allegiance to Offutt AFB and StratCom Headquarters when they called Brian Terrell and myself to court in the first place. I know that if true justice were being served in this case, the real criminals, the people responsible for the ongoing mission of StratCom, would be called to court. They would be asked to answer charges of breaking international treaties that our nation has signed. These treaties plainly outlaw weapons of mass destruction and the intent to use them….
Through the years I’ve come to see our courtroom dramas as two very different worldviews meeting and clashing into each other, occupying the same space, yet operating at cross-purposes. The judges, the prosecuting attorneys and the Offutt personnel are concerned about a law being broken, a very small and insignificant law- trespassing. This is their bottom line, an open and shut case, and a simple misdemeanor offense. I, and others like me, approach this courtroom from an entirely different perspective. I’m not a legalist, I don’t believe in the law or the Constitution. I believe in the living God and in Jesus, God’s son, our brother. When in court I speak the language of my faith, the faith I have in the ‘non violent,’ ‘love your enemies,’ ‘all for-giving,’ ‘all loving’ Jesus Christ. I see this courtroom and our coming together today as another opportunity to speak from my heart of this faith. A faith that has lead me to continue protesting over the last 15 years at Offutt AFB.
This country’s military establishment and its “Global Nuclear Power For America” rest on a well established and age-old rule of thumb: “Might Makes Right.” It always has been and always will be, say the political realists. In this way of thinking, in the ways of the world, moral authority rests with the biggest club, the strongest army, and the best killers. Ask the ruling elites of Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Cuba what sets the USA apart from them. Is it our high, sound moral values? No way. They will tell us its power, military power, the power of deadly force. The problem for me, as a person of faith, is more than a political one. It is a spiritual problem. Can our nuclear weapons systems be justified in light of the Gospels? As I see it, the faith communities of the Omaha/ Council Bluffs area have completely abdicated their responsibility to stand against this evil and demonic nuclear madness in our midst. It is particularly true of my own and the largest Christian tradition in the area, the Roman Catholic Church.
For close to fifty years now, the Christian Churches in the Omaha / C.B. area have served as the moral cheerleaders for the nuclear mission of Offutt AFB. Billions of US tax dollars have been dumped into the local economy to ensure the community’s unquestioning loyalty & devotion to this evil enterprise. My witness at Offutt last May 29th and my presence here today are as much a statement to my own church as it is to the US Government.
Let me be clear: any church that claims to be following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, yet has more moral clarity on the use of condoms than it does on the possession of nuclear weapons, is seriously unbalanced. When it comes to a truly consistent New Testament life ethic, the Catholic Church is not consistent. Somewhere between Emperor Constantine and St. Augustine’s ‘Just War Theory’ Christianity bellied up to the Roman Empire. It dropped its central tenet of nonviolence and accepted the right of the State to kill, and the Church has been in bed with Caesar ever since. We who claim to follow Jesus Christ need to return to the original nonviolent intent of Jesus. We need to stop blessing wars and the preparations for wars. Our faith communities’ relationship to Offutt AFB and the mission of StratCom should rest on the simple moral question that every Christian should ask of any action: “Would Jesus do this?” Would Jesus ever use or threaten to use a nuclear bomb? Would Jesus ever launch an ICBM nuclear tipped missile? Would Jesus command a Trident Submarine with its deadly nuclear cargo? Would he fly a B 1 Bomber on a nuclear weapons mission?
To each of these questions I say No! Jesus would never use or threaten to use a nuclear weapon. If Jesus wouldn’t, nor should we! As for this sentencing, let me speak plainly. I am not sorry for what we did at Strat-Com Headquarters last May 29th. In the future, I plan to cross the line again. In fact, I have helped organize a line crossing to take place immediately after this sentencing. If I am free, I will join my friends and cross the line with them.
I must also tell you that I will not accept any form of probation or community service nor will I pay any fines. I stand before you today, Judge Strom, fully expecting to receive a six-month sentence. Just because I am expecting the six-month sentence, it doesn’t mean I have to accept it. A sentence of six months for a non-violent trespassing charge at Offutt is disproportionate to the alleged crime – it is clearly a political sentence. I am not surprised. Whatever the Government’s reason for sending folks like me to jail, it will not work. In the long run, the rule of “might makes right” will give way to the rule of love. That is what our faith tells us; that is what the Reign of God is all about.