Carmen Trotta’s First Prison Report -January, 2021

I am in the “Satellite Camp” of the Otisville prison. I never asked for the camp and I was very surprised that I was assigned there. The camp is a very low security prison, and it has some benefits (this is the prison camp that Michael Cohen spent his limited time in). I think the greatest benefit is that I can go out into the fresh air around the camp anytime I want. I walk around the perimeter most days for a bit of exercise and air. In most areas the perimeter is defined by trees: evergreens, birch, and oaks. Out of the forest come dozens of deer every day, looking, of course, for something to eat in this lean time of year. We also see Canada geese and an array of colorful birds the size of sparrows.

Other benefits are that the food is decent and the other prisoners are pretty easy to get along with. Many of them are flat out friendly and caring. I live in a “pod” in the camp. A pod is not a cell; it has no doors nor bars. The walls of the pod are 5 ½ feet high. If I look out over the dorm space I can see the tops of the heads of the other prisoners. Presently 60 prisoners are housed here. It’s a somewhat older population than the main facility and it is predominantly Jewish, mainly Orthodox Jewish. I’m making friends with the Jewish guru in the place hoping to get my hands on Jewish Midrashic texts, which I find mind blowing.

Meanwhile, I have plenty to read. I am currently re-reading Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, as well as a book by Lisa Pease about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy entitled A Lie Too Big to Fail. It’s a 500 pager. I’m a quarter of the way in and I’m convinced that Sirhan Sirhan was not the lone shooter and did not shoot the fatal shot. I’ve finished Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, another 500 pager. It tells us all sorts of things we should have learned in high school and were never taught in college. I’m sure to read it a second time, that time taking notes.

Prior to my time in the camp I spent about 18 days in quarantine in the main facility. Basically, it was a sort of soft and civil variety of isolation. I was in a cell with my own toilet. Like any prison, however, you’re subject to some humiliation. I suppose this is to remind you that you are a prisoner. Without fail, in my experience, you are required to make your bed, but the linens don’t fit. Also, every prison has a series of stand-up counts, so they are assured that no one has escaped. One of our stand-up counts in quarantine was at 5:30 a.m. You could be berated if you are not standing at attention looking through the 12 x 5 inch window on the cell door, before they got there. There is no watch on your wrist nor clock on the wall. If you are sleeping, they will bang on the door till you rise. I’ve also noticed that they keep prison cells cold. This was more pronounced in my cell because the small window to the outer world was cracked and there was plenty of snow on the ground. Even after purchasing thermal underwear, a sweatshirt, and sweatpants, I was close to shivering every night from a maybe four to six a.m.

It took them four days before offering me a shower, and I wondered if the water would be hot or at least warm. (At the Camden County Jail in Georgia the shower was cold!) So, I was greatly relieved when I was able to get a good, hot shower.

Otherwise, my time in quarantine was… interesting. I very quickly received a Bible, a good book, and the first chapter of a book on Christian Yoga. Years earlier Fr. Steve Kelly, my co-defendant, sent me the photocopies of this book. While I have long been attracted to yoga, I’d never taken the time to develop a practice. Now I had a cell and more than 2 weeks to myself.

This variety of yoga is not primarily for exercise. It is primarily for meditation, which I’ve always found elusive.
As it turned out, I not only had the time and the text to begin a practice, I also had a serious need for some meditation and discernment as I was going through a great deal of turmoil regarding the integrity of the Kings Bay plowshares action.

Too wit, the government is demanding restitution for property destruction. During conversations among the defendants who were on supervised release, this issue came up repeatedly, but seemed never to have been resolved. The court upon sentencing demands that the payment of restitution would begin immediately, meaning that, upon being given a job in prison some portion of my meager salary would be garnished.

Ideally, I was hoping that this prison would possibly have a non-paying job, like many other prisons do. No luck here. So, the question before me was, would I work and pay or not? Were I to do so I would be paying into a genocidal criminal conspiracy. And hopefully, what did my conscience say.

Again, in conversation with some of my out co-defendants ( meaning those out of prison) some said there were strong disincentives to refusing to work. I could be sent to a local county jail to do my time; I could be shipped around the country to several different prisons from here to California; or I might be put in long-term solitary confinement.

Personally, I thought the most likely outcome would be solitary confinement. I imagined that the recourse of being shipped to other prisons would be ruled out due to COVID. I didn’t know much about the conditions in solitary. I did come to learn that I could get some books, but possibly only the books in the prison’s library and only by having random samplings of these brought into the solitary cell periodically. I knew that I could receive mail, so part of me thought, okay, I could survive for 11 months like that… Maybe. And if I could get mail I could get the yoga instructions and then maybe I could survive.

I am by no means an evangelist, but it was through the daily readings, prayer, and yoga that I came to ask myself, “What would God want?” I cannot but think that God finds this existential threat to ourselves and this Earth that he created for us OUTRAGEOUS. And if I broke, the very effort would be appreciated. Didn’t Pope Francis say that “the very possession of nuclear weapons was to be firmly condemned”? Didn’t we break our promise to the world to pare down our nuclear arsenal as soon as possible and put them under international control, i.e., the Non-proliferation treaty? And didn’t the Russians offer us total nuclear disarmament in 1987, only to be refused?

So, shortly after I arrived at the camp I met my counselor and my case manager. I immediately told them I would not pay restitution, and, while they both seemed startled, they said, “Well, okay, you are within your rights.” !!!!! Who knew!

However, there are some consequences. I can only receive $25 per month in commissary and I will not be given any “good time” so I’ll be here until mid-November.

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