Martha Hennessy – Dec.31,2020 First report from Danbury

December 31, 2020
The last day of the year is relatively quiet behind razor wire and chain link fencing surrounding these metal buildings on top of a lovely hill. Three oranges sit on the table as we pass the 17th day of a quarantine here at Danbury Federal Prison. Thank God for some fresh fruit and the occasional vegetable, and the drinking water isn’t so bad. We are reduced to a hyperfocus on the little things that become life giving in such a controlled setting. The first nine days were spent locked in a 10×10 cell with the toilet outside the mesh and cinderblock walls. Inmates passed through who were being discharged. One woman danced out the door and ran to the parking lot into the arms of family or friends. Awakening on the first morning was the most difficult, the morning sun glinting off the razor wire outside the small window. Utter desolation washes over one’s heart, thinking of the days, weeks, months ahead. One of the first books to come in was Alfred Delp’s Prison Writings where he describes a 3×3 step cell, hands manacled in cold iron as he narrates his last days. He writes of the Church’s desperate mission today (1944) of returning us to humanity. In Nazi Germany “The dishonesty and injustice blinds our spirituality, ” this condemned priest tells his unknown readers, even future prisoners.
My dear readers, supporters, family, community and friends, tremendous thanks to you for your love, support, prayers and thoughts. It is good to be in a state of repentance in these times of pandemic, economic dysfunction and life in a godless culture. Isaiah’s Christmas Day reading proclaims “Your Savior comes…They shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, and you shall be called ‘Frequented,’ a city that is not forsaken.” This Advent was spent in a spirit of surrender and renunciation, attempting to stay alert to the message of Mary’s Son, a new law brought to those who can hear and see, listening for the word of love as reconnection. Delp’s reflections bring a beam of light into this season despite the reality of his time and ours. May we be able to love one another more fully in this coming year as the empire continues to crumble.
The COVID situation here has caused disarray in all the programs; both inmates and staff are facing the uncertainty and chaos that it has brought to this self-contained system. The three of us who came in around the same time have no phone, stamp, envelope access and we worry about our families not hearing from us. Two of us are self-surrender and one was transported from Maine. The stories of why women come here are full of absurdity and injustice. It is a fearsome thing to be caught up in this machine of courts, judges, indictments and prison sentences. Retribution for the “faults’ of poverty, addiction, impulse or simple incapacity to fit in to the dictates of our capitalism of individual appropriation of wealth.
A friend sent the book, Jackson Rising where the vision of eco-socialism and real democratic processes gives a breath of such fresh air, patterned on Peter Maurin’s “building a new world within the shell of the old.” The solutions are at our fingertips to obstruct the 1% ruling class from forcing a global dystopia onto us all. The new language is one of “regenerative economy, self-determination through democratic transitions from fossil dependant monopolies” to a model of cooperatives, credit unions, small scale agriculture, public utilities, childcare centers and composting systems. All so simple and amazing, we wonder how we have tolerated for so long such a racist, wasteful, violent way of living. May what blossoms in Mississippi spread throughout the country, even as we know “legal” barriers are being put in the way of these so needed efforts of change coming from the Black working class. My dozen books will be university reading in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile 3 inmates are moved to our hall who are COVID positive and we are forced to share a bathroom. And the courts, police, judges, prosecutors continue to feed the prison pipeline, creating an “optimal spreader situation.” All the inmates of Federal Satellite have now contracted the virus, prompting a lawsuit earlier in the year. We are headed to “Camp” where the numbers are lower. The corrections officers are exposed as well, many have contracted COVID over the months. Their outfits echo military/private security features, all black, Kevlar vests, two-way radios, bangles of keys, knit skullcaps, heavy boots. Most are quite professional in interactions with inmates. Warehousing and forced bed rest are strange ways to punish and “rehabilitate” the disposables and least among us. Re-education programs could be very creative. The consumption of plastic, water, electricity, food in this complex boggles the mind. What is the end product of this enterprise, into who’s pockets goes any sort of profit? Meanwhile, we retain a semblance of order through meals, exercise, writing, reading, praying. All in God’s time.