Martha Hennessy’s January 21 Report from Danbury

Danbury Federal Prison Camp January 21st, 2021

Tomorrow, January 22nd 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons becomes a legally binding document. President Biden, in his inaugural speech yesterday, January 20th, spoke of the challenges our country is facing: massive unemployment, divisiveness, lack of truth telling and clear factual information, pollution, climate collapse. He could not change the long-standing policy of ignoring what is hidden-in-plain-sight, the discussion of our deadly, expensive nuclear arsenal. In fact, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, (ICAN), points out that the U.S. military plan is to spend $100,000 a minute over the next decade to maintain and update the nuclear weapons system. This will be the end of us, one way or the other.

Our travels to Afghanistan and the history of our perpetual war brought this phrase to our ears: “the graveyard of empires.”

The United States can no longer afford this kind of spending. How much profit can the weapons industry absorb before the country is unsustainable, or nuclear holocaust ends us all?

The Danbury Federal Correctional Institution reminds me of the Kings Bay Naval Base, with huge swathes of beautiful, indigenous lands taken up for a frightful enterprise. The groaning of the earth and its people is quite audible in my monastic life here.

Atonement and punishment are the roles played, but not in all sincerity. All sides seem to be gaming the system and it is working for none of us. Even the Trump family, retreating to the mirage of untouchable luxury at the pinnacle of power and wealth.

There are so many holes in this image held up to the people. Who are the select few families hiding behind this veil that will eventually be torn down?

The women here weep and yearn for their children, their families.

President Biden promises to find the lost children, taken at the border, sent around the country in grey sweats, the prison uniform of empire. Will the lousy, rotten system give them up, will they be found and returned to their families? This is the measure by which we can judge ourselves on whether we are turning over a new leaf after four (or four hundred) years of debauched, racist, practices.
The hours of available reading time here are many.

In his searing, small book, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin asks, “What will happen to all that beauty then?” After the supposed vengeance of God, on behalf of man, is wrought on the deserving ones.

I see this beauty in the faces of the women here despite the ravages of the for profit system that dictates every aspect of our lives. The community here, like at Maryhouse, shares what they have with each other.

Yesterday, an inmate’s birthday brought out an amazing feast, items of food not seen in our daily meals or commissary. Domestic tasks of cleaning, cooking and decorating go on, no matter how hard the tactics and protocols grind on the women.

The forces of life and nature are something to behold when placed under inhumane pressure. I am reminded of the story of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners planting watermelon seeds. Little insurrections and subversions go on daily in the eyes and through the voices and hands of those kept here. The banter between inmates reflects knowledge of what is wrong with the way we live and how it could be better.

Scripture from today’s Catholic Daily Missal reading includes verses from Mark, Chapter 3, narrating how crowds, desperate for healing, press in on Jesus. He risks being crushed.

The simple acts and deeds of bringing comfort and healing to people in need, marginalized by greed, are an example we take upon ourselves many times over the course of a day. That is if we are able to. The opportunities abound in prison and elsewhere as our way of living unravels. Hebrews 7 expresses it this way: “We now have a mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises.” We are faced with our own moral obligations and choices as we receive God’s living will for us.

It was a pleasant shock to hear President Biden quote Augustine, – too bad I can’t fully recall the quote. Will it translate into action on the ground to alleviate the suffering and inequality?

There is such a pall of depression that hangs over inmate and staff alike in this rabid model of an institution. But we can either reflect that depression or deflect it into joy and loving respect for one another.

With the “national lock down” since the January 6th violence at the capitol in D.C., we have not been allowed outdoor exercise time.

I take my practice of loving kindness to the officer’s desk and ask about when we will be able to walk and jog outside. Of course, the answer is no one knows until someone says it’s o.k. Personal responsibility doesn’t thrive in a top down dictate.

There is something about the German Shepherd guard dog plastic silhouette that twists in the wind outside the door that brings me profound sadness. Images of Birmingham, Nazi death camps and Abu Ghraib jump into my mind’s eye. Also, my daughter’s dog, given to her from a doctor at work who took an assignment in New Haven, a pure bred that cost thousands of dollars, brought from China. She is gentle, loyal, and skittish. Life as a family dog in Vermont is a blessed one.
I can’t imagine what the military training does to these dogs.

Dear readers, I apologize for my random, loose association of thoughts and writings. At sixty-five my physical and mental stamina isn’t what it used to be, and perhaps becomes further eroded in an unstable, unpredictable environment.

I strive for spiritual clarity and grace under the extremity of opposing the nuclear beast.

Both doubt and certainty walk with me daily, especially in the waking hours. I take refuge in the daily Scripture readings, they have guided us throughout the KBP7 experiment in truth.

My 3:00 p.m. Rosary group in the chapel is growing both in numbers and lightness. This is a gift.

Someone sent some of Granny’s New Year’s resolutions, one of which says: “Stop complaining, judge less.” My rebelliousness and submissiveness vie for my heart. Oh help my unbelief in this place of anguish rising to the sky.

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