Martha Hennessy’s Report from Danbury, January 27, 2021

January 27, 2021
Today’s parable in Mark 4:1-20 is “a sower went out to sow.” The mystery of the Kingdom of God is granted to us. I’m still trying to understand any and all of the parables. This prison seems to have both barren and rich soil. And plenty of thorns and thistles to navigate around and through sometimes. I am only six weeks in so far, others face eight years. Unimaginable suffering. What makes for a responsible hearer?
My mother was all about the soil, how to improve it and care for the medium we are all dependant upon. There is a horticulture program that includes a greenhouse but I’m not sure it’s still functioning. I hear there is a great upsurge in gardening and the seed orders are pouring in causing shortages. I will miss my Vermont spring gardening tasks, perhaps it is now time to start the practice of seed saving from one’s own garden.
I am on the snow shoveling detail and many inmates are telling me I’m too old for that kind of work. I have to admit I became a bit short of breath with a silly two inches of snow. The forced bed rest, inactivity, diet and stress do take a toll, especially at my age now. I will have to undergo work hardening with the return to my Vermont family farm and Maryhouse. COVID has come to both houses in Manhattan, I hear. I am praying hard for everyone there. The phone minutes are used up until February 1st so I feel anxious and out of touch.
Support has come in from far and wide. The leters abroad include Ireland, Germany, Australia and France. What a lovely global community. Details of the treatment of Aboriginals throughout Australia’s history echoes what we have here in the United States. Such a slow evolution, overcoming the centuries of false constructs regarding our fellow human beings and the natural world. I just finished reading Orange is the New Black, a story that takes place here at Danbury. Ardeth (Platte) is described as always cheerful and very supportive of the women around her, the ministry of prison. This is a good reminder for me. The drama can be quite intense among us here and to rise above it requires a heart of flesh, not stone. A good measuring stick is to ask oneself, am I hurting or helping others? The women take pride in participating in work, the good old all American standard of what makes us of value. The dignity of work is inherent in all of us naturally, to engage in what is meaningful and productive. To be forced to do work that is demeaning is a great violation of the human sprit.
Many of the CO’s (corrections officers) here are trained in the military and then come to finish out their 20 years for a decent federal pension. In Piper Kerman’s story of 2004 she tells of a soldier just back from Fallujah, Iraq who loses it as a CO, tearing apart one of the dorms here. A recent report speaks of how 7% of our population comes through our military program and many are part of the group that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. Harvesting what we sow is another wretched aspect of both the conditions here at the prison but also in our greater culture.
Watching TV news this morning Andrew Cuomo references the “loaves and fishes” within the context of a shortage of the COVID vaccines. Only Jesus can create something from nothing. The analogy just falls flat. Capitalism relies on creating shortages and a mindset of getting as much as we can in material ways. The parable of the loaves and fishes is about sharing and so we have plenty for all. Today we had a big shakedown where rooms were inspected. Inmates were frantically trying to clear and put away stuff, the accumulation happens so fast even in this environment of want. My shoe collection already rivals Imelda Marcos’s!
I think of my fellow co-conspirators Carmen and Patrick now in, Steve in transport and Clare to go in mid-February. I pray for them and their families, households, broader communities that are going without them. I suppose we are the sacrificial lambs, along with our fellow inmates, offered up for the collective sins of violence, greed, ineptitude and blindness. “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Lying in my cubical I awake in the dead of night. My ears pick up the dull thrum of this plant maintaining itself with massive quantities of energy while we all sleep. The panic and claustrophobia rise in my chest, threatening to overtake my body and mind. Will this subterranean warehouse become my grave? I resort to a Hail Mary to regain focus and equilibrium. And so the days go by, doing time.
Some of us have managed to carve out times of the day to do Lectio and Rosary together. What a treat to share, whether Catholic or not. The days are blessed with the presence of God in each other.

Posted in