Different Rules Apply, Feb. 24, 2021 Reflection from Patrick O’Neill

“Different Rules Apply”
February 24, 2021
Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Support for Patrick O’Neill and Family (transcribed and edited from Patrick’s letters by J. Mark Davidson)

We are with Patrick in Spirit and in prayer, now in month 2 of his 14-month sentence. From his tightly scrawled letters, we know that he is currently being housed in a cellblock with 110 fellow inmates. A successful ACLU lawsuit mercifully reduced the population. Earlier, the Bureau of Prisons had crammed 170 men in there.
“It is a drab place with little or no privacy and noise of some kind is omnipresent….The bathroom is primitive with no locks on toilet doors and not great showers – but the water is hot! It’s a generally dreary place because of monotony and the long sentences most of the guys have. It’s not unusual for a guy here to have been locked up for more than 10 years and others with 10 years to go. It’s very sad.”
The guys are locked down 24/7 except for outside recreation 3 times a week. “There is no schedule, so I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to be called for Rec or I miss it.” This is Patrick’s only opportunity to get sky, fresh air, and a chance to run. He fell 7 times on his first run, but he’s mastered running on snow and ice and ran 4 miles last week.
Unlike the minimum security federal prisons Patrick has been in before, he’s in a “very much more restricted” so-called “low security” prison. Reminiscent of the Panopticon, the 18th c. English prison where prisoner movements were observed at all times and institutionalized control was maximized, prisoners are “behind double-fencing and under ‘controlled movement’, which means all movement in the prison is under watch and only at certain times (even when there is no lock down).” Patrick describes FCI Elkton as “definitely a much tougher place to do time.”
In the prison economy – “this fine hell hole” – $1 postage stamps are the same as cash, but are only worth 75 cents each on the FCI Elkton Exchange. “I guess my stamps, which were the 55 cents variety, can be used for commerce as well.”

Patrick reports that many of the guys in his dorm are sex offenders, and they are “the bottom feeders,” the lowest caste in the prison:
“My bunkmate, Mark, has a 14-yr. sentence and about 4 or 5 years left. Most of the guys here have computer-generated sex charges. While looking at child porn on your computer is horrible, these men are receiving sentences that are not in line with the charges, and this place offers no programs that treat sex offenders (who are usually sex addicts). It’s a complex problem, but surely “the system” is doing nothing to help these guys get well. For them, prison is very difficult because it’s usually their first tine in trouble with the law, and they also face ridicule (at times) from guards and other prisoners. Still, I feel drawn to these guys because, at least here, they are the outcasts. Some are dealing with their addictions, others are bitter. I don’t have a sense what can be done to help them, but I feel certain sending them to prison is not the solution. Because of the lock down there are no visits, no programs, no church services, and no Eucharist or Mass, and it’s been that way for more than a year. I do plan to write about this issue in depth.”

Different rules apply inside:
“Unlike most of the world where white males hold power, here we are at the bottom (actually the white male sex offenders are at the very bottom)….Here, in an ironic reversal of fortune, whites are 2nd class citizens, so I have to learn and follow the rules…rules are made by the inmates, which I’m learning as I go (sometimes with stern warning)…it’s all about the last shall be first…I see it as my required affirmative action…There is a lot of arrested development and macho-swaggering…men like power.”

Reflecting on Plowshares peace witness:
“During my 1984-86 sentence for my first Plowshare action, I turned 30 in the Atlanta Federal Prison. Next month, I’ll turn 65 in here! I hope I have one more Plowshare action in me. Of note, FCI Elkton was where Phil Berrigan was on 9-11-01. He was immediately sent to solitary (the SHU – Special Housing Unit). And it’s possible we were in the same cell or at least on the same block, so I was on hallowed ground during my time in the SHU.”

The Lenten journey has begun:
“Today is Ash Wednesday, so I am fasting – the group who got my food trays were happy. You can really develop an appreciation for the Spirit of Lent in a place like this. God is really giving me a good tour of Purgatory on Earth. God is good. I really am appreciative of the gifts of Grace I’m getting in this journey. I will never be the same. Spiritual Growth Is a Gift and Redemptive Suffering is a Gift as well.”
Let us continue to hold Patrick and his family, his fellow prisoners, and indeed all who are incarcerated, in our thoughts and prayers. May grace and mercy abound!

*Patrick O’Neill #14924-018 , FCI Elkton, Federal Correction Institution, P.O. Box 10, Lisbon, OH 44432
Patrick is grateful for your letters. He is also receiving books sent from publishers.

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