The Citadel of Calamity
(Sent to Nuclear Resister)
January 13, 2021
I write to you, my dear readers, from Danbury FCI, sitting atop the most lovely hill on the western border of Connecticut. I don’t know who the first people were who walked this place before white displacement but I’m sure it was sacred, now desecrated with this prison complex. Many thanks go to Jack and Felice for their newsletter of hope and good news that goes out to the greater community. My first month here has passed. Twenty-four days in quarantine without much space and no phone or stamps was not easy. The COVID pandemic is here and there is a lawsuit against Danbury FCI for the early, neglectful handling of inmate’s health under these difficult conditions. Apparently the SHU was being used for quarantine, making life even harder for prisoners. But the human spirit is not easy to stifle; the chatter, small acts of support and love, and expressed indignation over petty injustice all work to counter the culture of “NO” here.
I have to say I am actually possessive of my monastic moments here. I keep a low profile, reading, writing and praying. Cells are not shared due to COVID. I am immensely grateful to have my own space. The cell is tiny, not enough floor space for two people to get dressed in the morning without bumping into each other. Yet the amount of space taken up with the complex is massive, many acres for roads, chain link fences, 80 foot tall lights of immense wattage, and a half dozen huge buildings. Water, power, septic, solid waste and oil consumption boggle the mind, similar to the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. Same model of arrogant use of force against humans and nature, a revelry of pride, induction of fear and squandering of resources. It is unsustainable and pathetically unnecessary. We are in such disarray – the January 6 (Epiphany) assault on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. reveals the face of a people ungovernable. Is there any room for genuine dialogue or shall we proceed neo-Nazi style? Who will respond appropriately to the enraged statement, “This is my house”?
Meanwhile it is the “little way” here, sometimes taking days to get a comb or toothpaste for myself. The dynamic of being dependent, in the “care” of corrections officers, and having to ask for things like toilet paper, makes for interesting relationships. People try to be polite on both sides and that goes a long way for bearable living conditions. Not one person on the staff ever feels personally responsible for trying to meet basic needs. There’s always a problem with “someone else” who didn’t follow through, or had the information wrong. It becomes an institutional malaise, the opposite of anarchism where one is supported in taking on tasks that need to be done. Another aspect of prison reality is the fact that there is scant oversight of the quality of goods destined for the prison population. Shoddy, cheap, making a quick buck on these contracts is the order of the day. Bob Barker and his ilk cash in on the industry. I say, boycott the prisons and weapons industries!
A bright light in my prison readings is the book titled Jackson Rising. Here are the solutions to the global capitalist hegemony that has nothing to do with democracy or meeting basic human needs. Very similar to Peter Maurin’s Catholic Worker program, the proposals being a transformed culture to neighborhoods where the workers self organize to create economic changes. The model of cooperatives for many functions such as health clinics, childcare centers, public utilities, local credit unions, food production, even composting revives community production. The four goals of a solidarity economy are worker controlled means of production, ecologically sound industries, democratic self-determination and a change in the political economy. These goals would make for a system that addresses climate collapse, inequality, monopoly, and avoidance of human suffering when basic needs go unmet. How and why have we tolerated such a “lousy, rotten system” for so long? Of course what is lacking in the discussion is the role of faith in peoples’ hearts that we are dependent on God to help us do the right thing by the common good.
In this prison witness the picture becomes crystal clear, how the worst in human nature is reinforced through a violent, forceful system of acquisition of wealth for those most capable. The nuclear weapons stand at the pinnacle of this arrangement. In the next few years the U.S. military plans on spending $100,000 a minute on “upgrading” the nuclear arsenal. This will surely bleed us dry as social needs go unmet. No heed is paid to the massive unemployment and increasing hunger that is happening in our country.
I will put one foot in front of the other in this time of incarceration. The women here know what is needed for themselves and their families, and they feel the mercilessness coming down on them. They busy themselves with the tasks of everyday living, pray to be united with their loved ones, and work hard to put back together the pieces of their lives. How much easier and sane it would all be if we could wrest back, in a spirit of nonviolence, the means of a basic livelihood from this currently absurd way of running our lives. James Baldwin, in his masterpiece The Fire Next Time asks, “What will happen to all that beauty?” if we allow man’s vengeance projected onto God to have its way with us. I believe it is only a matter of time before Danbury’s prison doors close forever, a failed experiment, an unwanted lie. Our vision of a better world will never die.