Martha Hennessy, Changing the Social Order, May 9, 2021

Changing the Social Order May 9th, 2021

I write of my last days here at Danbury FCI Women’s Camp with contradictions in my heart.
I will be so happy to be gone from here, but I also will miss the community, as fraught and involuntary as it is.
Since coming up to quarantine on the top tier where the rooms are airy and bright, some inmates have separated themselves from our interactions, as superficial as some may be. Relationships and sharing of daily life mean something to me, but the pain of some people being released while others are not is just too hard for some to bear, especially those here for more than a year or two.
Also the institution encourages aloofness and inmates in quarantine are not to be spoken to. All rules are easily bendable or changing; the enforcement is arbitrary depending on the personality of the C.O.
Today is the birthday of Peter Maurin, 144, Dan Berrigan, 100, and John Brown, about whom I don’t know enough.
I heard reports about events hosted by DePaul University as they gave the inaugural Berrigan-McAlister award to the Kings Bay Plowshares. Friends told me it was a lively event. Felice, in Tucson, sent Steve Kelly’s prayer. It moved me to tears. The amount of support and love given by the peace making community has overwhelmed me with gratitude and joy.
Today is Mother’s Day. Many of the women here are mothers and so we greeted each other all day with well wishes. One woman here did not know whether her mother was dead or alive. They were estranged years ago. Family separation in this American culture is all too common, a phenomenon that other cultures can’t imagine living with.
I am re-reading Dorothy’s The Long Loneliness and have again come face to face with how to change the social order and the role of faith in this work. Some of her comrades spoke of WWI as the beginning of world revolution and it is still going on today.
She greatly admired people of single-mindedness, purity of heart, and willingness to search and work for a new society for humanity. How to build a society where each person receives according to one’s needs, and works according to one’s ability? She witnessed the horrific struggle between those in control of capital, and those who provided the labor and struggled to have enough food. There was hope in maintaining a voice of protest, continuing to agitate for basic human rights, through the Socialists, International Workers of the World, the anarchists, and the liberals.
Dorothy marveled at the human potential for patience, for putting up with unbearable economic conditions, and for demanding more.
I wonder if today we have become too complacent, settling for less, tolerating so much violence, both domestically and in our foreign policy based on a permanent war economy. How different things would be today if some of those labor interests in the early years of the industrial era had been allowed to flourish, if we were allowed to provide for the people rather than fattening up an elite class with the wealth of our stolen continent and global exploits.
Of course this kind of talk is construed as promoting class warfare when the point is trying to be made that it is just that, divide and conquer.
Reading about Dorothy’s two early prison experiences, one for the women’s right to vote and one for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (caught in an IWW office Palmer Red Raid) gives me courage for my prison stay.
Her witness to the horrific drug withdrawal of an inmate “made one feel the depth of the disorder of the world.” Here in Danbury, I was spared from experiencing this.
At twenty-two years of age she understood so much about the suffering world but didn’t have the strength of her faith to sustain and protect her at the time. But to see the seeds of God planted early in her life, and to have them grow slowly before her baptism is a wonder to behold as she tells her life’s story.
I received the Los Angeles Catholic Worker newsletter with Brian Terrell’s analysis of the canonization process for Dorothy. The wounds of the Church go deep in so many people’s hearts. I myself was separated from the love of Christ in my young adult, formative years, when I needed the guidance the most. I always understood that we were to admire and try to copy the examples of the saints, to the best of our abilities. We are supposed to become saints for our Church, the head of Christ, of which we are the body.
We are to find the concordances, knowing there are many contradictions in life and the history of the Church. And to be personally admired when all you are trying to do is the work that is so desperately needed can be distasteful. The vineyard is great, the laborers few. And the hardness of our hearts can be so discouraging. I rejoice in the heart of Pope Francis. He and Dorothy are working hard to bring the Church to her true self. Both the workers and the scholars can come together to celebrate! Thank you, Brian, for the clarification of thought.
My next door neighbor in quarantine leaves in a few days after being seven years “down.” She heads to Manhattan on her way to her nearby destination. She wants a taste of the Big Apple when she arrives at Grand Central. Oh New York, we love you and must take the good and the bad, just like our Mother Church.
What changes will my co-inmate see wrought in our world? She grew up on Long Island. Seven years has transformed our country in many ways. The injustices pile up, one upon the next.
Jesus practiced such patience, mercy, and pity with his thick-headed disciples. God help us to be the same, even as we admonish the sinners in an unpopular voice.
I am days away from release and still not knowing where and when I am going. Oh to be in the hands of our living God, what a fearsome, beautiful thing!

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