PATRICK O’NEILL’S LETTER FROM RALEIGH
Halfway House – September 6, 2021
On August 24 I stepped through the gate of Federal “Correctional” Institution Elkton in Northeast Ohio into the loving arms of my wife, Mary Rider. A welcoming committee of Jack and Betsy Williams and Julie Shocksnider invited Mary, me and my friend and chauffeur Craig Stauffer, to a breakfast of chocolate chip ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookies and coffee; it was a lovely welcome home from my 7-plus months in lockdown.
I am now in a federal halfway house in Raleigh, near my home, with about 60 other men, many waiting release from very long sentences. Most of us are eligible for “home confinement,’ but sadly many of these men have no homes in which to be confined. My transfer to home confinement is pending approval at which time I will be fitted with an ankle monitor and be able to live at home.
I have been working a volunteer job at “A Place at the Table” restaurant in Raleigh that has a “pay-what-you-can” pricing policy that allows the poor and destitute to eat alongside those who have the means to pay. It is a wonderful model of dignified food sharing, and the food is excellent – all served with cloth napkins.
I leave the halfway house at 7 a.m., take the city bus to downtown Raleigh and walk a few blocks to the restaurant. I have time to get in a few miles of running at the YMCA (where our family has a membership grant thanks to the Rosenberg Fund for Children) before heading back to the halfway house by 4 p.m.
Unfortunately, the halfway house turns a blind eye to indoor smoking so I have to sleep in a large room full of smoke each night. It is sad the number of men who smoke, especially considering their smoking habit was severely restricted while incarcerated, but they started back up again after release from prison. It is also a very expensive habit.
The federal Bureau of Prisons spends approximately $60,000 per year to keep a person in prison, but on the day you leave prison the BOP offers NOTHING to help us captives to get back on our feet. The entire $60,000 goes toward punishment.
My case manager, John Carswell, 60 and Catholic, is retired from the N.Y. State Department of Corrections. For a “cop,” the name given by “captives” to all “corrections” workers, he is a really nice guy. When we first met for intake he said, “O’Neill, you have a pretty bizarre record,” but after an explanation of the Plowshares, he seemed to have a better understanding of my life’s work. He also could not understand why I was working without pay at the restaurant instead of making money.
John said he will expedite my transfer to house arrest so hopefully it will happen this month sometime. John also made me an eye appointment after I noticed a loss of vision in my left eye that I suspect is related to a cataract. My vision is definitely impaired. I will have to wear an ankle monitor during house arrest. My actual sentence “ends” November 19 at which time the ankle monitor comes off, and I will have more freedom while on 3 years supervised probation.
I have already begun work on a book about this experience of captivity that will address the BOP as an utter failure: a racist, oppressive, evil, and brutal system.
My experience of the long lockdown has left me a bit wounded and emotionally drained. My adjustment to being out has included some anxiety, but I am feeling better each day. Of course I am grateful to all of you for your prayers and support. What a gift it is to be loved by my large family and so many friends. I only wish the men I have been incarcerated with had so much loving support. I am also immensely indebted to the folks on the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 support committee and to all of you who were able to donate funds during this long, arduous and expensive journey.
Last month, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard very brief oral arguments in our case in which the three judges expressed a complete lack of support for our position, so it is safe to say the appeal is very likely to be denied, upholding our convictions.
I just got a cellphone, and will be getting in touch with the folks I have numbers for. Please stay in touch by texting my new phone with your name and I’ll call you back when I can; or you can send mail to 124 Perdue St. Garner, N.C. 27529 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Peace, Love, and God’s blessings to you,