Letters From Prison Camp
by Kathleen Desautels

 community  personal-narrative  political-prisoners  prison-life

Dear Family & Friends,

Just a quick note to let you know that I/we (Mary & Kate) were finally transported from Pekin FCP, where we reported on September 10, to Greenville FPC in downstate IL. It took the administration at Pekin over an hour to do preliminary processing—strip search, change into a white jumpsuit & shoes (men’s size 7…no size 5 in the system, actually no women’s sizes of anything).

Arrived at Greenville about 3:30 & did more of the same—paperwork, change of clothes, lots of question answering, medical paperwork. All this took us until 8:30 PM before we were escorted to our “Dorm 2”. Despite the frenzied day—or maybe because of it—I was asleep by 9:30!

Yesterday was spent doing some of the same—medical exams, dentist visit, etc. In between meetings I took time to walk the track—visit the small library for quiet time—& just find my way around. Lots of time for visits with many of the women. Word leaked out about one of us “being a nun,” which meant all three of us were asked all day if we were “the nun”?! You’ll be glad to know I’m Greenville’s first, and have been invited to every bible class, discussion, workshop until my release!

Greenville FPC has been opened as a Women’s prison for two years. There are approximately 220 inmates & from what I can tell is a very laid back prison atmosphere. I see guards only when we have the “sacred counts” at 4 PM & 9 PM. It’s only taken me a day to know that this place is a waste of taxpayer’s money, but another story for another time. There are two large dorms with two wings to each building. These wings are divided into two “alleys” where cubicles sub-divide the alley for sleeping quarters. Each cubicle has two beds, two small steel chests, one small shelf & four hooks for hanging clothes. Spacious it is not, however, I’m lucky to have such a good roommate. She’s very helpful but low-key in her manner.

As soon as we arrived in the dorm, she began helping me along with the other women, giving me all the kinds of things I might need before next week when I can finally go to the commissary—soap, shampoo, water cup, toothbrush, you name it—they had bought it or were sharing some of their own supply. Constantly all day long yesterday & today we were asked if we need anything by the many women. Two different ones loaned me a pair of tennis shoes, a jacket, & sweat pants. Their kindness & welcoming attitude has been heart-warming—women helping women!

Today, volunteers to do gardening—picking the green peppers & tomatoes—were called for, so I spent most of the morning enjoying being out in the good weather we’re having. There’s lots of time for reading, visiting, walking—one wonders how & why such institutions were invented. Few helps are available to the women for rehabilitation & instead of doing community service they/we sit around with little to occupy the long days. However, for me it’s allowing lots of time for quiet walks, picking vegetables until my work assignment is given to me soon.

Well, it’s time for 4 PM “count”. Thank you again for all your love & support. Blessings ‘til next time.

September 17, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

As I write this I am waiting in line for my first shopping visit to the commissary. As I may have said, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) provides very little—basically, a few uniforms & work boots—everything else the prisoners must buy out of pocket. And so the wait will be a long one since I’m seventeenth in line.

Waiting happens a lot here—wait to be called for meals, then you wait in line for the food itself; wait for mail call; wait for “count”; wait to see one’s counselor to answer the question of why my phone numbers haven’t been entered into the system. Wait. Lots of time for reflection & meeting new people. And, yes, the noise makes conversation a challenge.

By standards of most “camps,” Greenville is one of the most lax—laid back in terms of restrictions or guard harassment. Believe me, most of these women have experience in many other prisons. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are fewer helpful programs for the women to be involved. Out of 220+ women here, there are only 10 - 12 allowed in the computer class. The class is 18 months, so only the women with long sentences are allowed to be on the waiting list. Most of the women here have 5, 10, or 15-year sentences. G.E.D., computer class & the dog training program (approx. 8 women were chosen as trainers) is it for classes with few other exceptions.

So, waiting for openings in classes, waiting to hear about appeals, waiting to talk with one’s lawyer, waiting, waiting. A kind of year round Advent for the majority of the good women. Mostly I feel so sad to listen to the many stories of waiting. And yet, despite their plight, the kindness of one for another is extraordinary.

The daily schedule for me begins at 6 AM with a wake-up call over the loud speaker announcing the “main-line” is open, i.e. breakfast. After breakfast I walk around the track four times for my first mile of the day. Afterwards I’ve found a spot out in the field to sit for my morning reflection. A large clump of cut-up tree trunks provides my hideout until time for my present “employment”—cleaning up the dorm microwave area. It’s amazing what these women can concoct, putting together whatever they can from commissary purchases.

Basically, I’m free after 4 PM “count.” Supper follows & free until 9 PM “count.” In between, I’ve spent the week talking, or I should say listening to women I’ve met tell of their stories. I’m surprised how open they are telling of their crime. Many are here for drug use or selling, fraud, & then conspiracy slapped onto many of their charges. One elderly woman is here because her grandson was caught “selling” & he lived with her, his grandmother, so all of his charges plus conspiracy were given to her. She’s doing more time than he at this point. And the stories go on & on.

Thankfully, I’ve met some wonderful women. Last Saturday the women who are from the Menomonee tribe invited us to their sweat lodge ceremony. I loved the experience & it comes closer to what we celebrate in Providence Spirituality. It’s such a breath of fresh air from the heavy emphasis on the more evangelical spirit of most or all of the bible classes that are offered. So, my schedule will include Saturday sweat lodge & Sunday Mass with the dozen or so who showed up last week. That’s another story for another time.

Blessings for now. Thank you again for your love & support.

September 23, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

Greetings as I begin week two of my ‘government sabbatical.’ It’s a beautiful day here in Greenville - low 70’s, sunny & not so windy that I can’t be outside on a picnic-style bench to enjoy this short visit.

Thank you to so many on the list who have written letters & cards. I pray you’ll hold me excused from writing a personal response immediately & allow this weekly missive to say hello. My “cup overflows” at mail call. I’ll do my best to respond individually within the next 5 months, but I trust you’ll hold me excused if it takes awhile.

One inmate acquaintance said to me one evening, after my bundle of mail was delivered, “Guess I made two mistakes in life—one that I didn’t become a ‘nun’, and second, that I got 10 years. At least I would get mail if I’d made the first choice!” All of this is said in good humor of course, but it’s a wonderful daily reminder of the “hundred-fold” of Community life & being part of the peace movement community-at-large.

As I reflect on prison life so far, I’d describe it as a cross between my experience of simple living in Charamoco, Bolivia some 20 years ago & novitiate days 42 years ago. In Charamoco we would delight in a zip-lock plastic bag & use / re-use it until it was too torn for anything to hold—a snicker bar that we cut into six pieces—one for each team member,—or time alone sitting on the hill overlooking the fields.

I think of S. Mary Dominica or Marita Therese as I see how spotless & shining the hallways are kept. If any of you have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” you’ll remember how the father used Windex to cure all ills. This is the solution to all cleaning tasks here at Greenville. The most unusual for me is how it is used to clean & shine the tile floors! It works better than anything I’ve tried as official “Kitchen Witch” at MBVM these past 16 years!

The women make do with so little & yet create incredible microwave food concoctions, crochet slippers, or every sort of doily, shawl, baby clothes, hats, - you name it. My roommate took a pair of shower flip-flops, tore off the toe thong part & crocheted a slipper top for me so I’d have warm slippers to wear this winter. She did this all in one day!

My visit with brother Bob & sister-in-law Theresa was the high-light of my week. I’ll let him tell you of his story / conversation with my counselor to hurry the process to have Theresa’s visitor’s form approved. Nothing is simple here & Bob definitely learned “who’s in charge.” Another lesson he learned upon leaving was that his attempt to take a picture of the outside of the prison was foiled. His film was confiscated - luckily not his camera. Just a word of advice for future visitors.

Though I’m still in “A & O” (Admission & Orientation), last week the administration began my exit paper processing. It takes 6 months for the process to go through its’ hoops! Again, the bureaucracy of it all here continues to amaze me.

Despite it all I continue to use the time to be with, to listen & to learn so much about the prison system from the daily stories of my inmate companions. I only wish I had a tape recorder. One story is more tragic than the last.

Until next week - blessings to each of you.

Kathleen #90966-020

September 29, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk in exile from Vietnam & nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King has a saying - “Make the present moment into the most wonderful moment of your life.”

Indeed this “moment” of my life at Greenville Federal Prison Camp will rank right up there as the most memorable - if not always the most wonderful. I never cease to be amazed at how women cope with such long sentences & keep their spirits up despite their circumstances. The present moment is allowing me time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life that I so often take for granted - watching the sunrise each morning with my 2nd cup of coffee sitting on the log pile, walking the track for my 2 mile daily exercise, talking with women about their children, listening to stories of how one’s boyfriend or husband is coming for a visit for the first time - all this in the midst of a day filled with interruptions, constant announcements over the loud speaker throughout the camp compound & reporting here or there for some sort of duty, “count” or function of the prison.

Friday was our official “admission & orientation” meeting where we were told some of the following bits of advice:

  * “Obey the laws or we’ll find out. We rely on snitches & we have plenty of them!”
  * “Ladies,” (the preferred group term used by the guards & administration) if you play petty - we’ll play petty. So don’t go off on me or we’ll go off on you.” I think the message was meant to simply be one of “don’t crab.”
  * Contraband is anything not approved by the BOP - (so far taking a coffee cup out of the dining room in the morning is not considered “contraband,” but I’ll keep you posted.

My “orderly” job that has been my interim employment ended today. I made a whopping 12 cents an hour for 7 days a week. That’s starting pay or “level 4.” Level 3 is 17 cents & level 2 is 27 cents and if you’re working for the prison industry called UNICOR, level 1, you can make as much as 40 cents and hour. For many of the women this is all they have for their commissary spending. Not a pretty picture.

Despite the officiousness, the indignities, the being treated as numbers or things, I’m finding lots to make this “moment” fruitful. Mostly just being open to the next silly regulation that I’m learning about & marveling at the flexibility of the women’s responses. Many of them come up & whisper some rule that I’m unaware of but need to know. Say my “whisper-er,” “I don’t want you to get a “SHOT.” A “shot” (how’s that for violent terminology?) is like a “black mark” - only worse. A “shot” can take away the phone privilege or commissary privilege. The only “rights” we have are “3 meals, a bed & prison clothes.”

Oh my, the “moment” is filled with endless lessons. When a prisoner or prisoners want to make a formal complaint it’s called a “COP OUT.” Don’t ask me how they came up with these terms - not even the goddess of terminologies knows how, I’m sure. I’ve decided, as I was teasing some of my new companions, that we should write up lots of “cop outs” to ask for padded chairs - the only chairs to sit on are the steel folding kind - the church hall kind of chair.

My friends loved the idea & thought the excuse of “no money for anything because of Sept. 11” would surely not count for this simple request. Again, I’ll keep you posted, but don’t inquire too soon.

And so the “wonderful moments” go, but mostly I’m grateful for your support & the notes & letters of so many in the Community & the peace movement. Thank you, thank you. I pray that you each make “the present moment into the most wonderful moment of your life”...this week anyway.

Kathleen #90966-020

October 7, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

Life is settling in a bit more & made more enjoyable by the commissary finally having tennis/walking shoes to fit. My 3-5 mile daily walks around the outdoor track are blister-free. It really is the little things in life that bring us joy, no?

My permanent job, well until it’s changed at the whim of someone for no explainable reason, is to be “on the line” serving food at supper. This “work” begins at 2:30 PM by setting out the food for “early eaters” at 3 PM & then waiting around to serve the “mainline” (term given for all meals) at 4:30 PM. Cleanup & finish by 5 PM. So-lunch is at 11 AM-supper at 3 PM for servers-starved by 9 PM!

Now the challenge of this task I’m told is to keep from getting crabby when someone insists that they want something not allowed. Example: When hamburgers, hot dogs & corndogs are offered a person can have a hamburger but no hot dog or corndog. However, someone wanting the “dog offerings” can have 2 hot dogs or 1 hot dog & 1 corndog. You can see the hitch, no? How glad I am that life’s funny bone didn’t get lost on my way from MBVM to Greenville. You can’t imagine the variety of requests & then of course there are the hamburger & “dog” buns - not always to accompany the entrée selection you might expect.

As you can see I have my work cut out for me. What a wonderful “practice of the Sacred Heart” as we use to say in by-gone days in the Novitiate, to lighten the spirits of those in line wanting a different combination of the said offerings while not losing my cool. You won’t be surprised to know I keep thinking to myself - this is work? This is a “problem” when & while the Bush Administration is deciding when the appropriate (politically speaking) time to bomb Iraq out of existence - save their oil of course? However, as we each know - it’s the small things/ inconveniences/ irritations that give us our juiciest challenges. How to spread peace & joy for my “mainline” companions in the ordinariness of daily life. No crabby heart yet - I’ll keep you posted.

I’m beginning to believe this is the best gift that SOAW prisoners of conscience are asked to be as they / we do our time. In fact, one young woman said to me the other evening “I’m glad to have peace protesters here with all us crooks.” That’s actually the term she used for herself. If nothing else, the women are so honest, so down to earth & so open to the non-ordinariness of life. When I said to her in response “Sassy (her prison name), you surely don’t think of yourself as a ‘crook’ do you?” Her reply: “Well, I know I did wrong & I know you, Kate & Mary did something right. I think it’s good to have you all here with us.”

Sassy made my day. Perhaps as people on this list or others you know are contemplating “crossing the line” - risking arrest at SOA in November, Dorothy Sollee’s words might help. Betty Donoghue, SP, in a note reminded me of Dorothy saying: “Perhaps we will see a time when prisons are so overcrowded with peace campaigners that the judges cannot make love of peace a criminal offense anymore!” However, until that day comes I’m beginning to believe being a presence of nonviolence - of nonviolent peace in our overcrowded prisons is a worthy call for some of us. I’m making it a ministry for my ” six 30 day retreat days”, as someone called my stay.

Now to practical matters. Thanks to those of you wanting to & have sent books to the ‘Chapel’ library & had them returned. As I’ve said before - nothing’s easy here. Here’s how it goes:

  1.   One must send the letter as described earlier.
  2.   DO NOT SEND the books or tapes with the letter.
  3.   The letter & list of donations must first be approved by the Chaplain, then it goes to the Warden for his approval or NOT & then he either lets me know & I’ll let you know if the box can be sent.

Is it any wonder that the women needing approval for their appeals are held up because the paperwork is held up on the Warden’s stack of “to-dos”? The BOP has not yet heard of the notion of subsidiary! The response I get is always “This is the way the government works.”

Secondly, those who asked for visiting forms, either from me or from MBVM &/ or Corbe who have copies, you need to sign it at the bottom where it says “Signature for authorization to release information.”

If it’s not signed it will be sent back to you which delays the approval operations. Ask Margaret Kelly who had to wait an hour this past Saturday while Dorothy G. & Kay Manley were able to come in for the visit. Margaret eventually got in thanks in large part to a kind guard who took it upon himself to call my counselor, Mr. Chambers. However, another guard might not have been so willing. Got the picture? Nothing’s easy & it seems if there’s a way to make it difficult the BOP can find it. I’m reminded daily of how prisons or the prison system is unique in all the world especially for those of us in religious life who bend over backwards to accommodate one another.

Until next week, we “unite love & peace-
Kathleen #90966-020

October 15, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

For Sisters of Providence October is always a favorite month: MTG’s birthday on Oct. 2; the Institutional Church’s new feast day for MTG on Oct 3; today’s feast of St. Teresa of Avila; then on October22 Foundation Day. These days remind me of my Novitiate days & the wisdom of Sr. Marie Ambrose to me on the subject of ‘silence.’

The noise factor here at Greenville is - to put it mildly - a challenge. The places to retreat are few for the silence that I could so easily find in my day to day world ‘BP’ - before prison. So the memory of Sr. Marie Ambrose saying to me on my first private instruction meeting “some day, Sister, you’ll appreciate silence,” keeps ringing in my head. How right she was…this is the ‘some day’ Marie Ambrose was referring to for sure.

The noisy interruption of the loudspeaker system that blares over the compound is constant from morning to night and all hours in-between. ...ATTENTION CAMP, MAINLINE IS OPEN…ATTENTION CAMP, DESAUTELS REPORT TO THE ADMINISTRATION BLOC…ATTENTION CAMP…ATTENTION CAMP…

Then there’s the noise & clang of the guards’ keys that hang on a wide belt & clash as they come through the dorms for the midnight, 3AM, 5AM, 4PM & 9PM Counts…the noise of the kitchen workers yelling over the noise of the heavy duty washing machine…noise of inmates giving one another a hard time in the dorms…noise & more noise.

I’m learning to make it kind of a background music to whatever it is I’m doing, but if nothing else I’m reminded of how my life in religious community has spoiled me. And so I pray…Sr. Marie Ambrose, pray for me!

The Church calls this period of the liturgical calendar Ordinary Time. As you can now guess from the above diatribe I’m getting into the ordinary stuff of prison life. And yes, it reminds me of how at times the ordinariness of each day - even when it’s annoying - pales in comparison with what so many other folks endure. Making the most of ordinariness of prison life is a good reminder of our sisters & brothers not-so-ordinary treatment by the SOA graduates in Latin America. I’m sure the ‘woodpile mornings’ would look good to many of them instead of what they’re enduring. For all who suffer at the hands of the SOA graduates…Presente!

My 12 cents-an-hour job in the serving line continues to be a learning experience. Yesterday I was told that if I used the metal spatula to dish up the dessert cake & ever misplace it, I’ll be sent to County Jail. These ‘sacred instruments’ are kept in a locked room & must be signed out for use. Oh my, weapons come in such varieties when one least expects to notice. So many lessons…so little time! So if I write from county Jail in the future, you’ll know what to blame…the spatula!

Again let me end this stream of consciousness this week by thanking you & so many in the expanding network of the peace movement, women religious in so many different communities & beyond…cards with favorite quotes, letters on the back of a favorite restaurant placemat, news of peace protests that delights my heart, letters & notes from LGU groups & a group family letter written while on the way to a ND game! Mai call is a bright light in my day.

An inmate who works in the mailroom told me that the mail clerk divides the piles of mail into three categories - one pile for Dorm 1, one for Dorm 2 and one for that ‘Desautels person!’ Another inmate said last evening as we waited for the mail to be passed: “If I don’t get any tonight, I’m changing my name to Desautels.” The teasing is all in good faith. Many give me their stash of envelopes that are distributed every few weeks. How blessed I am.

Let me end by sharing a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that came on a beautiful card:
“In the midst of death LIFE persists, In the midst of untruth TRUTH persists, In the midst of darkness LIGHT exists.”

Thank you for sharing your LIGHT with me & in the many efforts you’re all making to stop the drumbeat of war that so pervades the airwaves & newspapers. May we each find a way to be TRUTH in the midst of UNTRUTH these days. Thank you for being a beacon of LIGHT for me. I am grateful beyond measure.

In Providence,
Kathleen #90966-020

P.S. Special thanks to whomever is sending the New York Times subscription. I share it with my co-defendants, as well as put it in the ‘leisure library’ for all to read. I don’t know who gave this gift, but want to thank you for the good read.

Thanks, too, for all who have tried & failed to send books to the Chapel Library. As some of you have discovered, if there’s a hard way to do anything, the BOP has found it. Supposedly I will be told if & when the books have been OK’d by the Warden. When I know I’ll try or the Mail Clerk or the Chaplain??? Will let you know. Blessings for your steadfast attempts!

October 22, 2002 Foundation Day

Dear Family & Friends,

Happy Foundation Day to all Sisters of Providence, friends & supporters of the Sisters of Providence…which is all of you on the list! I always think that if there were a totem pole of favorite feast days for the Community surely October 22 would top the pole. Re-reading Mother Theodore’s LETTERS AND JOURNAL these days stirs up similar feelings that I trust she experienced ‘lo 162 years ago.

How I’ve known the tugging of the heart that Mother Theodore had when she was leaving her beloved France. Her stories of being tossed & rolled on her journey & not only on the ships or on the stagecoaches. Her stories of confusion, not understanding the “pride of these Americans,” anxiety during many storms at sea, the frustrations of schedules being delayed, or disappointments when learning that the bishop’s sending the group “to the country” which didn’t “coincide with how they understood their destination.” I wonder, too, if she didn’t feel the heaviness of her responsibility in her desire to write to all those she loved but couldn’t find the time to correspond with? Actually I wonder how she wrote as much as she did given the conditions she had to endure. All of this re-reading makes me grateful again for the help of each of you - especially Barbara Battista & Rose Ann & others who help to get out these musings to the many I would like to correspond with individually, but time & conditions won’t allow. Thank you.

Many of you have asked about the food here at Greenville. Again, when I read Mother Theodore’s description of the “hodge-podge (of food served)’s the American way,” I had to laugh. My bet is that the food choice on the ship had to do with what the Captain wanted more than anything else. Same here in prison…it’s what men’s palates have a taste for…

Despite the fact that women are the largest number of new prison recruits these days, prison clothing, prison rules, prison food have men in mind. If a new rule comes to us from the Camp Administrator the reason given is often…“that’s the way they do it at the men’s prison across the way.” Clothes are made for men…buttons are all on the right side, & ‘small’ shirts are about three sizes too big. So, too, the food. The food is heavy gravy, lots of fried meats, lots of carbohydrates, & slim pickens on lite fares.

Much of the meat & boxed foods are ‘donated’ by fast food chains. Our roast beef is out-of-date donations from Arby’s or french toast sticks from Burger King. ‘Donation’ means that these companies get a tax write off & we get the rest. Lots of the blame one hears is that the government budget cuts have greatly affected what the BOP can offer. As one of my humorous companions once said to me…“I’ll be glad when they catch that bin Laden. We haven’t had a piece of white meat of chicken since the war on terrorism began!” And, as far as ‘presentation’ of the meals…we’ll leave that for another time.

Not unlike Mother Theodore’s times, however, the women here have that ‘can-do’ attitude, the determination to make the best out of the worst situation & laughing when all else fails. The creativity of using what little they have. Using maxi-pads for dusting & drying food containers, Windex, as I said, for all manner of cleaning, & commissary purchases plus the microwave are indispensable. The creativity of the women is amazing. Someone here should write a prison cookbook of the many recipes that are concocted. Here are a couple of favorites:

Au gratin potatoes Greenville-style: Take small bag of potato chips & crunch / smash into a Tupperware type plastic container, add cheese & water then mix, cook for 5 minutes & wa-la!

And for dessert try this Cookie Cake: Crumble sandwich cookies (we have the cheap kind in the commissary, but you might try Oreo), add one pint of ice cream (ours is melted since it was purchased in the AM & one only gets to cook in the PM) plus chocolate Hershey kisses on top. Cook for 5 minutes or until “it doesn’t stick,” say my friends. It’s delicious, cheap & do-able. What a Foundation Day treat it will make.

So, on this Foundation Day in this ‘foreign land’ of Greenville Prison I am reminded again of Mother Theodore’s practical, no-nonsense, & determined ways in which she embarked some 162 years ago under a lot worse odds, no? The day reminds me of my gratitude to her, her companions & mine who give me support & encouragement. Thank you.

Know of my prayers & glad heart that each of you & so many of the peace community are doing so much to resist the Bush Administrations plans for escalating the war against Iraq. It’s all about OIL, as we said in 1990-91 & it still is. The fact that half our oil comes from this region & in 2020 it’s anticipated that 2/3rds of our oil will be from abroad, it is no surprise that the West will do all it can - even at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis - to control the region. God forbid.

On the upside, however, I’m encouraged as I hope you are that the peace protests around the country are growing. Despite the media blackout of these events, the energy of alternative, nonviolent means to conflict resolution will have its affects. Let’s hope we see these affects in our lifetime, but if not our efforts will reach the next seventh generation, as our Native American sisters & brothers urge us to believe.

I’ll end this week’s musing with a quote from Chief Seattle that seems written for our times…“We are all children of the Great Spirit, we all belong to Mother Earth. Our planet is in great trouble & if we keep carrying old grudges & do not work together, we will die.” May our ‘grudges’ be turned into acts of compassion so we may live! Let us pray…

In Providence, Kathleen #90966-020

October 29, 2002

Dear Family & Friends:

Foundation Day last Tuesday was indeed Providential…the lunch menu included TACOS & ICE CREAM (a first since arriving). Mother Theodore continues to intervene with surprises of both large & not-so-large favors for her daughters.

Remembering the often quoted words of some 162 years ago on Oct. 22, 1840…“Step down, Sisters, we have arrived,” I, too, feel that after six weeks on the journey here in Greenville Federal Prison Camp I have finally arrived to a space of comfort & familiarity. The days “horarium,” daily schedule, as we used to call it in Novitiate days, is filled with time for…early morning reflection on the wood pile, time for walking the track each morning…time for squeezing into the line for doing my weekly washing of clothes (3 washers of which 2 usually work), & time…lots of it…to keep up with correspondence with the extended network of peacemakers connected to the SOAWatch movement. Letters come from as far away as Australia, England, Canada & yesterday a letter from a nun living in a hermitage in Ireland. She only recently learned of the SOA & political prisoners of conscience…the list goes on & on!

The longer I’m here the more I’m struck by how the simple joys of tacos & ice cream or pumpkins decorating the library tables, cubicle cabinets, & the serving line in the dining room can make one’s day. Inmates who work in the garden have taken endless numbers of the small pumpkins (6 inches or so), hollowed them out & made them into vases for small mums & leaves & weeds of all descriptions.

Last week an added simple bit of joy arrived when our “alley” received two new Labrador puppies who will be trained, along with the other 8 month old dogs, to be support dogs for people with physical challenges. These special gifts of creation are a great asset in creating an atmosphere of community for the women. Though there are two women assigned to each dog, the responsibility to play with them is shared by all who want. Some of the more talented sew-ers/crocheters are in the business right now of making each of the dogs an outfit for Halloween…Yes, striped prison outfits top the list. I balked at having any of them dressed as a “nun.”

“Having arrived” also comes in the form of paying special attention to the newcomer inmates as happened this past week. Unfortunately, the pattern of so many who arrive is becoming commonplace for me. Take for instance Rhonda, who arrived at 11PM. I learned the next day her late arrival was due to her being too strung out on drugs to get life together to leave early enough to arrive on time. She spent the first two days sick from going through withdrawal from the overdose of over-the-counter pain pills. Rhonda is a beautiful young woman…mother of 3 children, one of whom is a 12 year old boy who is mentally challenged & now living with Rhonda’s girlfriend. Rhonda is looking better each day she’s here, but clearly belongs in a drug rehabilitation program…not here. Interesting isn’t it that Jeb Bush’s daughter can receive such treatment, even abuse her time in treatment & still be kept where she belongs…a treatment center. However, for so many women & men needing the same kind of care, but are living in poverty, are sent to prison with the poorest of medical care. God, forgive us! Keep Rhonda & so many here like her in your prayers & efforts to change laws.

Speaking of which, if you want to help in this regard, there is a house bill - H.R. 5296, a bill to revive federal parole. The late Patsy Mink (D-HI) who died in July introduced this bill. The group organizing around this effort is “November Coalition.” H.R. 5296 would provide prisoners with an incentive to maintain exemplary behavior in prison & earn early release time. Earned early release would foster incentive toward cooperation, study, & learning skills that would create a safer environment for staff & prisoners alike. Families would be reunited earlier, with better prospects for successful reentry into society. High cost of incarcerating what is primarily nonviolent drug offenders—$9.4 billion annually—would be dramatically reduced. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how that money could be better spent…try low income housing, living wage jobs, better medical care & education for families living in poverty. Please ask your Congressperson to cosponsor this important bill that the women here are so anxious to have passed.

For more information on the November Coalition write them at: 795 South Cedar, Colville, WA, 99114 or log onto their website at or email them at

Here are some facts that you may find interesting, if you are not already aware of them…Did you know that…

  •   Average U.S. prison sentences served for murder: 6.3yrs
  •   Average U.S. prison sentences served for marijuana: 10yrs
  •   Change in the number of Americans jailed for nonviolent, drug-related offenses since 1980: +800%
  •   Number of marijuana plants you can be caught growing to constitute a felony: 1
  •   More than 700,000 marijuana smokers are arrested each year, which equals one arrest every 45 seconds.
  •    England, Canada, Portugal, Holland among other nations, if they have laws they do not enforce them, but rather put offenders in drug rehabilitation programs.

If you’re like me, I knew how ineffective U.S. laws were for so many first-time drug offenders, but until living “up close & personal” with so many women these last few weeks has brought home the issue all the more. So, I leave asking you to pray for the Rhondas of the system & be aware of the possibilities of changing the harsh laws that keep people incarcerated instead of being rehabilitated.

*...Interruption as I was writing this…Mr. Chambers just called me up to the administration building to tell me that long time friends, Dick & Donna McGarvey from Bloomington, IN, drove over for a visit unaware of the prison rules…He told them, of course, that I couldn’t visit & so they had to drive another five hours back for their good efforts. Oh my. Fair warning for anyone on the list who might try the same. My counselor, Mr. Chambers, said to me…“They were very nice people.” Of course they are say I, who else but ‘very nice people’ would try such a trip. However, says he, “the rules are the rules.” Ah, life in prison!

Blessings for the hallowed days ahead!
Kathleen #90966-020

P.S. Anyone who’s written for visitation permission as of 10/27/02 is OK’d. Please check with MBVM-ers Patty, Dorothy, or Margaret for visiting date & times.

November 15,2002

Dear Family & Friends:

“Sow Justice - Reap Peace” is the theme this year for the 8th Day Center Fall Appeal to all its supporters. Nowhere is this theme being made more real than at Columbus, GA this weekend when the thousands of people gather at the gates of Ft. Benning to demonstrate the need to “sow justice” so that the world might “reap peace.” Let it be! May it be so. Amen!

This week of “sowing” here in Greenville is one more lesson in how it’s really the small pleasures of life that make our day. Just as I relish the beauty of the morning sunrise over the flat lands of southern Illinois, others delight in the murky fog, such as we’re having today, or a rain shower of last night. As I was dashing back to the dorm to get out of the rain I met a new arrival standing under the dorm awning looking out obviously enjoying the scene. “Yuk,” said I with which she responds, “Oh, I love seeing the rain. I’ve been in “county” (jail) for the last six months & this is the first time I’ve been out in it.” Ah, the little pleasures… and a reminder - “We see from where we stand.”

Next week the new Camp Administrator arrives. So this week the Camp seemed to be on high alert in anticipation for her arrival. This meant that inmates were subject to daily “shakedowns” - guards (all male) paying unexpected visits to the dorms during the day & night, opening cabinets, inspecting cubicle areas, searching for contraband & generally just intimidating the women when they could. The invasion of privacy & the dismissive behavior of the guards never quite becomes second nature, I’m learning, even for the “long-termers.”

When people ask how many prisoners are in the Camp I always say it’s hard to know the exact numbers. New inmates are constantly arriving every week while others are leaving. Most leave to go to the ten-month-long drug program at Bryan, TX. Some leave on “writ,” which means back to the county jail where they were on trial to work on their appeal process. The women eligible for the drug program have to be within two years of release. If they complete this program their sentence is reduced by about a year at which time they then are sent to a halfway house near their hometown for the remainder of their time. In counting their time left in prison the women usually don’t include this year, or year and a half…anything to mark the calendar off that gets them “off” for whatever reason. Don’t blame them a bit…reminds me how I counted as a child before Christmas…never counted the days, only the sleeps that were left. Anticipation is half the fun, no?

The emotional yo-yo for these women is a daily burden. Even family visits create both happiness and frustrations. They anticipate the visits with great delight, but often come back from them with heavy hearts. One woman for instance is struggling with her husband regarding his mother’s seemingly taking control of the life of their 8-year-old son. The crowded visiting room with the son present doesn’t allow for the space or time to resolve the conflicts between the two spouses…and the stories go on and on. Women, I believe, suffer a double burden because of the cultural and social environment present in society. The expectations put on women seems to pile an extra dose of guilt on them that weighs heavy on their spirits. Add to these feeling the long and idle hours that the women here have to sit and think, sit and worry after the family leaves, sit and crochet, blame themselves, frustrations abound. Keep these “mothers of sorrows” in your prayers and actions for a more humane system.

One of the Sisters at St. Mary’s cautiously offered her concern for me after learning of my having to go to prison. “Kathleen,” she said, “I don’t think you’re going to like the prison system.” I laugh almost daily at this understatement and truism. Living in religious life for 42 years plus working the last 17 years at the 8th Day Center for Justice has indeed spoiled me. When values of cooperation, mutuality, and consensual decision-making have been such central elements in daily life it makes the dualistic, hierarchical bureaucracy of the prison system even more apparent, and of course mind-boggling at times. It’s almost laughable, too, as to how serious those responsible at the top of the pyramid of power take their job of micro-managing the various policies of the system. When questioned about a decision, the guard, or the other administrators just answer, “It’s policy.”

The policy regarding a visit from reporters or media folks is just the latest experience of mine. And oh, the hoops that one must go through only to be denied one’s request. Mary Ann Wyand of The Criterion, the Archdiocesan Catholic Newspaper, and Dave Cox of my Community’s Media Office wanted to come for a visit for the purpose of an interview. Such interviews were common at Pekin for my SOA friend, Mary Kay Flanigan, and the Hennessey Sisters and others. As one of my kitchen supervisor’s said to me in a moment of candor…“They put you SOA folks here in Greenville because Pekin got tired of the hassle.” That was our hunch, but I was surprised to hear it from him.

So, the last weeks of hoop-jumping…writing cop-outs, speaking with the Camp Administrator, then to the Asst. Warden, followed by writing a formal letter of complaint because the Media Director of the Prison denied the visit by the reporters…Oh my, it wears one down, but the reasons given are even more curious.

I’ll let you decide: The policy reads that a “newspaper is only a newspaper if it is one of general circulation…circulates among the general public and if it publishes news of a general interest…A reporter is only a reporter if this is his/her full time job…and “It is not the intent of this rule (for media visitation) to provide publicity for an inmate or special privileges for the news media, but rather to insure a better informed public.” Guess that’s what both Dave and Mary Ann were hoping for…a story to better inform the public, no? Oh my…The Warden added that these same reporters could come to visit if I put them on my visiting list and if they are approved, BUT if they come they may not take written notes! Yes, Sister, You’re right…I don’t like this system.

All this to say that if there are any media persons reading this letter and want to help break the media black-out here in Greenville, Kate, Mary or I would welcome a visit…“to insure a better informed public.” You can write to the Warden at the following address: Warden Charles Gilkey, PO Box 4000, Greenville, IL 62246 or try calling. I’m sure you can find the number easy enough from directory assistance. One good note to share is that yesterday the Greenville Newspaper had a small article about the SOA Protest this weekend and told that there were three inmates in this prison for “crossing the line” last year. Let’s here it for the Greenville weekly newspaper!

To continue the lighter note…I want to share one more good reason to use WINDEX. My friend, Dixie, tells me that many of the inmates use Windex as a kind of spray starch when they press their uniforms! What a product we have in WINDEX.

That’s it for this week. Continue to laugh at life’s ironies and I will, too. As we do, let us continue to “Sow Justice” so the world can “Reap Peace.” Let it be. May it be so. Amen!


November 15-17, 2002

Dear Sisters, Friends of the Community, Women of Providence All:

Greetings from Greenville. I don’t think I need to tell you the obvious…how I will miss not being with you this year at Ft. Benning. However, knowing there are so many of “us” gathered as a collective voice & public witness of Providence to say, NO, to the SOA makes my heart glad. Know that I am with you at the Bradley Theater, on the road in front of the gates, at the prayer-gathering for religious women & their friends, standing long hours listening to the voices of our sisters & brothers from Latin America who recount the stories of the suffering at the hands of the graduates of the SOA. I am with you as we join the thousands of other justice-makers who believe, as we do, in nonviolent alternatives to the SOA, to the war of terror. May your standing, singing, listening, meeting & greeting be a sign of the right relationships that we strive for between all peoples & for planet earth.

I’m aware many of you have been in discernment to consider the possibility of doing ‘high risk’ action that may result in your arrest. My hope is that for each of you the process of personal prayer, reflection, dialogue with others has deepened your commitment to the life-time of justice-making to which we commit ourselves. It really is this process of discernment, is it not, that’s as important as the choice we make. Our call to faithful obedience to the gospel takes all forms & so many strategies. The work today needs them all.

The really tough work for each of us will greet us when we return home. It’s the work of the long haul, as we say. It’s the work that often goes unnoticed, even unappreciated - the endless writing, calling of our Congresspersons, educating our publics, preparing prayer services, participating in more & more peace protests, & on & on the list goes. Our day-in & day-out faithfulness is really about what Thomas Merton reminds us of…“concentrating more on the value, the rightness, the truth of our work.” It’s about showing up. It’s about joining with others, it’s about community efforts. The call of Providence in this day & age more than ever is just that…showing up to act on the “value, the truth, the rightness” of nonviolence, & the promotion of right relationships. Coming to Ft. Benning…showing up to join with others to make a collective, public stance against the cycle of violence in the place of the SOA is Providence at work. May you & I not grow weary in the doing of what Providence requires of us as justice-makers…showing up again & again.

I pray that this weekend’s events enliven your spirit, give you renewed energy to carry on the work of justice-making when you return home. And when we get discouraged at the magnitude of our task, I trust the community building that we’ve experienced together will carry us through even though, as Merton warns, our efforts “may not result in the outcome we desire.” Your faithfulness & your loving support of me gives me courage these days of missing being with you all.

Again, Mother Theodore’s words come to mind…“May we never forget why we came.” I’m sure if she were here today she would add…May we never forget why we came to Ft. Benning…may we never forget our sisters & brothers in Latin America who count on our solidarity, our collective, public witness to close the SOA, to put an end to the cycle of violence everywhere. Amen, so be it. May it be so.

Be of glad-hearts, my friends. I am with you in spirit, prayer & prison-life-being. And when you all go out on Sunday after the day’s actions, as is the SP custom, please “raise a glass” for me & all my POC companions. And so, WE UNITE…...

In the solidarity that brings peace,
Kathleen #90966-020

November 30, 2002

Dear Family and Friends:

Our ancient ancestors had it right when they celebrated the festival of lights during the darkest period of the year. There’s a lesson in this, is there not, for those of us who struggle at this time to bring the justice that the Scriptures promise? May this Advent season remind us again to find hope in the doing and being peace with one another, as well as continuing our efforts for the same for the world.

You might be interested to know that Thanksgiving here at Greenville began on Wednesday with the surprise arrival of new pillows. Good thing, I say, since the one issued to us upon our arrival was paper thin and only useful with an extra folded blanket underneath it to give any comfort. So imagine the delight of 200 women when a pick-up arrives Wednesday afternoon at the front door of the dorm (mind you there’s no driveway at this point) with large boxes in its bed. With the guards pitching and the women catching…pillows were flying everywhere. Luckily for me an alert and kind “alley-mate” caught two and gave me one. What a laugh that night when sleeping seemed to be done in a sitting position given the brand-spanking new pillows. A great light in the darkness for sure.

The kitchen crew went all out for the main Thanksgiving meal…very, very teeny Cornish hens substituted for turkey. My first taste of white meat for which I gave extra thanks. Other traditional trimmings of yams, green beans, and jello with real bananas were delicious. However, the meal was not without its special BOP touch. As the line began to form the food supervisor got on the loudspeaker system that blares throughout the whole compound and says, “Listen up, ladies. This is how it works. Everyone gets one piece of pumpkin pie and one piece of either apple, cherry or pecan. No one gets two pieces of the same kind of pie.” The section on “food presentation” must have gotten lost from the BOP food handbook.

For many of us Thanksgiving is so welcome among other holidays because of the four-day weekend away from work and away from the next set of “to-dos.” However, prison long weekends are more dreaded than enjoyed, I’m learning. For many the days drag. The idle time is spent in the dorms sleeping, crocheting, worrying and fretting about family problems. The women do a lot of “steeling” themselves, it seems, just holding on. They generally looked more sad than glad. Thankfully on Thursday evening the Rec. Dept. planned a night of bingo with prizes of laundry soap, powder, cookies and other commissary goodies. Actually I thought to myself it was the perfect game…the women could be together with others while not having to concentrate on anything more than winning the grand prize of sausage!

The added burden for women in prison at the end of the month has to do with their 300 minutes allotted for phone use is usually gone or very nearly gone by Thanksgiving day. Many mothers literally call home every day or until the money and/or time allotted runs out. We’re given 300 minutes at 17 cents each, equaling $51. If you work 20 days @ 84 cents per day for those on the low end of the pay scale…you get the picture.

I counted my blessings on Thanksgiving for the extra time (I don’t work on Thursdays) and spent quiet hours alone in “my office,” which is what I call the Law Library. With everyone in the dorms I had the place practically to myself reading mail from the day before, reading articles sent by friends and an unexpected delightful visit with an inmate I call “Greenville Prison’s St. Francis.” She’s notorious for sneaking food out of the dining room everyday to feed the stray family of cats. She told me that she was sure she’s the only person in BOP history who has every gotten a “shot” for the crime, which reads: “possession of fish.” Quiet and bingo, what more can one ask! It was a swell Thanksgiving. Hope yours was, too.

The best news of the Thanksgiving mail reading was a note from Roy Bourgeois. For those who don’t recognize his name, Roy is the Maryknoller who founded the SOAWatch Movement in 1990 along with a handful of others on the anniversary of the death of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. His note was accompanied by a copy of the letter he received from Amnesty International-USA telling him about a new report that Amnesty has prepared entitled: “Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimension of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces.” This report is the first comprehensive analysis of US foreign military training programs.

The report highlights the serious human rights consequences of US training programs and, as the letter states, “is consistent with much of what you (Roy - SOAWatch) have boldly proclaimed for years.” The letter further states that “Amnesty believes that recent changes to the SOA and its curriculum do not absolve the United States Government of responsibility for past abuses. Therefore Amnesty is calling on the US Government to identify and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations perpetrated by the School of the Americas, including past and current US personnel responsible for drafting, approving, or teaching with manuals that advocate illegal tactics such as torture. In addition, Amnesty is calling on the US Government to take immediate steps to establish an independent commission to investigate the activities of the SOA and its graduates, particularly the use and impact of these manuals in SOA training. Training at the school should be suspended, pending completion of this investigation…”

The letter ends with the further good news that Amnesty USA has begun a major effort to educate its membership about US training programs and to promote a legislative agenda that it hopes will bring justice for past abuses and greater transparency, oversight, and accountability in all training programs…”

To have Amnesty International, one of the most respected human rights defenders/agencies in the world, come on board is truly good, good news. As Roy says, “This gives us some new hope in the struggle.” The release of this report along with upcoming trial of Adele, Joann, Rita Clare, Dorothy and Kay plus their 80+ co-defendants where they will witness to its truth gives hope in the struggle toward a world of true peace with justice that Advent promises…where lions and lambs really will lie down together. Happy Advent!


P.S. For those of you who may want to read the cover letter or the full report, you might write to SOAWatch or go to their web site: Better yet, write directly to Amnesty International-USA 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE Washington, DC 2003. Or, go to their web site at

Feast of St. Nicholas, 2002

Dear Family and Friends:

Today’s feast and the approach of the 2nd Sunday of Advent with readings about “voices crying out in the wilderness…making crooked ways straight…anticipating a new heaven and new earth” are wonderful conscience tweakers. The theme of “waiting” just doesn’t do it for me anymore. As one writer said, it may be OK in teaching patience when one is baking bread, but it’s a little too passive for my spirits these days with so much “straightening of crooked ways” needed in this world.

Yesterday I was “walking the line,” as the women call standing in the commissary line. My number was 55, which gave me lots of time waiting with 54 before and another 50 behind me in line. My morning meditation had been musing about how I don’t like waiting, so to entertain myself and to get their opinions, I asked the others what words came to mind when they thought of “waiting.” Most are not printable. I forgot to give a few ground rules and several expletives came streaming out. However, after lots of laughing one woman finally said, “Are you kidding? I hate waiting.” My thought exactly. Waiting, I think, too often means life’s circumstances are out of my control.

The women here know all about losing control of so much of their lives. They’re always waiting…waiting for a special letter, waiting for money to be sent, waiting ‘till the commissary has their favorite item, waiting for the first of the month when their 300 minutes allotted each month for phone calls kicks in again (nonviolently of course.) However, saying all this it seems to me it’s not so much the waiting, but what we do with the time while we’re waiting. The “new heaven and new earth” won’t come unless we’re alert - observing - critiquing - studying - reflecting - acting.

When I think about waiting times, I loved reading the account by Rita Clare, Joann, and Adele as they waited in the Muscogee Co. Jail after being shackled in leg-irons, handcuffed, stripped and put in this old (1850) holding facility with 30+ others. While they waited for hours / days to face Judge Faircloth for their arraignment they spent their time filled with activities of compassion, care for one another’s needs by advocating for women needing their medicines, needing extra blankets, needing hearts lifted. So while they “waited” they also sang, prayed, taught one another Tai Chi. What a scene. Freedom of spirit is always in our control. Must have been the same for the slaves held in the same prison years before, as they wrote. It’s no wonder we have such rich spirituals to sing that came out of that period of history as much as we have peace songs coming out of today’s struggles. Thanks again, Adele, Joann and Rita Clare for your story of those SOA days in November.

Jesuit Dirk Dunfee wrote an article for NCR that Mary Alice Zander sent that suggests Advent is a time to “Wake Up.” If we’re asleep as taking as truth what we hear on TV owned and operated by AOLCNNTimeWarnerViacomDisney, we need to wake up, he says. Women who watch endless TV here in Greenville are good examples of how the anxiety and fear is being fed by the news these days coming from the State Dept.

Is it any wonder that the Advent cry of Isaiah of making “rugged places smooth and voices crying out in the wilderness” have such meaning for us today? As Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer writes in his book, School of the Assassins, “The U.S. foreign policy has deep roots in the distorted power of an entrenched military-industrial-congressional complex and a corporate led global economic system…All of this of course feeding such international resentment with U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto environmental accords aimed at reducing global warming…refusal to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Land Mine Treaty…Undermined the curb of selling small weapons…refused to ratify the creating of the International Criminal Court…refused to sign the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women…” Jack reminds us that Rome dominated first-century Palestine thru brutal force and sophisticated propaganda. May his recalling encourage us to continue to do whatever we can to “Wake Up” our government leaders to cease doing the same in the 21st Century.

My morning time of reflection, no matter the snow and the cold, has me outdoors watching the sunrise and praying for both the people of Iraq and all of us who will be affected if the war escalates. One thing Greenville has that I will miss (besides the good women friends I’ve made of course) are the beautiful sunrises. They are truly magnificent, and the flat farmlands that surround this prison provide a perfect view of the horizon. It’s picture-postcard beauty at its’ best. As I watched the sunrise this morning I remembered again how struck I was by the beauty of the sunrise in the desert when I visited Iraq in ‘91 after the Gulf War. Luckily, no one owns the right to the sun’s beauty….not yet anyway. The same sun that I enjoyed is also warming the winter days in Iraq…I thought of the many people I met while there. The beauty of the sun, the remembrance of the Iraqi people makes the world smaller for me. And of course I remembered the often-repeated saying of Lacordiare… “All we know of tomorrow is that Providence will rise before the sun.” May the Providence of compassion, nonviolence, peace with justice rise in the hearts of the world leaders this day and all the days to come. So be it. May it be so. Amen!

Speaking of waiting reminds me that the much-awaited new Camp Administrator has finally arrived. Ms. Dunbar is her name and she held her first “town hall”<