“A Future in Prison”

January 28th, 2015

“A Future in Prison”

by Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence

JAN. 22ND, 2015 — The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address:  for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men.  Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.

In December, 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base.  Judge Whitworth allowed me over a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.

When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year in prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me “Missiles.”  One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me “Drones.”

It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison.  For someone like me, very nearly saturated in “white privilege” through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90% (or more) of my experience will likely depend on attitude.

But, for many of the people I’ll meet in prison, an initial arrest very likely began with something like a “night raid” staged in Iraq or Afghanistan, complete with armed police surrounding and bursting into their home to remove them from children and families, often with helicopters overhead, sequestering them in a county jail, often with very little oversight to assure that guards and wardens treat them fairly.  Some prisoners will not have had a chance to see their children before being shipped clear across the country.  Some will not have been given adequate medical care as they adjust to life in prison, possibly going without prescribed medicines and often traumatized by the sudden dissolution of ties with family and community.  Some will not have had the means to hire a lawyer and may not have learned much about their case from an overworked public defender.

In the U.S., the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates people of color for petty offences. Many take plea bargains under threat of excessive, punitive sentences. If I were a young black male, the U.S. penal system quite likely would not have allowed me to turn myself in to a federal prison camp.

Excerpted from the Voices for Creative Nonviolence newsletter. Read more at www.vcnv.org.

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