ACTIONS FOR PEACE
Essay Fundraiser: A Harvest Gathering, Friday Nov. 3, 7 pm
Habeas Corpus assaulted in the Capital--by "Cincinnatus"
Wall of Hope--Poem bySam Pierstorff
Norman Solomon - Media Beat
San Joaquin Connections--Our Sister Publication to the North--October Issue (pdf)
Around the Center:
- Chart: Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes
Statement of Conscience Against War and Repression by the Board of the Peace/Life Center
Link: MoveOn--grassroots activism, electronically based
Recipes from Connections
COMMUNITY CALENDAR --CURRENT & COMING EVENTS
Masthead and Back Issues
Opinion and Letters to Connections
By TINA ARNOPOLE DRISKILL
Modesto’s diverse faith communities and interested area residents are invited to gather once again for the Innerfaith Thanksgiving Celebration on Monday, November 20, 2006 from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. at the Church of the Brethren on Woodland Avenue in Modesto.
The service will include singing, readings and other spiritual offerings of thankfulness from a varied representation of Modesto area faith groups. The Church of the Brethren Bell Choir, under the direction of Stephen Reddy, will be among those who will add "enchanting and uplifting music to the Celebration," according to Mark Haskett, celebration coordinator.
ACTION: To express their thankfulness, celebration attendees should bring canned goods, which will be collected and distributed through Interfaith Ministries to those in need. Call 577-0864 to learn more about participation in the celebration.
Habeas corpus assaulted in the Capital
Little noticed by the distracted public glutted with entertainment, and ignored by a derelict, broken representative government, Habeas corpus, the long-lived noble guardian of the rights of the accused, was brutally attacked last month by a group of juridically-challenged political thugs in, of all places, the United States Senate.
Bruised and torn by the passage of the “Military Commissions Act of 2006,” corpus was rushed, not to the Department of Justice for treatment by his amici curiae, but to the Whitehouse where he was cynically betrayed and stabbed through his parchment by the President of the United States blinded, some say, by Hubris. “Et tu Bushé,” gasped Habeas as he crumpled to the floor, his black ink forever staining in ignominy the presidential seal imprinted on the Oval Office carpet.
The severely wounded Legal Precedent now struggles on life-support in the restoration room of the National Archives, resting near the hallowed document that gave him birth, the U.S. Constitution, herself, the victim of recent, unprecedented attacks.
A hushed, solemn vigil is currently in progress at the bedside. The “Bill of Rights,” protectively cradles its surreptitiously violated child, the IV Amendment Against Unreasonable Search & Seizure, as the ghost of James Madison, Bill’s father, quietly weeps. In the room’s dark corner, Blind Justice, exhausted, barely stands, her scales heavy and unbalanced by the weight of sacrilege. Overshadowing all, its brow furrowed, the philosopher Democracy soberly ponders its own Fate.
Rumor has it that those warrantless, conniving twins, Wiretapping and Eavesdropping, were honored at a late night NSA celebration presided over by steely, Deadeye Dick. Meanwhile, Torture and Rendition have been spied snaking gleefully around the CIA. Covert torturers, stalked by Fear and Guilt are, reportedly, uneasy about their new, ill-gotten immunity.
The questions on the many lips: Who can save Habeas corpus? Who can restore the balance of Justice? Who can strike down the insidious threats to Democracy? Who can protect the Constitution from the rape of her principles? Some attorneys say the Supreme Court. Others insist that Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom” could ensure that the people’s power and hard-won government shall not perish.
The Jury is still out but, according to sources burrowed deep inside the infernal Whitehouse, there may be a glint of light at the end of this nightmarish tunnel. The craving hiss of dark-eyed Nemesis has been heard in the dim, nocturnal halls of the West Wing — and she is slavering for payback.
A new agency, Family Promise, will be featured at the Alternative Faire at the Modesto Church of the Brethren on Sunday, November 26, from noon to 2:00 p.m. A light lunch will be served until 1:30 p.m. All are welcome to explore alternative holiday gift-giving with donations to honor your family and friends, or to purchase gifts that have meaning and provide funds for agencies meeting many needs in our community and world.
Family Promise, part of the national Interfaith Hospitality Network, houses and feeds homeless families in churches, rotating weekly, while helping them find jobs, if necessary, and permanent housing. The agency’s office at the Modesto Church of the Brethren provides non-employed family members a place to spend the day. Having an address and telephone number allows a degree of stability for employment, receiving mail, and enrollment in schools. Talk to the Family Promise representatives and find out more about ways this organization gives families a boost to stability.
In addition to Family Promise, come find out about and make contributions to or purchase gifts at:
A Greater Gift (SERRV) sells items which provide incomes to artisans in developing countries and the U.S.
Church World Service provides humanitarian aid including thousands of blankets in world disasters within hours of a major catastrophe. Five dollars “buys” a blanket for someone who has lost everything! Tools and other means of livelihood also available.
Habitat for Humanity builds houses locally and worldwide with families. Purchase building materials or buy cards, cups, shirts, bears.
Heifer International provides animals, fuel, and fiber to U.S. families and around the world.
Inter-Faith Ministries operates the Food Bank and Clothes Closet, Redwood House for mothers recovering from substance abuse and their children, and the Santa Fe Housing Project for homeless families.
Modesto Peace/Life Center works for justice, peace, and saving the environment.
Sierra Club will have beautiful calendars for sale to help the environment.
Somoto-Merced project helps people of Somoto, Nicaragua, meet basic needs through the sale of handcrafts made in that sister city.
A light luncheon will give you opportunity to contribute toward the Global Food Crisis Fund by using part of any donations to feed hungry people around the world.
Bake sale goodies sold by the Pre-teens and Youth will provide money for feeding the guests at the 9th and D Street homeless shelter.
Black Cows, root beer floats made by the youth. Proceeds go to Heifer International.
ACTION: Come, bring friends, enjoy yourself, and be generous to people in need.
All money goes to the designated agencies except cost of food for lunch and Black Cows. The church keeps nothing.
Experience the Wall of Hope!
By SANDY SAMPLE
Over the next six weeks, whenever you feel a need for a fresh infusion of hope, either because of the national or world political situation, struggles at work or home, or your own personal pain or perplexity, go to the library at Modesto Junior College’s East Campus, and spend time at the Wall of Hope. You’ll leave with immeasurably more hope than when you came in.
The Wall of Hope, created by students in the Spring 2006 Learning Community class on War, Social Conflict and Nonviolence, was coordinated by MJC English Instructor Dan Onorato and Sociology Instructor Sandra Woodside.
Stunning in its visual impact and careful in its detail, the huge display features pictures, essays, and quotations from the sacred texts of the major world religions and from promoters of nonviolence, both familiar/famous ones and some who are relatively unknown.
A moving introduction captures the Wall of Hope’s vision:
“In a world beset with violence, those who have practiced nonviolence have sown seeds of hope for our future: they have demonstrated a way to resolve conflict other than through physical force and military might.”
On a sturdy wall, huge pictures of nonviolence in action wrap around the bottom third of each of five double-sided sections. Above the pictures float quotations concerning nonviolence, smaller captioned pictures of nonviolent action, 30 biographical sketches of individuals who were committed to nonviolence, and 13 essays about organizations that promote nonviolent approaches to resolving conflict, as well as a listing of the basic principles of nonviolence from Martin Luther King Jr.’s book, Stride Toward Freedom.
The display ends with an invitation to fold an origami crane to add to an in-process Circle of Peace Cranes, and a journal in which viewers are invited to write personal comments and reflections.
ACTION: Experience the Wall of Hope! MJC’s East Campus Library is open Mondays thru Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays 8 to 5, Saturdays 9 to 5. It will be on display through December 18th. Those who have seen it are hoping that a permanent home will be found, so that future students will be inspired to explore how a commitment to nonviolence can indeed create a more life-giving future for our world.
Wall of Hope
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Brick by brick, we build walls around cities,
around ourselves. And stick by stone,
we break them down with words and wars.
Some walls are built to keep people out.
Some walls are forged to keep us in, but
all walls must come down to know the other side
or we must climb over them—inch by inch—
our fingers caught in the deep grooves
of dried mortar, nails bleeding in trails,
but we must we keep climbing, must
scale the walls that separate humanity
and meet peace on the other side,
offer her a warm blanket, a loaf of bread,
a smile and a prayer that says hope
is the only wall worth building
because you can’t love thy neighbor if
you’ve stacked cinderblocks around your home.
You can’t picnic in the forest if your family
lives behind a fence. Let them out. Let them
see the world beyond splinters and boards.
If you give a child a wall, she’ll play handball against it.
If you give an adult a wall, he’ll deploy the National Guard
to protect it from intruders and think he’s safe behind borders.
But when levees break, cities are flooded
with the truth that still lies on the lawns of Louisiana:
Neighbors you never knew will be there
to pull you from the rubble of your home.
And today, we learn there is only hope left to have —
the only wall worth rebuilding,
the only wall we should all get behind.
— Sam Pierstorff
Winds of revolution blowing in México
By ALEJANDRA JUÁREZ
On July 2, 2006, Mexicans went to the polls to elect a new president for the next six years. The major contenders came from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and National Action Party (PAN); Roberto Madrazo, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Felipe Calderón respectively. Months before the election, polls showed López-Obrador (AMLO) leading by several points followed by Calderón with Madrazo in third place. It was widely believed that AMLO would win by a landslide. To the public’s disillusionment, however, Calderón was named the winner. And the struggle began.
Immediately after the announcement AMLO and his coalition ‘For the Good of All’ took action and began to organize and demand a full recount of the votes. In subsequent weeks the PRD received several pieces of evidence including videotapes corroborating the charge of fraud. Unfortunately, the outcome was not a surprise to the rank and file as this was yet another attempt to highjack democracy in México. The year before President Fox’s administration had tried unsuccessfully to curb AMLO’s popularity, known as el desafuero, by accusing him of corruption and threatening him with imprisonment which would disqualify him from the ballot. It is reported that one million supporters protested for days and, ultimately, the charges were dropped.
As the elections were nearing and AMLO’s popularity was not waning, Felipe Calderón’s campaign headed by Dick Morris, a political campaign consultant for Trent Lott, Pete Wilson, the Clintons, etc., and funded by Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Citygroup, began to compare AMLO with Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Calderón aired his propaganda on radio and television with the warning that AMLO was a threat to México and that he would plunge the country into chaos. The ads were effective and AMLO’s numbers began to decline. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) ultimately managed to get the ads off the air declaring them unconstitutional but the damage was done.
Corporate media readily painted AMLO as the evildoer. It seemed only the newspapers La Jornada and Reforma were reporting the facts. After the elections, La Jornada reported that Calderon’s brother-in-law, Diego Zavala, a data processing tycoon, had designed programs for IFE and SEDESOL (Social Development Secretary). According to John Ross, reporting for counterpunch.org, Josefina Vásquez Mota, former secretary of SEDESOL, was also Calderon’s right hand which constitutes a federal crime. Ross states, “Utilizing voter registration rolls and lists of beneficiaries of government programs is considered an electoral crime here.”
The TRIFE (Federal Electoral Tribunal) found enough irregularities to call for a recount. Only several precincts were recounted, however, not a vote-by-vote like the PRD had asked. Throughout the process AMLO’s supporters kept their actions peaceful and no major incidents were reported. On September 1st Mexican president Vicente Fox was prevented from giving his Informe (state of the union speech) which takes place annually in congress. Leftist deputies numbering 155 stormed the congress and forced Fox to televise his speech from his residence, Los Pinos. A few days later the TEPJF (Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary) declared Felipe Calderón president-elect.
Rumors surfaced that the TEPJF judges had been bribed. Many still believed that AMLO had been wronged. On September 15th, the Mexican day of independence, AMLO and his followers took the Zócalo, Mexico City’s central square, and made el gríto, the call. Traditionally el gríto is made by the president and celebrates the original call of independence made by Miguel Hidalgo. President Fox relinquished his right and instead made the call from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, birthplace of the revolution.
The next day a massive National Democratic Convention (CND) took place in the Plaza de la Constitución. Leftist delegates from all over the country and the public voted to name López-Obrador the real president of México and called Calderón an usurper. AMLO’s coalition called for a united front, now called the Broad Progressive Front (FAP), to create a cabinet and to establish the new seat of government in México City. Reporting for ZNET, Dan La Botz reported, “the organizers claimed that 1,025,724 delegates had actually registered to be present at the convention, coming from all of the 32 states of México…the new government was instructed to take power on November 20, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.” The significance of the day is twofold. AMLO wants to place himself among national heroes such as Hidalgo, Juárez, and Zapata and also wants to declare his presidency before Calderón officially takes office on December 1st. La Botz adds, “the next CND assembly was scheduled for Sunday, March 21 of 2007…CND is expected to organize the convocation of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and re-found the Mexican government.”
AMLO is apparently drawing on his right to have a parallel government from article 39 of the Mexican Constitution which states, “The national sovereignty resides essentially and originally in the people. All public power originates in the people and is instituted for their benefit. The people at all times have the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government.”
It is difficult to know where this emerging democratic movement will end up. Recent polls show that 30% of the population still believes electoral fraud took place. What is certain is that this new movement will not succeed without mass support. AMLO’s platform is one of social and economic justice, of local development, and of national sovereignty. He is a hope for México and those marginalized by the neoliberal agenda that has taken root in the country. AMLO has refused to give up and submit to the status quo, a move that Gore and Kerry should have made. Perhaps this democratic wave will sweep towards the north this November 7th. In any case, we should learn something from our neighbors; to raise our voices, take action, and unite in the face of fascism. Too many times we see injustice not only at home but around the world and we don’t take action. We wait for someone else to step up. Yet we wonder where all of our great leaders have gone. In the words of Senator Barack Obama, “step up to the challenge, become the leader you want to see.”
Sources: Ross, John. Mexico's Surreal Elections: “Anatomy of a Fraud Foretold.” 7/7/06; www.counterpunch.org/ross07072006.html
By ROBERT W. STANFORD
Communication is the key that unlocks the shackles of fear, guilt, hatred, and apathy in our communities.
Although at first, the subject and discussion of communication is quickly identified, categorized, and usually affirmed as understood when stated by an individual or an organization, it is in fact needed by two self-identifying parties such as a police department and a community group.
As a Civil Rights activist, I have often witnessed that when a community feels it has been treated unfairly in some way, an immediate knee-jerk reaction occurs in which communication, regardless of its previous state, will consist more of verbal missiles lobbed by various members of the community. Accusations are made and historical events are recited. Law enforcement generally becomes defensive, while under advice of their city and/or county legal advisors, and denial becomes its position.
The heated debate is, more often then not, reduced to nothing more than accusations that usually cannot be addressed in a forum, if at all, and denial of those accusations results in an involuntary denial of the reassurance previously sought by the community from local law enforcement.
At a recent Modesto National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) meeting, a police officer fielded an accusation of police profiling by saying, “My wife complains of the same thing every time she brings home another speeding ticket.” This was said in a “Take my wife, please” humorous manner to make his point of denial to the accusation of prevalent profiling as palatable as he could.
“Is she white?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, showing me right away that he had not put much thought into a response if the issue were to arise. Nothing more was mentioned for the remainder of the meeting although a few people traded glances as though speaking aloud, “Naturally” or “Typical”.
Many of us present that evening would have absolutely loved a statement to the effect, “Yes. I am aware that in a few incidents profiling exists, but I assure you that we, as a department, are taking proactive steps to address them.”
But there is no way the officer can say anything like that, especially at an NAACP meeting. He is only authorized to say what he has been instructed to say in response to general questions or statements regarding the conduct of all personnel within the police department.
This is the point at which communication between a community and its local law enforcement begins to break down. It breaks down on the side of the community because many feel that their concerns are invalidated and/or their experiences are dismissed out of hand as though their concerns are not important. This particularly angers parents who feel their children have been mistreated.
Communication breaks down on the side of law enforcement because officers may feel that the community’s concerns place them in a catch-22 type situation; If they admit to any flaws in procedure or problems with any officer, they may inadvertently open themselves up to possible legal problems, or the current forum may escalate to an undesirable state of affairs whether they answer or not.
Though what I have just described is in fact communication, it is strangled before it can benefit either side. An opportunity for growth is missed due to the inability of both sides to sufficiently empathize with the other. The “We’re all in this together” attitude must be addressed and considered before conversation can begin.
Venting, taking opportunities to let one side know how they other feels, may very well be important if not necessary. However, if that is all that occurs, great opportunities for understanding by both parties are missed by all.
To achieve successful communication, either to effectively change the community or to give fair warning against inappropriate actions against the community by local law enforcement, it is absolutely vital to be mindful of ecclesiastical philosophy; i.e. there is a time and place for everything.
Asking questions before meetings is beneficial to success. Questions such as: Who is the real audience? The police or the press? Are there others who may not be sure where you stand? What exactly would you want the police to do? Grant amnesty to a specific group? Practice affirmative action with their arrest and/or stopping procedures? Reduce or increase their presence in specified areas of the community?
Usually, it comes down to either modifying procedures or starting or stopping activities. What activities would you like the police to start or stop? Stop daily harassment of homeless persons in a certain area? Start diversity training? Reach out more to the community? How? More importantly perhaps, how does local law enforcement feel about the things you want?
A couple of years ago, I witnessed a pre-teen Chicano child dressed in Converse tennis shoes, baggy pants and sporting a white t-shirt reaching his knees, stopped by police officers working with the Stanislaus County Gang Task Force Unit. I immediately approached the officer and demanded, “Hey, wait, wait, wait, what’s your probable cause here?”
“He was riding his bicycle in the street,” replied the officer, knowing who I was, and pausing for my response rather then ordering me to stand back or walk on, etc.
On this particular street in a desperate area of Modesto, there are no sidewalks, shoulders, or bike lanes. Further, by the child riding his bicycle in the street, moving with traffic, he was still well within his rights and not breaking any laws.
My first thought was to confront the officer, in front of witnesses, with the facts that he did not have probable cause to stop and roust the Chicano child. Instead, it occurred to me that, since the officer had paused, he was ready to listen (to whatever extent) to what I had to say. I had an opportunity to avoid a typical verbal scrimmage and effectively communicate with him as opposed to communicating against him.
I decided to forego my usual combative and often threatening response consisting of an insistence of releasing his subject because he did not, in fact, have probable cause, therefore leaving his circumstances open to criticism as an act of racial/cultural profiling. I let him off the hook and said, “When the neighbors that live around here see you do things like this, they think you’re profiling. They don’t know what your probable cause is.”
He then turned and let his subject go, then turned back to me and gruffly asked, “Any more questions?”
I know the officer understood that his probable cause was non-existent and perhaps we were both a bit frustrated after not having expressed what we both wanted to, but I felt that we were all winners, even if by a little, tiny bit. I validated his actions with a reason for my concern. In turn, he listened to what I said, and released the child. Win-Win.
We do not have to accept a point of view, or even believe it, to acknowledge it. Once a side takes the first step to create discussion, real communication can follow, if both sides care enough to express their feelings to each other, no matter what those feelings are. There exists the opportunity for something beautiful and amazing to grow between all persons involved. The ramifications can be miraculous.
Contact the author, president of LocalBlack, “A Civil Rights Organization” at (209) 496-2363; email@example.com
What makes a mother legitimate?
By SARA JANE OLSON
Who has the right to be a mother in the United States? Are women who are incarcerated fallen women, prime examples of the patriarchal version of the Garden of Eden story and, thus, ineligible for legitimate motherhood? Do we feel love for our children? Do we miss them like women who have never been to prison? Yes. We do.
Central California Women’s Facility (C.C.W.F.) is located about 20 miles north of Fresno, between Madera and Chowchilla and right across the road from Valley State Women’s Prison (V.S.W.P.). Together, they form the largest women’s prison complex in the world with an incarcerated population of approximately 7500.
Most of the prisoners at C.C.W.F. are mothers. On Friday, May 12, C.C.W.F. hosted the annual Get On the Bus (GOTB) event, uniting women prisoners with our children and loved ones, to honor Mother’s Day. GOTB day is organized and financially supported by various Catholic dioceses throughout the state, along with several other charities and organizations. The main organizing work within the prison is spear-headed by Ms. Hansen of Friends Outside, a self-help group operating within and without California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) institutions. Staff from the prison allow the event to happen once a year.
This year, 189 women applied to take part in the festivities held in the prison’s Visiting Center. Only 46 weren’t approved. Denial of approval typically centers on parental custody or documentation issues.
California’s southern dioceses handle the logistics for C.C.W.F. mothers because its prisoners come from all points south of Bakersfield. They bring in the women’s children and other relatives and friends — sisters, mothers, aunts and uncles.
For instance, Shirelle C.’s son lives in Elsinore. The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino sponsored him.
The Churches raise money privately to pay for the buses, breakfast and dinner meals en route both ways, food in the Visiting Center for inmates and guests, a gift totebag of art materials for each child and two Polaroid photos. They provide outreach services to help the kids come by assembling and paying for identification, birth certificates and notary services.
On the big day, inmates come to the gym on the Main Yard. The night before, we receive ducats (an in-prison appointment pass) on the three facility yards for 9:00 A.M. As the buses come in from Southern California, women are called to the Visiting Center to meet with the children and other loved ones. This year, only three women in the gym were never called.
Usually the buses arrive between 10:00 and 11:00 A.M. Barbara T.’s mother and children came at 12:30 P.M. after a six and one-half hour trip. The visits last until 3:30 P.M. Last year, Shirelle C.’s family came late because the bus driver, who apologized, had over-slept two hours.
The celebrants share a prepared meal of hot dogs, chips, a soda pop and ice cream. Besides the art totebag, this year the kids were able to choose a book or two and a Pound Puppy provided by members of the Inmate Family Council.
The week before the event, the mothers write a letter telling our children how much we enjoyed the visit. The letters are distributed on the bus ride home. The children tell Mom how thrilled they were to read them.
After the visit, inmate mothers, like all who get a visit, are stripped and searched. We can each bring back a Polaroid photo form the visit. It’s a magical time even though moms can’t bring back the cards made by our children during the visit or, if the kids have drawn a creative handprint on mom’s shirt, mom may be threatened with a write-up for “destroying state property”. No matter. It’s worth it.
Get On the Bus Friday is the only time most mothers see our children each year. It’s a precious gift but it’s hardly adequate for either party. Many mothers are lifers or very longtermers. When one considers the impact incarceration has on a mother and child, one finds: prison destroys. It attempts to destroy not only the mother/child bond but, consequently, it strikes huge reverberations throughout out family and community structures.
Furthermore, the majority of GOTB women prisoners cannot ever have overnight visits with our children. In 1996, California outlawed Family (FLU) Visits for lifers. This proscription was extended to all Close A and Close B (Closed Custody) inmates, a designation that limits in-prison movement and programs and which creates more special staff positions for guards on each facility yard.
Children of prisoners and we, their moms, need to see each other more often. We would like to have more GOTB Fridays, restoration of Family Visits for lifers, and a reduction in the wholly unnecessary Close Custody designation. After all, in prison or not, for a woman who is a mother, every day is Mother’s Day.
Sara Olson, W94197, 506-10-04Low, C.C.W.F., PO Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508
A different kind of garden
By ANNE SCHELLMAN
During college I wrote my master’s thesis on school gardens, and found them to be a positive impact on the lives of children. Recently, a friend from UC Davis invited me to join a group of students visiting a rehabilitation prison garden, something I was curious to see.
Before the visit, I went online and researched the facility. It was built in California in 1857, and now holds about 6,000 prisoners, with around 600 on death row.
San Quentin is set in the hills of Marin County on prime real estate with nearby homes selling for up to $4 million dollars. According to some websites, it’s just a matter of time before the men are sent elsewhere so the state can sell the land.
The California prison system costs the state $30,000/year per person housed in the facility. The idea behind the San Quentin Success Program is to break the cycle of recidivism and lessen the financial burden on taxpayers. It also offers the men hope for re-entering society.
Our group of students traveled to the nearby town of Larkspur to meet Beth Waitkus, the founder and director of the Insight Garden Program which was started in 2002 and is a part of the San Quentin Success Program, an innovative rehabilitation effort initiated by a former warden.
We had a lot of questions for her, especially how she, as a woman, worked with a group of convicted men. “As long as you set your boundaries and stick to them, everything is fine,” she answered. “The men in the program are ‘self-selected’ and are happy to participate. They don’t want to do anything to mess up that special time when someone from the outside comes to visit.”
Beth then gave us a list of prison etiquette “do’s and don’ts” and we were on our way. It took over an hour for the gate guard to verify our group’s identification. Once inside we had a mile walk to the medium security facility, but the view was spectacular. The coastline was blue and sparkled as far as the eye could see, and the gravel road was dotted with blooming Century plants.
After more security check points, our group of 15 students entered the yard and were immediately greeted with mostly unprintable (but humorous) comments. We waited in a large room and watched as around 20 men walked inside. It was then I realized there were no guards in the room with us. I exchanged a few nervous looks with my friend.
Beth broke the ice by telling the men about our group and that we were interested in the garden program. She then broke us into small groups to interact. Two other girls and I were grouped with four men, and in the beginning, the silence was a bit uncomfortable. After a few moments, the girl on my left began the conversation. She immediately broke several prison etiquette rules, including calling the men “inmates” and asking personal questions. I cringed and waited for a negative reaction.
Surprisingly, the men weren’t upset by this girl’s comments and all had positive things to say about both Beth and the garden. I could tell they were starved for decent conversation because one of them, who called himself by an animal moniker, stole the floor right away. He looked us each in the eye and said, “I’ll tell you why I’m in here. I’m in here because some guy called me a ‘punk’. He called me a punk, so I went and got a baseball bat, drove to his house and beat the living s*#@ out of him.”
Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.