Prison likely for SOA protester Print
Graymon Ward, 20, has already felt the heat from his decision to "cross the line" and get arrested with 15 others at last month's annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas, or SOA) at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.

Upon returning from Georgia, Ward's boss at a Raleigh fitness equipment company told him he was being let go at the height of the busy Christmas season. Ward suspects a coworker of tipping off the boss about his arrest.

Sometime this spring, following his Jan. 29 trial, Ward will likely be reporting to a federal prison to serve a 90-day to six-month prison sentence for trespassing. A federal magistrate in Columbus who has tried the SOA cases for the last few years has generally given active prison sentences and fines to all defendants, even those with unblemished records.

A lifelong member of West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, Ward traveled to Columbus with N.C. State's Presbyterian campus minister, the Rev. Allen Proctor, who brings a group of students to the SOA protest each fall.

Ward said he considered participating in the civil disobedience last year after hearing Raleigh's Gail Phares speak about the school, where scores of Latin American soldiers have been trained in counterinsurgency warfare. Many SOA graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses and murders in their native countries.

Phares, a former missionary and nationally recognized human rights activist, spent three months in federal prison this year stemming from her 2005 SOA arrest.

After hearing Phares, Ward told his mother, Virginia Ward, that he would spend a year thinking about crossing the line. When Graymon told his mother of his decision to risk arrest, she gave him her blessings and agreed to bail him out if necessary. Ward had the $500 for his bail, and he's very grateful to his mother, who plans to attend his trial.

"She actually described it as what she thought was the right thing to do, which helped me a lot," he says.

Virginia Ward said she's proud of her son, but she's hoping the magistrate just gives him community service.

"I think community service is almost out of the question," Graymon said. "Even if I get six months, that's still fine, that's a small sacrifice of time for a chance to save thousands of lives. It seems worth it to me....

"Even if the School of the Americas isn't closed as a result of this particular group crossing the line, I feel like me going to prison will still have served to educate the public about this and to also hopefully make people more aware of human rights violations."

Says Virginia: "Whatever he's called to do, he'll do it?absolutely."

Ward is the fourth person from the Triangle to cross the line in the last four years. In addition to Phares in 2005, Durham's Dan Schwankl was arrested at the SOA in 2004 and served a 90-day prison sentence, and Schwankl's wife, the Rev. Sarah Jobe, was arrested at the SOA in 2003, and received probation and a $1,500 fine.

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