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Going to Jail for Justice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vera Leone   
Vera Leone served a six-month prison sentence at West Virginia’s Alderson  Federal Prison Camp in 2003 for “criminal re-entry on a military installation” at Fort Benning.

Over 95 years of prison time and 53 years of probation and home confinement have been served by SOA Watch activists. Those convicted range in age from 17 to 89, spanning a variety of genders and faith traditions. Leone recently joined the SOA Watch staff in Washington, DC.


Jail for JusticeAt an annual retreat of Latin America solidarity activists in North Carolina in 2002, Colombian union organizer William Mendoza called out for solidarity with the Colombian peoples’ struggle for justice, for life, and against the state and paramilitary power structure that was so strongly supported by the U.S. and the School of the Americas. I decided two things that weekend: (1) that I didn’t have to have the grand plan for global peace and justice all understood by myself, and (2) that change definitely won’t come if we don’t believe it will. Do we believe it will? Anything can happen. That fall, I crossed the line at the SOA.

What I love most about my subsequent prison experience is that it had the exact opposite effect I suppose Judge Mallon Faircloth had intended when he handed down the six-month sentence. Before, I knew little of U.S. state-sponsored terror within the country. I had, of course, spent a few years already learning about the SOA, but I was still naïve (and privileged!) enough to believe that the US government was good for its own people.

I learned – or started learning – about the effects of racism within the U.S., and another face of the struggle for justice began to take shape for me. The same government that sponsors death squads around the world uses similar means to dismantle communities in our own country. The women I served prison time with were poor women, they were women of color, and they were kind women, mothers and sisters and aunts, in prison, by and large, because of drug conspiracy laws. These laws target poor communities and communities of color, locking up anyone who knows, or lives with, folks involved in the drug trade. For this, families are ripped apart for years, children grow up without mothers, and the US military receives exercise gear and outerwear (including mittens shaped with a distinct first finger to allow the pulling of a trigger in the cold) from the slave labor the women at FPC Alderson perform in the sewing factory.

vera goes to jailI had never been so welcomed and supported by a community. When I first arrived to prison, after being strip searched and photographed and dressed in prison clothes, it was late in the day and I had missed dinner. My fellow SOA Watch activist prison buddy Caitlin and I shared a meal of ramen noodles (a delicacy we were to enjoy in many, varied, creative meals throughout our stay) – we’d started using the only utensils we had, which were pencils we tried to use as chopsticks, when a woman we hadn’t even met yet brought her own plasticware for us to use. Our Native American sisters had a weekly time to gather together in community and to smudge, and we were invited. As time went on, and as our group of SOAW activists celebrated the upcoming release of Marie, other women joined us in learning and singing a going-home song.

Throughout my incarceration, the privilege I entered with, as a white woman, as one with access to higher education, as a middle-class woman, made me uncomfortable. I had never consciously experienced myself as having more because of my skin color or class of origin, and this was the start of a very important process for me to learn about institutional racism, class privilege, and how the United States leads a political-economic system that depends upon the subjugation of many to support the wealth of a few. But it is this very same privilege that I can use to stand in solidarity with the union struggles in Colombia, and against the oppressive power structure led by the United States and represented by the SOA. It is time for the people of the United States to stand up to our fascist government, in a country founded on racism and genocide, to break its laws when the laws and institutions they support are unjust, and to join our voices with those across the hemisphere and around the world calling for justice and peace.

 

Published in the Fall 2007 issue 

Discuss this article on the forums. (1 posts) 

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SOA/USA
written by Pete Anderson, June 15, 2010
I wish to extend solidarity to all who sacrifice for the greater good. Please do not sacrifice your lives, though. There is much beauty and joy to be experienced. The sociopathic, yea, psychopathic persons will always rise to the top. We all know that the persons responsible for the grave injustice in our world are not amenable to logic or persuasion. The facts are merely tools to be manipulated in order to control the people who have not the power to defend themselves. Please take time to smell the roses?
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