Debt to Humanity: St. Croix Man Sees Prison Term as an Obligation Print
Published in several local papers in northern Wisconsin. Please note: The article states that Craig will report to FCI Sandstone, but he's actually serving his sentence in Duluth FPC.

A Glenwood City man will serve the next three months in a federal prison.

Craig Adams, 52, reports this week to the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minn., to begin his sentence after pleading guilty to misdemeanor trespassing. In a sense the term is not about what he did but about atrocities he believes his country perpetuates and condones.

Last November as he repeated a bus trip to Georgia for an annual demonstration against the U.S. Army School of the Americas, which he believes trains Central American soldiers to kill and torture, Adams made a decision. He decided to step over the line that leads to prison. "It weighs on you. Our policies continue," he said. "My tax money is still going to support this."

Adams, who now works as director of WestCAP's Ideal Auto, told his story sitting in the back booth of a caf? just off I-94. Twenty years ago, he was farming in western Wisconsin, struggling to make a living. He and his wife, Lucy Altemus, got involved with grassroots organizations to help save family farms. "I hadn't done much traveling as a dairy farmer," he mused. But in 1984 Adams joined a group of U.S. farmers that visited Nicaragua. "It was kind of an amazing experience," said Adams of the 10-day trip. "The experience had a lot of impact on me."

He says he realized that Nicaraguan and Wisconsin farmers face the same threats from corporations determined to force family farmers out of business. "I couldn't put it out of my mind," he said. Back home, he helped organize Farmer to Farmer. A few years later the group hosted Nicaraguan farmers here.

In the late 1980s Adams and his wife sold their cows, bought a bus and made plans for them and their three children to live and work in a farmers cooperative in north central Nicaragua. Several months before the move, Altemus traveled to Nicaragua to see what the family was in for. There she met with co-op board members and others.

Before moving to Nicaragua, the entire family spent 10 weeks in Guatemala City for language training. There they lived with and became close friends of the Hicho-Ramos family. Earlier, the family's 19-year-old daughter Irma and several other students were kidnapped and apparently killed by members of the Guatemalan army. "Nobody ever saw her again," said Adams. "The father spent months searching through morgues."

Then just before the Adams family reached the Nicaraguan cooperative in November 1989, two members of the co-op's board were kidnapped, taken to the hills and killed, again, apparently by Contras. "The whole co-op was traumatized when we got there," said Adams.

Through the people they met, Adams and Altemus felt the horror, and they also felt some responsibility. "We know now that some of these Contras were trained at the School of the
Americas," said Adams. Witnesses wrote down the license number of the van used in the Hicho-Ramos kidnapping and traced it to a military intelligence unit. The Nicaraguans were also convinced that the co-op members were killed by Contras. "While I can't prove a direct link, I know the School of the Americas was training soldiers," said Adams.

These two stories made a special impact on Adams because he lived with the survivors, but he and Altemus heard of many other atrocities.

After nearly a year in Central America, Adams and his family came home, but he never left behind his feelings of responsibility. In 1998 he began joining the thousands of people that travel each November to demonstrate at the gates of Ft. Benning, Ga.

According to the School of the Americas Watch, since 1946 the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in commando and psychological warfare and military intelligence techniques. The watch group claims SOA graduates target educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders and others who advocate for the poor.

According to the SOA Watch, in 1996 the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. In 2000 Congress replaced SOA with the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. But detractors, including a former SOA instructor, claim the change was only cosmetic and that the same types of tactics are still being taught there.

"If they really have changed, why don't they let civilians in to sit in on the classes?" asked Adams.

Each November since the early 1990s, protestors have held peaceful demonstrations outside Ft. Benning. Most of the demonstrators walk up to or only a few feet past the gates. "It's a very nonviolent, very moving demonstration," said Adams.

Protestors meet a day ahead to organize. The next day, they hold a solemn hours-long funeral march, walking in groups of 10 to place flowers, photos and crosses at the gates of Ft. Benning, while the names of the dead are read aloud.

For many years, the gates of the fort weren't even closed during the demonstration, said Adams. He says the U.S. Army's attitude has been, "You can protest all you want, come here every year, but we're not going to close this thing down." "The more I thought about it, (I realized) this is the way it's going to be until we do something different," said Adams. "I thought it needs to start with me," he said. "This November I started to realize
I could do it."

He made the decision after much reflection and after talking with his wife. Their younger son has just graduated from high school, and although it will be a sacrifice, the family agreed they can get by without Adams' income for a few months. It was also a spiritual decision, he said. "I just felt I was prepared mentally to spend three months in prison. "I'm resigned to it. I feel that I can do it. It's not going to overwhelm me."

In the end, getting arrested was a simple thing. Adams said he and a few others walked down a block from the Ft. Benning gate to an area that isn't fenced, stepped over a concrete barrier, walked to an abandoned road, sat down, prayed and waited for the military police to pick them up. "From where we sat down, you couldn't see a fort anywhere," said Adams. He said the facility is a long distance from the gate and it took the MPs about 10 minutes to come for the protestors.

Most of the 27 people arrested that day were nuns, priests and social workers. While the protesters were treated civilly in public, the treatment was rougher during processing, said Adams, who saw a soldier knock a woman to the ground for speaking. The protestors were taken in manacles to a county jail and held for 24 hours before being released on $1,000 cash bond.

Adams returned in January for his trial and pleaded guilty. He went prepared toimmediately serve his sentence in a Georgia county jail. But while he was in Georgia, his mother was killed in an automobile accident near Eau Claire. The federal judge allowed Adams to come home for the funeral as long as he agreed to report to prison later.

He was notified to report to Sandstone at 2 p.m. June 22.

"I don't think it's going to be pleasant. I think it's going to be uncomfortable," said Adams. "It's not, obviously, how I want to spend three months of my life, but I'm not afraid of it... I guess I'm just at peace with it." In fact, said Adams, right after sentencing, the emotion he felt most was joy. "All this time, it has been weighing on my conscience, but I got over the fear," he said.

Since being sentenced, Adams has had many people thank him for what he's doing. "I thought it was all about me," he said. But he learned that others felt stepping over the line was something they also want to do. "They felt like I crossed the line for them, not just for myself." His family, especially his wife, has been very supportive, said Adams. "She did say, 'I hope you're not going to do this again next year.'"

While he isn't pressing others to risk prison, Adams hopes the sentences will inspire them to speak out against the U.S. involvement in the atrocities in Latin America."I think that is what it's going to take: Everybody doing what they can do."

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