Activist's walk ends in prison Print
Friends, family give local peace protester a send-off

by Sarah McKenzie,News Tribune staff writer

Duluth, MN - A local peace activist reported to the Duluth federal prison camp Tuesday after walking eight miles to the facility with several supporters.

Joel Kilgour, 24, began serving a 30-day sentence at the prison camp for trespassing at the Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., last November.

Earlier in the morning, Kilgour thanked a group of about 20 friends and family members gathered at the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker Community in Duluth's Endion neighborhood.

"It's not something I just want to endure. There are good reasons to be there,'' Kilgour said of the sentence. "Where the poor are, we should be.''

His sister, Sarah, 21, stood by his side, clutching a cloth banner with Kathy Winkler of the Lakeside neighborhood that read: "Stop Teaching Torture. Close the S.O.A.'' The group sang to Kilgour, and then many started the three-hour walk with him down Jefferson Street, heading toward the prison camp.

Kilgour, a full-time volunteer at Loaves and Fishes, was among 24 people sentenced in May by a U.S. magistrate for protesting on School of the Americas property. Police arrested 1,700 in the massive annual protest that commemorates the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

During the protest, demonstrators staged a funeral processional by carrying crosses and cardboard coffins. Activists denounced the school for alleged human rights violations.

Kilgour said he had planned to place white crosses near the school before police apprehended him.

The Army counters the protesters' claims, dismissing them as propaganda. The school has since been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Other activists who began serving sentences Tuesday include two Franciscan nuns from Iowa, Dorothy Hennessey, 88, and Gwen Hennessey, 68. The sisters, who will serve six months in an Illinois federal prison, have attracted international attention for their activism.

Three other Minnesotans will serve six-month sentences at the same prison. They are Mary Lou Benson, 57, of Brainerd; Elizabeth McKenzie, 71, of St. Paul and Mary Vaughan, 68, of White Bear Lake.

Shortly before Tuesday's send-off, Kilgour said he had prepared himself, offering goodbyes to friends and family. He said he plans to take a year-long sabbatical from Loaves and Fishes once released. He has aspirations to start a Catholic worker community in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"I'm very proud of him,'' said Kilgour's mother, Jean, at the Tuesday morning send-off. "If he has a feeling on something, he does not hide it.''

Kilgour is the second Duluth man in two years to be sentenced to the prison camp for protesting the School of the Americas. Brooks Anderson, a retired Lutheran minister, completed a three-month prison term last fall.

Tom Bottolene of St. Paul attended Tuesday's send-off with his partner, Pepperwolf, to show support for Kilgour. Bottolene served a three-month sentence with Anderson at the Duluth prison camp after being convicted of similar trespassing charges at the Fort Benning School of the Americas.

The St. Paul activist said other prisoners referred to the two men as "comic criminals'' given their short sentences.

Kilgour has served time in jail before for trespassing at the Project ELF site in Ashland County in 1998. The military communications facility transmits radio signals to nuclear-armed U.S. Navy submarines around the world.

He said prison authorities have told him to refrain from bringing any personal belongings.

"I think that I'll have a pretty easy go of it,'' Kilgour said. "I will be fine.''

Copyright 2001 Duluth News Tribune