Observations from the Workhouse

Observations from the Workhouse, May 19-25, 2002
Steve Clemens

[After being convicted by a 6 person jury of criminal trespass for a nonviolent protest at Alliant TechSystems, manufacturer of cluster bombs, landmines, depleted uranium weapons, and other weapons which are indiscriminate, 15 defendants were sentenced to 10 days of community service or 10 days of jail. 6 of us chose the latter and this is my personal account of that experience]

Sunday, May 19.
My sons, Micah and Zach drop me off at the Hennepin County Adult Correctional Facility, aka the “Workhouse” at 12:30 PM. I’m pleased that both wanted to come and see where I’d be the next week. Paperwork is filled out and I enter behind the bars. After emptying all my pockets and was patted down & photographed (“Give me a big smile!”), the guard told me what I could keep- pencils, notepad, Bible, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and my Martin Luther King Jr. prayer icon, I was moved into a room to get my “uniform”. There is a 4 letter epithet scratched into the painted, but peeling, brick wall, a wooden bench along another wall, and a rusting radiator below a barred window with frosted glass on the second wall. A stainless steel toilet with no seat (they get cold in the wintertime!) and a stainless wall-hung sink grace the third wall with the base molding peeling away from the wall. Toilet paper and bars of soap hang from the ceiling, propelled there by those not happy about their new residence.

The trustee in the next room reads his paperback novel in the next room with his feet propped up on the desk. The window in the door allows me see him get up and put together my “welcome” pack. He sizes me up visually to decide what size “uniform” I need and rolls my blue scrubs, socks, underwear briefs into a roll with my blanket, sheets, & pillow case. The blue scrubs are similar to what Christine wears for work at the hospital- somehow I don’t anticipate taking newborn babies to their moms for breastfeeding or helping new parents adapt to their new realities as she does. My scrubs are more likely to be put to work “scrubbing”.

I overhear the booking officer from the first room talking to another guard, “We got a genuine war protestor in here”. When I first entered the barred entrance, he asked if I was carrying any weapons. I replied that I was in here because of protesting weapons. When I told him five others would be arriving next door tomorrow at the other unit, he asked if any of the others were nuns. That is a good sign that someone understands what a nun’s real calling might be when our nation is at war!

I think they took away my watch so I have no idea how long the wait is between functions in here. I’m told that because the jail is “full”, I will be placed in the A cellblock for today- lucky for me because the guard says its quieter on that side because that’s where the workers are housed.

Almost everything the caseworker from this jail told me over the phone several weeks ago is wrong. I will be released in 7 days, not 8. I can bring in a Bible, a notepad, wooden pencils, and a toothbrush- all of which he said I could not. I decided to enter on a Sunday rather than with the 5 others on Monday because he led me to believe I’d have to buy a pen and notebook and a toothbrush from the canteen and if I checked in on Monday, I might miss it for the entire week. (It turns out that canteen day is Wednesday and coming in on Monday would have been fine.)

While waiting for the uniform room to open, I remember rule #1 from previous stays in jail- always use the toilet when one is available. You never know when you’ll have another one available. You get locked in rooms or corridors waiting for someone or something with no guard or toilet in sight.

I suspect the country music playing in the clothing supply room was chosen by a guard rather than the African American trustee. Given the racial make-up of the visiting room waiting area at the entrance, I suspect most inmates here are men of color. It is heartening to see children in the waiting room- hoping to get a glimpse of “Daddy”. Hopefully they will be able to keep coming back to lend hope to these men who still have folk on the outside who care.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”- so says the Book of Job. “One guard giveth and another taketh away” is the application at the Adult Correctional Unit. When told to remove all my clothing for the obligatory strip search, the “senior officer” (or so his badge read) said, “What is this?” and held up the ML King icon given to me by the Community of St. Martin at my Sunday evening “blessing before going to prison” service. It depicts Dr. King being booked into jail, posing with his mug shot with an ID #. The inscription on the bottom reads: “How long will truth be crucified and justice be denied?” I’m told ‘you can’t have this as he tosses it into my street clothes bag. That’s OK, it is still here with me behind these prison walls!

Cell A259 will be my new “home” at least until tomorrow. It is about 5’ x 8’ with a fixed steel bunk with a storage drawer underneath. The sink and toilet are porcelain, and, of course, no toilet seat. The plastic mattress cover is well worn and the mattress is some very unforgiving material. I wonder if I’ll be able to sleep. Although I use 7 pillows on my bed at home, I’ll go without one here since there is none in my cell. My cell is not without decoration though. There is a metal ‘mirror” affixed to the wall above the sink and as I look into it, I see the reflection of 30 women, most in various stages of undress or in bikinis. Apparently a previous tenant had a fantasy life in here. All are pictures or ads ripped from magazines. So much for the concept of the jail cell as the monastery motif that some activists allude to! This would be a very noisy monastery – and this is reputed to be the quieter of the two cellblocks. It is quite ironic that these pictures are allowed while Martin Luther King is banned.

If A Block is the quieter one, it must be at night on weekdays. Guys are talking through the bars even though they can’t see each other. It seems that some on the third tier are trying to “converse” with friends on the first level. When you hear 3 loud tones on the loudspeaker, it lets you know an announcement is forth-coming. A Block can now go to supper. Stand back and keep your hands away from the cell bars as the doors open. After finishing supper (sloppy joes, cream of chicken noodle soup, 2 celery and 1 carrot stick, and 2% milk, there is a Prison Fellowship meeting scheduled- but only for the men who signed up in advance. Apparently this info is divulged during “orientation” which doesn’t seem to be offered to inmates checking in on the weekends. One of the other inmates tells me I have to fill out a “kite”, a term I haven’t run across in the 6 other jails I’ve been in over the past 26 years.

Also, I discover that I should have a pillow in my cell but apparently someone had taken it so I can request one at “shower-time”, whenever that is. It will be tomorrow at the earliest. At least at medical call I was given 2 ibuprofen even though the nurse who said I’d get them failed to mark it on my chart. I know I have no hope of getting any more at the 9:30 PM medicine time since it is not a prescription. Hopefully she will follow through and call my physician tomorrow.

Besides the constant noise, the view from my cell is disappointing given that this facility is located next to scenic Parker Lake. My cell overlooks the walkway for the tier. I am on the second floor of a 3-tiered cellblock, divided into 12 sections of about 16 cells each. Beyond the walkway is an iron railing, opening into the rest of my side of the cellblock. Beyond the rail another 6’-8’ are frosted glass windows that allow you to know if it is daylight or nighttime. Every 8’ or so is an operable, clear glass window, giving me a view of the mid-section of a spruce tree and another section of this prison. It appears that bananas are served at breakfast as there are several banana peels strewn in the walkway on the first level and another hangs down from a heating unit just outside my cell.

Supper went without a hitch. I sat at a table but not directly beside or opposite anyone else. There were 2 white guys from my tier of the cellblock already at the table. It quickly filled with other white guys except for the two seats opposite me. I was relieved to see a young black man sit down after I nodded to him to acknowledge his presence and to welcome him, non-verbally. Apparently he didn’t feel as welcome after another white guy sat next to him and he got up and moved to another table. It appeared he was hoping the additional seat could be saved for one of his friends so he wouldn’t feel outnumbered. After he left, several racial epithets were muttered at the table. I felt somewhat out of place, not having visible tattoos on my forearms like 4 of the other 7 men at the table. Given the company I was keeping, I decided to forgo my story of having attended a KKK rally in Plains, GA in 1976 and being called as a defense witness after a drunken local man drove his car through the crowd, injuring numerous press people there to record the event.

The steel bunk is unforgiving and somehow staring at half-dressed women isn’t quite as spiritually uplifting as the Dr. King icon. It is interesting to note what is contraband and what is tolerated. It seems every jail has its own definition of what is allowed; another way to keep you guessing and to let you know you are not in control of your choices. It has been more than 10 years since I was last locked up and this is a first-time experience for me in “progressive” MN. While intellectually I know that the large majority of inmates in MN jails and prisons are people of color, it is still shocking to see almost the reverse of the state population in here. While it is not the 88% to 12% split found state-wide, in here it appears that 70-75% of the inmates in here are men of color. It is surprising to see about ¼ of the guards in this men’s unit are female and so far only 2 guards are people of color of the 20 or so I’ve encountered.

I was able to go to the library after my medical visit because it was “recreation” time and the cellblock was locked down. I was able to find Jimmy Carter’s biographical account of growing up in Plains, An Hour before Daybreak as well as John Keegan’s account of the wars for North America – certainly a better find than the pickings of old Readers Digest condensed books found in the Potter County Jail in Amarillo, TX in 1981!

Monday, May 20.
There was about 15-30 minutes of very loud screaming and cursing last night about 11 PM (louder than what appears to be just normal shouting in here). Apparently, a new “resident” (as we are called here instead of inmates- “MN nice” again) was not happy with his new residence. I did not sleep well. Since my doctor didn’t sign the request that I be given ibuprofen for my back pain at night on official letterhead from Health Partners, I was not given the pain meds I wanted. Coupled with the fact I was not issued a pillow, I was never able to get comfortable enough to more than doze off occasionally. With no watch and no clock in sight, I had no idea of what hour it was until the sun came up. Prisons are more designed for indestructibility than for humanization and comfort. After all, if I’m too comfortable, I may want to come back! (As if eating with a “spork”, having no say on the meals, and putting up with men yelling obscenities and attempting to rap late into the night would attract any repeat customers.)

Eggs, toast, peanut butter, cold cereal with milk, and an orange was our breakfast. After eating, six of us waited, locked out of our cells but locked in the walkway of the first tier, waiting to go to orientation. Rather than having to unlock our cells to let us out for this meeting, it is easier to keep us corralled for 45 minutes of waiting. Mr. Johnson, the senior officer who leads the orientation used a lot of profanity but seems to connect well, especially with his returning guests. After being issued a rule book, and orientation book, and my ID badge (my new ID # is 00712398), I asked permission to attend the class on Positive Thinking led by Madonna Kerber, a Habitat volunteer who also volunteers at this prison. In the class we read a few statements, including “Attitude” by Chuck Swindoll and then viewed an Ernie Larson video on coping with our fears. After the video, we broke into 2 small groups to share how we cope with our own fears, …

Jesus, a Latino man appearing to be in his early 50’s shared about his (past) addiction to crack and other drugs. He used to live about 4 blocks from my own house – only he lived in a make-shift shelter under the Franklin Street Bridge with his wife and 3 kids while fighting his drug demons. He claims he has been drug-free for 3 years but when a friend asked him to repackage some drugs with him as a favor, he helped the friend out – only to fail a drug exam the next day at work the next day because the drugs had entered his bloodstream by handling them. His pay was cut from $28./hour (as a fuel-injection mechanic) to $14./hour and out of disgust, he quit his job and, in a downhill spiral, ended up in here. Another “resident” shared about his struggles with alcohol and is lack of self-esteem which makes him unable to stay sober for any length of time. He recognizes that he has problems with violence when he is under the influence of the alcohol. His “fear” is that he doesn’t deserve to be in a healthy relationship with a woman because of his weakness for booze.

Lunch is beef stew, rolls, coleslaw, and pudding. On the way back to my cell, one of the guys told me to ask a guard if I can get a tee-shirt and pillow from the shower room. So, now I have 2 more possessions! The “pillow”, with its thick, cracked, plastic cover is nothing to covet but is better than none at all.

At 1:30 PM, I’ve just had my first shower here. When I dropped my soap, … No, I did not drop my soap and was not gang raped. The shower was refreshing and I received new scrubs that actually fit (somewhat). What other Bed ‘n Breakfast do you know that also does your laundry? At the library, I found a novel by Morris West, Eminence. I’ve enjoyed Shoes of the Fisherman and other novels that he has written about politics and intrigue within the Roman Catholic hierarchy, so, in solidarity with the nuns checking in next door, and because it will be easier reading than Keegan, I now have 3 books in my cell, besides my Bible. I tried reading 2 Psalms this AM but they were so violent in their portrayal of God that I chose some other passages instead. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book has really caused me to read scripture more critically and not take lightly again passages which portray God in a very different light than how Jesus revealed God.

Word must be getting out about the “protesters”. I mentioned to someone at breakfast today what I am in for after he was surprised that I was in for only 7 days. He asked why I didn’t request doing the time on weekends so I didn’t have to use vacation time from work. At lunch another guy asked if I was in for protesting. At supper, 3 other guys at my table asked as well. After our recreation period outside this evening (our volleyball team lost but it was sure nice to be outside in the rec yard watching others play horseshoes and basketball), we got a second hour of rec inside after an hour of lockdown. While I was gone for the medicine call (they are now giving me more pain meds), one of the TV sets in the dining room had on Channel 9 News and there was a story about nun protestors outside the Women’s unit out here so there were two more conversations with me. I’d rather be asked about it than bring it up myself because I don’t want to set myself off from the others who might be in here for less “worthy” reasons. It was great to talk to Micah on the phone tonight even if the call was only brief and it was hard to hear.

Tuesday, May 21.
Breakfast consisted of French toast swimming in syrup. It also included 2% milk and cold cereal. If you know the resident handing out the cereal, you might score the sugar-based variety of Frosted Flakes. If not, you’ll get the Quaker Brand version of corn flakes, rice krispies, or raisin bran. Back to the cell until lunch at little after 11. Lunch is roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, cooked spinach, 3 pieces of white bread, and, for some, a small cup of jello with fruit in it. It wasn’t out when I went through the line – tough luck!

After lunch, I was released at 1:30 for my “intake interview” with my case worker, Deb. She has no idea what I was convicted of other than a trespass charge. According to her paperwork, I have to complete 80 hours of community service within 120 days once I get out. I inform her that is not correct, that I chose the jail-time instead. I’m not sure she believes me and she goes on to state that I can’t get arrested for trespass, disorderly conduct, destruction of property, … and I remind her it is for the next year. She looks again at the paperwork and says, “You’re right, until March 27, 2003.” She made no attempt to connect with me nor showed any interest in who I am. As I left her office, I told her it was likely that I’d be back sometime and she looked surprised and puzzled. I just said, “As long as they keep making these weapons, I and others will be protesting.”

Fortunately the intake went quick enough so I still had time to shower and still make it to the library. When I picked up the books I had requested (2 books by Howard Zinn and Marianne Williamson’s The Healing of America), the librarian pulled me aside and apologized for the scolding I had received over the phone from her supervisor. She had been threatened by an inmate in the past and there are strict orders that no one is supposed to give out her identity to anyone. Zinn’s Failure to Quit is excellent prison reading. It is a collection of shorter articles he has written. He makes me feel proud of the choices I’ve made that landed me in here.

Supper was chicken pot pie, canned peas, canned fruit, and peach-flavored kool-aid. (I gave my 3 pieces of white bread to the guy next to me who seems to eat everything in sight.) I talked with another inmate who has been fairly friendly about his work outdoors. He’s been laying sod at a nearby golf course in Hamel. and digging up rocks and boulders on the property here. He has to attend a number of DWI classes while here and pass a written test to get his drivers license back. Another guy at the table says, “Shit, I’ve got 16 DWIs so far.” All the guys at the table are joking about this stupid behavior. I, too, wish to end the scourge of drunk drivers on our highways but it is not apparent that locking them up in here is going to significantly change that behavior.

What a pleasant surprise to see Micah and Dick Westby waiting for me. I can see them through the bars as I wait to get a booth in the visiting room for my first visit. I’m disappointed that Christine didn’t come because I haven’t seen her since last Thursday when she left to go to PA for my niece’s wedding. I find out from Micah that she went to a celebration service for the remarkable recovering of a friend and neighbor who suffered a traumatic brain injury in January. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend with her to celebrate the power and support of community and compassion. Both Dick and Micah had a lot of questions about what life is like inside here and how my stay is going. It is always hard to transition from the “high” of a visit in jail back to the realities of life here. As I waited downstairs on level 1 to be able to return to my cell, several inmates are drooling over a very explicit porno magazine and making very dehumanizing comments. So much for reality… The visits are over a phone with Plexiglas between the resident and the visitor with 16 carrels or dividers set up to delineate one’s space. There is no privacy but it seems most people are concentrating on their own visitors.

We don’t get rec time today since we got to go out yesterday. I finished Eminence, a novel about the succession of a Pope. A good read until my other books arrived. I read several more chapters of Jimmy Carter’s book as well this AM. His stories of eating possum and other animals remind me of my friends Mamie and Ludrelle when we lived at Koinonia. I spent 15 minutes after breakfast cleaning out my cell, scrubbing the toilet and sink. We are given a sponge and some Comet and some liquid soap. A quick mop job of the cell before we are locked down helps as well.

Wednesday, May 21
I finished the Howard Zinn book this AM after a night of fitful sleep. My back continues to keep me from resting well at night so I’m always glad to see the sun coming up. I’m grateful that the bars on my cell face slightly to the east! I’m in a dilemma about the pictures on the wall. I’ve taken down most of them and tossed them in the trash. I vacillate regarding the rest. On one hand, they objectify women and lead to dehumanization. On the other hand, they promote a fantasy life which my be the closest thing some of these guys have for hope. Lord knows, the men in here need signs of hope – but at what cost or price? I’d much rather see the walls covered with sayings of King, Gandhi, Emma Goldman, Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Day. Inspiration, challenge, and hope. I wonder if any of the “counselors”/caseworkers who work here started out with a goal of inspiration for these men only to be worn down and swallowed by this institution?

Although the single cell arrangement probably diminishes the fighting in here, it also isolates us from each other. When I was locked up in the Potter County Jail in Amarillo, TX, 2 of us from our peace witness shared our cell (called a tank) with 4 other men. It gave us the opportunity for some give and take/dialog, listening. Other tanks there held as many as 24 inmates and there were clearly more tensions as the numbers living together increased. I think the ability to listen in here is one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other. Here, the only conversations come in brief snatches at meal-times or during recreation breaks but often the noise level is so high, I have difficulty comprehending what is said. I wonder if I took a job as an inmate whether it would allow more time for conversation. If I was sentenced to do more than 7 days, I’d request a work assignment if that work benefited other residents rather than the jail itself.

Today is “canteen day’ and one of the guys at breakfast asked if I had any money in my account to buy stuff. “Snickers are like money in here”, he confided. “You can barter with them to get extra food at lunch from others with it.” I witnessed this yesterday when roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy changed hands for a Twix bar. I’ll likely order some snacks and share them with others since my time is so short. I don’t feel the need for “comfort food” in here- at least today, day 4. In a way, I am a sign of hope for other men in that my projected release on Saturday is a precursor of their own release someday. If no one was getting out, how depressing that must feel!

Even the racism in here is “MN nice”. At lunch today the guy across from me says his wife doesn’t like to visit here anymore because there are too many (and at this he points to the black resident sitting opposite him but not listening in to our conversation) of “them” here. Then he made another statement about the “f-ing Indians” because they were have a sweat lodge today and we could smell the burning sage and he was convinced they were allowed to smoke marijuana as part of their “religious” rites.

Had a great visit with Christine and Carolyn Schurr from CSM this afternoon! Visits always make me feel a little guilty- enjoying so much the support I have while others in here often feel abandoned. But just because some others don’t get visits doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy mine! I think this time is much easier on Christine than my first extended stay inside when I was in Amarillo in ’81. That was my first overnight stay and being separated by over a 1,000 miles, and being in Texas, one of the most punitive states in the nation didn’t help. We could make one collect phone call a week from there if we were lucky. Here, I can call every day if you can afford the collect calls. The collect call racket is another way the prison makes money off of inmates and is a punishment added on to the lack of freedom. Dorothy Day says the lack of freedom is punishment enough- jails don’t have to pile on the additional penalties and restrictions. I still advocate for conjugal visits for people locked up more than 3 months or so. Given the national mood on prisons and the cost-cutting measures, it is only a pipe dream.

Thursday, May 23.
Two days remaining. The guy with 16 DWIs said he called home and his 8 year old daughter was sobbing on the phone, wanting her daddy home for her birthday next Sunday. He had a few, choice words for his lawyer who he “paid $2,000. a few weeks ago” to get him work release status which would allow him to spend 8 hours each Sunday with his family. Why must the whole family suffer for the mistakes of one member?

Another guy at supper last night was talking about escaping from his outside work detail. He says he was at the work release unit and had gotten “written up” by a guard which resulted in getting sent back over to the straight-time unit. He is ordered to pay restitution as part of his sentence and was making progress toward that while on work release. Now that he is back over here, he can only earn $3./day- an amount he is likely to spend in the canteen, leaving him with nothing to pay toward restitution. He says he wrote a “kite” (a complaint/request form) for the Superintendent but said it was intercepted and denied by another guard. Several other inmates complained that kites addressed to supervisors routinely got intercepted as well. Any feelings of injustice get magnified in here. Many feel they didn’t necessarily get justice in the court and that victimization continues in here. Now he has to contact his lawyer (I bet they love the collect phone calls!) and hope the Judge can intervene to get him back on work release. Who do you think a Judge will believe- a guard or a convict?

I’m appalled at all the trash that is thrown from the cells into the walk-ways. Every time I get out for a meal, I find books, magazines, newspapers, banana or orange peels, and candy and chip wrappers strewn on the floors- many having been tossed from the third tier to the first. I think it is a reminder of the frustration and alienation felt here by many.

I am so grateful I was able to get the 2 Howard Zinn books from the library here. Yesterday I read a number of the articles Zinn wrote while teaching at Spellman College in Atlanta and active in the civil rights movement in the south. His stories of the young SNCC organizers and what they went through couldn’t help but make me feel proud of the small steps I have taken to speak out for justice and peace. Zinn was once charged with “Failure to quit”- certainly a charge that is more a challenge than an accomplishment. Reading Zinn’s articles on the class struggle in the 20’s and 30’s makes me appreciate all those who have blazed a trail before us and paid a price for working to make our society more just.

For lighter reading, I got a copy of Garrison Keillor’s The Book of Guys last night. One can’t read Zinn all the time and humor is desperately needed in here.

Sue Allers-Hatlie, a friend who is in charge of the chaplains at Hennepin County’s facilities, dropped by to say hi and have a brief visit. It was good to see her and give her some of my impressions of this place. I wish she was able to stay longer to talk about this place. It would be helpful for any staff here to get an inside perspective to their work. In fact, I’d strongly recommend that people who work at the jails (guards, chaplains, and case workers) should be required to spend at least a weekend “inside” a similar jail or prison, incognito from the other inmates to get a taste of the system before they become another cog in this machinery of punishment and depersonalization. Then, every 5 years, this experience should be repeated to re-energize the dreams they may have had for the job in the first place. Actually, while I’m on this rant, every Judge should have the same experience. If they did, I don’t think many could, in good conscience, send people off to these places without at least ear plugs and better facilities for visits and communications with those on the outside. Maybe a campaign to “send your Judge to jail” could help change the incarceration rate our nation so blithely accepts. Minnesota is, by far, one of the best states as far as incarceration rates- yet meeting many of these guys inside, one has to wonder about the sanity of what we are doing to others and what the lasting impact is likely to be. This is why when I have been summoned for jury duty in the past I have informed the judge and the prosecutor that I am a “conscientious objector” when it comes to convicting someone for a crime where the possible sentence could include incarceration, at least until our jails and prisons become humane places to live. Sue reminded me that in the winter and colder months, inmates here don’t get to go outside- even for the measly hour I enjoyed on Monday. I’m hoping we get to go outside tonight or tomorrow but most guys tell me that no one gets to go outside on Fridays and Thursday nights are for the B cellblock. The weather was threatening rain or it was too windy or something is the reason we didn’t go out last night.

I saw Tom Bottolene (co-defendant) again last evening as I was leaving the library. He was in his cellblock but not yet locked down. I thought he had been approved for work release to help take care of his ailing mother during his 7 day stay but apparently caring for a sick and elderly relative doesn’t count as work release. He will do a full 7 days here, followed by 30 days of house arrest (home monitoring) for a previous arrest at Alliant Tech. It is unfortunate that we were assigned different cellblocks, making it almost impossible to have a decent conversation with him this week.

I think shower-time is the time I look forward to the most in the daily schedule. It is so refreshing to feel clean again and it is relaxing even if it is a bit rushed so others from the cellblock can have a turn.

I’m pretty concerned about a black inmate who sat at our lunch table today. I’ve seen him several times and he seems to have a permanent scowl on his face and is unusually quiet. He eats very little. Today he passed on his mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and apple pie to others and ate only a small piece of chicken. Others try to joke with him but he appears to be in a deep depression. One of the more dehumanizing aspects of this place is the pervasive feeling that no one here cares. I know my past experience in jails has convinced me of the futility of trying to intervene with staff on behalf of other inmates. Despite this, whenever you do notice someone listening to another with empathy- really listening- it is a sign of light in this place of darkness. The way the guards are verbally abused here- both directly and indirectly- it is no wonder they have developed callous souls. I think you can only keep another human prisoner for so long before it affects the captor as well.

Friday, May 24.
My last day here (at least for this witness). SOS for breakfast is a given for any stay in jail or the army. Hennepin County gives us their finest version of this old classic. At least you can see some meat in the gravy in this variety. A fried fish patty for lunch with another canned vegetable and jello. Fish on Friday, I guess, is the institutional salute to the old Catholic penance. Does anyone under 30 today even know why Fridays were to be “meatless”? This raises questions of how other “special” days are treated in a captive environment. It reminds me of July 4, 1981 when I was held in the Federal Prison at Texarkana. We were served steak for celebrating “independence” although I recon few of the inmates chose to celebrate the nation that held them captive. What is Labor Day like for inmates earning less than $5. week? (In the Texas penitentiaries, inmates worked up to 60 hours a week for no pay at all- if you refused to work, they’d send you to “the hole”.)

I finished The Zinn Reader, all 660+ pages- a real blessing to have had it the past 2 days. He writes that our society doesn’t have a problem of civil disobedience- our problem is that we have too much civil obedience. Too many people just “following orders”.

I had a wonderful visit with my friend Spencer, the new Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral here in Minneapolis. He was his usual exuberant self. It is great to have someone to laugh with in here. He gave me a devotional booklet (Forward Day by Day) written by a man serving a life sentence for murder in Oklahoma. I’ve just read the first 8 entries and want to finish it tonight so I can leave it with one of the guys here when I leave tomorrow AM. Reading something written by someone who has been (or still is) inside really resonates with me here. A wonderful intervention happened as I was waiting to get back to my cell. About 30 of us were locked in this long hallway on the first tier when one white inmate moves aggressively against another, clearly trying to provoke a fight with another white guy. A young, black inmate steps between the two and tries to to calm down the aggressor. He intervenes long enough to help defuse the situations. He states, “I don’t want to see all of us get locked down.” I’m surprised and grateful for this small, risky act of peacemaking.

I’ve started the dispossession routine. Since I leaving in the morning, I gave all my pencils and the balance of my writing tablet away at supper. The hot dogs, cole slaw, and ice cream was probably the worst dinner this week. Maybe they don’t want me to return here- at least not for the food! I passed Spencer’s devotional booklet on to Ron, a guy I met in the Positive Thinking class. I included a note that if he likes it, I’d give him a subscription if he passes his name and address to me via Madonna. That way he won’t have to spend 40 cents on a stamped envelope.

I feel that I am just starting to bond with some of these guys- but it doesn’t mean that I’m anxious to prolong my stay here. I’m unsure how open I want to be with them: do I give them my phone # and address in case they need a visit or need some help? I don’t feel I know any of them well enough so that that gesture wouldn’t be misperceived. I’ll see what happens at rec time when I pass out the snickers bars.

Saturday, May 25.
I have to finish this after my release since I am giving away my pen tonight as well. Even the tablet and the stamped envelope were greatly appreciated. Several guys couldn’t believe I was just handing out candy bars without asking for something in return.

I was awakened a little after 4 AM to get ready to leave. Actually, I was awake most of the night- I just asked a guard as he walked passed the cell on his hourly rounds what time it was and when they’d come to get me. He said it was 4 and that an officer would be by to wake me soon. I had to remove everything from my cell when I left, dropping of any trash and my linens near the guard station. We walked out to the booking station where a guard took my ID badge and sent us into the clothing room where we were once again issued our street clothes.

There were 3 African American guys in their early 20’s (or younger) and a Latino man in his 40’s who are to be released with me. After dressing in our street clothes, we wait again for about ½ hour for the booking officer to call us, one-by-one, to get our personal effects and be signed out. The 3 African American youth spend the time discussing their claims of buying pit bulls and other attack dogs and going back to the “crib” to score some “blunts” (going back to their homes to get some marijuana). I seems evident that this was not their first time here because they knew the procedure, complaining that they would be issued a check for any money remaining on their books or accounts rather than cash. Although overcast and drizzling, it was great to be outside again.

Friends from The Community of St. Martin hosted a breakfast to celebrate my release at 7. I am blessed with friends who not only understand but also share my values. I am able to recount a few stories and thank them for their support. Sunday morning, I get up before 5 AM again. This time to drive back out to welcome the four women co-defendants who are released just before 6 so we can have breakfast together and share some of our stories.

A Protester’s Guide to the Hennepin County Workhouse- Men’s Straight-time Unit

A Protester’s Guide to the Hennepin County Workhouse- Men’s Straight-time Unit
By Steve Clemens May 25,2002

There are two ways of arriving here- being brought here in ‘cuffs with an escort by the Sheriff’s Dept., usually after a guilty plea or a guilty verdict by a Judge or Jury, or the easier route when offered, self-reporting. I was given the luxury of the latter with a date and time to report set by the Judge.

The neighborhood of the workhouse is suburban. A big Home Depot store dominates the exit for Hwy. 6 off of I-494 in Plymouth. As you drive west on 6, you see large homes and Parker Lake on the left. Immediately after Parker Lake is a road to the south with a sign “Adult Correctional Unit” pointing in that direction. As you travel down Shenandoah Lane, the first buildings on your right are the Women’s Unit and the Men’s Work Release Unit.. Next is another correctional office building that looks somewhat like a church followed by the drive for visitors to the Workhouse. The main entrance is the second drive. A 3 story brick building with a tower in front looks like an older office building until you notice the 12’high chain link fence topped with concertina razor wire coiled at the top on the north side, behind the fa├žade. It marks the outdoor recreation yard area.

The entrance leads into a waiting area with wooden benches on the perimeter. I checked in on a Sunday afternoon so the room was filled with friends and family who had come to visit. There is a sign telling me to push the button next to the iron-barred gate for reporting in. I pushed the button and said goodbye to my sons who has dropped me off. A guard took my paperwork from the court and gave me a pencil and a form to fill out asking for name, address, contact name and address, … After filling it out and waiting for the gate to be unlocked, I entered my new “home” for the week. I inquired about my release date so I knew when I needed to be picked up and was told one automatically gets 1/3 off the sentence for “good time”, subject to it being revoked if “written up” by a guard for a variety of offences. I will be released at 6 AM on the 7th day of my 10-day sentence. (Note: when released on weekdays, there is a “Huber” bus that drops people off in downtown Minneapolis that leave the Workhouse about 6:15 AM. On weekends, you need to get your own transportation from there.)

As I am brought into the booking area, I am asked if I am carrying any weapons. I use the question as an opportunity to tell the office that I am there for protesting weapons, I don’t carry them. I am asked to empty all my pockets and place everything in them and whatever I am carrying on a table in front of the officer. He pats me down to be certain I’ve removed everything and then goes through my stuff. The court provided me with a handout of items I could bring: toothbrush, tube toothpaste, a Bible and/or prayer book, cash (for the “canteen”), a writing tablet, pencil, deodorant, shampoo (in a clear bottle), and prescription drugs. You can’t bring in books or magazines, over-the-counter drugs, or retractable ball point pens. I was able to keep a Bic stick pen. The office took all my retractable pens even though they were plastic. I was able to keep the 3 wooden pencils I brought. (Make sure they have good erasers if you plan to give them away to others when you leave,) I surrendered my watch, my Driver’s License, and the cash I was carrying and was given a receipt for those items. My Rx items were placed in a bag to go to the medical office with my name and cell # on it. I am told I am lucky to be arriving now because the jail is almost filled to capacity. So I will be placed in the A cellblock for at least the first night. The A cellblock is primarily for those who are working while incarcerated there at jobs within the prison or outside. Because it contains workers, it is reputed to be quieter at night than B block. Because I entered on a weekend, I will need to wait until Monday morning for my orientation.

I am given a brass circle with a number stamped on it to give to the “clothes officer” when I surrender my street clothes. I am asked to stand behind a line and hold a piece of paper under my chin with my name and new ID number on it. I am told to “smile’ as the digital camera takes my picture. Later, at orientation I am given a plastic badge with my color photo laminated inside. A sticker is attached with any special dietary or medical conditions you may have.

On to the next holding area to wait for another officer. After about ½ hour, he arrives in the adjoining room and instructs me to come in with my possessions. He dumps out all my stuff from my paper bag and again sorts through it to tell me what I can keep. In the “not” pile this time is my prayer icon of ML King, Jr. even though I’ve identified it as such and was OK’d by the first officer. It gets placed in my clothing bag. After stripping and placing all my clothes on the desk (except my sneakers which he checks as well but I am able to keep), I am told to stand on a line, “open your mouth, lift your tongue, roll up each of your lips, turn my head so he can see behind each ear, lift your arms, spread your legs, lift your penis, lift your nuts, turn around, lift each foot and show my the bottom, spread your legs, bend over and cough.” Thus, the dehumanizing (for him and me) strip search. All my clothes are identified and valued and I must sign the slip and am given a copy.

Next is the shower but the officer is in a hurry and tells me to just get my hair wet and run my fingers through it and towel off. He hands me my bedroll of a blanket, 2 sheets, and a pillow case, socks, underwear briefs, and a set of blue scrubs like are worn in some hospitals only these are stamped “Adult Corrections”. I can take the now wet towel with me and was led out of the room.

Next stop is the medical office where a nurse has you fill out a questionnaire and asks you questions about any medical problems. I hand her a letter from my physician documenting my need for ibuprophen for lower back pain but since the letter was not printed on the Heath Partners stationary and is only signed by her, she won’t accept it without a phone call the next working day to the office to confirm it. I strongly recommend you have a physician document if you are a vegetarian in this letter because all the non-breakfast meals are heavily oriented toward meat. I don’t know how they’ll respond if you have such a letter requesting meal options but it is worth a try. Also state in the letter that you need to be issued a foam pad for your bed if you have back pain like I have. Otherwise you will have to send a note to see the jail doctor and you will be billed $3. for any visit. Anyone staying 7 days or longer is given a stick prick test for TB and needs to report back in 3 days to get it read. I am told I need to pick up my meds before breakfast, after lunch, before supper, and at 9:30 PM. If you haven’t brought your own prescriptions with you, the charge for meds is $3. (I think per day), taken out of your canteen account. A guard is usually present when you get your meds and some medical staff want to see you swallow it before you leave the dispensing window. The scuttlebutt at meals is that the dentist only comes once a month and is more interested in pulling teeth than repairing them. If you have medical insurance, you will be billed for any medical care. As you leave the medical interview, you are issued a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste, enough for a week.

During recreation time in the evening or during shower time in the afternoon, you can use the library. It is stocked by Hennepin County Library Outreach dept. It is downstairs, below Cellblock A, and is preceded with a longer room which has telephones mounted on the walls for collect calls ($1.64 for 10 minutes I am told). The library itself is about 15’ x 20’ with books along one wall. There is a reasonable selection of fiction & non-fiction books in both paperback and hardcover, including a “classics” shelf that has Crime & Punishment as well as Catch 22. A table has magazines, some only a week or two old that are replenished on Tuesdays when the librarian is there from the county. There is also a reference section with several encyclopedia sets. There is no sign-out for the books there, just take them to your cell. There is a drop box for requests for books that the librarian picks up every Tuesday and brings them the following Tuesday. When she is there she can look up titles for you. You can keep these books for 2 weeks. There is a special drop-box for these books ordered from the outside. If you don’t have any books you want to request, be creative and order Bonhoffer’s Letters and Papers From Prison, Jack Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast, or maybe something from Mumia Abu-Jamal or prison reflections from Dan or Phil Berrigan. You have to be there more than 7 days to be able to take advantage of this.

There are 2 cellblocks, A & B, plus separation and segregation units for discipline purposes. Each cellblock is 3 tiered with 4 sections for each tier. The cells are back-to-back with 3 walls of concrete and the fourth wall is primarily iron bars spaced about 3 inches apart, including the door to one’s cell that slides side-to-side, connected to the mechanical control at the guard station. There is a guard station on both the north and south sides of each tier right in the middle so it overlooks the 16-18 cells in each section. A circular stairwell in the guard station lets the officer go up or down to let out each tier at meal times, etc. At some hours or shifts, there might be 2-3 guards on each side of the tiers, other times there is only one guard per side. The guards walk the walkway outside the cells at least hourly.

The cells are 68” wide and 94” deep. There is a single bulb, 4’ florescent light fixture mounted to the ceiling with a pull switch to turn it on/off. On the rear wall of the cell is a porcelain wall-mounted toilet (without a seat) and a sink with warm and cold water. The sink is designed to also project a stream of water upward to serve as a water fountain. You can get bars of soap at the guard station. The bed is a steel bunk with raised edges to confine the “mattress”- NOT a “Serta Sleeper” or a “Sleep Number” design. It is about 2 ½” thick and covered with a plastic cover- kind of like sleeping on a folded woolen army blanket folded up- quite unforgiving. If you are lucky, there is still a plastic-covered “pillow” left in your cell. It too feels like it was constructed of the same material as the mattress only not as thick. If not issued one, you can ask when you get to use the shower room if they have one they can give you. (The shower room is also the place where they can issue you a tee shirt if they have one your size.) Under your bunk is mounted a metal basket 18” x 18” lined with galvanized metal to keep your “stuff”. (A padlock to secure it from being raided by others is available for purchase from the canteen for $7. Canteen day for cellblock A is on Wednesday afternoon during shower-time). Opposite the bunk are two wall-mounted rolled-edge steel shelves that serve as a “desk” and “bench”. They are each 12” x 18” so you can sit and write. It is designed so one’s back is facing the steel bars, not a position one would wish to be in if one is concerned for his safety. However, my week-long experience was that it did not appear to be a major concern because there is not a lot of traffic in the hallway and it is usually supervised when guys are being let out of their cells. The only people usually walking up and down the cellblock are officers and the inmates whose work assignment is to sweep and clean the walkways. There is also a shelf mounted 6’ high, close to the door of the cell that can be used to store books and papers. It is 8” x 24” and some, unlike mine, have intact hooks so you could hang clothing or towels from it. There is a metal “mirror” mounted on the wall above the sink. There is little floor space in the cell where one could exercise. The cell door opens to a 4’ walkway bordered with a metal railing which overlooks an open space which goes the height of a 3 tiers. There are some heating units mounted in this space but most areas are open so there is a lot of books, magazines, and other trash or towels, etc. that get thrown from the third tier down on to the main hallway on the first level. Every morning there is a lot of trash to walk past on the way to breakfast that has been thrown there at night. Since the cells are back-to-back and side-to-side, you can’t see into another cell from yours.

A kite is a request/complaint slip which you fill out to request to attend classes (GED, computer training, Driver’s Ed for DWI offenders, …) or meetings (AA, NA, Chemical Dependency, Prison Fellowship, Bible Study, Islam or Native American religious groups, or Positive Thinking). These forms are available in the dining room with a drop basket there. They can also be left for pick-up on the bars of your cell when mail is delivered at 10:30 PM. Lists are then posted everyday at breakfast time in the cellblock and dining room for scheduled sessions until 4 PM when another list is posted for the evening classes/meetings. If your name isn’t posted, you are not allowed to attend. I requested to attend 2 meetings but never received a response so my name was not on the list and I couldn’t attend. Maybe it was because I was there for only a short period or because the meetings were “full”. Most of the meetings are held in the “chapel” in the upstairs program area where the case worker offices are as well.

On the first weekday after your arrival, you are scheduled for an orientation session which happens at 8:30 AM. Mine, scheduled for a Monday morning, included guys who had arrived later on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday. There were about 25 guys in my session. We fill out a form/questionnaire asking about our use/abuse of alcohol/drugs, do we have a job on the outside, do we need job training, and are we willing to “work a productive day” while incarcerated. (If you are not willing to work or have been convicted of crimes of assault, you will likely be assigned to cellblock B. Even if you are willing to work, you are assigned a classification level which designates whether you can work inside only, in the “industry” at the jail, or outside, working with a landscaping crew. Wages are paid, up to $5./day for some of the 7-hour jobs. Many are hard-to-get and the office where one signs up for a job was open only 1 of the seven days I was there. It is located up the stairs in the rear of the dining room. Inmates assigned to work in industry or outside are issued aqua tee-shirts to designate their status.)

When the session starts, we are handed a yellow “rules” booklet as well as a blue “general info” booklet which explains some of the schedules, procedures, expectations, etc. The senior officer leading the orientation uses the F word almost as much as some of the inmates, claiming that he is “tough, but fair”. It is ironic that one of the first rules in the book include the amount of good time we can lose if written up for “swearing” (0-10 days) or you can be sent to the “hole” (separation or segregation) for 10-30 days. Most of these rules are a joke- they just give an officer ammo when they want to throw the book at you. Rule #31 is “disturbing others”- “creating noises that interfere with the … peaceful functioning of the facility. … making sounds that adversely affect the living conditions of other residents…” (0-20 days in the hole and/or up to 10 days good time lost). Every night there are guys shouting, swearing, rapping at the top of their lungs and this rule is not enforced even though it prevents many of us from sleeping for hours on end. We are told to check the daily postings for meetings to see when we are to meet our case worked assigned to each one. We are called “residents” here rather than inmates or cons. The guards are “officers” rather than “boss-man” or “screws”. We are detained in this “facility” but it clearly is a jail or prison. We are issued our identity badges and then are addressed by the Chaplain. He comes across as somewhat of a no-nonsense kind of guy but definitely warmer than the senior officer. He is from Kenya and one of the inmates asks (based on his experience with Somali kids) whether he will treat African-Americans with respect. He responds that the guy asking should schedule a meeting with him. He says he sees God within the eyes of each of us and wants to be our “friend” but not our “buddy”.

Daily Routine:
(This is based on the schedule of Cellblock A. I’ve been told that A has more opportunities for getting out of the cells more than B but don’t know any details of the differences.) Meals are staggered so one cellblock eats, followed by the other. Since A block has the workers, we eat breakfast first at about 7:10 AM. Some workers eat ½ hour before us, depending on their assignments. The menu for that day is posted on the wall of the hall where you line up to go through the meal line. You pick up a plastic molded tray and a heavy plastic “spork” and go through the line where residents assigned to work in the kitchen give you a portion of whatever is being served. Although you can decline anything you don’t want, it is best to take everything and share what you don’t want with others who often will eat whatever they can get. The portions are usually adequate- especially for those of us sitting or laying around all day, although they are heavily oriented to meat and canned vegetables or fruit. We did have a few raw veggies one meal and an orange one breakfast. You get 3 slices of white bread with virtually every meal. Coffee is served with every meal and you get a small carton of 2% milk at breakfast and most lunches. There is Kool-Aid or water for supper. We get a good variety in the meals- my week included eggs and sausage, French toast, eggs and corned beef hash, meat gravy on toast, and pancakes, with cold cereal at most of the breakfasts. Lunches and diners included a canned veggie with hot dogs & baked beans, veal parmesan with spaghetti, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken breast with rice, tuna noodle casserole, beef stroganoff, … and occasionally you get ice cream, jell-o, or canned fruit as a dessert. There is a “count” during every meal where you are required to remain seated while the # of inmates are counted. Often there needs to be a re-count so this can take several minutes. The meal-time is usually about ½ hour.

After returning from breakfast, if you don’t have a job, you might have 15-20 minutes to clean your cell before you are locked down. (This happened only once during the week I was there but I wasn’t in the cellblock 3 of the mornings.) You can get liquid soap, comet cleanser, plastic disposable gloves, a broom, mop, etc. from the guard station. Otherwise you are locked down in your cell until 11:15 AM when lunch is scheduled. This period of time in the AM is the best time to read, write, and/or meditate because it is the quietest time in the day. This is due to the fact that about ½ of the guys are working and another group is in classes. Many others who didn’t sleep well the night before use this time to nap.

Following lunch is lockdown again until 1:30 when we get out for 45 minutes for a shower and a change of clothes or to use the library or make phone calls. A guard is on-duty outside the shower area and he usually restricts access to about 10-15 residents at a time. You can grab a small bar of soap and you get a towel to dry off that you can take back to your cell. Lockdown follows shower-time until supper. The supper hour is about 5:20 for one cellblock until about 6 for one cellblock followed by supper for the other cellblock. This time alternates each day between A & B. One evening we were allowed outdoors for 1 hour of rec time after supper where we could play volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, sit at picnic tables, or use the phones. We were then locked down for an hours and then given another hour of rec time in the library or dining hall. A lot of the guys play cards in either place or watch TV (there are 3 TVs in the dining room but the noise level is so great one can hardly hear the TV), play dominoes, ping pong, or just talk. The tables with their fixed stools are not built for comfort! You get recreation every other night, alternated with the other cellblock. On rec nights when you are not allowed outside, rec time is from 7-9:45 PM. There is also a separate room with 6 telephones off the dining room that can be used then. When the other cellblock has rec time at night, you are locked down from after supper until breakfast unless you have a visit.

Visiting hours are 6:30-9:45 PM on Tuesday and Thursday, and 12:30-3:30 PM on Wednesday and Saturday (last name A-L) or Sunday (M-Z). You can receive only 1 visit per day and a maximum of 2 persons per visit. Anyone can come, there is no visiting list but each visitor must have a picture ID and kids must be accompanied by a parent. Visiting takes place in a long room with 16 telephones mounted on a Plexiglas divider. The resident sits in a small carrol opposite the chair of his visitor. There is no privacy but most people are concentrating on their own visit rather than listening to your own conversation. Visits are timed to last 20-30 minutes, depending on how many others are waiting. Visitors sometimes wait 30-45 minutes before a station is free for their visit. Visitors can leave money for the resident’s canteen account.

The canteen is the in-house commissary where you can purchase items for your personal use. You may go 1 day per week with a spending limit of $50. per visit. Order forms are available from the hallway officer and there are pencils available to fill them out. One can purchase stamped envelopes (letter-size and 9 x 11), writing tablets, greeting cards, pencils or pens, colored pencils and drawing paper, hair products and shampoo, combs and picks, chips, popcorn, and candy bars. Walkman-style radios are $25. and earphones are $4. Batteries can be purchased only when dead batteries are exchanged. One resident told me, “Snickers are like money here.” You can trade them to another resident for some of their food at meals, they are used for bets in card games, …

It appears that about 70% of the residents are men of color while less than 20% of the officers are people of color. About one in 4 or 5 guards are women. The female officers are assigned to all areas and duties including walking the cellblocks, although I suspect they aren’t assigned to the shower area. Most of the population is under 30 years old although there are a few “gray-hairs” mixed in. I noticed two flamboyantly gay men this week and both were African-American. There seems to be a lot of verbal homophobia but I didn’t see these men get physically harassed. There are significant populations of African-Americans and Caucasians, with smaller groups of Native Americans, Hmong, Latinos, and recent immigrant men, mostly Somali. With the exception of some of the verbal shouting & taunts at night and quite explicit language, most of the time is hassle-free if you keep to yourself and don’t mouth off. The noise level and the poor sleeping conditions are the most difficult aspects for me. There are a few clocks around so telling time is almost impossible within this jail except for the scheduled meals, meetings, … unless one listens to the radio. Fortunately, my cell was on the second tier and faced slightly to the east so I could help determine the time from the sunrise.

When you are scheduled to be released, you will be awakened before 5 PM and instructed to take everything from your cell except the mattress and pillow. After dropping off your linens and trash, you are taken to booking and surrender your badge. You sign for your clothes bag and change into your civilian clothes and wait for the booking officer. Shortly before 6 AM he calls you in to return your personal ID, any jewelry taken, or other items you brought that you couldn’t have inside. Newspaper clippings or other contraband included in mail you received. (Again, it is ironic that one can subscribe to a newspaper inside, but you can’t receive news clippings in the mail!). You should have your gold copy of the booking form with you. If released on a weekday, there is a Huber bus that leaves about 6:15 AM to go to downtown Minneapolis. No bus is available on weekends or holidays and you must secure your own rides those days.

This is an experience you won’t forget for a while. Use the time to educate yourself about the realities of living in this American empire and as a time to listen and hear the voices of those “in the belly of the beast”.

Why I'm going to Jail -

Why I'm going to Jail
Steve Clemens, Spring 2002

In late October, I first heard reports that the U.S. was using cluster bombs in Afghanistan. The report, from Human Rights Watch, also stated that the type used, the CBU-87, was "manufactured by Alliant TechSystems of MN". Immediately, my thoughts were of the reports I had heard years ago about cluster bombs in Laos.

In 1975, I first heard reports from Mennonite Central Committee volunteers about the plight of civilians in Laos who were being blown to bits by the unexploded cluster bombs that were dropped on that nation during a secret bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. Millions of "bombies", the individual bomblets dispensed out of a large cluster bomb unit, had failed to detonate when they hit the ground but remained armed and deadly- de facto landmines, waiting for someone or something to move it or disturb it in some way. Children saw the brightly colored objects and were naturally drawn to them. Farmers struck them while preparing the soil for their crops. Some landed in trees, ponds or lakes, or even buried several feet into the ground. After monsoon rains, new bombies were exposed, ready to destroy whatever moved them. The Mennonites and Quakers were raising funds to purchase specially armored tractors to help plow the ground while keeping local farmers safer.

I had thought that with the recent passage and ratification of the International Land Mine Treaty, these weapons would be clearly and unequivocally banned. For years, hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators regularly gathered at Honeywell and demanded that they cease production of cluster bombs. After Honeywell spun-off its weapons business to Alliant TechSystems, much of the public protest faded.

When I moved to Minneapolis in 1990, another movement was getting started: the Ban the Landmines Campaign. A natural focus for the campaign was Alliant Tech since they continued to manufacture these indiscriminate killers in the 1990's. Handicap International and other international groups encouraged Minnesotans to focus protest on Alliant. After several demonstrations which included civil disobedience and arrests, some with convictions and fines, others having the charges dropped or never brought to trial, The City of Hopkins charged 79 demonstrators with criminal trespass after we blocked the entry doors to the company.

At our trial, we were acquitted on the basis of a claim of right due to International Humanitarian Law which forbids the manufacture, sale, or use of weapons of indiscriminate destruction. In preparation for that trial, I restudied the concepts of International Law I first learned in a course on International Law and Politics I took outside The Hague, Netherlands while in college.

In 2000, the focus shifted from landmines to depleted uranium weapons that Alliant was producing.
Reports coming from Iraq and Kosovo of deaths and illnesses, combined with reports from Gulf War veterans made these issues more urgent. About 40 or so people were arrested for trespass and the charges were reduced to a petty misdemeanor to prevent us from having a jury trial. At the bench trial which ensued, moving testimony was given by several defendants who had traveled to Iraq and John LaForge from the Annathoth Community laid out the nature of Du weapons and International Law. The judge found us guilty and sentenced us to a $25. fine. I informed the judge that I felt a fine was a tax on my conscience and that I would choose to send a $25. donation to Doctors Without Borders for their work with radiation victims instead. Apparently that was acceptable since I have not heard from that court since I sent a copy of my letter to the judge.

Alliant Action, the group organizing weekly and bi-annual non-violent witness at Alliant, had scheduled one of its twice-yearly larger protests at Alliant for the day following Election Day in 2001. I planned to attend but was not going to risk arrest since I had booked an airplane flight for the next day to go to PA to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Even one’s activist life has to prioritize some things and this was an event I had looked forward to long before the events of Sept. 11th. I was conflicted in that I felt it was my responsibility as a world citizen to incarnate my opposition to the existence and use of cluster bombs.

As 65 of us gathered to begin the witness, I asked to read an excerpt of the Human Rights Watch paper on the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan. Others shared remarks before we proceeded with signs and “caution” or warning flags, marked “ATK landmines ”, “depleted uranium”, or “cluster bombs” on them. These flags were to be planted near the entrance to Alliant as a symbolic gesture of warning neighbors about what Alliant produces. Those who were risking arrest proceeded beyond the boulevard into Alliant’s parking lot- headed for their main entrance. They were met by the police and Alliant security and told if they did not leave, they would be arrested.

The police office in charge told the rest of the crowd that those arrested would be transported to the Edina city jail to be booked and would be released “in about an hour or so and would be asked to report to the court at a later date”. At that point, I knew I could be true to my conscience as well as pay the respect due to my father as well. I stepped forward and started walked peacefully toward Alliant’ s entrance. When stopped after a few yards by an Edina Police Officer and an Alliant Security Officer, I told them I was there pursuant to International Humanitarian Law and that the cluster bombs the company was making was in violation of those laws. They responded with, “You are trespassing on Alliant Tech’ s property. If you do not leave, you will be placed under arrest. Do you understand this?” After responding, “Yes”, I was escorted by the police officer to an awaiting police car, handcuffed, and placed in the car with two others and driven to the Edina Police station.

Upon arrival there, we were greeted warmly by others who had also been arrested. As I was escorted to the open holding cell, it appeared that, at 52, I might be the youngest person arrested that day. (It later turned out that there were several younger people who had been transported to the jail earlier than I had and were already being processed.) It seemed like an honor to be arrested with a group of my elders in the peace movement. After the fingerprinting, photographing, and other booking procedures, friends drove us back to the original rally site to reclaim our cars. I left to return to the staff meeting at Habitat for Humanity, for which I was now over one hour late.

After our arraignment at the end of the month, we were asked to return again for pre-trial procedure and to set a trial date. One of the 16 arrested decided she would plead guilty because of her status as a college student made it difficult for her to schedule to go to trial with us. After her plea, she was sentenced to 8 hours of community service.

The remaining 15 defendants requested that we all be tried together even though we had a right to individual trials. We met together 3-4 times before the trial to go over who wished to say or do what during the trial. We chose to go pro se, or represent ourselves, without the presence of a lawyer. Two defendants were interested in helping select the jury rather than to testify. Others agreed to present an opening or closing statement, and the majority of us decided we would agree to testify as to why we did what we did.

Minnesota law contains a provision in its trespass law that allows a defendant a “claim of right” if he/she has good reason to believe that another law or statue gives us a right to be on the property. Several of us in the group has used this defense successfully (and also without success) in the past. We decided to raise the issue of International Humanitarian Law, Customary Law, and the Laws of War, as an affirmative defense in our case. (The US Constitution says that Treaties entered into by the US are “the Supreme Law of the land” and supersedes local law.)

The Prosecutor, Marsh Hallberg, representing the City of Edina, submitted a pre-trial Motion in Liminie requesting that the Judge forbid testimony or evidence about International Law as irrelevant in this case. On the morning of March 25th, the Monday Christians remember as Holy Week, our trial was scheduled to begin. In a meeting in the Judge’s chambers prior to the start of the trial and the selection of the jury, that morning, this motion was discussed. Judge E. Anne McKinsey stated that she would reserve judgment about allowing International Law in as evidence but would allow us to testify about our beliefs as to why we were there at Alliant. When the prosecutor asked the judge if he could inform the jury about our prior arrests (and convictions) at Alliant as a way to demonstrate our lack of good faith, I told the Judge that some of us had been previously acquitted by a jury of these same charges on the basis of International Law, thus making our claim very reasonable. The Judge chuckled, agreed, and told the Prosecutor he might not want to bring up the issue of our past actions at Alliant!

In selecting a jury from the pool of 16 potential jurors, the two defendants leading the voir doir, Kate McDonald and Barbara Pratt, asked the panel if any had family members who were or are in the military or worked in “defense industries”. The panel was asked if they felt one could be patriotic and protest at the same time and if any had themselves been involved in public protests. However, the most revealing question was “Who do you consider a hero and why?” After the first few to respond answered with their parents or their father, Barb rephrased the question to refer to someone in the public sphere that we might all know. When the responses included President Bush (twice), President Reagan, Oprah, and Billy Graham, it was clear that our jury was unlikely to be made up of “our peers’ . On the brighter side, ML King and Barbara Jordan were cited by the only black juror, helping to balance the fact that her husband, brother, brother-in-law, and father had all been or were presently in the military. After settling on 7, (6 jurors and 1 alternate), the trial finally got underway.

We had previously agreed to stipulate virtually all of the facts of the case so the prosecutor only called one witness, the police office in charge at the scene that day. Sgt. Phil Larsen was very clear that we were completely non-violent and cooperative with him and his other officers. He chose to remain in the courtroom to hear all the testimony that followed. He told me during a break in the trial that he admired us for taking the consequences of our action and he felt it his responsibility to hear what we had to say in our defense since he had arrested us.

Mary Lou Ott gave the opening statement for the defense. She tried to look each juror in eye as she told them it was not our goal to get arrested for the sake of getting arrested. If it was, she said, “I could have parked my car in front of a fire hydrant and I wouldn’t have to go through all this.” She asked the jurors to listen with their hearts as well as their heads. She went on to remind the jurors that many of the defendants have been vigiling at Alliant for 5 years, rain or snow.

Marguerite Corcoran was the first to take the witness stand. She believes that life is sacred and must be protected. Most times she’d prefer to let the “experts” decide things but after seeing video footage of Nazi atrocities some years ago, the refrain kept echoing in her head: “And the German people knew what was happening.” She, like virtually all of us, have written, called, and visited with our elected representatives; but she felt the obligation as a citizen and a Christian to speak out against indiscriminate weapons. Her intent was not to break the law but rather to ask ATK to not make these weapons. She talked about meeting victims of landmines. On cross-examination, Marsh only asked her if she knowingly “crossed the line”, that her action was deliberate. It clearly was.

Pepperwolf shared about her role as a teacher and school librarian. She works with kids and teaches them how to solve their problems and disputes “with words” rather than with hitting or weapons She talked about a book she recently shared with her students about “what if our world were a village of 100 people”. How many would be Americans, how many would go hungry or not have clean drinking water. If there is enough food produced to go around, her students asked, “why are so many people going hungry?” It is necessary for her to protest a company (Alliant) that profits from violent solutions.

Char Madigan, one of 5 nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on trial, discussed how economic violence continues to exploit people. She insisted that “money-wealth needs to be replaced with common-wealth” so all God’s people can be fed, housed, treated with dignity. She stressed that she had not only a right, but also an obligation to be at Alliant. Property rights must never protect violations of International Law.

Rita McDonald, another CSJ nun , talked about our role as whistle-blowers. Kathleen Rouna followed with a plea to end the degradation of our environment that was occurring because of the weapons containing depleted uranium that Alliant produced and the US has used in the Gulf War and in Kosovo. She reminded the jury of her concerns for ALL life, not just human life that is at risk.

Tom Bottelene told the jury that Alliant’s corporate logo and their abbreviation for the stock exchange is ATK. “It sounds like attack- that is kind of arrogant on their behalf.” He then tried to enter evidence about the weapons Alliant TechSystems makes. However, the Prosecutor objected and the Judge sustained the objection, allowing Tom to testify only to what “he believed” that they made. Even though Tom’s “evidence” was taken from Alliant’s own web page, and they boast about what product they make, The Judge would not allow the jury to consider that evidence. He was also prevented from discussing the fact that the US Government, earlier in 1994, had sued Alliant Tech for violations of the Anti-T rust Act by engaging in price-fixing with the only other company in the world that manufactures the type of cluster bomb most frequently used by the US. When Tom asked that Article VI from the US Constitution be entered into evidence, the Judge once again sided with the prosecution and would not allow it.

Tom was able to talk briefly about cluster bombs, landmines, and the OICW, the new combat weapon Alliant is developing for the Army that would allow its user to “shoot around corners” without knowing who or what was behind them. Tom looked Sgt. Larsen right in the eye when he said, “We know all these weapons that are produced eventually find there way to be sold on the black market. We’d hate to see these weapons get into the hands of criminals to be used against our police.” (After leaving the witness stand and taking a brief recess, Sgt. Larsen came up to Tom and asked for a copy of the documents about this weapon that the Judge would not allow Tom to read and enter into evidence.) Tom also showed how Alliant sells its weapons in more than 40 countries around the world, profiting by selling to countries on both sides of on-going international conflicts, including countries in the Middle East, both Pakistan and India, and hot spots in Central and South America.

Sister Rita Steinhagen talked about her travels to Central America during the US funded Contra War in Nicaragua , seeing and meeting with victims of weapons which couldn’t discriminate between combatants and civilians- and then saw some of these weapons in a museum there that were clearly stamped, “Made in the USA”. Silence implies consent and she will not be silent. This cannot continue to happen “in our name”. If only Alliant could learn to put this creative genius, which is now put to use making weapons, to use making items that could benefit humanity. Mary Ellen Halverson followed by talking about the role of the corporate whistle-blower, warning the greater community of corruption and what is wrong at the heart of some of these large corporations. She mentioned the growing scandals surrounding Enron, Global Crossings, Monsanto, and other corporate giants and stated that, like Paul Revere, we have to sound out the alarm. We have knowledge of the harm that Alliant’ s products are doing all over the world. We have the responsibility to ‘blow the whistle’ on them.

I was next on the witness stand. After giving some brief biographical info about being a husband, parent, working for Habitat, and being part of the Community of St. Martin and taking the Vow of Nonviolence annually, I briefly described living at Koinonia Partners and having the opportunity to meet some of those victimized by US militarism. I mentioned my interest in landmines after having met Chou Ly and Sovath and described briefly the Walk In Peace Program of Jubilee Partners.

I described my summer semester abroad in Europe while enrolled at Wheaton College, highlighting the course on International Law and Politics outside The Hague, and visits to Geneva and the concentration camp outside Munich at Dachau. My interest in International Law was fed by my anti-war activism, including reading a book by Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials on how the US was guilty of war crimes by its indiscriminate bombing in Indochina. I talked a little about the Nuremberg Principles and how they became the basis for the Charter of the United Nations. The trial at Nuremberg established the responsibility for citizens to speak and act against policies of their own governments that lead to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

My testimony continued with an account of November 7 and how I informed the group about the use of ATK cluster bombs in Afghanistan within the last month. I then described how the CBU-87 cluster bomb works- its 202 bomblets within the 1,000# canister, the 3-fold function of the weapon: able to pierce 5” of steel armor, start fires, and the 300 metal fragments which rip apart human flesh as its “anti-personnel” component. I showed a picture of the bright, yellow colored bomblet that attracts children because it could be mistaken for a toy. I reminded the jury of how the US had previously dropped food parcels, also yellow in color, the weeks before. I told the jury about the “failure rate” of these weapons (between 5-30% fail to detonate as designed and become de facto landmines, waiting for someone or something to touch them).

Realizing I could not enter the actual wording of International Law or treaties that the US has signed, I described the role of the Red Cross and its responsibilities to promote International Humanitarian Law. It is significant that this body called for a moratorium on cluster bombs 14 months prior to our November demonstration to be followed by discussions to make explicit their complete ban. More than 50 other human rights and other NGO’ s have endorsed such a moratorium. My testimony was getting too long for the jury to comprehend so I closed with two pleas to warn the public about these weapons. The first was from a UN Subcommittee which stated we have a DUTY as world citizens to publicize the use of illegal weapons, based on a ruling of the International Court of Justice relative to the use of sea mines. The second was a call from the CEO of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund stating that “countries must feel the force of public opinion” regarding the manufacture and use of cluster bombs.

In preparing for my testimony, I was greatly aided by reading some of the excellent work done on indiscriminate weapons and International Law by Karen Parker and Virgil Wiebe.

Mary Lou Ott then took the stand as the final defendant to testify. With a long history of active witness for social justice and peacemaking, she concentrated on how she and her husband Gene tried to raise their children to embrace the discipline of nonviolence. She saw faces of angry white protestors objecting to the integration of public schools on the TV screen in the 60’s and realized she didn’t want to have that kind of anger control her life. She committed herself to work for change. When her sons became old enough to be drafted for war, she made it clear that “I didn’t want my boys to kill another mother’s son.”

With that testimony, the defense rested. Marsh Hallberg led off with the closing argument for the prosecution. He stated we had no claim of right and said that jurors should not confuse motive with intent. “These are really good people. I’ d like to have them as my neighbors. I’d like to work in a food line with them. I’d like to go to church with them.” But, the question isn’t whether the defendants are good people or not. He said he didn’t’ have a clue as to what Alliant manufacturers. This trial isn’t the proper forum for an international debate. The defendants can bring up these issues at the UN or other places. The defendants think if they act in good conscience there shouldn’t’ t be consequences. Our country will be in chaos if all of us just act on our conscience. They crossed the line to vent their frustration. They wanted a public forum and media attention. They desired greater attention to their cause. They have the right to a trial. We have to balance the freedom of expression with our rights in our society. It took a lot of time and energy away from our police department and cost the taxpayers more than $5,000. for this action. “I’m asking you to enforce the law.”

Char Madigan closed for the defense: “Our deepest hope is that you will understand that our intent was to obey a greater law. Our intent is to protect citizens. It is the intention of the law to protect the common good. Our claim of right is reasonable, not arbitrary. We’ve named the International Laws, the Nuremberg Principles, the weapons that are made and are indiscriminate. We didn’t make up the Nuremberg Principles. We didn’t make up the Geneva Accords. We need to stop the madness. The jury is part of our system of checks and balances and it is our hope that you will find us not guilty of trespass.

Mr. Hallberg had the final say: This is a domestic trespass case. This court is the wrong forum for the issues these defendants care about. The Judge instructed the jury and sent them out. After about 1 1/2hours, the jury was excused for the night and was scheduled to continue deliberations the following day. We were called back to the courtroom after the jury reached their verdict the next morning, having met for about 45 minutes. When they filed into the room, we knew the news was not good for us: none of the jurors would look at us and several had frowns on their faces.

After all 15 of the guilty verdicts were read, the jury was dismissed. Although the prosecutor requested that sentencing be delayed, noting that a number of the defendants had prior arrest records, we asked the judge to sentence us right away. Because one defendant was on probation for a previous nonviolent offense at Alliant, and 3 others were not able to be present in the courtroom that morning, only 11 of us were sentenced by the judge: 90 days in jail plus a mandatory $300. fine. 80 of the 90 days and the fine were stayed or suspended if the defendants were not arrested and convicted of trespass, breach of the peace, or disorderly conduct for the next year. The judge then said the remaining 10 days would be served by doing unsupervised Community Service of our own determination.

At that point I stood and told the Judge that I objected. I have committed my whole life to serving others. My job is working with Habitat for Humanity. What we did at Alliant Tech was a service to the world community. And, for me, service is something that comes from the heart, not because one is compelled to do it. I asked the Judge if she would consider sentencing me to jail instead of the Community Service. After a brief pause to think it over, the Judge agreed to amend the sentence to all of us to include the option of a jail sentence if we chose not to agree to do Community Service. However, she asked us to make our choice right then, at the time of sentencing. Due to present guidelines at the Hennepin County “Workhouse”, a 10-day sentence is served by a 7-day incarceration. Judge McKinsey said that we would have 120 days to inform the court by letter that we had completed the Community Service, or, if we had decided not to comply with that sentence, to inform the court of the date you would surrender to begin the jail sentence.

Char Madigan was the first to choose incarceration over Community Service. Like many of the defendants, her whole life has been in service to her faith and other people. Rita Steinhagen and Rita Foster made it a trio of nuns who would go to jail. Other defendants requested that “community education” be considered as Community Service and the Judge agreed. Some defendants will use this as an opportunity to continue to educate others about the realities of these weapons and Alliant’s choice of profits over people. When it came my turn, I told the Judge that I couldn’t make the decision I wanted to make, to choose jail over Community Service, without first consulting my wife and my sons- but she should expect to receive a letter from me stating that I would self-surrender for jail at a time our family could agree upon. Several other defendants are considering which choice best fits them. Despite some different choices in sentencing, we remain committed to one another and to converting the work of Alliant Tech to something that is life-affirming rather than serving death.

At this point, it appears that at least 4 of us will report to the Hennepin County Workhouse for our sentence on May 20th. My initial concern about that date was mistaken- I had thought it would fall on the week of my youngest son’ s final exams. Since I enjoy studying with him as he prepares for them, I was afraid that my choosing to go to jail that week might send a discouraging signal to him. However, after checking the calendar, I would be released in time to help him study. So, I will join those 3 Sisters in reporting that day so we can stand in solidarity together, even though we will be locked in separate jails. And for those who wonder about my commitment of service, I have already scheduled to use up 2 ½ weeks of my vacation this summer by going to work as a volunteer at Holden Village, a Lutheran Retreat Center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington with my son Zach, two weeks after I get out of jail.

The support and love we have received from our friends and community all through this process has made this a truly blessed Holy Week experience for us.