Saturday, 15 August 2009

Thy Kingdom Come

The following is the complete version of an article, HUMAN EFFORTS, GOD´S GRACE, published in the Catholic Worker, June-July 2009:

Meditating on the “Our Father” in Jail
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

The following is from my journal written while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas. The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.

“Thy kingdom come”

May human society be transformed into a loving and just community for all peoples,
and may nature and all the universe continue to evolve into their fullness in Christ.
We are delivered into your Kingdom
when we live and build the world in a way
that demonstrates that you are indeed King,
not that you force us to obey, like earthly tyrants,
but that your principles and values hold ultimate sway in our daily living
and in our political and economic relations,
when we love one another as individuals
and as citizens of sister nations and races in the community of all peoples.
May your Spirit change our hearts and world structures
so that peace with justice will reign.

St. Matthew used “kingdom of heaven” out of reverence for your name; he meant the same as Mark and Luke did when they wrote “kingdom of God” -- not some incredible fantasy of a spiritual realm filled with disincarnate souls floating around, but this universe and this earth transformed into the garden for all which you intended at the origin.
Jesus himself proclaimed that this Kingdom is at hand, among us, not merely within, as some translations put it, as if it were a kingdom of interior consolation, warm feelings, and nice intentions in our heart and mind.
The Kingdom is larger than that: Jesus is Lord of all -- of our hearts and minds and interior values, certainly, but also Lord of the work of our hands and of the structures we create to live socially, politically, and economically.
The federal magistrate conducting the trial of those who protested against SOA/WHINSEC, after listening to our testimony and hearing of our dreams for a peaceful society, delivered his opinion that what we were describing sounded like the Kingdom of heaven but that we should know that it is not of this world. Perhaps Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” is foremost in the judge’s mind, or perhaps he has other reasons for holding his opinion.
Yes, your honor, Jesus did say that his kingdom is “not of this world “ (in a very specific situation in his life), meaning that he would not rely on the world’s violent methods of self-defense such as armies when the police came for him: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36).[1]
Similarly, before the start of his public ministry, he had rejected domination and coercion as his method for helping the Kingdom to come. In the desert he rejected political power over others, any kind of miraculous spectacle which could coerce people´s will, and the power which comes from distributing bread and other necessities (Mt 4:1-11). His sword would be the one that Paul later took up: “the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God” (Eph 6:17).

But throughout his ministry
he courageously denounced evil, corruption, and injustice
in this world
and sketched the outlines of the Kingdom
inaugurating it by his way of living and struggling
here on earth.
That is why he was jailed and executed as a trouble-maker, criminal, social critic,
but in his resurrection he conquered death
and the injustice which had condemned and crucified him;
he is proved, for those with faith, to be the innocent party in the trial,
while his executioners are shown to be guilty of judicial murder.
He is the first-born of the New Creation, of the Kingdom,
which is present in seedling
and, as he proclaimed, is coming here and now.

Yes, the Kingdom is “utopia”
in the literal sense
that in its fullness it is “nowhere” on earth, in history.
That is all too obvious
in our criminal-justice system
as well as in the increasingly unjust distribution of the world´s resources
and in the military domination and exploitation
of the world by the U.S. and other powers.
But there is some justice and peace,
and we keep struggling for more.
The seeds of the Kingdom are planted and are growing,
even if in a fragile and quiet way as the parables indicate.
The risen Christ is with us in the struggle,
keeping our hope alive,
nourishing our love and commitment,
accompanying us and strengthening us in our wavering moments,
and assuring us that his Abba’s project will not ultimately be defeated.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

“The people united will never be defeated”
has been a popular slogan of struggle in Chile and other Latin American countries.
“Nicaragua won; El Salvador will win”
was chanted in El Salvador in the 1980s,
where revolutionaries found hope in the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua.
“We shall overcome,” proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
along with those who organized, marched, and went to jail with him.
“Yes, it can be done” (“sí, se puede”) chanted César Chavez and the United Farm Workers.
“Don’t mourn, organize” was the message of labor songwriter Joe Hill and other union activists.

These encouraging messages show us how to cooperate with God
in bringing about the coming of the Kingdom and the implementation of God’s will.
It couldn’t be clearer that God’s will for the Kingdom
is to be carried out on earth,
not just among the departed souls and angels.
How? By using our God-given intelligence and freedom to solve our problems,
working together with her for a better world.
We must let God’s will be done in our lives, families, and communities
and organize so that God’s will for justice and freedom
may become a reality for all
in social, political, and economic structures.
In these structures and systems, it is people’s power, united and smart,
which makes change,
for the entrenched power of the ruling class
does not yield without a struggle.
As Dr. King said, “We know through painful experience
that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor;
it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Organized Truth-force, speaking truth to power,
non-cooperation, boycotts, marches, sit-ins,
draft resistance, tax resistance, and other forms of civil disobedience,
organizing unions, neighborhood groups, and political parties,
voting and getting out the vote, especially when the stakes are significant --
these are some of the methods of exerting power non-violently at our disposal.

God’s will
is not that women and children be beaten,
that more people be unemployed or exploited,
that millions suffer malnutrition or AIDS,
that the prisons and jails of the U.S. contain over 2 million inmates,
that the U.S. invade other countries at will.
These evils happen
because we misuse the freedom and potential God has given us.
Problems made by humans,
can be solved by humans.

In this seemingly impossible and overwhelming task, we may feel alone,
even if we organize millions to act in unison.
But we are not left to our own devices, limited energy, and propensity toward despair.
Moses and the prophets were always assured of Abba’s presence and strength
even in the face of fierce opposition.
Jesus often told his disciples: “Do not be afraid; I am with you.”
United to the Vine, we will produce much fruit.
It was not God’s will that Jesus suffer cruelly and perish ignominiously on the cross
“for our sins,”
to assuage some divine wrath,
to make a sacrifice of expiation,
to save us.
These are Old Testament images which were applied to Jesus after his death and resurrection. In retrospect, Christian theology sees that they were fulfilled in a magnificent way by Jesus.
It was God’s will that Jesus
announce the Kingdom of justice and love and inaugurate it by his work,
that he denounce hypocrisy and corruption in high places
that he be faithful to this dangerous mission
in face of the intense persecution it would unleash against him,
and that Jesus and his cause be vindicated in the resurrection.
“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want”(Mk 14:36). Jesus’ will was one with Abba’s; he was the faithful prophet and courageous liberator to the very end.

[1]All biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition (Catholic Bible Press, 1993).

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Militant Nonviolence

Love for Enemies: Militant Nonviolence
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

Published in shorter form as “The Fruit of God’s Own Life,” Catholic Worker (New York, NY), March-April 2008)

The following is a modified version of a chapter of the journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Non-violence as a Way of Life and as a Method

As a way of life, Christian non-violence constantly challenges us to be freed from the vestiges of those violent attitudes and behaviors which are programmed into us by the self-centered, avaricious, dog-eat-dog culture in which we live (with my apologies to the canines, since even dogs don’t devour each other the way we do!)

As a tactic or method, Jesus’ approach is a way of engaging the opponent not in battle for his life but in a respectful but firm struggle for his mind and heart, aimed at bringing about his recognition of the truth of a situation and of his own complicity in it with the further goal of bringing about a change of heart and behavior. The “opponent” may be the direct perpetrator of the violence and injustice and/or the society which supports her and in whose name she acts.

This kind of Christian pacifism (literally “peace-making”) has no relation either etymologically or historically to the kind of “passivism”which has unjustly undermined the Christian response to societal evil over the centuries. The non-violence of Jesus (speaking truth to power in word and deed) involves loving and doing good to one’s enemies by actively challenging their involvement in injustice and inviting them to live in a new solidarity with their former victims.

The classic texts presenting Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation and love for enemies are Mt 5:38-48 and Lk 6:27-36. Let us focus on Lk 6:27-29a: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also....”

Jesus as Nonviolent Resister

The best example of how to do this is Jesus’ own illustration in action as found in John 18:19-23. (How could anyone try to interpret this passage without seeing it in the context of Jesus’ own behavior?) When the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching, the prisoner responded with a certain boldness: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.... Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”

At this point a policeman hit Jesus in the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Jesus did not strike back in violence, but neither did he hang his head, lower his eyes, or apologize for his statement. Rather than becoming mute, he challenged his aggressor, putting him on the spot by asking him to explain his action.

Later Jesus would keep silent in an eloquent response to Pilate’s question: “Where are you from?” (Jn 19:9). Pilate was driven to exasperation by this simple denial of his power: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” To this Jesus did respond, but in a way that relativized Pilate’s power, situating it as being under God’s authority: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (19:11; see also Mt 27:12-14).

When Jesus was interrogated by the high priest (Mt 26:63) and by Herod (Lk 23:9), he also gave them the silent treatment, refusing to recognize their authority over him.

This firm, even defiant, attitude characterized the Suffering Servant in Isaiah: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.... Who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up” (Is 50:6-9).

At the moment of his arrest, while Jesus did not join with one of his disciples in using the sword, he did challenge his captors: “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me” (Mt 26:51-55).

In the case of a conflict between the community and an offensive member, Jesus counseled the community to confront the person: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender” (Lk 17:3). Hopefully this will lead to repentance and change: “If there is repentance, you must forgive.”
Matthew describes the process in greater detail (18:15-17): “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” But if necessary witnesses are brought in, the community becomes involved, and ultimately disciplinary action may be required: “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Thus “turning the other cheek” is very different from lowering one’s head, eyes, and shoulder before the aggressor, not daring to look him in the eyes or speak. That subservient posture is frequently typical of the slave, the poor, the oppressed, the outcast who has internalized the system’s characterization of him or her as an inferior being. But Christians know that they are loved by God and by the community and thus have a strong sense of their own dignity and a healthy self-respect and self-image; with this inner power they can stand up to the aggressor, who is only another child of God. And they can find human alternatives to violence rather than degrading themselves and betraying their nonviolent principles by “returning evil for evil,” which after all means doing evil.

Nonviolence in Practice

Jesus exemplified the attitude of “turning the other cheek” in a challenging way not only during his passion but consistently throughout his public ministry. On those occasions when he was threatened with death, he courageously returned to the turf of his persecutors and continued his ministry of loving care and prophetic denunciation (e.g., openly healing people on the sabbath, and in one case even throwing the merchants and money-changers out of the temple). The one who turns the cheek is saying: “I have done nothing wrong; you are wrong to hit me. Knowing that, if you insist on hitting me again, go ahead. I’m not afraid.” By returning to dangerous places and situations, Jesus was conveying a similar message to those who were trying to assassinate him.

In the same way the apostles proved to be recidivists in proclaiming the message of Jesus and of his resurrection in defiance of the authorities, knowing they would be arrested every time. They did not silence themselves (Acts 4:18-20, 29-31; 5:27-31).

Beatings, arrests, and incarceration did not stop Gandhi and King and their associates from always coming back to the confrontation, collectively offering “the other cheek” time after time. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who struggled for peace and reconciliation among his brethren, offered his breast, his body to his opponents who were his brothers:

“Dearest brother, I know it is you who will shoot me tonight,
piercing our mother’s heart with a wound
that can never heal....
Here is my breast! Aim your gun at it, brother, shoot!
I offer my body, the body our mother bore and nurtured.
Destroy it if you wish.
Destroy it in the name of your dream --
that dream in whose name you kill....
Come back, dear brother, and kneel at your mother’s knee” (Love in Action – Writings on Nonviolent Social Change, Berkeley, Cal., Parallax Press, 1993).

When Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J., and two peasants with him were brutally gunned down in 1977, their martyrdom had a profound impact on the new archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith” – and hope.

Archbishop Romero considered the conversion of the oppressor the “vengeance of the Christian”: “Let us be firm in defending our rights, but with great love in our hearts, because to defend our rights in this way we are also seeking the conversion of sinners. This is the vengeance of the Christian” (June 19, 1977 homily, Mons. Oscar A. Romero: Su pensamiento, San Salvador, Imprenta Criterio, 1980-89). The martyrdom of Romero, even though it did not end the repressive policies of the Salvadoran and U.S. governments, touched the hearts and changed the lives of millions throughout the world, strengthening them in their commitment to struggle for justice.

In the nonviolent actions at Ft. Benning to close the School of the Americas, one member of the community (body) follows the other in crossing the line – presenting one’s body, cheek and all, to the armed opponent. And some members have turned the other cheek in this militant non-violence two or more times, with the penalty being increased each time.
This is not passive acceptance of humiliation. Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, giving your shirt as well, and giving to beggars and thieves are ways that “the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that” (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992, p. 182). The oppressed “have suddenly ... taken back the power of choice.”

A striking example of the oppressed asserting their human dignity is found in the latter period of the Old Testament. When the pagan emperor arrested seven brothers and their mother and compelled them, “under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh” (2 Maccabees 7), they resisted valiantly. One of the sons, when it was demanded, “quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, ‘I got these from heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.’ As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.”

The “victory” of the nonviolent resister

Jesus and others who publicly violate the letter of the law do not seek but do accept the penalty as a necessary consequence of their words and deeds. And they consider their experience of being punished an extension of the prophetic action which can also touch hearts and influence minds.
Jesus had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he” (Jn 8:28). See also Jn 3:14 and 12:32-33: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

The soldier who pierced the side of Jesus’ corpse was named Longinus by Christian tradition, which believed that he was converted by Jesus’ loving death. His statue is in a prominent place of honor in St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. In connection with the piercing, St. John quotes Zechariah: “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37). In Zechariah this look is accompanied by mourning and conversion.
In the synoptics a soldier at the cross says: “Certainly this man was innocent” (Lk 23:47) or “Truly this man was God’s son” (Mk 15:39 and Mt 27:54). (Perhaps in these accounts the strange natural phenomena at the moment gave an assist to their confession.)

Jesus’ death in love and courage also strengthened Joseph of Arimathea (a secret disciple of Jesus because of fear) and Nicodemus (the Pharisee who had come to Jesus at night – Jn 3:2) to “come out” and ask Pilate for the body and give it proper and respectful burial (Jn 19:38-42).

By raising Jesus from the dead, God revealed, to the eyes of faith, that the victory goes to the condemned and executed Victim and that this good man had suffered unjustly.

Hope in struggle

Like Jesus, we recognize that we cannot entertain an optimism which would assure us that all our most precious expectations will be realized in our lifetime, or solely by our effort. But hope is much more profound, and more mysterious: a fruit of God’s own life in us and in all of creation, a spark of energy propelling God’s historical project ahead, even with crooked lines, setbacks, deaths, and resurrections.

Hope is as basic as faith and love. If we believe in God as loving Creator, we cannot doubt the ultimate fruition of her good work; and if we love the universe and all humanity (starting with the present generation and our children and grandchildren), we cannot doubt the ultimate result of God’s love and our love – the fulfillment and happiness of all creation in Christ, whose resurrection is the first fruits of the cosmic harvest.
Meanwhile, hope is nourished along the way by our celebrations of small victories and by our joyful savoring of the values of the Kingdom experienced here and now.

And action itself strengthens and sustains hope. People who maintain their commitment to active struggle, especially with others in community, find that hope is not lacking (when they take time to think about it!).
By the same token, those who drop out, to devote themselves to purely materialistic or purely spiritualistic private pursuits, find that hope dries up – and then their hopelessness tends to justify their shutting down to the grand issues and struggles of world history.


For the original, longer version of this article, please see:

Friday, 8 February 2008

Violence in Jail and in Society

Violence in Jail and in Society

Violence in Daily Life in Jail

A few days ago some of the inmates were watching a blood-and-guts, shoot-em-up film on TV featuring a constant barrage of people shouting, threatening each other, cursing each other out, and otherwise verbally abusing one another, as well as people beating, kicking, and shooting each other.

At the same moment, in the hall outside our unit’s window, a guard was verbally abusing a young inmate with an intensity equal to that of the spoken violence on the TV show. Fortunately this scene did not lead to physical harm, since the inmate controlled himself. I don’t know what the inmate, who lives in the neighboring unit, had done to provoke the guard’s wrath.

Perhaps the young man had been watching the same shoot-em-up and responded to some conflict situation (e.g., another inmate turning the channel) with the same methods he saw exemplified and glorified by Hollywood. After he is released, will the guard be an additional role model for him?
In the evening some inmates watched two hours of fake but ostensibly very brutal wrestling, following by real boxing.

The next morning began with a heavy-set guard bellowing at us that it was time for our twice-weekly change of jail shirt and pants. This particular officer seems incapable of telling us anything except in a loud, abusive manner.

As we filed past the clothes bin, some inmates were trying to indicate to another guard the approximate size they needed. All of a sudden the heavy-set guard shouted: "They don’t tell you what they want, you just give them the clothes. They’re just damn inmates. Shit!" I figured the last word was used as an expletive rather than a noun describing us, but who knows?

Discussing this with other inmates, we agreed that the guard’s behavior and mood is more his problem than ours -- perhaps he gets no respect or love at home, someone opined. A cellmate who has a background in police work and psychology said: "I won’t let his dysfunctional attitude take away the joy in my heart" -- wisdom for many conflict situations in life.

Later an inmate told me that the bellowing guard had been beaten up by an inmate a few months ago for his abusive manner. The inmate reportedly was charged with assault; I don’t know what else happened to him. The cycle of violence continues.

That afternoon a tall, blond, nice-looking female guard opened the door of our unit to announce something. "Jones, get your shit together and get out here now," she shouted. I chuckled at the incongruity, but no one else seemed to notice it.

Sister Carol Gilbert, O.P., serving a sentence in federal prison for a Plowshares anti-nuclear action, wrote in a letter to friends this month: "I had extra cleaning duty a few days into the new year because I thought 4:15 p.m. stand-up count had cleared and sat on my bed. Two of us were screamed at, as this is the method used here."

Violence on TV

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few hours watching the tube, wanting to give full attention to some shows I had only heard from a distance. The first two were courtroom dramas -- "Judge Mathis" and "People’s Court." Probably among the cheapest of TV productions, these consisted of men and women shouting at each other, interrupting each other as they expressed intimate secrets of relationships gone sour, and the judge finally shouting them all down!

Then came the blockbuster -- the Jerry Springer show. With a scantily-clad woman standing on the sidelines, men and women display their disputes on stage, screaming the most abusive language they can find. Words are bleeped out every few seconds.

Then, with the audience wildly cheering them on, they try to attack each other physically as the stage police grab them in various body places to keep them apart. Meanwhile Jerry strolls around the stage, occasionally asking the fighters about some detail of their relationship.
The final phase begins with the men and women gratuitously disrobing as they continue to shout and fight. Now the colosseum gets into a frenzy. But for the TV audience, the gladiators’ private parts are blocked out. (My fellow inmates tell me that the program sells videos which impede neither sound nor sight.)

This show features not only sex and violence, but sex in violence. Of course, the live audience and TV viewers are laughing and howling throughout. But in spite of their light-heartedness about it, I think this kind of TV fare, every day, has some serious impact -- perhaps making physical and verbal violence seem ordinary in the minds of some, or confirming its acceptability in the minds of others.

From the other units near ours, late at night, emanate scary sounds of inmates shouting at and threatening one another at full volume. Inmates who have lived in those units report that fighting erupts with some frequency, usually resulting in minor injuries. Are they acting out what they view on TV?

But fighting in jail is just a small part of societal violence. It seems that one day an inmate had the dubious distinction of receiving visits from his two girlfriends at the same moment. When they saw each other at the front door of the jail, a serious fight broke out between them, with the mother of one helping her daughter against the other. Perhaps they had been watching too much Jerry Springer, or too much nightly news.

Does Media Violence Promote Violent Behavior?

How, and to what extent, the pervasive violence in the media affects viewers and listeners is a complex psychological question which deserves more exploration. Magazines sent to inmates must come directly from the publisher, but articles can be clipped out and mailed in to us.

According to TIME ("Does Kindergarten Need Cops?" Dec. 15, 2003) experts on child behavior agree that "aggressive behavior in children has been irrefutably linked to exposure to violence on TV and in movies, video games and other media." The article cites psychologist Jerome Singer, co-director of the Yale University Family Television Research and Consultation Center: "Dozens of studies have shown this link. Probably hundreds."

The TIME article reports an alarming increase in violent behavior in kindergartners and first-grade pupils. For instance, the Philadelphia school district had 19 reports of weapons possession and 42 assaults by kids in kindergarten or first grade in the first 3 months of the 2003-2004 school year. A psychologist in the Ft. Worth, TX, school district said: "We’re talking about serious talking back to teachers, profanity, even biting, kicking and hitting adults, and we’re seeing it in 5-year-olds."
In addition to media violence, other factors mentioned are "lack of lap time" and excessive pressure to pass academic tests.

In "Voting Democracy off the Island" (Harper’s Magazine, March 2004), Francine Prose analyzes the message and impact of "reality-based" TV programs. After describing various scenes and situations, she identifies a set of "guiding principles" of these reality shows: "flinty individualism, the vision of a zero-sum society in which no one can win unless someone else loses, the conviction that altruism and compassion are signs of folly and weakness, the exaltation of solitary striving above the illusory benefits of cooperative mutual aid, the belief that certain circumstances justify secrecy and deception, the invocation of a reviled common enemy to solidify group loyalty" (p. 60). (The author notes that these are "the exact same themes that underlie the rhetoric we have been hearing and continue to hear from the Republican Congress and our current administration.")

The message is that people will do anything for money, no matter how treacherous or hurtful. If reality TV programs last long enough, "they will produce an entire generation that has grown up watching them and may consequently have some trouble distinguishing between reality TV and reality.... Watching a nightly Darwinian free-for-all cannot help but have a desensitizing effect.

Once you’re absorbed and assimilated the idea that civility is, at best, a frill, you may find yourself less inclined to suppress an eruption of road rage or the urge to ridicule the homely Average Joe who dares to approach a pretty girl.... After all, it’s the way the world works; it’s how people behave" (p. 64).

The media’s influence on behavior is evident not only in relation to violence. "Smoking in movies is responsible for addicting 1,080 U.S. adolescents to tobacco every day," according to a June 10, 2003 editorial in the British medical journal The Lancet, as reported in the National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 6, 2004. The NCR reported that "watching popular movies is the No. 1 factor in leading teens to light up, say researchers from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth Medical School in a landmark 2003 study published in The Lancet.

Governmental Violence

It is important to distinguish between media violence which is recognized as being fictional and real-life violence reported in the news.
In the latter category we find the very real and pervasive violence of various kinds (domestic and foreign) committed by governments, acting with the authority invested in them by their people. I feel that official, governmental violence influences citizens’ values and behavior in a significant way -- more profoundly than the fictional violence in the media.

Unfortunately the violence of the U.S. government at least matches that of the blood-and-guts shoot-em-ups. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called his country "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," pointing to a consistent history of violence within and beyond our borders. Focusing on the war in Vietnam in 1967, he said he could not effectively preach non-violence in the ghettos of America while this country was using the most extreme forms of violence in Southeast Asia.

On the domestic front, the death penalty, as an exercise of official violence by states and occasionally by the federal government, is counterproductive because it teaches the population that people can be killed in a cold, public, and premeditated way when that is deemed "necessary."

Other forms of governmental violence -- e.g., causing harm to the poor whether in the U.S. or the Third World, ruining the environment, accepting the possibility of nuclear warfare -- also teach powerfully by example.

A Consultation in Jail

A fellow inmate, "Paul," told me that violence in the media conditions people to use or accept it in real life. In his opinion fantasy shows, featuring the violence of werewolves and monsters, do not have this effect. Some songs, too, contribute to the development of a self-centered personality; as an example he mentioned a big hit with the title "Fuck the world."

He stated emphatically that the demonstration and glorification of sex on TV reinforces an obsession with sex in many people, and that a similar depiction of the world of drug consumption -- without showing the human degradation, the withdrawal symptoms, the ruin of families and friendships and careers, and other ugly aspects -- lures many into it. Film and TV viewers see the glamorous clothes and flashy cars of the pushers, the excitement of the addicts, the fast life -- but rarely the tragic end of the addict or the severe punishment of the pusher. He strongly recommended New Jack City as very true to life and as a rare example of a popular film which does show the destructive aspects of the drug culture both for addicts and pushers; I will try to find it after release.1

Footnote 1

Having seen the film in July 2004, I am grateful for Paul’s recommendation. New Jack City (1991) is a captivating movie which brings out the hard realities of the drug business. Nino Brown (played by Wesley Snipes), a gang leader who is on his way to monopolizing crack in New York City, considers violence a necessary part of his enterprise. "It’s all business, nothing personal," he observes several times in relation to his and his gang’s use of deadly force. A CEO or board chairman of a corporation polluting the environment or producing unsafe vehicles or running a hazardous sweatshop or selling cigarettes would say the same thing, as would the international vice-president of a company calculating the profits it will make in war-ravaged, occupied, "free-market" Iraq.
Such leaders of society would also say, with Nino, "It’s mine, all mine," referring either to their enterprise as their private property with no societal obligations or responsibilities, or to the physical and human resources of the world as their global market for their galloping self-enrichment.
"You gotta rob in the Reagan era to get rich," another of Nino’s memorable remarks, would be asserted with more conviction and enthusiasm today by insiders in the George W. Bush administration as well as by overtly criminal entrepreneurs like drug kings and bank robbers. Get rich -- by any means necessary.


My conversation partner believes that 90% of jail inmates have serious addiction problems -- 70% if alcohol and marijuana are not considered. I can only report a little anecdote: when, as newly arrived inmates here, we went for a brief consultation with the doctor, the five young men ahead of me all answered "yes" when the nurse asked whether they use marijuana.

I also asked my fellow inmate/interviewee about police officers who work in drug enforcement: "approximately what percentage are crooked or corrupt?" Between 30 and 40 percent, he replied.

According to a Human Rights Watch report of April 2003, "Incarcerated America," more than two million men and women "are now behind bars in the United States. The country that holds itself out as the ‘land of freedom’ incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country. The human costs – wasted lives, wrecked families, troubled children – are incalculable, as are the adverse social, economic and political consequences of weakened communities, diminished opportunities for economic mobility, and extensive disenfranchisement.

"Contrary to popular perception, violent crime is not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States since 1980. In fact, violent crime rates have been relatively constant or declining over the past two decades. The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, ‘three strikes’ laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

"Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. Only 49 percent of sentenced state inmates are held for violent offenses.

"Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national ‘war on drugs.’ The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

"Even more troubling than the absolute number of persons in jail or prison is the extent to which those men and women are African-American. Although blacks account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 44 percent of all prisoners in the United States are black.

"Census data for 2000, which included a count of the number and race of all individuals incarcerated in the United States, reveals the dramatic racial disproportion of the incarcerated population in each state: the proportion of blacks in prison populations exceeds the proportion among state residents in every single state. In twenty states, the percent of blacks incarcerated is at least five times greater than their share of resident population."2


Footnote 2
For footnotes in this report, and to see the entire document, go to


Structural Violence

Thomas Merton situates violence in its broad, global context: "The population of the affluent world is nourished on a steady diet of brutal mythology and hallucination, kept at a constant pitch of high tension by a life that is intrinsically violent in that it forces a large part of the population to submit to an existence which is humanly intolerable. Hence, murder, mugging, rape, crime, corruption."

For Merton "the crime that breaks out of the ghetto is only the fruit of a greater and more pervasive violence: the injustice which forces people to live in the ghetto in the first place. The problem of violence, then, is not the problem of a few rioters and rebels, but the problem of a whole structure which is outwardly ordered and respectable, and inwardly ridden by psychopathic obsessions and delusions."

Merton recognizes that violence must at times be restrained by force, "but a convenient mythology which simply legalizes the use of force by big criminals against little criminals -- whose small-scale criminality is largely caused by the large-scale injustice under which they live -- only perpetuates the disorder.

"Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris quoted, with approval, a famous saying of St. Augustine: `What are kingdoms without justice but large bands of robbers?´" Merton emphasizes that the problem of violence today must be traced to its root: "not the small-time murders but the massively organized bands of murderers whose operations are global."3

Footnote 3
Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, selected with an introduction by Christine M. Bochen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), p. 118.


In their social clubs, churches, and country resorts, these global criminals socialize pleasantly among themselves, carefully avoiding any mention of the environmental lawsuit against corporation X, the charges against CEO Y of illegal anti-union tactics, the accusation against international counsel Z of bribing foreign officials. No one would be so rude as to ask an international sales representative whether his or her oil giant or global construction firm or weapons factory is profiting from the war in Iraq and from government contracts awarded without competitive bidding. Thus conversation remains amicable, with no one feeling uneasy.4


Footnote 4
Shortly after my release from jail, I read Inequality and Violence in the United States: Casualties of Capitalism, by Barbara H. Chasin (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1998). Using a class analysis of American society, the author describes two major types of violence: interpersonal and structural. "Interpersonal violence is what many experts and most of us mean when we use the word -- identifiable persons injure others and are usually aware that they have done so. Structural violence, on the other hand, is a consequence of the routine workings of a society, especially of its stratification system. Structural violence occurs when people’s lives are made demonstrably worse by their lack of access to resources. If identifiable groups are suffering physically from conditions that could be changed given the existing state of knowledge, while other groups are not, then there is structural violence" (p. 4). The author provides many telling examples and a clear analysis of "structural violence."


In prison among small-time criminals, the same pattern of socializing holds. Most prisoners get along remarkably well with one another, in conditions of crowdedness, scarcity, and personal tension and insecurity unimagined by our wealthy and prestigious counterparts in their clubs and suburbs. Here, as there, one’s "business" on the outside is not usually an issue. Those who have written bad checks would not generally promise something to the neighbor in the next cell which could not be delivered, just as an Enron executive unloading his stock would probably not sell it to a golf partner.

The CEO selling millions of dollars’ worth of lethal weapons to a repressive dictatorship or to both sides in the same war would not sell an UZI submachine gun to the child of his church choir director; nor would the average gun-runner pass along a razor to an immature and perhaps angry fellow prisoner.

Thus in their private lives and immediate social circles, the white-collar global criminals and the lower-class, smaller-scale criminals can seem like "nice people," except of course to their victims. Here I am part of one of these groups; I would feel no more secure, and no more comfortable socially, in the church gatherings and country clubs of the other group.


Thankfully, not everyone takes the lesson of violence taught by Jerry Springer and Pres. Bush and his corporate cronies to heart. In courts and jails, as well as in other areas of American life, there is some relief from meanness and nastiness. Most guards and marshals seem to be "just doing their job," with no special need to affirm their authority or their self-worth by abusing prisoners either physically or psychologically.

One young guard begins his announcements or orders to us by addressing us as "gentlemen" and speaks in a normal tone. Another had the thoughtfulness and good sense to get a wheelchair in which to transport an inmate who could hardly walk because of his arthritis and gout; by contrast, another guard the next day made the man walk to the infirmary.

Today a notice is posted on the inside of the door of our unit -- a Memo from the Accounts Clerk advising all inmates that next week peanut butter and strawberry cookies will not be available for purchase in commissary but that the following week larger packs of cookies, including vanilla ones, will be available. Thanks, Accounts Clerk, for this thoughtful and considerate gesture. It wasn’t necessary, but this inmate appreciates the courtesy (even though, since I’m fasting, I have no personal interest in the matter!).

True, notified in advance, some inmates may order items which are available, to their own benefit and to that of the commissary. (We hand in the order forms two days before the goods are delivered to us.) And as one seasoned inmate put it: "If they want to avoid a lot of trouble, there are three things they don’t mess with: mail, visits, and commissary."

During our trial the marshals minutely enforced the courtroom rules, ejecting several spectators for minor infractions of the required decorum. One marshal, however, ever vigilant, noticed that some folks were having trouble hearing the proceedings up front, so he invited the hard of hearing to take the front benches.

When I expressed my appreciation and gratitude for his thoughtfulness to our friends, the marshal exclaimed: "Everybody thinks I’m a bad guy, especially for putting a few people out, but I’m just doing my job." I thanked him again.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Letter in Jail to Dorothy Day

Letter in Jail to Dorothy Day
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

A shorter version of this letter/article was published in the December, 2004 issue of the Catholic Worker.

The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Dear Dorothy,

I have just found great joy and inspiration in reading your autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Thank you for sharing your life of love and struggle with us.
Jon Sobrino, the Jesuit at the Central American University in San Salvador who was giving a seminar in Thailand when his six Jesuit brothers and Elba and Celina were assassinated by U.S.-trained Salvadoran troops in 1989, writes a letter on every anniversary of that massacre to his dear friend and martyred brother, Ignatio Ellacuría, who was the Jesuit rector of the university and principal target of the assassins. I would like to write to you in the same genre.
I’m sure you won’t remember (although, perhaps now, with your memory, mind, and body transformed in the risen Christ, you will) our brief conversation over tea when I visited the Catholic Worker in New York City -- perhaps in 1972, after I got out of federal prison where I had done two years for destroying draft records as a protest against the Vietnam war in 1969. The content of our chat eludes me now, but I do remember your warmth and graciousness.

I feel that I have also come to know you through my friendships with Catholic Workers over many years. In 1967 in Chicago I met Karl Meyer and his family, who had a CW house on the near north side. With some other friends, Karl had organized a series of discussions in parishes concerning various aspects of the Vietnam war and the draft; I gave some input in several sessions.
Karl and I were later together in federal prison at Sandstone, MN -- I for the “Chicago 15" draft-board action, Karl for practicing and promoting tax resistance. There we grew closer in friendship as we talked while walking around the softball field. Karl spoke often and warmly of you, Peter Maurin, and Ammon Hennacy; thus I became more familiar with CW thought.
Karl now identifies himself as an atheist, but this has not diminished our friendship (why should it?), as I’m sure it has not lessened your love and respect for him. In The Long Loneliness you describe your deep friendship with Rayna, a beautiful person and committed revolutionary, who died “at the peak of her glowing, radiant life.” Your reflection about her resonates deeply in me: “When I think of Rayna, I think of Mauriac’s statement in his life of Christ that those who serve the cause of the masses, the poor, working for truth and justice, have worked for Christ even while denying Him” (p. 68).
I also think of Karl and so many other good friends and comrades in this way, as “anonymous Christians” (Mt. 25:31 ff), to use Karl Rahner’s phrase, even though, out of respect for their self-definition, I usually do not tell them that I see them in this light.

In early 1969 I attended a meeting at the CW house in Milwaukee, Casa Maria, where Mike Cullen and his family lived in service of the needy. Mike had taken part in the “Milwaukee 14" draft-board action in 1968, as you well know, and had not yet started his sentence. The meeting was an occasion for a group of interested persons to learn of Mike’s path to civil disobedience and to discern whether the Lord was calling us in that direction. Later, when I arrived at Sandstone, Mike welcomed me and we became close friends as we often discussed politics and theology.
Chuck Fullenkamp, one of my “partners” in the “Chicago 15" action, who had lived and worked with Mike at Casa Maria, was with us in the same prison; and we also shared spiritually and became lasting friends. (Chuck and his son visited me last year in Nicaragua.)
In Chicago after my release on parole in 1972, I became a close friend of the Catholic Workers, especially of John Baranski, who with others participated in anti-war resistance actions. I have also come to know the Day House community in Detroit and have visited CW communities in Davenport, Los Angeles, and D.C.
The movement has been and remains a sign of hope and an inspiration to me: people (the vast majority being laity) living out the poverty and hospitality of the gospel (e.g., the Beatitudes and Mt. 25) and struggling non-violently to combat the injustices which cause misery for others, especially war and the un-Christian priorities evident in military budgets.

But I feel that my story connects with yours in several interesting ways, the first going back long before my birth in 1943. In 1916, at the age of 19, you returned with your family to your native New York City to live in lower Manhattan. My Dad, Eugene Mulligan, had been born in that part of the city in 1906. It is thrilling to me to imagine that perhaps he as a boy and you as a teenage girl might have walked the same streets, seen the same tenements, noticed the same smells, and heard the same variety of immigrants’ languages.
It is for this reason that I relished your vivid descriptions of the area. Dad’s family’s living conditions were probably similar to those you and your family experienced -- not destitution, but poverty.
My Mom, Genevieve Lillis, a year younger than Dad, was born and grew up in Astoria, Queens, across the East River from you. She also lived in similarly austere conditions.
I myself have never lived in real material poverty -- not even in Nicaragua, where such is the common lot of the majority. My current jail experience is just a brief taste of it, and even here our basic physical needs are met perhaps more adequately than they were in your case and that of my parents as children.
Nevertheless, my parents’ stories of living with little made a lasting impact on me, helping me to define my real “needs” as being quite simple and to experience solidarity with the truly needy. My modest degree of freedom from “inordinate attachments” to comfort and security has enabled me to live, at least for short periods, in austere situations in Nicaragua and in prisons and jails in the U.S.

Another commonality I feel with your experience has to do with the poem, “Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson. You describe listening to Eugene O’Neill reciting the poem in a saloon. “The idea of this pursuit by the Hound of Heaven fascinated me,” you recall. “The recurrence of it, the inevitableness of the outcome made me feel that sooner or later I would have to pause in the mad rush of living and remember my first beginning and my last end” (81-2).
I first heard the poem not in a saloon but in my English class at the Jesuit high school in Detroit, recited by a teacher. “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days....” But it had a similar haunting effect on me and kept speaking to me from time to time during my senior year and two years of college before the Hound carried me off to the Jesuit novitiate!
You would kneel in the back of a Catholic church, “not conscious of praying.” Once the Lord helped me to open myself to his call and to think seriously about it, I would go to the Duns Scotus Franciscan friary just north of Detroit to sit or kneel in the chapel, reflecting in silence.

A third experience of yours that I identify with is your heady feeling of optimism about the movement of history in favor of justice after a revolution -- in your case, the Russian Revolution of 1917. “We took the revolution for granted. We watched its progress; we were thrilled by its victories.... We became internationally minded. We lived in one world, and it was a world where dreams came true, where there was a possibility of the workers beginning to take over the means of production and starting to build that kind of society where each received according to his need and worked according to his ability.... We were arrogant and impatient of study and felt we were carried along on a wave of success” (83-4).
You saw the time come when the dictatorship of the proletariat became “a dictatorship by the elite few, by the members of the party.” But in its infancy the revolution was positive and hope-giving.
Did you imbibe some of this optimistic excitement in the 1960s and 1970s? I did, in spite of the reversals, tragedies and, as we saw later, the limited nature of the triumphs. With great sacrifice the civil-rights movement achieved significant gains, as did Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, which you supported; that picture of you sitting captive between two burly California cops speaks volumes.
The movement against the war in Vietnam grew to massive proportions, contributing to a cease-fire in 1973 and U.S. withdrawal in 1975. The socialist physician, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile in 1970 (then, it is true, killed in the brutal U.S.-sponsored coup three years later). The Sandinistas, including many revolutionary Christians in their ranks, led the 1979 overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua -- thus sparking hope for other revolutionary movements in Central America. (“If Nicaragua won, El Salvador will win!”)
And the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) opened the windows of our old Church to the modern world and its currents of change, officially affirming the Catholic commitment to justice and peace which you and the CW movement had been exemplifying for decades.
True, political and ecclesiastical reaction soon gathered force, reversing many of the accomplishments. But you and other young radicals needed the victories and optimism of the late 1910s, just as you and your CW family and other radicals in the 1960s and 1970s were nourished by the positive signs of the times of that era. I certainly was.
Now the challenge is to keep that flame of struggle alive, knowing what was achieved in the past (with all its limitations) and therefore what things and greater things can be attained in the future through struggle, even in spite of the evidently advancing evil, especially of U.S. imperialism. For this our hope needs to be firmly grounded in prayer and in faith in Christ’s ongoing empowerment of us in the struggle to bring his Kingdom of justice and peace closer.

A fourth aspect of your story which brings me closer to you is your concern about Nicaragua, where I have lived for 18 years. In the late 1920s you went around “in a stew and fomented over our interventions in Nicaragua and the political situation in New York” (116). At the time of your baptism in the Catholic Church, you were “working with the Anti-Imperialist League, a Communist affiliate, that was bringing aid and comfort to the enemy, General Sandino’s forces in Nicaragua” (145).
You probably knew Bishop John Lancaster Spaulding of Peoria, IL, a member of the League. General Sandino’s brother, Socrates, was also a key figure in the solidarity movement in the U.S. Together you all helped to bring about the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1933. If you had lived beyond 1980, you surely would have joined the struggle against the Reagan administration’s policy of training and supporting the anti-Sandinista Contras.

I was delighted to discover a fifth experience of yours that I share -- turning to God in prayer out of happiness and gratitude rather than just because of a need. In a time of such prayer, the old phrase, “religion as the opiate of the people,” came to you repeatedly as a jeer. “But, I reasoned with myself, I am praying because I am happy, not because I am unhappy. I did not turn to God in unhappiness, in grief, in despair -- to get consolation, to get something from Him” (128). And so you went on praying in gratitude to God.
As a teenager, whenever I turned to God (which was not all that often!), perhaps in a high-school retreat or sometimes at Mass, I was aware of all that I had received from God, from my family, from my childhood parish and grade school in New York, from my high school in Detroit, and from my friends. I felt gratitude for all these gifts of love and wanted to try to do something meaningful and significant with my life and talents in response for all that I had received.
In my two years at the University of Detroit, I was considering medicine and had just begun to follow a pre-med curriculum when, in a moment of considerable openness during an obligatory weekend retreat on campus, I was struck by the seriousness and strength of Christ’s invitation to serve him and his people as a priest. As I devoted some time and meditation to this, consulting with some Jesuits I had known in high school and college, the call became clearer, and suddenly I was very grateful for this gift. Ever since, in times of prayer, especially at the start of the retreat, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I rejoice and give thanks for God’s abundant gifts, especially the people in my life.

A final point which resonates with me is your perception, sharpened by your first jail experience, of class discrimination by the criminal-justice system. While picketing the White House with a group of suffragists, you were arrested and then sentenced to 30 days in jail. During your first eight days, while you and others were on a hunger strike, you reflected on the other inmates, especially prostitutes, and on their upper-class counterparts: “People sold themselves for jobs, for the pay check, and if they only received a high enough price, they were honored. If their cheating, their theft, their lie, were of colossal proportions, if it were successful, it met with praise, not blame. Why were some caught, not others? Why were some termed criminals, and others good businessmen? What was right and wrong? What was good and evil?” (75-6).
Did you ever discuss this with your friend, Thomas Merton, whom you knew through correspondence? I thought of you last November when I visited the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, KY, and the cemetery where Merton is buried. On this matter, especially big-business involvement in war, he wrote: “Violence today is white-collar violence, the systematically organized bureaucratic and technological destruction of man. The theology of violence must not lose sight of the real problem which is not the individual with a revolver but death and even genocide as big business. But this big business of death is all the more innocent and effective because it involves a long chain of individuals, each of whom can feel himself absolved from responsibility, and each of whom can perhaps salve his conscience by contributing with a more meticulous efficiency to his part in the massive operation.”
Merton noted that Adolf Eichmann and others like him “felt no guilt for their share in the extermination of the Jews.” Their feeling of justification was due “partly to their absolute obedience to higher authority and partly to the care and efficiency which went into the details of their work.” They could forget the reality of what they were doing because they were dealing with numbers, not with people, and “since their job was one of abstract bureaucratic organization.”
Merton saw the same distancing mechanism at work “to an even greater extent in modern warfare in which the real moral problems are not to be located in rare instances of hand-to-hand combat, but in the remote planning and organization of technological destruction.... Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder.... It is this polite, massively organized white-collar murder machine that threatens the world with destruction, not the violence of a few desperate teen-agers in a slum.
“But our antiquated theology myopically focused on individual violence alone fails to see this. It shudders at the phantasm of muggings and killings where a mess is made on our own doorstep, but blesses and canonizes the antiseptic violence of corporately organized murder because it is respectable, efficient, clean, and above all profitable” (Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books: 2000, pp. 120-1).
Here in jail, a large young man told me he is doing a sentence for battery (in a bar), which of course is a serious violent crime. But there are no corporate or governmental officials here for battering the people of Iraq or the environment. Another is here for bank robbery, but I haven’t met anyone doing time here for robbing millions of small-time investors by cooking the corporate books or for the usury committed against Third World people by squeezing hundreds of billions of dollars out of them just in interest payments on foreign debts contracted by their upper-class rulers and their unscrupulous and irresponsible First World bankers.

I just want to mention two more things – before the lights are turned off at midnight. Thanks for reporting on and sharing your indignation over the judicial crime perpetrated in 1927 in the conviction and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti -- “two anarchists, a shoemaker and a fish peddler, who were arrested in 1920 in connection with a payroll robbery at East Braintree, Massachusetts, in which two guards were killed” (141).
Vanzetti, “with his sense of peace at his fate,” wrote in a last letter to a friend: “If it had not been for these things [his imprisonment and imminent execution] I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died unmarked, unknown, a failure. This is our career and our triumph.
Never in our full life could we hope to do such work
for tolerance, for justice,
for man’s understanding of man,
as we now do by accident.
--- That last moment belongs to us
- that agony is our triumph.”
A sense of peace and joy in the midst of suffering was the astounding gift promised by Jesus to his faithful disciples. Thanks for providing another example of this mystery from the experience of Sacco and Vanzetti, who found meaning and purpose, and therefore peace, in bearing persecution for the cause of the oppressed.

Dorothy, I must tell you how delighted I am with one anecdote in particular -- a real gem with an important message. In 1918 you entered nurses’ training at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn and soon started working as a student nurse. Your first patient was a 94-year-old Canadian woman who became more than cantankerous in refusing to be bathed daily.
“‘Let us help you,’ one of the nurses said soothingly. ‘Can’t you see that we want to take care of you because we love you?’
“‘Love be damned,’ the little old lady cried, ‘I want my wig.’ She sat there perched on the end of her thin spine, her eyes blazing black and clear. Her arms were clasped around her bare and scrawny knees. Around a large bare spot on her head she had a thin fringe of hair which stood up like a field of ferns.
“‘She has been crying for her wig since she came in,’ the other nurse said. ‘We let her have her teeth, but she wants her wig.’
“The little old lady needed more than soap and water and clean bed linen. She needed more than to be loved. She wanted to be respected as a person, and for that she needed to have her wishes respected. She needed such appurtenances as her wig. I remember we compromised with a cap and so pleased her” (86-7).


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Jailhouse Reading -- "The Immigrants," a novel by Howard Fast

Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Yesterday a friend brought The Immigrants, the epic novel by the late Howard Fast. In this setting one can devote full attention to a novel and read it well in a day or two!
Howard Fast describes the rise to power and wealth of Dan Lavette, son of an Italian immigrant fisherman, in San Francisco in the first third of the twentieth century. But his drive to the top, buying up ships, hotels, a department store, and even running an airline, imprisons his heart and soul, preventing him from giving himself entirely to May Ling, the love and joy of his life.

Having married into vast wealth, Dan found his relationship with the banker’s daughter turning into hostility and emptiness. But when he falls in love with May Ling, the beautiful daughter of his Chinese bookkeeper, he encounters new life, joy, and peace.
His wife Jean, however, refuses to grant Dan a divorce, and his empire-building requires him to maintain the fiction of “proper” family life. His relationship with May Ling was deepening, but Dan would leave San Francisco for weeks on end, once without even telling her he was going. When he returned, May Ling told him that she could not take that kind of relationship for more years and so she was moving to Los Angeles with her parents and the son Dan had fathered and loved.
“I love you,” he assures May Ling.
“As much as you can love anyone, Dan.”
“You’re my whole life.”
“No. Not even ten percent of it, Dan.”
“...I know it’s been hard for you.... I get involved in things. It’s not the money. I don’t give a damn about money, you know that. But all my life I’ve been climbing Nob Hill and pushing at those bastards up there. I go to bed and dream I’m still the kid in the fishing boat with the whole damn city in flames” (p. 294). Dan’s parents had been killed in the earthquake and fire of 1906.

Dan was not only the business partner of Mark Levy but also a very close friend of him and his family. Mark’s wife, Sarah, asked Dan bluntly but out of deep concern for him: “Why don’t you leave Jean?”
“Everything Mark and I have, everything we built, a whole lifetime of making something that’s going to be the biggest thing in this state, maybe in the whole country -- and we’ve just begun, it’s just starting to roll. I leave Jean, and she washes it out. She told me this. It’s not just a question of community property -- we’re in hock almost fifteen million dollars to her father’s bank.”
“Danny, it’s just a business. It’s nothing. It’s a golem that has both of you by the throat. Why can’t you and Mark see that?”
“It’s not just a business. It’s my life. Without it, I’m nothing.”
“God help you,” Sarah whispered (p. 314).
Dan’s sense of identity and self-worth was totally tied up with his meteoric “success” in building his and Mark’s empire.

When Dan longed to start an airline, Mark suggested that they go public, issue stock, and get a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Dan was hesitant but soon agreed, due to his exuberant confidence and need to climb higher: “We’re just beginning to crawl onto the top of this golden shitpile they call big business, and once we get there, we’re going to stake it out” (p. 346). He knew the nature of the green stuff of the pile; what drove him was power and the need to prove himself.
Arriving in Los Angeles on the first flight of his new airline, he visits May Ling and asks: “Do you believe me when I say that I love you -- more than anything on earth?”
“I believe you love me. Not more than anything on earth. I think you love the game you’re playing more” (p. 374).
Dan had just admitted it was a game: “Funny, we got this damned empire, and it’s all like a game I’m playing.” A game with high stakes -- his own humanity and a precious relationship.

Liberation from the game came to Dan in the form of the stock-market crash of 1929. He and Mark lost everything; and when he and Jean divorced, he wanted her and their two children to have all their common property.
With his last $120 in his pocket, Dan went to supper at Mark and Sarah’s. The two men were more relaxed than Sarah had seen them in years.
Mark said: “I can’t believe that it’s over.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Dan said.
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said. “In a world where men jump out of windows because they’ve been ruined, you two are celebrating.”
“It makes a kind of sense,” Mark said. “If only because it’s finally over” (p. 470).

Dan went to Los Angeles on a one-way bus ticket. Assaulted by thugs for a few dollars he had earned as a manual worker, he fought them off but ended up punching a cop who arrived on the scene. After doing ninety days in jail, Dan emerged only to spend a night around campfires on a weedy lot with a hundred other homeless and jobless men. “It takes twenty-four hours without food to make a bum, or four days without shaving,” an old man said to him. Dan admitted it.
The next morning he was seen by a fishing-boat captain who had worked for him in San Francisco and who offered Dan a job. With some money and clean clothes, he mustered all his courage and went to see May Ling. She, their son, and her parents received Dan warmly and gratefully, and he pulled out the words to share what had transpired.
May Ling watched “and listened to the single man she had loved and given herself to in the one lifetime she lived. She understood.... His life had been smashed and battered, and that was necessary. There was no other way for him to come to an accounting with himself. She understood the illusion of free will, and finally, in his own way and in his own good time, he had arrived at that understanding. It was a great triumph that he was celebrating, but that knowledge would be for the two of them and only for the two of them” (p. 490).
The stock-market crash had freed him from his false self, enabling him to live his own life with the wife and son he loved.
Leaving City Hall after their wedding, May Ling asked: “What they call the good life -- you haven’t any regrets?”
“I could do it again,” he said. Start over. Bluff and bull his way into the world of the wheeler-dealers, even making the construction of the Golden Gate bridge happen.
“No. I would have died ... in some flophouse along Main Street before I’d go back. At least it would be a death of my own choosing” (p. 493).
Now it was not merely external circumstances which had forced his liberation: his decision about his life flowed from his truly free will.

In the final paragraph of his novel, Howard Fast wrote: “ In the book of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, which Feng Wo [May Ling’s father] had translated from the Chinese and which was published by the University of California Press, there were a few lines from the Natural Way of Lao Tzu:
Moved by deep love, a man is courageous.
And with frugality, a man becomes generous.
And he who does not desire to be ahead of the world,
becomes the leader of the world.”
One of my cellmates, a man with long hair and long beard who has lived on the streets and in jails, read The Immigrants with great interest and pleasure. “I had a feeling it would end that way,” he told me. “Dan finally found peace of mind.”

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, whose purpose is to free us from “inordinate attachments” so that we may choose what is in accord with our true self, the author teaches that “all things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.”
The purpose of meditating on the life and work of Jesus in the gospels is to come to an intimate knowledge of him, “who has become man for me, that I may love him more and follow him more closely,” according to Ignatius. As in the case of so many others, if the rudimentary boyhood faith of Dan Lavette had been nurtured to maturity, perhaps he would never have gotten caught up in the deadly and deceptive game.

Several years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Howard Fast and his wife, Mimi, in their home in Connecticut. I was drawn to him after reading The Confession of Joe Cullen, a novel which Howard was inspired to write after reading “The Mysterious Death of Father Carney” by Anne Nelson and George Black in The Nation (August 4-11, 1984).
I had been working on the case of Fr. James (Guadalupe) Carney for some years. In 1997 and 1998 the CIA and Defense Department released declassified (and heavily expurgated) documents concerning Father Carney. The priest had worked in Honduras for eighteen years. His defense of human rights and his support of the farmers’ organizing efforts resulted in his deportation in 1979.
After working as a pastor in Nicaragua, he returned to Honduras in 1983 as a chaplain to an armed revolutionary column; the group was captured by the Honduran army, and Father Carney “was disappeared.” Although officials presented his chalice and stole to his relatives, they never explained the circumstances of his death, suggesting only that he probably starved to death in the mountains. Five years later, a former officer of the Honduran army told The New York Times that he personally had interrogated Carney (New York Times Magazine, June 5,1988).
His body has not been found, and the Honduran military officers responsible for his death have not been identified. Whether any U.S. agents or officials were involved in his disappearance remains an open question.
The most striking aspect of the CIA and Pentagon documents is the extraordinary amount of material which is blacked out.

In Fast’s novel Joe Cullen is a pilot who, on a mission in Honduras, gets to know an American priest who had been captured by the Honduran army after he had entered from Nicaragua with a revolutionary group. The Hondurans put the priest into Cullen’s aircraft and order him to take off, but during the flight they throw the prisoner out.
Cullen returns to New York City where, plagued by guilt, he confesses his complicity to a district attorney. The plot develops from there.

I was graciously received by Howard and his wife, and we spent several hours sharing our life stories and our work. I have come to know Howard better by reading his autobiography, Being Red, and several novels. Knowing his life-long struggle for justice in solidarity with the oppressed, I am not surprised to find his passion running through his beautifully crafted novels. His heart was clearly with the underdog and outsider, and he elegantly laid bare the false world of the rich and powerful.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Letter from Jail

Letter from Muscogee County Jail
By Joseph Mulligan
Published in The Witness online, February 9, 2004

Letter from Harris County Jail
March 11, 2004

[Ed. Note: These two parts constitute one full article by Joseph Mulligan on U.S. foreign policy and Central America, specifically in terms of Nicaragua and the conservative/reactionary political leadership of that nation. The first installment was written from the Muscogee County Jail in Georgia. In late February, Mulligan and several other political prisoners were moved to the Harris Co. Jail in Georgia.]

This is the first chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Stations of the Cross in Jail

Stations of the Cross in Jail: Part 1
By Joseph Mulligan
Published in The Witness online, February 28, 2006

As I enter the fortieth day of my fast (March 7), I begin to "do" the Stations of the Cross in my mind and imagination.....


Stations of the Cross in Jail: Part 2
Published in The Witness online, March 30, 2006

IV. JESUS IS DENIED BY PETER (Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62)

Peter, who was loath to admit the cross in Jesus' path, now could not accept it in his own. "I do not know this man you are talking about" (Mk 14:71).

Would I have had the courage to admit being a disciple of Jesus, knowing that I might be put in jail and tried with him as a "co-conspirator"?.......

This is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch: