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Demonstrators Being Thrown in Jail Alongside Murderers, Rapists, Drug Dealers

From Cnn Newswire
CORDELE, Georgia (AP) -- For years, peace protesters arrested for trespassing at Fort Benning were allowed to serve their sentences at minimum-security federal institutions closer to their homes, where they could kiss relatives and hold babies in visiting rooms.

Not anymore.

Some protesters -- including a priest and a grandmother-to-be -- were sentenced earlier this year to serve their six-month sentences alongside thieves and drug addicts behind razor wire in a rural Georgia jail.

"The only thing I can come up with is that they are getting mean," the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the protest group School of the Americas Watch, said of Bureau of Prison officials.

Protesters Toni Flynn and the Rev. Jerry Zawada were among a group of 28 who pleaded guilty or were convicted in July for trespassing at a Fort Benning training school. All but five went to federal institutions.

The protesters are members of the School of the Americas Watch, which blames the Army's School of the Americas and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, for human rights abuses in Latin America. Opponents say some of the school's graduates have been linked to the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989.

Defense officials replaced the School of the Americas nearly two years ago with the new institute, which still trains Latin American soldiers, but now includes police officers and public officials. Human rights courses are mandatory.

Zawada, a 65-year-old Franciscan priest from Cedar Lake, Indiana, and Flynn, a 56-year-old Catholic volunteer from Valermo, California, were among three sent to the Crisp County Jail, a boxy, single-story brick building in the middle of a clearing of pine trees, where a chain-link fence topped by razor wire encloses a recreation yard.

The third person was later transferred to a federal institution. Two others served three-month sentences at the Harris County Jail in west-central Georgia.

Supporters of Flynn and Zawada bombarded Crisp County Sheriff Donnie Haralson with hundreds of letters and faxes, questioning the quality of the food and water, the availability of health care, the use of pepper spray to subdue an unruly inmate and the death of an inmate from natural causes.

Haralson responded by having his 12-year-old jail, which has about 175 inmates, inspected four times by the Bureau of Prisons, twice by the U.S. Marshals Service and once by a jail mediator.

"It's a modern-run facility," he said. "I've shown I'm human and I've done what's right. But I catch the devil both ways. I catch it from the protesters and from the working taxpayers who do not sympathize much with people put in jail."

The Bureau of Prisons defended its decision to send some protesters to county jails.

Paige Augustine, a spokeswoman for the bureau's Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, said federal policies provide for sending inmates serving less than a year to county jails, instead of federal institutions. Such decisions are usually determined by space availability, she said.

"We deal with it on a case-by-case basis," she said. "We may have lots of beds open today and none tomorrow."

Wearing pumpkin-colored jump suits during a recent jailhouse interview, Flynn and Zawada said they have no regrets.

Flynn said she spends her days praying for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis, doing aerobics and getting used to Southern food. "I'm learning to love grits and greens, but I'm getting tired of beans," she said.

Zawada, who said he's lost 30 pounds while praying and fasting for peace, shares a cell with three other men -- two of whom he refers to as "the Huck Finns."

"I've never felt threatened," he said. "The Huck Finn guys are delightful, but they are very simple. They live in a trailer by the railroad tracks."

The pair are asking supporters on the SOA Watch Web page to stop harassing the sheriff.

"When I leave here, I'm going to write the sheriff and let him know I support anything that's restorative to human beings," she said. "It would be so easy to say the sheriff is the bad guy, but he's a human being, too."

Still, they said they were surprised when they were sent to Crisp County.

A volunteer with a Roman Catholic worker community and prison ministry in Southern California's high desert, Flynn is about 3,000 miles from her four grown children on the West Coast and will miss the birth of her first grandchild this month.

"I am heartbroken that I was not transferred to California," she said. "I would plead with the Bureau of Prisons to consider the hardship on my family. I have not had one visit from a family member or my Catholic workers. No one can afford the $700 plane ticket."
an opportunity 14.Oct.2002 06:50

anon

Most people in jail, even the most hardened, are not beyond redemption. Most will be released someday. This is an opportunity to reach out, show compassion, and respect for the dignity of man. The SOA protesters are the face of the divine. And it will be noticed and remembered by many.

Don't mourn, organize 14.Oct.2002 12:35

Just an organizer

Dear Dept. of (In)justice,

Thank you for mixing some of the best people and organizers in the movement - the SOA protesters - in with the general population.

We look forward to more Malcolm Xs (converted to Islam in prison), George Jacksons (converted to revolutionary politics in prison) and Attica uprisings.

And, if the SOA protesters had any illusions about the nature of U.S.imperialism and injustice, you will make certain they are gone.

WTF are you talking about? 14.Oct.2002 13:10

Trilox

I'm glad to see that protestors think that they are superior to "common criminal" types...

It just goes to show you the liberal mentality. For liberals its ok to let murders and rapists off with a light sentence but to actually have to serve time with them is something they don't care too much for...

What a double standard. If you don't like the laws then work to change them instead of breaking the laws and complaining about the punishment...

I'm with Trilox... 14.Oct.2002 14:09

maxomai maxomai@aracnet.com

..which is why I want to see every white-collar criminal from Enron and Household Finance and Worldcom etc. thrown into a maximum security prison with the rapists and murderers.

And after that, we'll go after the major pollutors.

It's time to end the hypocrisy of white collar, GOP-voting criminals who think they are superior to "common criminal" types. Eh Trilox?

Get Real... 14.Oct.2002 14:20

Trilox

"..which is why I want to see every white-collar criminal from Enron and Household Finance and Worldcom etc. thrown into a maximum security prison with the rapists and murderers."

I don't have a problem with that. You make it sound like white collar crime can be stricly classified around party lines which just isn't true. I would say each of the major parties took an equal amount of campaign money from these crooks...

That's too bad 14.Oct.2002 18:22

Lord Sarcaism

I think that should be good for them,
We all know what kind of respect pussy liberal hippies get in the Big House
Watch your corn holes faggots

Priests are criminals too. 14.Oct.2002 19:10

...

The other piece of journalistic spin is the phrase, "...including a priest and a grandmother-to-be --"

As if being a Priest in jail is "unheard of and shocking!"
And the grandma-to-be thing, give me a break, as if this is some sort of indication that they must be less than guilty.

The "news" on this site is just as biased as Fox 49.

Doin Time 15.Oct.2002 13:21

Law supporter

I agree with Trilox. It is funny to me to read how the liberals are always complaining about how these "hardend" criminals are victims of society and yet none of these people want to sit down and break bread with them.

The pathetic use of "grandmother-to-be" cracks me up. Hell aren't all of us grandmother and grandfathers to be, event the current teenagers.

The fact is, if you are willing to commit a crime then you must be willing to take the punishment. Why should any of you be treated different than the rest of us.

None of you are above the law. Live with it or use the proper channels to change it.

Your right to protest is there, but if you cross the line step up and face the consequenses.

E H S 15.Oct.2002 17:51

dizazt0r::blank1t

the best strategy when going to a prison environment (except for the one that i seem to be in everyday when i go out onto the streets) is to remind people (in a "straight up" and respectful way) that just because they are inside of a cage doesn't mean that they are animals. the establishment and people like Trilox might like to see people at the depths of 'civilized' being but if it's not necessary it's not necessary.

i've kept the peace in jail situations, there are many ways to do this but it might be best to maintain your drive and stuff. make sure that there is a spirit of wisdom and sanity and love and joy when in such environments.

for instance, when i was in jail one time (for telling a police officer i wouldn't leave the sidewalk cuz it was city property and i was a resident of said city. she had no business to attend to but harrassment and she did not state any legit reason for asking me to leave), i got along with the people on my floor. though i was on a "calmer" floor, i've lived with knuckleheads who all they can think about is starting shit and fighting. it's very easy to talk to people, being sincere helps among other things.

when i was in jail i did not accept any meals or drink any water until i was released. i gave my meals away. i'm not going to let them lock me up UNLAWFULLY and then keep me alive, fuck that. i was out in 2 days but i'd have wasted away if i had to, fuck crooked cops and govts. i just wanted to be an example of truer strength to the inmates. we all got along and helped each other out--we enjoyed watching the Cartoon Network as well :)

i remember going on a "scared straight" visit to the prison in Jessup, Maryland when i was in a group home for youths. a few other kids were scared, especially by the "big black" Corrections Officer named "S.D. Jones" and by the supposedly "strange" homosexual black guy named 'PeeWee', or by the guy in the psychward who allegedly made a sandwich out of his own feces.

prison gets rough because of the thoughtfulness (or lack thereof) of the people who inhabit the place; prison is like the outside world except for the strict rules and the people with guns on their sides who watch you day and night...oh wait..the outside world is totally like prison. oh well.