March 2008: Prison Dispatch from Jeff “Free” Luers
What a long and strange journey this past year has been. I have been riding highs and lows as I have been struggling to regain my freedom and find a balance between my desires for this movement and my own personal happiness.
I've made no secret of my often conflicting emotions or my disappointment in radical struggles here in the United States. Yet, despite my confusion about my own part in this messy struggle that now sees so many of us locked behind bars—so many split once again into factions, while many others hearts are broken by the betrayals of friends and former heroes—I have strived to remain true to the ideals in which I believe. It is often difficult to carry your head high when the rest of your life feels like you are falling apart, but we must continue to do so because it is only with our heads high that we can meet the eyes of our enemy and let them know that while we may be afraid we are not cowards; that while we may be hurting we are not broken, and most importantly, that while we may be small we are not weak, we are still defiant and we can still be dangerous.
As many of you are aware, I was resentenced on February 28th, after years of fighting for a reduced sentence. I will soon be making the terms of my contract with the state available.
In the months preceding my resentencing I was faced with numerous obstacles and forced to make difficult decisions. Upon my arrival at Lane County Jail, I learned that not only had Judge Lyle Velure come out of retirement to resentence me but that the state was threatening to seek a 20-year sentence again. Judge Velure began suffering severe prostate problems and had to retire again. Upon receiving a new judge my luck began to change and for the first time I thought I just might have a chance.
Now, I must say that my original opinion of Erik Hassleman, the prosecutor assigned to my case, was that he is an evil prick. And as I'm sure he will read this, I want to say that in the end he impressed me and that I respect him as a person and an opponent.
As negotiations progressed it quickly became apparent that the state had a bottom line—I was not going to receive a sentence below 10 years. As part of that agreement the state wanted a written apology from me for my crimes. I wrote a statement acknowledging I was wrong to believe that arson could achieve the change I desired, though I added I was not ashamed of nor did I regret my actions.
My attorneys promptly edited and reworded my statement until it resembled a watered-down version of polite discourse. While many of the things I wanted to say were there the heart of my statement—that I was wrong but essentially not sorry—was missing. With some disgust I swallowed my pride and signed the damn thing and I will admit it is one of the harder things I've done because it made me feel defeated.
After all negotiations were said and done the state came back with a final offer of a 30 month sentence followed by a 90 month mandatory minimum, essentially a sentence of a guaranteed 9½ years. After I reluctantly agreed to this as the best I could get, Erik then maneuvered a restitution of $14,000 on top of the $56,000 judgment I just learned Romania has against me.
In a frantic and somewhat pissed off effort my attorneys spent the next month trying to get the restitution dropped without success. In the final days with my head admittedly hanging much lower than usual I decided I would have to accept the states offer, restitution and all.
Come February 28th, however, I would be surprised beyond my wildest imagination. Not only had Hassleman agreed to dismiss the restitution but he had decided to grant a sentence modification in my favor. The sentence would now be 90 month followed by 30 months run out of order so that I may qualify for programs and possibly be released later this year!
During the course of sentencing, Erik spent some time describing my progression as a person and even as an activist during my incarceration. He talked about my subtle shift from a fiery radical to one that acknowledged the failures of some aspects of radical struggle—my words not his—by embracing more mainstream methods of change. All of which is true.
He then went on to describe how I viewed and continue to view my actions as a necessary evil similar to acts such as the Boston Tea Party. Surprisingly, he seemed in agreement with this analogy and even admitted that good arguments have been made about the legitimacy of sabotage and arson to protest ecological destruction. But, he went on to say these acts are still crimes and need to be punished accordingly.
After Erik was done I was given an opportunity to read my statement, this time unedited except for some suggestions from my friend and attorney (in that order), Lauren Regan. Upon finishing my statement I looked to see a somewhat stunned Judge Billings. Admittedly, my first thought was "well I pissed off another one." But, then by far the most surprising and ever vindicating thing happened.
Judge Billings told me that in his 35 years as an attorney and judge that my statement was the most sincere and passionate he'd ever heard. He told me he was impressed with me. He then went on to say that while some people might disagree, pointedly looking at Erik, that in many ways when I get out I would be considered an "elder statesman" or a "veteran returning from an ugly campaign." He agreed that we desperately need change and said that I may be one of the people that have the ability to help create that change but that I needed to do so in a way that would keep others and me out of prison. He finished by wishing me the best of luck.
By far the most astonishing of the day was the atmosphere of the hearing. Last time I was sentenced I was condemned as an evil terrorist who needed to be locked away. The difference this time was quite frankly shocking. I was no longer a terrorist but someone respectable. My message was no longer one of rhetoric but one that needed to be listened to.
What I took away from that day is that in a subtle and elusive way our actions have had an impact on the conscience of the American public, and even on some of those who are our natural enemies. For sure it isn't just our actions, but the truth behind them that has come to be understood. Messages about environmental dangers that years ago seemed fanatical are now accepted science.
There is a shift occurring in this country and it is one that we have very much helped shape. It is not a radical shift and is not enough of a change to correct society's many wrongs. But it is a noticeable shift we must embrace and continue to push in the right direction.
Since my last dispatch many months ago people have written and expressed concern that I have retired from activism. That is a misconception. I have not retired I have simply sought a different way to create the change I want to see.
I still believe direct action and militancy have their place. But I also see quite clearly its failures and our failures. I'm also quite aware of the failures of mainstream channels of activism. We must find ways to overcome barriers and the obstacles that come in our path. It seems nearly impossible but it isn't.
All we must do is seriously evaluate how each of us can make a difference; how we can each contribute to the changes that need to occur. In order to do that we must leave the rhetoric behind; we must step away from pigeon-holding ourselves into no-win situations. We have to recognize when to stand our ground and when to compromise. We must move beyond our comfort zones and embrace strangers as potential allies.
The very simple truth of the matter is that the environmental crisis facing us is going to affect all of humanity regardless of color, creed or political affiliation. It is the one thing that we must challenge together; if we fail in that we all fail.
If I've learned nothing else in the past 8 years, I have learned that we ourselves have to open our minds. We have to expand our thinking because our ways are not always right and even when they are right they might not be the best way for creating change.
We must learn to recognize our failures and learn from them. We must learn to think strategically, focusing on the larger picture, while also being willing to evolve and change. If change is going to start with us we must embrace the fact that we too must change.
There is lots of work to be done. There are many wounds to be healed. We have to start picking up the pieces and putting them back together. We have to remember our strength and face the challenges ahead. We have to again find our passion to act, our willingness to sacrifice, and increase our capacity to understand. There is no roadmap for us to follow. We are trailblazers in this and as such we must rise to the challenge.
I myself am confused but I'm not lost and I haven't given up. Despite the ache in my heart I still have faith in us. I still believe we can fix these problems facing us if only we would act with determination and courage. I'm still here and I am not quitting.
- Jeffrey "Free" Luers
www. freejeffluers. org
PO Box 9000
Wilsonville, OR 97070
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion