The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore will host an End the Wars vigil on Thurs., June 2 from 5 to 6
For the latest updates go to Disarm Now Plowshares and Fr Bill go to
June 1, 2011
National Catholic Reporter
Fr. Bill Bischel's ordeal
by John Dear SJ
Last week's Supreme Court ruling against
"cruel and inhuman punishment" was not a surprise -- except in the
sense that it was said publicly. Many of us who have experienced our
criminal injustice system first hand know well how horrific it is. The
court ruled that 35,000
transferred or released because the system is so unjust.
The case sparked new discussion on overcrowded prisons (156,000
prisoners suffer in
but it started years ago because of the atrocious lack of health care
years, usually because they were not given their medicine.
It's not surprising either that our violent, imperial nation has the
highest documented incarceration rate in the world. The most recent
figure says we have over 2,292,000 people in prison. The so-called
"war on drugs" and mandatory sentencing laws against nonviolent
offenders are partly to blame for this huge prison population.
Prison is bad for one's health, to put it mildly. During my last stint
woman in charge of the main admitting area where a hundred of us sat
in chains or handcuffs, yelled at us and threatened us. Then, she
ordered an officer to beat up one prisoner, and he threw him against
the wall. Nobody blinked.
Certainly one of the worst places I've ever been is the
people, it held 400 people when I was there for a few weeks in 1993
for our Plowshares action. One human rights report claimed that over
25 people had died in the five years previous to my stay. Most of them
had been denied medicine, and were simply found dead the next morning.
I remember an elderly man serving a year for a nonviolent offense that
Philip Berrigan and I had befriended. He was in the cell across the
hall from us. We occasionally talked. He told us of his heart
condition. We saw pills delivered to him every day. About a month
after our transfer to another jail, we received word that he had died.
He had argued with a jailer, so the jailer did not give him his
medicine, and he died that night.
This week, many of us will gather in
release of Franciscan Fr. Louie Vitale after his six months in prison
for protesting the "
terrorism school at
determined as ever to do what he can to resist our wars and weapons.
We go to honor his indomitable spirit (See
Last week the Nuclear Resister (www.nuclearresister.org) reported that
since Obama's inauguration, over 2,600 people have been arrested for
similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and
injustice, a stunning number given the total lack of media coverage on
peace and justice movements. As our prisons continue to worsen, it's
amazing that activists are willing to risk imprisonment for social
At the moment, some friends are currently languishing in
friend suffered severe chest pains and was refused medical help. We
are hoping and praying for her healing, and mobilizing folks to work
on her behalf.
Many of us are especially concerned about Fr. Bill Bischel. "Bix," as
he is known, is an 83-year old Jesuit from the
doing time for a plowshares disarmament action. He could be released
at the end of June, but will then be sentenced for his part in last
years ago, Bix's doctor gave him six months to live. He needs to take
nitro glycerine every day for his heart condition. Bix had visited
Hiroshima in 2009, and was so moved that he decided to undertake civil
disobedience for nuclear disarmament, even at the risk of his life.
Many of us are praying with him on his paschal journey for peace.
Since he went into prison on March 28, Bix has traveled the nation. He
started in the
after a few weeks, without notice, he was shipped across the country
in a two week trip that nearly killed him. They flew him in chains to
Federal Penitentiary -- a notorious transfer center where cruel and
inhuman punishment is the norm. Then, he was shipped to
where he now sits.
On April 14, Bix wrote from
I shuffle around the common area, and I thank God for being here
and for the peace I experience. I am not anxious or overly concerned
about anything… [I have] things wrong from head to toe, move slowly,
tire easily, and take a half ton of pills to prolong breath and life
[but] I'm blessed by the peace and quiet spirit inside. I'm not
concerned about trying to be more than I am with the other inmates.
I'm trying to let them see -- and not hide or disguise -- my lack of
knowledge on so many things… I'm lucky to be here.
I know I'm getting weaker -- it takes all my strength and breath
to make my bunk. I have to sit down a few times in the process. It
takes all I have now to do one or two slow shuffles around the common
area. I don't feel panicked or upset about my condition. I know I can
keel over at any time, but I feel very much at peace with this
condition and understand and accept it -- thankfully -- as part of my
I don't have a regular prayer time now -- but I pray and try to be
alert, i.e., at rest in the presence of God. I ask God to lead me as
God sees fit. There is no anxiousness or compulsiveness or resolve to
preach or hold prayer sessions or do any "religious actions" -- just
be and shuffle around. There are four TVs which I avoid, with their
steady diet of sex and violence. I am so thankful to feel at peace
with my life. It's a gift from God and I do feel God working in and
with me. I could be wrong, but this is what I experience.
After Bix landed in
friend Joe Power-Drutis flew there to be near him. Joe writes regular
updates about Bix and the others (see
On May 7th, he wrote of his visit with Bix
I am not sure what I expected to encounter but what I did see was
a broken and very hurting soul. Pale, frail, mildly shaky, complaining
of being unable to hear because of fluid in his ears, dizziness and
lightheadedness, pointing with his fingers that he is struggling to
push the right numbers on the phone -- eyes glassed over, flat affect,
and complaining that his gait is so poor, yet he has been commanded to
"keep moving." He requested a wheelchair and was refused. He went on
to tell me with tears in his eyes that he was placed in a cell and
locked in there, with woefully inadequate bedding and clothing, for a
week. He repeatedly asked guards for clothing and an extra blanket,
and was laughed at and ignored. At some point after repeated requests,
another inmate gave up his blanket to Bix.
Bix's medical problems create a lack of blood and oxygen to his
hands and feet, leaving them white and ice cold when his overall body
temperature falls. Following this, his hands and feet are filled with
pain, like being jabbed repeatedly with needles. He spoke of the
never-ending pain, which leads to sleep deprivation, insomnia,
disassociation and hallucinations.
Bix was certainly aware of what he was doing when he walked onto
the base at
is ready to remain in prison and pay the ultimate price. But this in
no way permits this system of criminal injustice to do what it has
done to him. The unjust and unlawful acts perpetrated on him are
tantamount to torture.
Yesterday, Joe told me that Bix is better. I asked Joe to ask Bix for
a message, and Joe sent this on. As you see, Bix remains strong in
spirit. Despite the cruel and inhuman punishment which is our evil
prison system, Bix has kept his focus on Jesus and the
His heart is in the right place.
We Americans are lulled and brainwashed. We accept the security of
nuclear weapons as our guardians. As a result, we live a type of Midas
Touch, embracing gold and all that shines while we decay within from
greed, addiction, and selfishness. Beyond this, we arm ourselves more
and more for the destruction of others.
Jesus comes to us in the midst of this, and no matter how high the
waves of empire might be, that threaten to swamp us, he invites us to
walk the path he walks and to believe his Kingdom is real.
Jesus doesn't give up on us. He tells us, "Do not be afraid." He
invites us to follow him and walk through the violence, to walk in
resistance to the Powers that bring death. He invites us to a life of
real community where we care for each other as brothers and sisters.
No matter how small the seed of our efforts, the Powers fear most our
attempts to come together and live as God intended us to live.
We as a people must come together and meet one another and invite
the Spirit to come into our midst. "Where two or more are gathered,"
the Spirit will be. We must trust this and follow the call of our
hearts. We are called to say "yes" to God's invitation and to be a
part of God's Kingdom as it unfolds in our lives.
May we remember our imprisoned resisters and join their efforts for
peace and justice, for a world without cruel and inhuman punishment.
By line for attached photo