Diane Lopez Hughes' Blog - "After Crossing the Line at the 2007 SOA Vigil"

At the 2007 Vigil to Close the SOA, CRLN member Diane Lopez Hughes joined eleven others in an act of civil disobedience by crossing onto the property of Fort Benning.  Diane is the mother of two sons, a retired hospice social worker, a volunteer parish nurse, a freelance writer, a Pace E Bene Engage trainer, a member of the Pax Christi National Council and the co-convener of Pax Christi in Springfield, Illinois.  The following is her blog or journal about her experiences.  If you would like to receive email notice when the blog is updated, please send your email address to Jim Vondracek at jvondracek@crln.org 

February 5, 2008  

One week down, five to go.  Cleaning (begins at 4 am) and breakfast are over.  Rita has an extra stamped envelope that she will give me (usually we have to trade), so I can send out my third letter to Jim while I'm here. 

 

An inmate who first arrives at the 'dorm' is at another disadvantage - besides being the new person.  We enter with a bed roll (like a mattress cover), a towel, washcloth, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, toothpaste (!) and a toothbrush (three inches long).  Everything else comes from the commissary (stores); and the orders for stores is completed on Sunday night.  Since I arrived on Monday, i will not get my first stores order until Wednesday.  So Wednesday is a special day here.  Looking forward to stamped envelopes, real toothpaste, over-the-counter medicines and some snacks to share with others, a second washcloth - quite a luxury, a Spanish-English dictionary (practice my espanol), pen and pad. 

 

When I went to clinic last night to see the doctor for vitamins, I had another chance to educate about the SOA.  These folks in the clinic now know a bit more about our foreign policy pertaining to torture, etc.  Opportunities abound . . . . .

 

And opportunties for solidarity are many.  Women here continue to share stories of their lives - Peg and Marilyn would really appreciate the richness of their realities - regrets, fears, hopes, joys - make this a place of dignity and abundant gift.

 

I wish every decisionmaker would be required to live in a county jail for a week - pared down to the essentials, humbled by the presence of those who "but for fortune [could be] you or I." 

 

Mail call!  The most important time of my day.  I'm blessed with abundance.  Tee asks for the large manila envelope (thanks, Bill!) - small pleasures.  Speaking of which, pretty greeting cards are most appreciated; they brighten the otherwise drab decor and the pictures can be shared.

 

Please pray, send positive intentions to these good women, both in the cell and outside it, and to all prisoners, of conscience, circumstance and our system of justice.

 

Peace and all good,

 

Diane

  

February 3, 2008

 

Forty days to go.  Settling gratefully into this little community of women.  I'm in a "dorm" with women charged or convicted of nonviolent crimes.  Hearing stories that underscore the lack of resources for the domestic needs of our sisters and brothers who have not because of the oil/power addictions of those who have much.

 

Here I notice the connections much more than I ever could on the "outside."  So many charges/convictions are related to money - how hard it has to be to go back into the community with nothing especially if you don't have family to support you.  Why wouldn't people everywhere want to live in a community where opportunities are equal, children have access to good education, families have access to adequate healthcare, people aren't discriminated against because of their socio-economic status, color, abilities, or orientation.  These are the dreams of people worldwide, including the people of Central and South America who have the audacity to cry for justice.  The connections are clear here.

 

Tee weants me to share her story - she gave birth in jail, spent a week with her newborn, then returned to jail.  The rules require that children under the age of 17 are not allowed to visit (a TV/phone is set up in one dorm, and the visitor sits in the remote room iwht a similar contraption.)  Tee has two other children, ages 5 and 2. 

 

In spite of all this, there is much joking, often about food - I thought I heard someone say it was her birthday, and I asked when we'd get the birthday cake - laughter all around.  So know that I am enjoying the little pleasures, learning a great deal of patience, praying more, and being blessed by the company of good women in bad situations. 

 

Peace and all good,

 

Diane

 

 

Diane's Mailing Address

Diane sent CRLN her mailing address and said she would love to receive letters (no packages allowed - also, you may not send her envelopes or stamps, she said).

Diane Lopez Hughes
Muscogee County Jail
700 10th Street
Columbus, GA  31901-2899  

  

February 1, 2008

 

First Week:

Our court hearing experience and testimony were empowering and the judge's "light" sentences were encouraging-he seemed to be thoughtful and compassionate, at times even going out of his way to distinguish the illegality of the act of crossing onto the base from the conviction which led us there. 

 

The decision to go directly to jail was a very good one for me.  Even in the holding cell I began to make connections with the women I met.  The consequences they face seem all out of proportion to the lapse in judgment in so many situations.  And witnessing the compassion of women towards one another-if this could happen outside the jail, the work of peace would be easier.  The best thing here is the camaraderie; the worst is, no surprise, the food.

 

Since I have no stamped envelopes and assorted needs for the next commissary list this Sunday, it will be awhile before I can send out individual letters.  Two requests for those who wish to write:

  1. So many women here don't receive letters.  Please let me know if you would be willing to correspond with someone here
  2. Please handwrite your return name and address on all letters, required by the jail.  Labels will be torn off. 

 

I can have a beginning Spanish book-unmarked, paperback-so if my Martes companeras can sent me one, it will be appreciated.  I'll be purchasing a Spanish-English dictionary: it's on the commissary list!

 

Many thanks for prayers, intentions, support.  Please pray for the women here-their lives are filled with hardship as well as prisoners of conscience throughout the world.  That positive energy lifts us all and when we are uplifted we are more open to nonviolence and love.

 

Peace and all good,

 

Diane

 

Diane's Sentence

Ed Osowski reports that Diane was sentenced to 45 days in prison.  Ed, a member of the CRLN Board of Directors, is an attorney who represents those arrested at the SOA Vigil.  For more information on the trials, go to http://www.soaw.org/ 

  

January 26, 2008

As a health professional I have always believed in the concept of holistic health - that in order for a body to be healthy its physical, spiritual and social needs all have to be addressed.  And when a person's health is assaulted, the whole family can be affected.

 

The reason that I retired from my work in hospice was not only to volunteer as the parish nurse minister of my church, but also as a member of my community with our homeless friends and as a member of my world community which suffers because our family in many parts of the world suffers.  That is one reason why I crossed the line at WHINSEC.

 

As the daughter of a Guatemalan father, I am a member of an extended family that has experienced both sides of the conflict in that tortured country.  In the late nineteenth century my grandfather was a general in the Guatemalan army.  His mother was an indigenous woman.  So my relatives have included those who have been repressed and those who have directly participated in the repression.  And my own government trains Guatemalan soldiers in techniques that support the repression, disappearance and murder of their own citizens and those who would help them in their quest for a better life and just treatment.  And I believe that the attitude that allows this practice is also responsible for our domestic and foreign policy that disrespects individuals and promotes injustice.

 

When will the healing begin?  Not until my country, our country, stops training in torture and repression.  Not until we educate ourselves in nonviolence instead of violence as the way to bring health to our world family. My faith impels me to love God and God's creation.  And I believe that love is also the only path to true freedom.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Violence cannot end violence; only love can do that." I crossed the line at WHINSEC and prayed on the grounds to  bring attention to the teaching of torture and assassination.  When enough people learn the truth about this school and act to end these practices, the healing can begin.

 

Thoughts before jail...   So many conflicting thoughts and feelings follow me these hours before court, as our SOAW 11 builds community, learns about court and jail, recall the reasons for our witness and the people of Central and South America who have suffered at the hands of our tax-supported military, and hears from so many prisoners of conscience who have walked this path before us.  But I know that I can do this, and that growth and opportunity await.  What we have already done is enough to witness to truth.  What comes after is gift.  

 

My wonderful friend, Lee, sent this:  [For him jail has been] "...a time with the people Christ would have embraced with such love.   as the POWERS THAT BE tried to teach him a lesson... the lessons to be learned were in the heart though and they dealt with being in a  place of sadness and pain but reaching for love and healing joy."


 

Friends have asked what they can do for me in jail.  Well, for all of us, we can pray for all prisoners of conscience, first imagining the conditions that move a person to take the risk of arrest, or worse.  But we can also pray for the jailers; again imagining what that kind of work must do to the human spirit.  We can also take one more step in realizing a nonviolent future for Earth's children through personal commitment to nonviolence, or renewal of our previous commitment.  As we all reap the benefits of greed and violence; we all need to sow the seeds of justice and peace.  Harder than it sounds; but with beloved community it can be done.  

 

Until later, Peace and all good,

 

Diane

  

  

January 23, 2008 

The minutes pass so quickly the closer we get to our court hearing on 1/28.  When I told a friend that when I do something for what will probably be the last time for a while, I say "that's something I want to hold as a memory to draw upon when I'm in jail," he said, "Why don't you consider it as something to look forward to after you're released?" 

 

What a gift we have in friends...   

Words of support, prayers,and love are so important now, and will especially be so while I'm in jail.  There are times when I feel a little frightened or sad, but I think that those times are so very rare because of all of the prayers and positive intentions being sent my way.  Even in those frightened or sad moments, I consider how much worse it must be for people who are jailed with no warning, have no time to think about what's going on or to experience the support of people who care about them, who may not even have commited the crime for which they have been charged.  How hard it is to be in any kind of prison, not all of which come with bars or other physical barriers.  What are my actions that create prisons for others....for myself?   

Thinking of all there is to do before I leave Springfield, but also looking forward to spending time with the other SOAW 11 folks...  It's been good to communicate via email and by phone, but it will be so much better to SEE them. Having coffee with Gus and Le Ann in Chicago last week was very helpful, grounding me a bit more in the reality of our action and the days to come.   

I am so grateful to Jim and CRLN for making this blog possible, and hope it is a comfort especially for Pat, Devin and Brendan.  And knowing that friends will be checking in with them is a huge relief for me.   

On Friday, I will meet Berrien, Judith's friend who will be my lifeline for bringing books (and a smiling face) while I'm a guest of the Muscogee County Jail.  The books I'm taking with me to give to Berrien are stacked up on my dining room table, while I don't have a clue what what else I'll be bringing to Georgia with me for the days before jail.   

Before I go to jail I will try to send another blog note, maybe after we've had our sessions with the lawyers and I have a better sense of the court hearing, etc.     When we're sure I'm behind bars (there's always hope I won't be!) Jim will post my address at the jail and the term of my sentence.  Already I know that letters will be appreciated.

Peace and all good,

Diane

  

December 2007 

If you ever consider crossing the line for justice, I'd suggest taking the step with people who are centered, focused on their convictions, committed to nonviolence and overall good folks.  That's how I'd describe my sister and brother resisters on Sunday, November 18, the day we crossed the line onto Ft. Benning, Georgia:  home of the infamous School of the Americas. 

Even before stepping onto the base with these good folks, my courage had been reinforced with hugs and prayers from a chorus of friends and well-wishers.  My conviction was strengthened from a conversation with Adriana Bartow, a Guatemalteca survivor who had experienced the bitter fruits of our US military's education in terror and repression as her family members were disappeared, tortured and murdered by soldiers trained at the School.   In 1891 my father was born in Guatemala and became a US citizen in the 1930's.   Knowing that his paternal grandmother was Mayan and his father was a general in the army, and that I very likely have relatives on both sides of the continuing class conflict, was one of the reasons I chose to cross the line at the SOA.

When the School of the Americas Watch vigils began, tens, later hundreds, then thousands crossed the line and wandered about the base.  After 2001, those arrested were brought to trial, sometimes fined and sentenced up to six months in prison.  Where we crossed was the closest that any resisters have gotten to the SOA since 2001; we also enjoyed the longest Sunday stroll on the base for anyone who'd crossed the line since that date.  John ---- gave me holy earth and water collected from a river in Colombia.  Once on the base I sprinkled it along our way, bringing this water from killing fields of Colombia to the indoctrination fields of SOA/WHINSEC.

With our multigenerational group, some of whom had physical difficulties in moving across the base, we walked about an eighth of a mile before splitting into two groups.  After I indicated my desire to walk even closer to the School of the Americas, Chris, Michelle, Gus and Joan joined me.  Stephen, Le Ann, Ozone, Ed and Art walked towards the entrance gate where the SOAW vigil was in progress.  Later Chris would tell me that once on the base he had envisioned walking "towards the light"; and when I suggested a direction, he decided to go with our group.

We continued walking toward the base, surprised when one vehicle, then another drove down the paved, separated road without stopping or doubling back.  The checkpoint was in sight, but no activity was evident.  It was only when an SUV traveling slowly about half a block behind us on our side of the road slowed down even more that it was clear we had been spotted.  As the military vehicles began arriving, we walked slowly and deliberately to a red maple, formed a circle under its branches, and, while kneeling, each spoke a prayer before we were confronted by the first of eight officers with, "Do you know you're on federal property?"

After we were handcuffed, as I knelt next to Chris he glanced up toward the sky:  sunlight was breaking through clouds, beams of light streaming down.

The bus that would transport us to the base pulled up, and several of other group were singing with the bus radio.  Once our group boarded, we added our five voices as John Lennon sang Imagine, the musical plea written before his violent death, a song that hopes for a future of nonviolence.

Experiences on the base - processing by soldiers just doing their jobs, candid moments shared with some of the military personnel, stories that told us more about each other - filled our day with a richness that was one of the many graced events that seem to come with the equally intense risk of stepping outside of comfort into the reality of acting on what we say we believe. 

With the realization that jail may be the next challenge, in my heart I hold my family:  Not only my immediate family, but those unknown relatives who have been victim or victimizer in a country struggling to understand itself and love its people; but also my friends who bless me with their prayers and support. Not only the cloud of witnesses who have risked their lives for justice and peace; but those who may find inspiration in our example of nonviolent civil resistance.  Not only those who have learned that nonviolence is the only path to freedom; but also the lovely people of this beautiful world who are not yet able to accept that it is in connecting the pieces of justice, peace and integrity of Earth we will discover our only hope for the children of the world.