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The power of prison support

A Plowshares/Ploughshares support person describes the networks which keep prisoners in good shape - and how they use the prison experience to activate and animate the people around them.

In August 1998, Sachio Ko-Yin and Dan Sicken entered a nuclear missile silo in Weld County, Colorado, USA, and proceeded symbolically to transform death into life.

How shall I talk about doing support for a Plowshares prisoner? First, the excitement of the action and the post-action high (“They didn't shoot us! I talked to the FBI about Thoreau!”); the rush of speaking engagements and attendant press prior to the trial; trial preparation; then the night before the trial, that time-honoured tradition, a Festival of Hope, attended by friends from near and far - a potluck dinner, a reunion, a send-off, an interfaith service. Finally, after conviction, a sentence at a Federal Prison Camp (for Sachio, 30 months, for Dan, 41 months).

We established a local support committee, which had some turnover of people, but which was always helpful to meet with to share resources, build solidarity, or do fundraising. There was also excellent support in Colorado: the Bijou Community, which hosted Sachio and Dan for the time between the action and trial, during which they were released on their own recognisance.

Another vehicle for us was a newsletter we published. This way, even if Sachio was not able to write to folks directly because he was working for the prison or working with other prisoners, at least there was some communication from him. After an initial flurry of press coverage, it was tough to interest papers in continuing to write about the action, so it was good that we had this medium. We also had coverage in several alternative publications, which included having Sachio write for them.

The world is a circle: getting outside support for the action also helped Sachio inside prison. And the work Sachio did with other prisoners garnered support for Plowshares.

He put nonviolence into practice and built community along the way. He distributed information pertaining to prisoners' rights and efforts to reform sentencing laws; he taught meditation; he started a “Nonviolent Activist” discussion group; he even ran a poetry group, called the Frany”ois Villon Society after the 15th century burglar-poet!

Commitment is essential; I think it would be almost impossible to do this if you were not into it. Or you'd have to develop a rapid working understanding of its importance in order to rationalise the incredible amounts of time and energy you expend. As it was, Sachio and I had grown together in our involvement in peace and justice issues for several years: we did civil disobedience, had a War Resisters League local, hosted anarchist discussion groups - you know, led the life. This action was very much in keeping with my pacifist ideals.

Spending time that was not focused on Sachio and the action has also been important to maintain a sense of balance. I learned anew the value of friendship - friends old and new listened whenever I needed to talk, which was a lot. And the women I met when I visited Sachio in prison, whose own loved ones were also doing time, consistently impressed me with their strength and grace.

Plowshares actions themselves are sometimes spoken of as being the tip of an iceberg of activism and action -- support work is essential for the word to get out, for the prisoner to be sustained, for continued transformation of society to take place. My belief in the power of the work is stronger than ever.

Sachio is currently finishing his sentence on home confinement in Pennsylvania. His address is 39 South 4th Street, Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA.
Contact the author for newsletters or other info: Melissa Jameson, c/o WRL, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012, USA (email mmariejames@hotmail.com).