Prison for Peace
The world today is soaked in violence. Our culture encourages it, with its violent media and hidden drone strikes and endless wars to expand our global reach. Some of us cry out against the violence by writing letters and signing petitions and working legislatively for change. Others do more. They act their no by engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. Thus they bring to light the immense military infrastructure that robs our country of good education, affordable transportation, and jobs with justice. In nonviolent witness, they cross lines in trespass, take household hammers to missile silos, enact street theater at military bases and on city streets. And they are arrested, go to trial, and leave family and community for jail and prison, all in the cause of peace.
I met some of these “peace people” as a Catholic Worker in Michigan, and I wanted to learn why they did it, what gave them the courage to give up their freedom in order to try to change US policy. I also wanted to hear how it feels to choose to be incarcerated for something one believes in and what happens to the families and communities one leaves. So I interviewed 173 war resisters and their families and the result, in their own words, is the book Doing Time for Peace, with stories from World War II and Vietnam and the nonviolent campaigns of the last decades of the twentieth century through the latest Iraq War.
Our country’s freedoms were built on resistance---on disobeying imperial British edicts, on assisting runaway slaves, on “praying with our feet” as Rabbi Heschel called the nonviolent marches that toppled segregation, on resisting the draft and destroying draft files during the Vietnam war. With a forward by Dan McKanan and an afterword by Louisiana attorney Bill Quigley, Doing Time for Peace places nonviolent war resisters in context and gives story after story of principled nonviolent resistance and its personal and political results.
When I began the project, I wondered if I had the courage to do it. Could I face leaving my grandchildren and my settled life? Could I face the criticism and resulting loneliness such a decision might entail? One of my early interviews was Michele Naar-Obed, who went to prison when her daughter was very young. She told me she felt she had to make a sacrifice for peace comparable to what soldiers do when they leave to fight. After listening to 173 people who have gone to prison for peace, I decided that yes, I could. Going to prison for peace is definitely do-able for me. The voices in Doing Time for Peace call to many of us to follow them. Can you heed their call?
Rosalie Riegle is also the author of Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace.