Friday, April 06, 2007

Chico peace activist spends Easter 2006 as a 'Prisoner of Conscience'


The letters and journal entries of self-described peace activist Dorothy J. Parker have been collected in "You Too Could Go To Federal Prison!" ($15 in paperback from the author's Web site,, or from Lyon Books in Chico). Parker was 76 when she was arrested at Ft. Benning, Ga., in 2005 when she "crossed the line" and purposely trespassed onto the base, sliding under a chain link fence. "Thirty-six of us knelt in prayer awaiting the arrival of the security guards who had spotted our unorthodox entrance into forbidden territory."

Parker and the others, under the auspices of a human rights group called "SOA Watch," were protesting the continuing presence at the army base of the "School of the Americas" (SOA Watch calls it the "School of Assassins"), recently renamed WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, SOA "is a school chartered by Congress to provide 'professional education and training for civilian, military and law enforcement students from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere.' ... The school has been a target of protests since 1989, when some of its graduates were linked to the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador."

SOA Watch was founded by the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest, and (according to a Web site article from The Progressive) has in turn been subject to "counterterrorism monitoring" by the FBI.

Parker herself , active in the Chico Peace & Justice Center, worked for quarter century as a drug and alcohol recovery counselor with what was then called Butte County Mental Health, and since 1989 has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in Nicaragua's rural areas. She told a judge after her arrest at Ft. Benning that she was a "Prisoner of Conscience."

The author spent 57 days in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Alameda County. Though it is called "minimum security," because of ongoing repairs to some of its facilities Parker found herself spending much of her sentence in the "Special Housing Unit" for women prisoners who had broken the often arbitrary house rules. There she was given no more than a hour a day to exercise outside and found herself frequently shackled and treated with disdain by prison officials.

A deeply spiritual person, Parker draws on the writings of Mary Baker Eddy (in the Christian Science Monitor), the Buddhists Tich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama, and Meister Eckhart. The spiritual center of Parker's book is a meditation on Henri Nouwen's little book on the Stations of the Cross. He writes: "I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity, but not yet a follower of Jesus. Somehow my bond with those who suffer oppression is made real through my willingness to suffer my loneliness. ... We must each take up our own cross and follow Jesus, and so discover that we are truly brothers who learn from him who is humble and gentle of heart."

Parker took communion in "heavy chain shackles! Very moving symbolism for us (and the priest as well)." The feast of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday morning, turned out to be "cold cereal, a cold bagel with grape jam packet, milk and an orange."

I'm not sure I understand all that motivates Parker nor am I comfortable with her politicized brand of liberal Christianity. But if Jesus is risen indeed, maybe my comfort is decidedly not the point.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to dbarnett@ Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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