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I plan to continue to write from the other side of the prison doors. I will write a column from “the dark side” for Alt Press. I hope to share with Alt Press readers an idea of what happens after the judge pronounces sentence and after the defendant has disappeared into the prison system. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, many defendants truly seem to have disappeared into the prison system forever. And the world continues to go on without them, almost as if they have ceased to exist. It seems very much like the world created in George Orwell’s 1984, in which victims of the Thought Police disappear into an abyss. At their workplaces, their names are removed from the walls and the cubicles in which they work are removed, leaving no trace that these people had ever existed.

This past week, I went to Washington, D.C., to talk to staff people in congressional offices about another kind of disappearance, the disappearance and murders of thousands of people in Latin America at the hands of graduates of the School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. I went to encourage the staff aides to talk to members of the House of Representatives about co-sponsoring HR 1258, which calls for the closure of SOA/WHINSEC and the investigation of the teaching practices offered at that school by an independent truth and reconciliation commission. I asked for the U.S. government to be accountable for its actions. I asked for an investigation of the source of the torture training manuals, which the Pentagon admitted were circulated at the School of the Americas.

In addition to sharing the facts about a school that, so far, has gotten away with teaching torture, assassination, and the overthrow of legally elected governments with impunity, I also shared my personal story. I told the staff members about my experiences in Guatemala and about how the violent behavior of SOA graduates has affected me personally. I told the staff members about my arrest at Fort Benning and about the fact that I would soon be headed to federal prison. The staff members, even those in staunchly conservative, pro-SOA-WHINSEC offices, including that of David Dreier of California, listened intently and showed concern as I told my story. I did not expect that David Dreier, whose office is just steps away from that of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, to support HR 1258. And he did not. But I would encourage you, the readers, to call your House representatives and ask them to consider co-sponsoring that legislation if they have not done so already. If, in the case of Rep. Louise Slaughter and Rep. Jack Quinn, they are co-sponsors, please remember to call them and thank them for their support of closing and investigating a school that many call a “terrorist training camp” run and operated right here in the United States. Please also call the offices of Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and ask them to sponsor a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. The fact that the congressional staffers listened so intently when I told my personal story, backed up with facts and statistics, makes my upcoming sojourn into the federal prison system worthwhile. The action that I took at Fort Benning, Georgia, which the government termed “illegal,” and I termed “expressing my constitutional rights,” was effective. It served to remind me that ordinary citizens can make an impact on the way that their government is run. The price for speaking out can be high. But I can live with being sent to prison for expressing myself. The price for not speaking out can be much higher: the loss of the civil rights that we hold so dear in this country. That price is too high for me.

And I intend to continue to speak out from behind the prison walls.

(to be continued)

by Alice E. Gerard

At exactly two o’clock in the afternoon, April 6, I will walk through a set of doors at the Federal Correctional Institute for Women in Danbury, Connecticut, to begin a 90-day sojourn. Those doors will take me into a world that is unfamiliar to most Americans, despite the fact that the rate of incarceration in the United States is higher than in most countries of the world.