"Incarcerated Climate Activist Tim DeChristopher Moved to Restricted Cell; Supporters of jailed environmentalist build campaign against move, call attention to injustice of his imprisonment"
2012-03-28 from Common Dreams [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/28-3]
Climate activist Tim DeChristopher, who is serving a two-year sentence for unlawfully disrupting a Bureau of Land Management gas and drilling lease auction in 2008, has been moved from the minimum security section at the Herlong Federal Correction Facility in California to a more restrictive and isolating housing unit.
The move, according to a statement from DeChristopher's supporters at Peaceful Uprising (an organization he helped build), took place on March 9th and has severely restricted both his movements and his communications with the outside world. According to the statement:
"Tim was informed by Lieutenant Weirich that he was being moved to the SHU because an unidentified congressman had called from Washington DC, complaining of an email that Tim had sent to a friend. Tim was inquiring about the reported business practices of one of his legal fund contributors, threatening to return the money if their values no longer aligned with his own. According to Prison officials, Tim will continue to be held in isolated confinement pending an investigation. There is no definite timeline for inmates being held in the SHU — often times they await months for the conclusion of an investigation."
Peaceful Uprising [http://www.peacefuluprising.org/], along with other supporters, are calling for officials to intervene on DeChristopher's behalf. They will hold a press conference in Utah on Thursday and are building a campaign for supporters to weigh in on the issue.
Democracy Now! reports this morning [http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/28/headlines/jailed_environmentalist_moved_to_isolated_cell]:
Supporters of the jailed environmental activist Tim DeChristopher are raising new concern about his treatment behind bars. DeChristopher is currently serving a two-year sentence for posing as a bidder to prevent oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land. According to his legal defense fund, DeChristopher was recently removed from a minimum security prison ward into an isolated cell known as a "Special Housing Unit," or SHU. He reportedly shares the tiny cell with another prisoner, and has been allowed outside of it just four times over a two-week period. DeChristopher’s freedom to read books, write in his journal, and communicate with the outside world have all come under new restrictions.
And Jeff Biggers, writing at Common Dreams today, argues [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/03/28-5]:
Unanswered questions abound over DeChristopher’s extreme treatment and the role of Congressional members. He still faces nearly a year and a half of incarceration–potentially all of it to now be served in isolation.
As President Obama noted to Chicago host Oprah Winfrey about rising global temperatures: “It gets you thinking.”
Such an outrageous act should also get the public, and President Obama, the US Congress and Bureau of Prisons officials to bring an end to DeChristopher’s wrongful isolation–and unfair 2-year prison sentence.
Peaceful Uprising supporters are calling on prison officials, and members of the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, to intervene and return DeChristopher to Minimum Security Camp at FCI Herlong.
Supporters of the jailed environmental activist Tim DeChristopher are raising new concern about his treatment behind bars.
"Letter from prison: Tim DeChristopher speaks"
(The following text appeared in a handwritten letter from Tim DeChristopher addressed to Grist’s Jennifer Prediger)
Tim DeChristopher is a climate activist and cofounder of Peaceful Uprising. He has been beatified as a saint in the Church of Earthalujah by the Reverend Billy and convicted as a felon by the United States Government. Each of those honors were earned by disrupting a Utah BLM oil and gas auction in December 2008, in which Tim registered as Bidder 70 and outbid the oil companies. When Tim embarks on a government-sponsored writing retreat later this year, he will continue sending dispatches to Grist.
If I had ever doubted the power of words, Judge Benson made their importance all too clear at my sentencing last month. When he sentenced me to two years in prison plus three years probation, he admitted my offense “wasn’t too bad.” The problem, Judge Benson insisted, was my “continuing trail of statements” and my lack of regret. Apparently, all he really wanted was an apology, and for that, two years in prison could have been avoided. In fact, Judge Benson said that had it not been for the political statements I made in public, I would have avoided prosecution entirely. As is generally the case with civil disobedience, it was extremely important to the government that I come before the majesty of the court with my head bowed and express regret. So important, in fact, that an apology with proper genuflection is currently fair trade for a couple years in prison. Perhaps that’s why most activist cases end in a plea bargain.
Since that seems like such a good deal, some people are asking why I wasn’t willing to shut my mouth and take it. But perhaps we should be asking why the government is willing to make such a deal. The most recent plea bargain they offered me was for as little as 30 days in jail. (I’m writing this on my 28th day.) So if they wanted to lock me up for two years, why would they let me walk for an apology and keeping my mouth shut for a while? On the other hand, if they wanted to sweep this under the rug, why would they cause such a stir by locking me up? Why do my words make that much of a difference?
With all criminal cases, of which 85 percent end in a plea bargain, the government has a strong incentive to avoid a trial: In addition to cutting the expense of a trial, a plea bargain helps concentrate power in the hands of government officials.
The revolutionaries who founded this country were deeply distrustful of a concentration of power, so among other precautions, they established citizen juries as the most important part of our legal system and insisted upon constitutional right to a jury trial. To avoid this inconvenience, those seeking concentrated power free from revolutionaries have minimized the role of citizens in our legal system. They have accomplished this by restricting what juries can hear, what they can decide upon, and most importantly, by avoiding jury trials all together. It is now accepted as a basic fact of our criminal justice system that a defendant who exercises his or her right to a jury trial will be punished at sentencing for doing so. Transferring power from citizens to government happens when the role of citizens gets eliminated in the process.
With civil disobedience cases, however, the government puts an extra value on an apology. By its very nature, civil disobedience is an act whose message is that the government and its laws are not the sole voice of moral authority. It is a statement that we the citizens recognize a higher moral code to which the law is no longer aligned, and we invite our fellow citizens to recognize the difference. A government truly of the people, for the people, and by the people is not threatened by citizens issuing such a challenge. But government whose authority depends on an ignorant or apathetic citizenry is threatened by every act of open civil disobedience, no matter how small. To regain that tiny piece of authority, the government either has to respond to the activist’s demands, or get the activist to back down with a public statement of regret. Otherwise, those little challenges to the moral authority of government start to add up.
Over the last couple hundred years of quelling dissent, the government has learned a few things about maintaining power. Sometimes it seems that the government has learned more from our social movement history than we as activists have. Their willingness to let a direct action off with a slap on the wrist while handing out two years for political statements comes from their understanding of the power of an individual. They know that one person, or even a small group, cannot have enough of a direct impact on our corporate giants to really alter things in our economy. They know that a single person can’t have a meaningful direct impact on our political system. But our modern government is dismantling the First Amendment because they understand the very same thing our founding fathers did when they wrote it: What one person can do is to plant the seeds of love and outrage in the hearts of a movement. And if those hearts are fertile ground, those seeds of love and outrage will grow into a revolution.