Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
It’s been a week now and we’re finally getting around to sending something out officially. Last Tuesday, Daniel and his wife flew from Indiana to New York, and Daniel proceeded directly to halfway house. We’re SO excited he’s back in the city and can’t wait until his time at the house is up and he can really be back home. All of you have been so amazingly generous and supportive, we couldn’t have gone through the last 7 years without you.
More to come, but for now check out what has been written on Daniel’s return.
Huff Post Green
Dog Park Media (original source of the above article)
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
Dear Friends and Supporters,
In a nice change of pace from the usual tenor of our communications, we are happy to report some really good news: Daniel McGowan’s stay in the CMU is coming to an end! Despite many punitive measures over the course of the years, Daniel has maintained a sterling record in prison and has accrued enough “good time” to take 1 year off his 7-year sentence. What is even more exciting is that he has qualified to serve the last 6-months of this time in a halfway house in Brooklyn, beginning in December 2012! After so many years, and so much antagonism from Federal authorities, we are overjoyed to welcome Daniel back home, where he belongs.
The support you all have shown over these past 5 years has helped Daniel get through what are undoubtedly the hardest years of his life. Now that he is on the verge of rejoining us, and never looking back upon these dark times, the focus of support for the Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan is in assisting him in his re-entry and securing him meaningful employment. Not only is finding a job an important condition of Daniel’s being in the half-way house — in addition to his supervised release once he is done with his sentence — but it is also extremely important to Daniel himself, who joins thousands of other ex-prisoners who struggle to find employment because of their prior records.
Lots of people are looking for work these days, and it’s a daunting task for anyone. However, while Daniel is as highly-motivated and hard-working as many others seeking employment, it is obvious that he faces serious hurdles in getting a job because of his conviction. Daniel is a warm, intelligent, passionate, and dedicated person and he would love to find employment at a place that is doing work he cares about and finds meaningful. Over the years many of you have asked how you can help — helping Daniel find such a job would be the most important thing you could ever do for him.
HELP DANIEL FIND A JOB:
In addition to having a Bachelor’s degree, Daniel completed a paralegal course as well as every continuing education and vocational course available (over 25!) while in prison despite limited opportunities for education, as well as frequent moves. He is extremely driven and has a broad skill-set that he is looking to utilize at a NYC-based, non-profit organization. Much of Daniel’s career experience from 1997 onward is within the non-profit world he has ample experience in development/fundraising, communication and IT positions. Daniel has a particular interest in working as a paralegal for civil liberties organizations but would welcome and appreciate work in any of these fields/areas:
*Civil liberties/Free speech
*Harm reduction/Drug policy
If you work for a NYC-based non-profit, have a close friend, partner or contact at one, or have a specific organization in mind that might be open to hiring Daniel, we’d love to hear from you!
All emails can be directed to email@example.com
Please put “jobs” in the subject line.
His resume will be made available upon request.
**Daniel is still in prison, in the CMU, and will be until the end of 2012.**
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Here are the winners of the December 7th raffle. We’ve already been in touch with the winners but if you see your name and haven’t heard anything, let us know.
Congrats and thanks!!
Will P Pie Any Means Necessary
Carey S BORF Print
Kathleen M The Will of the Many
Ryan O Winds From Below
Joe S Certain Days Calendar
Ryan K If A Tree Falls DVD; Combustion Books Pack
Beve C Pie Any Means Necessary; If A Tree Falls DVD
Evan W Compassion Buttons
Michael V Compassion Buttons
Compasson Co. Daniel Shirt – Purple L
Dylan P Bluestockings T-Shirt; Elektra KB Art
Ethan W Bluestockings membership; Book Thug Nation Gift Certificate
Yuri C Live Scribe; Recipes for Disaster
Nikki C Work; Signal: 1
John O IFC Membership; Firebrands
Josue M If A Tree Falls DVD; Celebrate People’s History
Anastasia C Dr. Bronners Gift Basket; Boom! DVD
John Eberhardt Notes; Let Freedom Ring
Nikki K Eco-Warriors
Karen O Agriculture and Food in Crisis
Michelle D Fifth Estate Subscription; If A Tree Falls DVD
Cindy Toward Climate Justice
Olga N Eberhardt Zine Pack; JustSeeds Organizer
Jay Spectacle Theater Tickets
Deborah D Green is the New Red
Eliza C Book Thug Nation Gift Certficate
Meil E Quagmire; Acupuncture by Famous
Lana P Wilder Brook Farm Maple Syrup
Smokey We Interrupt This Empire
Benjamin P Eberhardt Notes; Daniel T-Shirt
Sangamithra I Support Daniel Water Bottle
J G Certain Days Calendar; Eberhardt Book Pack
Willie L If A Tree Falls DVD; 4Struggle Mag Subscription
Tom G Oppose and Propose
Dave R Paper Politics
Ainsley B Eberhardt Notes
Janine Suffled How It Gush
Spencer S Combustion Books Pack
Molly G Burning Books Gift Certificate
Melissa M Pie Any Means Necessary
Dayna Mittens; Boom!
Karen F We Interrupt This Empire
Sideshow Sparrow Shirt
Leah T Compassion T-Shirt
Julie R Daniel Water Bottle
Vera B Daniel Water Bottle
Stavros C Eberhardt Book Pack
Mirza Fifth Estate Subscription
Catherine F Sparrow Media T-Shirt
Harry N Pie Any Means Necessary
Nicolas U Uses of a Whirlwind
Monday, March 2nd, 2009
I’ve decided to post the blog entries on the site again. There’s nothing new up but at least you can read the older entries.
Thanks for the support,
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
It is an unfortunate fact but during the course of my legal case, my codefendants and I received very little organizational support from the environmental and social justice movements. While prisoner support groups like ELPSN (UK) and ABCF and legal organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights were quick to extend their solidarity, the environmental movements’ silence was palpable. Other than Forest Ethics and some Earth First! groups, there was nothing but private support offered; an inability to organize a response to the terrorist enhancement and at worst, condemnation offered from NGO heavyweights, Rainforest Action Network, Ruckus Society and Greenpeace. While this speaks volumes about our movement’s conception of solidarity and the discomfort expressed by non-profit organizations in dealing with cases of property destruction, this is beyond the scope of this blog entry. One group that did not act like the previously named groups and went well beyond the call of duty is the Civil Liberties Defense Center based out of Eugene, Oregon.
A tiny, young organization funded by environmental lawyer and activist (and I’m proud to say, a good friend of mine) Lauren Regan, the CLDC had the Operation Backfire defendants’ backs from day one. During the chaotic weeks following the first wave of arrests in December 2005, the CLDC made valiant attempts to find lawyers for all the defendants and quickly became a hub for families of defendants, lawyers and media contacts. Sitting in Lane County Jail, just 3 blocks from their office, I took solace knowing there were local lawyers advocating for us, keeping everyone well informed through conference calls and providing a local and long-term perspective (being that they lived in Eugene during the time of the conspiricy 1996-2001).
As the case progressed, I was freed on bail, returned to New York and relied on the CLDC’s extensive court reports and posting of legal documents. I devoured the court reports and was able to determine which codefendant started to cooperate at which time and better determine my chances of success at trial. When people ask me what it is that defendants in those cases need, I reply that it’s the unglamorous and tedious work that the CLDC does, sitting in court for hours concentrating hard and taking copious notes, getting those court reports and analysis posted on sites like Portland Indymedia, monitoring databases for relevant court documents, legal research, setting up a local media collective and press strategy and visiting people regularly at the jail. The support was invaluable with the preparation of my defense and helped my wife, family and NYC support group make sense of the case and develop solid and powerful defense strategies.
Now, don’t mistake the CLDC for some large, well-funded outfit based on their impressive resume. They are a few lawyers, an office and a dedicated crew of volunteers operating on a shoe-string budget. Since I have been imprisoned, I have relied on their work to keep up on Green Scare cases like Briana Waters and the campaign to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The CLDC is one model of how an organization can provide support for complex legal cases and free the defendants and their families to deal with the pressure of the case itself.
Please support the CLDC with their ongoing work if you are able. On their site, cldc.org, you can make a donation or send a check to them at Civil Liberties Defense Center/ 259 East 5th Avenue, Suite 300 A/ Eugene, Oregon 97401. Don’t forget— if you are arrested for an offense like mine or face a grand jury subpoena, do not hesitate to call the CLDC at 541.687.9180 or the NLG’s hotline at 888-NLG-ECOLAW.
Many contacts were made by my support group to RAN and Ruckus Society directly through email, to people on RAN’s board of directors and informally to staff of both organizations. RAN, at least, expressed support privately. Board member Jodie Evans, in particular, expressed support and committed to raising this issue with her executive director. A staff member of RAN commited to writing a letter from RAN regarding the terrorist enhancement issue and never did. Ruckus Society members/staff never once responded to emails, informal contacts, or info packets sent to them. Greenpeace’s director, John Pascantando, took it further condemning us publically— you can read a criticism of that statement in an article by Michael Donnelly on Counterpunch.org from 2006.
What is sad is that defendants in this case had professional relationships with RAN and Ruckus. I had worked on the Mitsubishi, Home Depot and U’wa campaigns RAN organized, getting arrested while committing civil disobedience and dedicating countless hours to these campaigns. I attended two of Ruckus Society’s action camps including the ‘Globalize This’ pre-Seattle/WTO camp with many of my codefendants. We also worked with the Direct Action Network to some extent in the months leading up to the WTO protests in 1999 (DAN was partially a creation of RAN, Ruckus Society, and other groups). Additionally, a fugitive in my case was a former trainer for Ruckus and local organizers in Seattle, employed by RAN, and dealt with harrassment and search of their former residence by the FBI related to this case. The links were many but the support from these groups was sorely lacking.
The CLDC’s involvement begins well before December 7, 2005— the day of the first arrest in Operation Backfire. Lauren Regan represented an early target of the investigation in 2000/01 and participated in community efforts to protect the individuals who had received grand jury subpoenas.
Monday, April 14th, 2008
There have been many updates since my last dispatch regarding the various legal cases that comprise the Green Scare against environmental and animal rights activists in the U.S. Please show support for these people as they are all in a tough situation— either recently indicted and fighting their charges, convicted by a jury (which gives the illusion of fairness) or facing sentencing and on the way to prison. The support I received (and continue to receive) made all the difference in my outlook and helped me face the case with eyes open and head held high. My apologies for the length of this update but I think it’s important to look beyond the urgent e-mails and remember, we’re talking about people here— not just names and potential sentences.
*In February 2008, Earth First! activist Marie Mason found a GPS tracking device on her car and when she removed it, plain clothes police sprang out with guns drawn. They called her 16 year old daughter by name even questioning why her routine changed (indicating some level of surveillance). Weeks after this incident, Marie was arrested and indicted on charges related to two acts of property destruction (arson) claimed by the Earth Liberation Front in 1999. While I have not read anything about 2 of the other defendants (or a fifth person “known to the grand jury”), it appears that Marie’s ex, Frank Ambrose, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation. I remember Frank’s name from years ago when he was charged with spiking trees (an action meant to deter trees from being cut, not to harm loggers) in Indiana. I have no clue whether the indictment is true or not but I feel strongly that we support Marie as she is from our movement and has worked on environmental campaigns for years (most recently, on the campaign to stop the I-69 NAFTA superhighway). Also, like my case in Oregon, prosecutors in Michigan have trotted out the “terrorism” word to scare people and inflame public opinion against Marie. Although the fires in question were intended to destroy property and not harm people (based on a reading of the communiqué and a solid analysis of the arrest at greenisthenewred.com), the government is using the ‘T-word’ to tie the case to the nationwide anti-terrorism hoopla. Marie is currently out on bail and on house arrest and can surely use your support. To get involved contact Friends of Marie Mason, Post Office Box 19065, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219, freemarie at riseup dot net, or midwestgreenscare.org.
* Filmmaker, violin instructor and mother (of a three year old girl) Briana Waters was convicted by a jury of two counts of arson related to the May 2001 ELF arson of a genetic researcher’s office at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. The trial saw two cooperating witnesses testify against Briana and many names were dropped by both witnesses. Despite the fact that both witnesses’ potential sentence was based on the quality of their testimony against Briana, the jury believed them and found her guilty of two counts of arson (but not the destructive device count which carried a 30 year mandatory minimum). She faces 5-10 years for each count of arson and is awaiting her May 28th sentencing at FDC-Sea-Tac (having lost her detention hearing due to unsubstantiated allegations made by another informant). Being separated from family is the worst part of prison and I’m sure she can use the support. You can find her address and ways to donate at supportbriana.org, PDX IMC, or through the CLDC.
*Environmentalist Tre Arrow was recently extradited from Canada to the U.S. following a years long battle for refugee status. Tre has vigorously maintained his innocence despite three cooperating witnesses’ claims that he was involved in two arsons in 2001 (it should be noted that all three of these people did not name Tre until being questioned for hours and they all received 41 month sentences for 2 arsons— quite a low sentence). He has a large and lively support group and I expect the trial will be interesting and revealing of the U.S. government’s myopia with these prosecutions. His website has a list of needs and his current prison address at trearrow.org.
* Long time activist Rod Coronado recently pleaded to charges in San Diego, California regarding a speech he gave in which he answered questions about his past actions. Although the jury hung in his trial, the prosecution, vindictively, threatened to re-file charges or indict him on new, similar charges related to another speech he made in Washington D.C. Rod received a sentence of 1 year, 1 day and with good time should be out in ten months. This is third trip to federal prison and from his statements, it is clear he wants to put this behind him. I first got involved in prisoner support in 1997 writing and fundraising for a legal fund Rod set up and have nothing but respect for him and his contributions to the movement. If you can get your hands on his old prison zines (Strong Hearts 1-4 available from firstname.lastname@example.org) do so, or better yet, get his prison fundraiser Flaming Arrows for $10 from IEF Press Post Office Box 0372, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514 or AK Press. supportrod.org
* Eric McDavid‘s sentencing has been postponed over five times— the latest is now set for May 8th. Eric faces up to 20 years on one count of conspiracy related to an incident that never happened (but was pushed and promoted by a 19 year old hired by the FBI to monitor anarchists). Eric’s case is a perfect example of the U.S. government’s obsession with the anarchist movement and their concoction of a conspiracy that did not exist prior to their employee’s involvement. Without a doubt, Eric will need help funding his appeal. See supporteric.org to help out.
* Finally, my codefendant and friend, Jonathan Paul, not only has a new website but is writing monthly dispatches. I’m sure he’d love to hear from people and appreciate news from the movement. You can also email his support crew at friendsofjonathanpaul at yahoo dot com to see if he needs any books or magazines. Because he is housed in Phoenix, Arizona— far from his home in Oregon, donations for his wife to visit him are appreciated.
Wednesday, March 19th, 2008
(picture of Jeff and Daniel from 2005 in OSP)
On February 28th, 2008, my friend and political prisoner Jeff ‘Free’ Luers received his long-awaited sentence of 10 years by Judge Billings in Eugene, Oregon. This outcome was a long time coming— Jeff was arrested in June 2000, sentenced June 2001 and his appeal was filed January 2002. February 14, 2007 saw his sentence of 22 years and 8 months, imposed by Judge Lule Velure, thrown out. After waiting so long and feeling no faith in the so-called criminal justice system in terms of fairness, I doubted I would ever see any victory with Jeff’s case.
Jeff received an absurd sentence of nearly 23 years back in 2001 which many saw as a clear message to the movement: use property destruction as a tactic and you will be crushed. It was a message heard loud and clear just a few years later when my co-defendants were indicted in the Operation Backfire/ELF case initially charged us with crimes that could have put us behind bars for life.
I knew Free from the Eugene anarchist scene— at the time a thriving and active smattering of collectives, groups and spaces. Free did Food Not Bombs and taught self defense. We were both involved in an 8-week activist gathering called Eugene Active Existence and had mutual friends. My interactions with him were always positive and I respected his participation in the Fall Creek tree village— a tactic/style of campaigning I had become disenchanted with. When Jeff was arrested, like many of the local anarchists, I joined efforts to support him and fundraise for his legal defense. Ironically, at the same time, I was involved with the Earth Liberation Front and was participating in actions similar to what Jeff was arrested for.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, so perhaps it’s easy to say this now. Either way, events outside of Jeff’s (or my) control heavily impacted his life and legal case. Some of my co-defendants went back to Romania Chevrolet’s, in an apparent gesture of solidarity, and burned 36 SUVs in an immense and spectacular action. The second Romania arson (“Romania II”) was polarizing to say the least. Some in the activist community freaked out thinking it was a COINTELPRO-inspired set-up specifically designed to ruin Jeff’s trial. The corporate media in Eugene (specifically the Register Guard and Oregonian) offered sensational coverage implying links between Jeff and the incident.
In this climate, Jeff made the decision to have a bench trial— without a jury. The Judge would not only give the sentence (per usual) but would decide guilt or innocence. Despite major holes in the government’s arguments, the Judge (Lyle Velure) found Jeff guilty on 11 of 13 charges— including counts related to an attempted arson at Tyree Oil (an action Jeff has stated he was not involved in). Jeff was found guilty of 3 1st-degree counts of arson— one for each vehicle— which carried 7-year mandatory minimum sentences. When all was said and done, Velure handed Jeff a 22-year, 8-month sentence and Jeff was sent to a maximum security prison. It’s where he has done much of his time since that day.
There has been a lot of speculation on the impact of Romania II on Jeff’s sentence. Suffice to say, I think the action had a clearly negative impact on Jeff’s state of mind regarding his ability to win at trial, inflamed the Judge and the Romania family and polluted the potential jury pool. Everyone knew about this action in the small city of 150,000. Of course the media’s role in this is obvious but they are just doing what they do and it’s silly to assume they would do anything else [case in point, the smoke hasn’t cleared at the Woodinville, WA fires that took place at a rural development before the media and law enforcement proclaimed it an ELF action. The impact on the Briana Waters’ trial is widely assumed to have been negative.]
It is my belief that our movement(s) need to not shy away from discussions of these situations. Criticism, when done in the context of support and respect, is appropriate. It can help us move forward and give us a decent perspective on our own actions. As evidenced by the Woodinville fires (assuming it is ELF), it is apparent that we haven’t learned our lesson. Suspending any sort of discussion on whether the radical environmental movements should use arson, the question of timing and impact on others is still there. It was foreseeable, in my opinion that the second Romania arson was going to inflame and polarize Jeff’s legal situation. To see this situation (potentially) play out years later is just sad. While I know the intentions of those who did Romania II were good, we still need to face up to the impact of these actions.
Although my participation with the Romania II arson was limited to being shown the communique (and failing to have Jeff’s name removed), I felt partially responsibility. The repercussions of that action hit home for me and I decided I needed to be responsible for Jeff’s sentence. I committed to being there for him in the long haul, through every appeal and ordeal until he was released. From 2001- my arrest in December 2005, I was lucky enough to work with a variety of activists all over the world in fighting for Jeff’s freedom. Specifically, the Luers family, Break the Chain and the Friends of Jeff Luers crew were the stand-outs of that effort.
Almost 8 years later after many legal briefs, multiple prisons, a few trips to the hole, 3 international days of action/weekends of resistance and countless interviews, dispatches, articles and videos, we won. Jeff is coming home in December 2009 provided he participates in a boot camp program. While I am pissed off that Jeff wasn’t released immediately, as he should have been, I am happy he will be getting out at age 30, not 43!
Our prisoners have not always done so well upon release and have had a hard time adjusting to outside life again. It is imperative that we resolve to support people not just while they are imprisoned but in the period of adjustment when they re-enter society.
The Irish republican movement has a group called ‘Welcome Home’ (translated from Irish) that exists to provide support released political prisoners beyond the initial rush and euphoria from release. This work isn’t glamorous but it’s necessary. Finding decent housing and jobs, helping people comply with parole and probation, setting them up with clothes and some money when they get out— these are all things our communities can and should do. Jeff luckily has options in all these areas due to the hard work of activists in Eugene. He plans to go to school for green building or ecological sciences. He also plans to spend a lot of time with family and friends. His future indeed does look bright.
For me, I’m just excited my friend is coming home. While I will not be able to see him until 2015, due to my probation, its a day I look forward to. Free’s coming home— damn, that feels good to say.
I want to personally thank a few people who I have worked with over the years on Jeff’s campaign: Jenny, Leeanne, Brenton, Nadia, Priya, Chris, Lauren and John and Judy Luers.
To contribute to Jeff’s legal or release fund, go to his website at www.freefreenow.org. There’s a paypal button there or you can send a check/money order.
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
It has been a while since I have sent out an update on life here at FCI Sandstone. Part of the reason for that is my life is pretty boring and I’d hate to bore you with the details – invariably, anything on the outside sounds great compared to the mundane days here! I did want to thank everyone who has written me these past couple of months and assure you that even if you don’t get a response, I do read each and every letter or postcard (more than once). The amount of letters and my other responsibilities (as well as my sore thumb from writing too much!) prevents me from responding to everyone. It is a great feeling to stand there at mail call every day and receive all these letters – with tales from the outside and news, both good and bad. I’d like to especially thank everyone who sent me cards around the holidays – which, as you may know, is a hard time for most prisoners.
Most of my letters inquire about how I’m doing. It’s a complicated answer, of course. For starters, I’m really busy working my job as an orderly 6 hours a day, working hard on my Master’s degree, working out and taking many of the classes the prison offers (such as German I or Job Skills). If anything, my time is going fast as I’ve established quite a busy routine. In here, routine is your friend. On another level, life is deeply frustrating as I watch from the sidelines as the atrocities of normalcy persist – our country’s occupation of nations far away, continued exploitation of ecosystems and every other form of life on this planet and the myopic and ‘ostrich’s head in the sand’ approach of many in our society to these issues. Cooperating codefendants in my case refuse to take real accountability for their actions choosing to instead minimized their collusion and instead point fingers at those who made significantly different choices than they did. That, I’ll address at another time, though.
My friends have been great about keeping me updated on what is going on outside in our movement(s) and society, in general. I cherish my updates on other political prisoners, environmental campaigns and the continuing developments in “Green Scare” cases. With that information though, comes the constant reminder that I am here, not out there, and my advocacy is limited to writing. One organization I am continually impressed by is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who is presently (as of this letter) in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary attempting to disrupt the pirate whalers of Japan (perhaps, ‘poach’ is the better term considering a sadly voluntary moratorium on whaling since 1986. Japan, along with Iceland, Norway and a few small island nations continue to support this slaughter of highly intelligent and sentient marine mammals). This year, there has been much drama including Japan’s refusal to release two Sea Shepherd crew members who boarded their ship with a declaration condemning Japan’s poaching. Like last year, the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, is there documenting the kill, taking photos for their lucrative direct mail campaign but as per usual, refusing to cooperate with Sea Shepherd in any way, including the sharing of coordinates. Oh my, Greenpeace – what have you become? The fight to protect Antarctic’s whales may be over by the time you read this but please check out their website and consider donating, or even better, crewing with them.
So, reading accounts of direct action against whaling and local initiatives in my home town of Brooklyn makes me itchy but I’m throwing myself into my studies and writing with renewed vigor. I have been happy to see so many other political prisoners writing publicly these days. Specifically, my codefendant and some of the Shac 7 defendants who, like me, have a blog and similar website names. Additionally, the Earth First! Journal has consistently published political prisoner writings lately focusing largely on the variety and differences of the prison experience. While I enjoy hearing all of these responses, I specifically hope to hear more from my codefendants on the debates surrounding my case and the cooperation of so many people.
Overall, I’m doing well and dealing with the cold (it hit -5 degrees last week!). Luckily, I am provided for very well by my family and friends and my stacks of books, magazines and my frequent visits are a testament to that fact. Thank you again for all of your letters and support. Please continue to support the Green Scare defendants and all political prisoners especially in the next month when we see Jeff Luers and Eric McDavid‘s sentencings and the start of Briana Waters‘ trial in February.
Friday, December 21st, 2007
This is a eulogy, two years too late, for my friend William Rodgers — known to friends, family and the movement as Avalon. Avalon took his life on December 21, 2005. This was just two weeks after our arrests in the Operation Backfire case and, by no coincidence, the Winter Solstice. In his absence, much has been made of his role in our Earth Liberation Front (ELF) group. Not surprisingly, the prosecutors in the case have painted him as a leader who recruited young, impressionable activists to do his bidding. This is not only false, but also insulting to the younger people in the case, who did get involved on their own. Snitches in the case have used his inability to respond to dramatically maximize his role in certain actions in an attempt to lesson the consequences of their own actions. One person went so far as submitting to the judge video evidence and testimony that has not been made public because it was deemed too personal for public consumption. Others on the margins have chosen to focus on Avalon’s flaws by spreading rumors or even by talking to the private investigators hired by the snitches.
I first met Avalon in the months leading up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in late 1999 and developed a friendship with him instantly. His sly grin, easygoing and warm personality and humility impressed me, and I was happy to see that this quiet, older enviro was up to more than attending the EF! gatherings at which I first saw him. His rationality and quick thinking prevented disaster for our affinity group during the Seattle protests (I’m proud to say we took part in the Black Bloc). I distinctly remember getting ready to leave Seattle, and hearing his suggestion to “keep in touch.” Well, we did keep in touch. Much has been said of what we did in the years after that, but that will be told elsewhere.
Like so many of us, Avalon suffered from depression and despair, fueled by the realization of what our species is doing the planet. Living underground, juggling details of planned actions and double lives, and eschewing many of the things that our movement allies had access to is stressful. I know because I did it, and yet Avalon’s experience in that underground life dwarfed mine. I can’t help but think that this isolation and despair were major factors in his suicide. We moved on, and yet the cruel hand of the past — in the form of old friends and a Joint Terrorism Task Force — pulled us all back into our secret histories. Maybe for Avalon, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We will never know for sure. I remember seeing his name in a list of arrestees in a New York Times article while sitting in a New York City jail. It gave me some hope — I thought we could all fight these charges together, as a group of people who had lifelong solidarity with each other, as people who honored the oaths we made to each other. Sometimes, I lie there at night asking the questions I try to avoid: Could Avalon have stemmed the tide of informing? Would he have been the person who, having known some of the snitches for much longer than I, could really reach them — beyond their fears and to their core? I’ll never know these answers, but I do know this: Avalon would rather die and make a jailbreak than cooperate in any way with this immoral and unjust process.
The prosecution, knowing only hierarchy and bureaucracy, cannot conceive of a group without a leader, a pecking order and strict rules. Without Bill around to protest and because he was older than all of us, they found their puppet master. Suddenly the so-called “book club” was his invention and was deemed a “training school for arson.” Meyerhoff and Gerlach, grand quislings that they are, had the audacity to say with a straight face that Avalon pretty much did the Vail arson all by himself. Just reading about the ski resort’s geography, the large amount of fuel that was used and Bill’s slight stature made me laugh bitterly to myself about these lies. On some level, it’s the way the game is played for snitches. The government tells them what it wants to hear, and the cooperating witnesses jump through hoops like the well-trained pets that they are. To be clear, everyone involved with these actions and the “book club” are people like you and me. We have skills — some of us excel at one thing, others of us at another. However, there was no formalized hierarchy as suggested by the prosecution, and William Rodgers was no kingpin or leader of the ELF.
Avalon, like all of us, had his flaws and made mistakes, both personally and politically, in the way he lived his life and how he resisted environmental destruction. Our group attempted to deal with one of these areas — an accusation of sexual misconduct — and I’m sorry to say that we failed, due to not being equipped with the right ideas and strategies. It is all too easy to assuage our guilt about our own shortcomings by attacking others. I think it’s a better idea to focus on what we are doing in this world, rather than criticizing people who are not here to defend themselves. I thought of this often in court when I looked at my family, seeing the pained looks on their faces as they listened to attacks on me. Bill’s family and partner have had to endure a lot of grief in the last two years.
So when I think of Avalon, I don’t believe the hype spewed by aggressive and narrow prosecutors. No, I think of a soft-spoken, caring person who would give you the shirt off his back or carry a snake off the road; an avid, even obsessive recycler; someone who supported indigenous struggles and really got the connection between Earth-based cultures and ecological action. I knew Avalon was involved in the struggle against the Mount Graham telescope, but only after his death did I find out that he and his infoshop, The Catalyst, supported the campaign to protect the San Francisco Peaks (see Earth First! Journal May-June 2005).
When snitch Jacob Ferguson recorded a conversation with me through a wiretap in 2005, I asked him how Avalon was. He lied to me (big shock!) and told me that Avalon was happy and lived in an intentional community in Canada. I remember being really happy for him and hoping to run into him again one day, but for different reasons than why we last saw each other.
Avalon has been gone two years now, and yet it still isn’t real to me. Since I haven’t seen him for years, I can’t really take it all in without getting upset. Yes, one of our own betrayed us, and that action caused the death of my friend. How do I reconcile the truth? I don’t have a good answer except to say that we need to talk about these things and confront death in our movement. We need to grieve for our friends. Most of all, we cannot forget. This is my contribution to never forgetting William Rodgers: radical environmentalist, ELF activist, cave lover and sweet, kind man. I miss you, buddy.
–As printed in the Earth First! Journal, November-December 2007 issue.
Monday, December 17th, 2007
Visits are really tough – both for the prisoner and for those coming to see their friends, brother, or spouse. I spoke recently to a friend who visited me who told me she was depressed. When I inquired why, she reported that the visit stripped her of the little things she tells herself to make the situation tolerable. This I can relate to, as it’s a coping method I use daily. Somehow, despite the circumstances of the last 2 years, I’ve become pretty optimistic, even hopeful at times. I have a plan on how to do my time, tell myself, “Hey, at least I’m in a low [security prison] – it could be worse,” calculate my good time, figure out when I’m eligible for a half-way house and what I want to do when I get out. These are good things to ponder for sure, but they also insulate – even distract – me from my life. At its core, the situation is pretty simple – I’m in prison, kept far from my family and friends, and cannot control my own life. Visits remind me of these simple facts every time.
Visits are a big deal here, and many people do not receive them. I am certainly one of the lucky ones here. When I got here, I put in a ton of effort into getting visitor forms sent out along with visiting tips, directions, motel and food info and places to visit in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The night before a visit, I’m always nervous, wondering how the visit will go. (Will I be able to find stuff to talk about? Will I remember what I want to tell them?) Sleep doesn’t come easy, but I’m up early in order to eat breakfast. The food available at visits is from vending machines (chips, ice cream, soda) and is all garbage, so I try to at least get a decent meal in. One of the many reminders of my status as a prisoner is that we are only allowed to use the bathroom once and hour – with the guards behind us. Needless to say, I try to time my early meal with my visit so as to limit any embarrassing situations to a minimum!
The first visit with anyone is awkward, at first. I haven’t seen most of my friend for four months, and I was free then, with my street clothes on. Now I come into the room with my prison khakis on, and generally, feel pretty homogenous. I realize that these little things are just that – inconsequential and irrelevant – but it’s difficult nonetheless. They allow us a hug and kiss at the beginning and end of each visit, and aside from your arm around your visitor, that’s it. It’s a reminder to me on every visit how much we all need human contact and how we relate to our friends with hugs, horseplay, and touch. What cracks me up speaking to my friends is how prison distorts my sense of the outside world. It’s another world in here, and I feel out of touch discussing the outside.
Everything in the room is a reminder to both my visitor and me that we are different – that I am an “inmate” and that my behavior needs to be regulated. The funnies part is going to the vending machine. There is a red line on the color about 3 feet from the machine, with signs reminding you every 5 feet. Because we are not allowed to handle money, the line is not to be crossed. Watching my visitors try to figure out the 70’s style coffee machine and burn their hands on the hot cups – while being stuck on the other side of the line – can be frustrating! As I alluded to before, we use a separate bathroom than visitors, and we can only use it once an hour. I say this not to complain, but to show how the little things drive home the message of where I am at every moment. It’s enough to trip away the defense mechanisms I put in place to cope. The visits are great, but, of course, when the clock strikes 3:30pm, you go one way, and your visitors go another. As a last reminder, I’m strip searched before I’m allowed back to my unit.
Overall, visits are great, and I am so lucky to get them. Being 1200 miles from home – it’s a long trek, and I’m appreciative of the effort. It’s great during the visit – sitting with friends, drinking coffee – but the entrance back to my prison life is always so jarring. Some prisoners don’t want visits, as they feel it slows their time down, I’m not sure if this is true for me, but even if it did slow the time down, I wouldn’t give them up for anything.