25th Dec 2005
I finally got to visit Diane in Victoria jail on Fri the 23rd. I was accompanied by Ann Wright, former deputy ambassador to Mongolia, who resigned in protest to the war in Iraq. Ann and Diane were brought together by their recent organising efforts at Camp Casey in Crawford, TX.
Fortunately, Diane had phoned me the previous day and even though it was barely a three minute conversation, we managed to catch up enough to be able to make some progress during the visit. In the 45 mts allotted to us, we discussed the events leading up to her transfer to Victoria, her current condition, her plans, can & can’t dos in prison, strategies to support her work and a long to do list that’s going to keep me busy for the next several weeks! : )
1. She was arrested on Mon evening, 5th of Dec at Houston & transferred to Victoria late afternoon on Fri the 9th. In all that time, she was never brought before a judge. She was unable to call her attorney because the phones wouldn’t work. Jail authority’s response to her complaint about the phones was met with “it’s not our problem”. She was constantly moved from one cold detention block to another. And the worst part, subjected to humiliating and dehumanizing treatment by the female jailors. I had already heard about some of it from her sister and phoned her lawyer to take legal action against the prison. He was unwilling to do anything until he got the facts directly from her. He also seemed to think that this was something that could wait until after she got out. Diane’s response was, “That was the most outrageous thing that’s ever happened to me in prison. And I’ve been arrested dozens of times, I should know! I’ve a sense now of how people in concentration camps must have felt…stripped of their dignity & treated like animals. And these were people who have just been picked off the streets on traffic violations, maybe suspicion of a misdemeanor…they have not been charged or indicted or even brought before a judge! How can these people be expected to go back into the world with anything less than hate and disgust for cops?!” She most certainly wants to file a complaint but she prefers not having to go through the debasing details with the attorney. She requested that I write it and mail it to her for her approval. Meanwhile, she will call the attorney and ask him to assist me in pursuing the matter. Need I say that I am having a traumatic time writing it?
2. She has been visited by two members of the Green Party who are keen to have her run for the General Land Office which is part of the Railroad Commission. She’s thinking over the proposal. They’ve also sent her a copy of M L King’s letters written from the Birmingham prison. She found them inspiring and wants more reading material on the same lines.
3. I briefed her on our last conference call about the campaign & media strategy around her imprisonment. She said she would think about the various options and get back to us.
4. She has been granted the privileges of receiving paperbacks directly from publishers & also stores such as amazon.com. However, I suggest that we coordinate our book-mailing efforts so she’s not flooded with too many of them. She’s sharing a cell with 5 to 9 other women with one toilet in the center. Being the only one allowed to have books might backfire on her. We may also end up pissing off the jail admin. I’ll send out the list of titles that a couple of us picked & ordered from all the ones that you all recommended.
5. Phone calls
She can call out 4 to 5 times per day. I’ve been able to receive her collect calls without having to set up that account I mentioned earlier. She was very hesitant to call anyone even though I had sent her a bunch of numbers. “I don’t want to bother anyone”, was how she framed it. I tried my best to convince her that folks like Jodie, Sanford, Alice, Margo, Gary, Leslie, Diana C, Catherine,… to name a few, were desperate to hear from her.
6. She was excited about the radio interview & conf call idea. I’ll need about a week’s notice to inform her about the date, time and number. My mail usually reaches her latest by the third business day.
7. We went over all the financial details of her bail, funds raised, expenses & balance in the commissary account. (Btw, Jodie, she hadn’t recd ur note & check by Fri.) She did not want anything more b’cos there’s not much she can buy. All she wants is some peace & quiet in the cell. It’s bloody loud all day long due to the TV – only plays reruns of ‘Full House’.
8. I brought her to speed on her attorney’s fruitless negotiations so far, with the sheriff & the DA, to cut down her sentence by one-third. Her response was, “I want to start this fast like thing for change…for world peace.” I couldn’t help but groan! On the occasion of Christmas, she thought it would be good idea to begin meditating on various issues such as the war in Iraq, bringing the troops home, justice for Bhopal & the environmental tragedy plaguing her Bay and the conditions in prisons such as the one she was held at in Houston. “They’re all connected and I want to do something about all of them.” Kind of like “meditating on the human condition” I said. She shook her head vigorously and flashed that famous grin. She assured me that she would not announce it as a fast or a hunger strike to the authorities. “It will be like a religious thing. The authorities won’t mind that sort of action ‘cos it’s non-confrontational…passive. ” She would just stop consuming whatever little solid food she was on. Just stay on water, Kool Aid and coffee. I explained that it would tough to publicise it or raise any support until after New Year’s. She didn’t seem to care about that. She was more interested in discussing meditation techniques. We had recently begun exploring Vipassna for her since I have been practicing for some years and we happened to meet a wonderful Vipassna-Zen teacher at Bioneers. Someone who wanted to help me take my practice to the next level and teach Diane in a manner that would prepare her for prison. I’ve added a couple of relevant titles to her book list.
9. Ann and I gave her the day’s good news about Tom DeLay and all the bad news about Bush’s latest antics. She was very pleased about DeLay getting the fork in the back despite Cheney’s best efforts.
10. Her only complaint was the boredom. “I am making roses out of toilet paper!” And the noise. She was recently moved to a quieter cell but it’s still not quiet enough for her to write. “It certainly takes discipline. I find myself pacing all the time.” We asked if we could send some new shoes. She laughed out loud and waved the cheap prison-issued white bathroom slippers at us. After the visit, Ann and I found out the name of the official to get in touch for all inmate related issues. I think it may help if we write to this Lt. Dennis and explain that she’s not a violent criminal but a political activist. And that we would appreciate it if she can be given a quiet place to read and write. What do you all think?
From what I could tell, she’s doing alright. The only obvious thing that worried me was the way her hands were shaking. I finally asked her. She said it’s probably the coffee that she’s been consuming by the gallons! My sense is that she’s more unfocussed than before. And her memory is suffering too. Every time she’s gotten off a fast, I’ve noticed a conspicuous change for the worse. I hope we can come up with some good ideas to support her fast this time. Pls. feel free to fwd this to lists or anyone else who shd be but is not on my cc list.
P.S. Attached is the ‘Free Diane Wilson’ poster designed by Code Pink, that I held up against the glass when she first came into the visiting area. She almost fell off the chair laughing!