My Commie Pinko Uncle In Jail

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Friends and strangers: my Uncle Ken went to jail, so I thought I'd tune you in to his story, or at least my take on it. My uncle is a "Prisoner of Conscience", which is about as close as a rich white man can come to being a political prisoner in the United States. The difference, of course, is that he caused himself to be put there as a protester, trying to draw attention to other, less fortunate political imprisonments and murders in Central America. (For the record, he his not actually a commie. His humanitarian efforts are often viewed with great suspicion, however.) Ken, a minister from Tuscon, Az., was sentenced to 6 months in prison and a $3K for his participation in a protest at Fort Benning, Ga. He is part of a group called the SOA watch, a group dedicated to exposing and shutting down a U.S. military operation known as The School Of The Americas, which is a military training program for our "allies" in the Latin America. The SOA Watch recently made the mainstream press by leaking instructional manuals from the SOA which advocated "blackmail, torture and the arrest of anti-American politicians"(NY Times), and they maintain a list of known human-rights abuses perpetuated in Latin America by SOA graduates. The link above is to their web page. It's extreme in tone, rarely referring to the SOA by its given name once they've established the "School Of Assassins" moniker. Knee-jerk right-wing people, you have been warned! For the other side of the story, however, here is the official web page for the SOA(Gone! I wonder why they moved it?). I found it to be pretty educational; it is complete with a waving flag, the national anthem playing in the background, and a fluttery article about a recent assault on the SOA by a protester "throwing propaganda pamphlets everywhere with total disregard for innocent bystanders." Oh help, help! Of additional interest is how they work God in on their side in the same article.

Politics, of course, is a quagmire, which is why I killed a slightly longer essay on this subject (although I might finish it later). Depending on which way your knee jerks, or if you just want to know more, you can review a few links I've condensed from the shouting on the subject for your own information. Most are from the SOA Watch page, although there is still the occasional story in the Mainstream.

A pretty good single page description of the SOA Watch's Position in a news summary of one of the Pentagon's earliest's admissions of guilt.

A similar summary stated in financial terms, in a news summary of the failure of congressional efforts to end funding of the SOA

A Boston Globe article reporting on the Pentagon's supposed transformation of the mission of the school from anti-communism to the drug war. Not exactly a reassuring thought, but the article is surprisingly candid and clear in presenting both (non-converging) viewpoints.

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(Several weeks since my last update). Ken seems to be fitting in well at the prison facility he was transferred to. Among the highlights mentioned in his last letters: participating in the wide religious diversity among his fellow prisoners, learning a useful job skill as he busses tables in the kitchen facilities, working on various poems. At one point recently the warden announced that any letters to him addressed to "Reverend" Kennon would not be delivered (he receives quite a lot of mail). Regardless of what he may have been called on the outside, he was told, while he is incarcerated he is only "Prisoner" Kennon. As a result of this, he is now called almost exclusively "Reverend" by his fellow prisoners.

Last week, Uncle Ken, along with another fellow protester, reported for his incarceration at a minimum security facility at Fort Bliss, which is near El Paso, Texas. That's right, he was required to report to a military base as part of his punishment for trespassing on one. Thanks to a surprisingly effective PR campaign, about 1,000 people showed up to watch the two of them report for their sentences, and the event made the local evening news on all four networks. This apparently made the base commander at Fort Bliss pretty nervous, because after a day or two he was quietly and suddenly transferred to another minimum security base several miles away.

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