Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

Patrick O’Neill, i happier times.

My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.

Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.

Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon  did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.

Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.

Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)

Patrick’s solitary note.

It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:

‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul

Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)

Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . .
I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.

When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.

[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .

A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:

I was reading your book and really enjoying it (Eating Dr. King’s Dinner) before I got sick. I hope the book is still there when I get back to my unit. We’ll see. . . .Wendy, I really want to have an Alamance 7 Reunion at Buscuitville in Graham when I get out. Can I count you in?”

[Note: The “Alamance Seven” were arrested in April 2009, at a peacefully provocative protest of continuing harassment and detention of immigrants in Alamance County by the notoriously anti-immigrant Sheriff, Terry Johnson. The action featured a skit in which Patrick, dressed as an ICE agent, “arrested” another protester, garbed in green as the Statue of Liberty.

Wendy at a 2007 rally against torture in Johnston County, NC, where “torture taxi” aircraft run by the CIA were — and maybe stilll are — based.

They performed this “mini-drama”, along with four others, plus Wendy, while they blocked  the door of the Alamance County Jail. Sorry, I don’t have pictures . . .]

Sheriff Johnson is still in office, and protests continue in Alamance, about immigration issues and the presence of a prominent Confederate military monument at the county courthouse.)

The Confederate military monument, by the old Alamance County courthouse. Since this photo was taken, a high wrought iron fenced enclosure has been added around its base.

Patrick: I hope you’re both well. I’ll get over to Durham to see you guys as soon as I am able.

[NOTE: I also send him copied news clips. Not the latest headlines (all those will be old news by the time they get to eastern Ohio on the broken down USPS pony express). Instead, other things; offbeat, upbeat, sometimes funny. . . .

Washington Post: “If confirmed [former Congresswoman Deb] Haaland would not only be the first Native American to serve as interior secretary — she would also be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

Washington Post, February 10: “Weeks after Democrats took control of Congress and the White House, a Black lawmaker is making a renewed push for a national commission to examine the impact of slavery and reparations for descendants of millions of enslaved Africans.

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, announced the reintroduction of H.R. 40 to create the reparations commission last month, and next week the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is set to hear testimony on the bill. . . .

Thanks for the fun reading material, Chuck. Great articles – glad to have them in solitary.

Peace, love & Blessings, Patrick

Weeks in solitary, then Covid and quarantine. Many months more to go. The missiles in Georgia are still there.

A long Lenten journey indeed. One day at a time, Patrick.  And time for me to go put some more clips together.

NOTE: If you’d like to write to Patrick, send it to:

Patrick  O’Neill # 14924-018
Federal Correctional Institution
P. O. Box 10
Lisbon OH 44432

Can’t send money, and keep in mind that letters are previewed by prison staff. Several of mine were rejected because they had changed Patrick’s number, and news of that was slow getting out.

2 thoughts on “Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole”

  1. Thanks for this, Chuck. Your friend sounds like a real keeper. I hope I can be in touch with him as well. Mickey E.

    1. Muriel, thanks for your interest. I’m sure Patrick would be pleased to hear from you. It may not be easy for him to write back, with limited access to materials. But be in touch!

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