83-Year-Old Activist Priest Held in Solitary Confinement in Federal Prison

From SolitaryWatch:
Jan 23 2012
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Jesuit priest and peace activist Father Bill Bichsel is reportedly being held in solitary confinement at SeaTac Federal Detention Center south of Seattle. According to friends, Bichsel has not eaten solid food since January 10 in protest of his treatment.

Fr. Bichsel, known to friends and colleagues as “Bix,” is a member of the Disarm Now Plowshares group. He has been arrested several times in connection with nonviolent civil disobedience at military bases, nuclear weapons manufacturers, and the School of the Americas. Most recently, he served a three-month sentence at SeaTac for a July 2010 action at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, future site of a new nuclear weapons plant.

On January 10, Bichsel was moved to a halfway house in Tacoma. According to the Disarm Now Plowshares blog, he was told that the facility had a rule prohibiting visitors for the first 72 hours of residency. But on the evening of his arrival, a pair of Buddhist monks and a small group of students, on their way to a local protest, “made a small detour and stopped by the house Bix was in, to drum and pray for him outside the building for a few minutes.” The blog continues:

Bix was very happy to see and hear all who came to visit and wanted either to invite everyone in or go out and be with them. He had a strong sense they were angels, which gave him intense joy. He went onto comment that “it was so right they should be there.”

His captors on the other hand had a slightly different experience. First reprimanding him for being out of compliance (whatever that meant), he was told he was going to be “written up” and what happened was to be “reported.” The rest is history – in early morning he was suddenly awakened, grabbed out of bed, shackled, and returned to SeaTac by the marshals.

Their actions and manner of treatment made it known to him how he would proceed. Upon his arrival at SeaTac he made it clear he intended to be in complete non compliance with their demands; their recourse, which was to be expected, would be to place him in “protective custody or the special housing unit (SHU)”…“the hole”!

Bichsel, who suffers from circulation problems as well as a heart condition, reported to friends that it was “very cold for me all of the time” in his SHU cell at SeaTac, and that he was going “24 hours a day without sleep, fighting off the chill. I have asked for a jacket or a pillow or a mattress; they do not comply.” After supporters held a candlelight vigil outside of the prison last week, he was provided with additional blankets.

According to an article in the National Catholic Reporter, “A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said that while he couldn’t comment on the case of a specific inmate, he did say that the ‘typical issue’ for all inmates in the federal system is a blanket and sheet, and that there is a ‘full health services staff on duty at all of our facilities.” A public information officer for the BOP told the paper: “’If we receive information either from the inmate or the inmate’s doctor on the street that there was some sort of pre-existing condition that was being treated, obviously we would pick up the ball from there.’”

Several other religious peace activists have been held in solitary confinement at the SeaTac SHU in recent years. They include members of a group of others (all of them over 60 years old) who in 2009 broke into the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base outside Seattle, where nuclear submarines are kept. At their trial for trespassing and conspiracy, the judge criticized the defendents’ “lack of remorse” and called their protest “a form of anarchy” that could lead to a “breakdown in the social order.”

According to fellow activist Blake Kermer, who visited Bichsel on Saturday, “Bix wants everyone to know that as he continues on his fast – yesterday was his eleventh day – that he feels stronger and more confirmed in his resolution…Bix says that Christians can unite in conscience where God speaks to all of us, to abolish nuclear weapons and to oppose those policies of the US that are without conscience. This was a point that Bix was reminded of when he was taken back to the BOP and told by his jailer that his re-arrest was a matter of policy, not of conscience. Bix talked about how policy without conscience reminded him…of the White Rose and their courage in protesting Nazi policies without conscience, even though they were beheaded for their resolve.”

Disarm Now Plowshares has provided addresses for public officials to whom supporters can write, as well as the prison address of Fr. Bichsel.

83 year old Peace Activist with medical condition held in SHU with no heating (SEATAC)

“Forget about your doctor back home; I’m your doctor now.”
(a guard to a 83 year old peacemaker in federal prison)

This came to us via email. It concerns a 83 year old Jesuit monk, Bill Bichsel, aka Bix to his friends, who is a peace maker and who witnessed with his blood the naval base where nuclear weapons are stored in Washington State, Nov. 2009.

He is currently serving a sentence for another witness and pro-peace action, and he was released on what seemed like parole, a few days ago, before his final release on Feb 9th.

On his release he had to travel to a halfway house alone for hours, was not allowed to have contact with anyone for 72 hours after “release.” The following day he was returned to SEATAC, the federal prison in Washington State, for incredibly minor “violations.” What the prison does to him, is in fact criminal.

From: Blake Kremer, per email

Bix called around 2 PM today and said that he would like a visit from
me. He related to me the following:

“Found out at a hearing on Tuesday the BOP’s reason for taking him in
to custody. Brought two people in from the halfway house to describe
the incident when the monks came to greet me. I did not know the
monks were coming, but I threw them some kisses and that was it. The
next morning the marshal came and took me in to custody.

I am now on non-compliance and in the SHU. I entered in to a fast –
this is my ninth day. I am amazed at how much strength I am getting.
No food at all – just water. Every morning they bring me breakfast; I
just take two half pints of milk. I feel with all of this my spirit
feels great. It is very cold for me all of the time. I cannot sleep
at all – 24 hours a day without sleep, fighting off the chill. I have
asked for a jacket or a pillow or a mattress; they do not comply.

I am very delighted in the way that this has happened. Welcome
angels singing joy and peace is the theme that comes to me. Rejoice
Rejoice Rejoice – I loved the visit from the monks that lead to his
current imprisonment. I am where I should be. I am good.

I am cold all the time, I wear a blanket. I am in bed all the time
to stay warm.

I am deeply thankful for where I am and I feel a deep sense of god’s
presence. I would like to have others join in the fast if they want
to. There is a fast for Christian unity from 18th to the 25th. I
would like others to consider joining in or being more conscious of
our call to eliminate nuclear weapons or oppose unconscionable actions
and inhumane treatment. I told BOP that I would not comply, as a
matter of conscious. They said: this is a matter of policy not
conscience. I said: that is exactly my point. And that is what I
would like others to consider: that what is policy for some is not
acceptable for Christians.”

This is from an email from another supporter:

***Stay tuned today for information regarding a vigil in response to
prison abuse at SeaTac***

The final line of Bix’s call yesterday to Blake is what I want to
address. “What is policy for some (Bureau of Prisons) is not
acceptable for Christians.”

It is policy for prisons to deny the cries of inmate’s for basic human
needs. (See Plowshares News – May 11, 29 and 31, 2011). It is policy
for prisons to keep the environment cool/cold as well.

Bix is an octogenarian. At 83, I guarantee, our physical needs are
radically different than at 53, or even 73. In contrast, the age of
most prison guards (from my observations) is closer to 33. Supplying
additional warmth is not preferential treatment; it is simply a
rational response to basic physiology.

When Bix went into SeaTac on November 11, he brought a list of his
medications and a letter from his primary care physician. The bulk of
the letter related to Bix’s overall medical condition and needs; but,
it was prefaced by a cover letter specifically addressing Bix’s need
for extra clothing and warmth due to coronary and circulatory
deficits. His doctor explained, in detail, how painful it would be to
Bix if his extremities are subjected to ongoing cold. This letter is
in the medical file at SeaTac. It is being ignored.

Earlier this year, in response to a medical request from Bix, a guard
cut off the conversation to say, “Forget about your doctor back home;
I’m your doctor now.”

Yes, guards and administrators in jails and prisons can treat inmates
inhumanely simply because they can; but, it also seems that the milieu
of prison life is geared toward punishment. At the Knox County
Sheriff’s Detention Facility, where Bix was imprisoned in Knoxville, a
long document that listed the purposes of the facility was posted on
the bulletin board. The first 2 items on the list were their statement
of ownership and the mission statement of delivering “punishment.”

Whether or not jail and prison administrators are directly complicit
in the day to day cruelty of those they supervise; they are answerable
for maintaining an environment that caters to punishment, rather than
rehabilitation. By dehumanizing inmates, whether at Abu Ghraib or the
Podunk County jail, administrators at the top give tacit approval to
soldiers/guards all the way down the line to be creative in their
punishments.

It is important for us to voice disapproval of Bix’s cruel treatment.
Please take a few minutes today to let people on the list below know
that the community cannot tolerate this treatment of Bix or of any of
the 824 prisoners held at SeaTac today. If you know of others who
should hear from us, please contact them and then send me a note –
I’ll add your suggestions to the list. The more letters we get out,
the more likely someone with compassion will intervene.

Contact your government representatives

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Also:

Charles E. Samuels, Jr.
Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First St., NW,
Washington, DC 20534
Office hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern time
Monday through Friday
For general information, call 202-307-3198.

Willie Jusino, Warden
Federal Detention Center SeaTac
P.O. Box 13901
Seattle, WA 98198
Phone: 206-870-5700
Fax: 206-870-5717

Marion Feather, Warden,
SeaTac Federal Detention Center
mxfeather@bop.gov.

Terry McGuire
The Catholic Northwest Progress
710 9th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
Terry.McGuire@seattlearch.org
Phone: 206-382-4560
Fax: 206-382-4840

The News Tribune
P.O. Box 11000, Tacoma, WA 98411
Phone: 253-597-8742
David A. Zeeck
Publisher & President
(253) 597-8554
david.zeeck@thenewstribune.com

The Seattle Times
PO Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111
Newsroom: (206) 464-2200
Newsroom fax: (206) 464-2261
Newsroom and Seattletimes.com staff
Main: (206) 464-2111
Accepts letters of up to 200 words at opinion@seattletimes.com.