1 May 2003
Nuns leave jail until sentencing over peace protest at missile silo
By Charlie Brennan,
Rocky Mountain News


Photos By Maria J. Avila News
Mary Casper, left, of Denver, holds the hand of Sister Ardeth Platte as Sister Carol Gilbert says grace Wednesday at the Denver Diner. The nuns were having their first meal after leaving the Clear Creek County Jail.

Sister Cecily Jones, left, greets Sister Jackie Hudson outside Denver's federal courthouse after the nun signed a personal recognizance bond Wednesday.
Now that three activist Dominican nuns face lengthy prison terms, they're finally accepting a brief fling with freedom.

Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson and Ardeth Platte could have been free six months ago on personal recognizance bonds, after their Oct. 6 arrests for vandalizing a Minuteman III nuclear missile silo in rural northeastern Weld County.

They described their act, which included cutting through security fencing and pouring their own blood on the missile silo lid in the shape of crosses, as the symbolic disarmament of what they believe to be illegal weapons of mass destruction.

All that would have been required from them in order to go free last fall was to sign an agreement to stay out of trouble until their trial. But they wouldn't do so when federal prosecutors first made the offer. Primarily, they said, it was because their political consciences could very well motivate them to engage in further civil disobedience.

And so, through birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, they sat in the tiny Clear Creek County Jail - the Federal Detention Center in Englewood can't accommodate female prisoners - when freedom could have been theirs for a signature.

They were tried in U.S. District Court in Denver last month and all three were convicted of damaging government property and interfering with national defense.

Their prison terms could range from four to eight years.

With the July 25 sentencing date looming, Hudson, 68, Platte, 66, and Gilbert, 55, finally signed their personal recognizance bonds Wednesday morning. No member of the U.S. attorney's office attended the brief court session.

Ten minutes after putting their signatures to paper, the nuns were breathing the bracing spring air outside the federal courthouse.

"I long for silence. I long for darkness," said Gilbert, naming two luxuries hard to come by behind bars. "And I'd love a really good piece of whole-wheat, multigrain bread."

The sisters said they wanted freedom for the three months before sentencing because they have unfinished business:

They want to spend time and pray with members of their religious communities.

They hope to visit with elderly friends who are dying.

They want to rid themselves of the few belongings they have, giving clothes and other items to the poor. They want to address personal medical needs.

And, they want to give their thanks to those who supported them the past six months.

Gilbert, Hudson and Platte will make several public appearances, including a talk planned for Wednesday night at the First Mennonite Church in Denver.

They likely will appear on at least one far larger stage, as well.

Defense attorney Walter Gerash, who on Wednesday sported a garnet beret bearing the slogan "Paz con dignidad" - Spanish for "Peace with dignity" - confirmed that the nuns have agreed to give interviews in the next few days with Bill Moyers, host of the popular PBS program Now.

Asked if their planned appearance on national television was one reason for the timing of their decision to leave jail, Gerash said, "No. Hell, no."

When the nuns signed their bond sheets, Hudson at first amended her promise to remain law-abiding while free with the words "as conscience allows."

U.S. District Magistrate Boyd Boland told Hudson that wouldn't work; her vow had to include no ifs, ands or buts, he said. She then agreed to strike the phrase.

Outside the courthouse, she said that means she'll have to skip on participating in a May 13 protest at a Trident submarine base in Bangor, Wash., near her home of Bremerton. Probably.

"That would be a temptation," she admitted. "But if there is something that comes up that I can't live with, then I will suffer the consequences for my actions."

Hudson is affiliated with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Poulsbo, Wash. Gilbert and Platte are members of Jonah House, a religious-based peace activist community in Baltimore, founded by Philip Berrigan, the renowned peace activist who died in December.

Although convicted by a jury, the nuns don't consider themselves guilty.

"Before God, we have standing," said Platte. "That's where it counts. It's not here that matters."

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( Other reports on 3 ploughshares nuns here )

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