4 May 2003
Nuns glad to trade comfort for jail time
By Diane Carman
Denver Post


The sisters have a confession to make.

While Ardeth Platte, Jackie Hudson and Carol Gilbert are comfortable with their vow of poverty, they are not above savoring a few luxuries. The glorious feeling Wednesday night of laying their heads on clean, white pillowcases in a quiet house with the lights out after seven months in the Clear Creek County jail was, well, almost sinful.

The Dominican nuns will have nearly three months of such exquisite comforts before they are incarcerated again. On July 25, they will be sentenced to federal prison for obstructing national defense and damaging public property.

"We will joyfully accept the consequences of our civil resistance," Platte said.

The sisters admit to having been surprised by the guilty verdict last month. That snipping a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding a Minuteman III missile, praying and making crosses with their own blood could be considered acts of sabotage seemed ridiculous.

"I believe under the laws of the land and international law, we are not guilty," Gilbert said.

"There's no question," Platte said, "if we had a legal trial, we would have been acquitted. We had a political trial.

"We are political prisoners."

But the guilty verdict has not left them defeated. "You can jail the resister, but you can't jail the resistance," Platte said.

In fact, as with the Tibetan Buddhist nun Ngawang Sangdrol, the longest-held political prisoner in modern China, prison may turn out to be the ultimate pulpit for Hudson, 68, Platte, 66, and Gilbert, 55.

While imprisoned in their basement cell in Clear Creek County, they received thousands of letters from supporters around the world.

"In one week, we got letters from South Africa, Ireland, Italy, France, Nicaragua, Honduras, Australia and New Zealand," Hudson said. And they wrote almost as many back, with friends posting messages on websites and in newsletters everywhere.

They also became so close to their fellow inmates and guards that there were tears and hugs all around when the women left.

"Like Nelson Mandela, who befriended the person who jailed him," Platte said, "we offered our lives there as one little sample of what the world can be."

But just exactly what is this world they seek?

The sisters preach and live a philosophy of nonviolence, simplicity, community, economic justice in which "all 6.3 billion people of the world have their basic human needs met," and environmental sensitivity "where we are friends of creation."

They pray. They teach. They raise food in a garden, and then they give it away.

So you wonder, at a time when war supposedly has never been more popular, more exhilarating for Americans, are they simply out of touch?

"I really don't believe that a majority of people in America or in the world support war deep in their hearts," Gilbert said. "Given the response we've had from all over the world, something does not quite jibe."

Americans, they say, have been duped.

"Our society lives on sound bites," Hudson said. "Many Americans are simply misinformed. I've read polls that say a majority of people believe that Saddam Hussein had everything to do with 9/11. People actually believe those were Iraqis flying those planes."

Gilbert reached across the table in an instinctive gesture of friendship. "I'm sorry to have to say this to you, but the major news media in this country are in collusion with the government in promoting this war."

Regardless of their beliefs and the devotion to conscience that brooks no compromise, the prospect of up to eight years in federal prison is still daunting to the women.

"We have to take it one day at a time," Platte said. But "sacrifice is essential. To sacrifice means to make sacred. We are trying to make our cause sacred."

The martyr Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador called it "the planting of seeds," said Hudson, who is the eldest of the three. "The seed must die to bring new life. What our sacrifice inspires gives new life to others. It's unseeable to us. But we know it will be there. It's a matter of faith."

That John Suthers, U.S. attorney for Colorado - "he's a Roman Catholic," Hudson said, "a graduate of Notre Dame" - celebrated their conviction disturbs them. They pray for him, just like they pray for President Bush.

But they have no doubt about their righteousness. "While we were in jail, we heard from the master general of the Dominican Order in Rome," Gilbert said. "He wrote us a magnificent letter. He talked about our 'powerful preaching."'

So, I wondered, as the women relaxed in the comfortable convent house in northeast Denver and prepared for what could be a life sentence in prison, would you do it again?

"Absolutely," said Platte. "Absolutely."

"This is not just a whim," she said. "This is a life."

( Other reports on 3 ploughshares nuns here )

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