Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The American Dream Book Tour #2

SHELDON, IOWA — Hello all.

I am home this weekend for Easter, watching the Red Sox and Rangers on Sunday Night baseball.
I was in Lincoln, Omaha, Wayne, Sioux Falls since writing last.

Lots of memories in Omaha. Ruth and I lived there during much of the 1980s in a resistance community in north Omaha called Greenfields, named after the anti-war song The Greenfields of France.

"Oh how do ya do young Willie McBride. Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside." I think I carved that into my cell in Terre Haute Penitentiary while I was there for three weeks waiting transfer to El Reno, Leavenworth and La Tuna.

Terre Haute. "Dog-ass Terre Haute" somebody on the prison bus said as we pulled within sight. We had come from Chicago and stopped at Marion earlier in the day to pick up a couple of guys bound for Leavenworth after years in lockdown at Marion. Or maybe Marion came after Terre Haute. Not sure that I remember anymore. 'Scuse me.

You get out of the prison bus and you walk up toward the big brick penitentiary, through the guard towers and the shotguns and rifles. And you know that none of it has to do with right and wrong. It has to do with we are bigger than you and we could give a shit about thou shall not kill and the poor and any of that shit and we will kill you if you get out of line and run toward home and your son and your wife.

And 'scuse me, but that walk up from the prison bus to the big brick walls of Terre Haute Penitentiary is where I formed a good deal of my opinion of America. Even days and weeks and years spent in hot and cold classrooms, wooden desks and Formica desks, listening to Sister Anita and, Lucy, Monique and Luellan, studying American History and religion and English and hygiene, from impressive, hard cover textbooks made in Texas could not compare.

The guns were pointed at me. My son was sitting at home in Nebraska looking out the window wondering when I was coming home.

America. It is big and it will kill you. It is mean. It is rich. It is obnoxious. It is beautiful. It has people capable of stopping their car in rush hour traffic to move a baby bird to the grass, or of looking the other way for forty years while people suffer and suffer and finally die.

America. A big, red brick walled country.

But, shit, the people who will stop in traffic for the little bird are far and few between, while the ones who will take money to build big, red brick walls are lined up from here to the hardware store.

Anyway ... Omaha.

Dog-ass Omaha.

I went to jail for the first time in Omaha, along with the second, third, fourth and fifth times.

I went to seminary from Omaha, too.

Took the bus, Greyhound, from Norfolk, to meet the bishop. Then up to Saint Paul where I met Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a priest who said there were better things than becoming a priest, such as working for peace and for justice and the poor, and I believed him. I still do.

During the summer I got my teeth cleaned back home in Norfolk, and I guess I liked clean teeth, so I ended up marrying the dental hygienist. We moved to Omaha and moved into Greenfields.

I wrote a letter to Archbishop Daniel Sheehan asking him what he thought of Offutt Air Force Base, home of the Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for the targeting of all of America's nuclear weapons. Sheehan said the targeting was cool with him and the Catholic Church. Threatening all those people with murder was cool, spending all those billions of dollars on weapons and not on the poor people of
north Omaha was cool with the bishop and the Catholic Church.

So I made up my own little sign.

It said "The Omaha Catholic Church Supports SAC — Why?"

I picketed outside the bishop's offices on Dodge Street, inside his offices, outside the Masses of the jillion Catholic churches in Omaha. I went on a hunger strike once inside Douglas County Correctional Center to try to get the bishop to say "thou shall not kill." I once stood in front of the congregation at St. Cecilia's Cathedral while the bishop gave his Easter homily, holding my sign.

I once took sanctuary inside the Cathedral, went there instead of going to federal court for an Offutt protest, again asking, demanding that the bishop say "thou shall not kill." He raised a strong chin, firmly placed his red bishop's cap on his head and smoothed his gold-laced, ankle-length robes and said, of course, he would not.

I decided not to let the FBI take me — they were all around the church — one was posing as a stations-of-the-cross sayer inside the church.

While a friend held a diversionary press conference on the front steps I pulled a sweatshirt hood over my head and threw a black garbage sack over my back and walked out a side door, took out the Cathedral garbage, and hopped into the car my wife had left for me in the parking lot.

Ruth and I and our young son were on the run from the FBI for about two nerve-wracking weeks, staying in the cabin of a sympathetic priest, at the mother house of a local religious order, in a friend's apartment, out at her family's farm in South Dakota.

Then I ended up giving myself up at a press conference, again at the Chancery, the bishop's office, after which my wife and son went home alone. I went to Douglas County Correctional Center, where I went crazy, insane, clinically depressed, from missing my young son ... and the bishop ... he went golfing.

Dog-ass Catholic Church.

It is big and it will kill you.


Blogger Lyle Daggett said...

The posts of letters from Mike Palacek / Placek / Palacheck (not sure which is the right spelling of the three used here) are great. He's a hell of a writer. It's great that you're posting these here.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Partisanpoet said...

Thanks for pointing out the spelling errors. I fixed them. He is a very fine writer.

9:06 PM  

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