May 3: Jeff Dietrich and David Omondi have self-surrendered to federal authorities and are now being held at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). It is still unknown if this will be the facility where each will serve their sentence (Jeff – 4 months, David – 2 months). It is possible that one or both will be transferred to another facility. As soon as we know more it will be posted here. Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker will self-surrender on Monday, May 9, also to serve a four month sentence.
You can check Jeff, David, and Dennis’ status at this LINK. For Jeff enter: Robert J Dietrich (#81196-012), for Dennis enter: John D. Apel (#26142-112). David has been released.
If you care to write a letter of support, follow this guideline:
INMATE NAME & REGISTER NUMBER
MDC Los Angeles
P.O. BOX 1500
LOS ANGELES, CA 90053
You can read the rules for sending items at this LINK.
UPDATE AUGUST 28: Below is a letter from Tensie concerning Dennis, and a letter from Dennis.
Dear Friends, Dear Family,
As we approach Friday, September 2, we want to extend to you our gratitude and love for your faithful witness and accompaniment during these last 4 months. I was able to visit with Dennis yesterday and he looks good. He has had a cell to himself (for the first time) since Jeff left on Friday. He is tying up loose ends and expects to walk out on Friday morning. We will be there waiting for him!
I am sending along a letter he wanted you to have. I will write again once he is out and let you know.
Let us continue in prayer, hope, and action for peace and justice.
With love and gratitude,
Dear Family and Friends,
Today is Monday and as they say here, I’ve got “three days and a wake-up.” On Friday morning, September 2nd sometime around eleven o’clock in the morning I will walk out the front door of the prison that has been my home for the past four months. Oh what a journey this has been! I am grateful beyond words to be approaching the finish line.
I am aware that this will be my final correspondence with you from prison, and I’m not sure what to write. But it’s important for you to know how grateful I am for your love, prayers and support for both me and Tensie, Rozella and Thomas. The letters, cards and expressions of love have been so overwhelming and have both nourished our souls and held up our spirits. What a blessing we have in you and we thank God for you in our lives.
As a family we spent many hours in discernment before making the decision to follow our consciences and accept whatever consequences came. The scourge of nuclear weapons and the role that Vandenberg plays in that immoral and corrupt program cries out to be exposed and confronted. We knew that speaking out could have consequences and we all agreed to suffer what came because the stakes are so high for the human community. But to say that we will accept the consequences and to actually live them out are two different things. It has been hard. There have been times in the past four months when we have wished that this cup would pass. It was during those times when your faithful solidarity held us tight and brought God’s tender mercies to water our parched souls. You have been an essential part of this journey and because of that we are reassured of the rightness of our commitment.
I have been cautioned to focus on the reason I am here, the desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and to not get overly distracted by the issues around prison reform. But the fact is that our prison system is corrupt and highly discriminating and I have lived first-hand that reality. In the end, it is the same powers that would research, develop and deploy hideous weapons of indiscriminate mass murder, that also employ a harsh, dehumanizing and racially biased system of incarceration. The two are intricately woven together of the same fabric. And the very fibers of that fabric are the cynical surety of the powers that we will forever be too frightened or too busy or too attached to our lifestyles to confront them.
I have spent a considerable amount of time here in prayer. And I know that many of you have joined your prayers with mine. Although I am leaving the prison the struggle continues and my hope is that our prayers were less for me than for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Let’s continue to join our prayers and our actions and stoke the fires of love that the darkness cannot overcome. All we have is God and each other, and that is more than enough.
Thank you for being there…
UPDATE AUGUST 5: Below is a letter from Jeff.
“Dietrich, I’m gonna visit you some night.” Gabriel sits at the Latino table most evenings watching the Spanish-language TV. With a menacing look and numerous tattoos, he has the image of one who is familiar with both streets and jails. So, when he said he was going to come visit me some night, I was a little frightened.
The Latino table is near the C.O.s desk, and he was always there when I received mail each night. It is rare for an inmate to receive mail every night and even rarer to receive books. “I wanna get a book from you,” said Gabriel. I did not really know whether to be frightened or flattered. White nerdy types like myself who read are often an object of derision in an environment where some people don’t read.
I forgot about it after a few days when he did not show up. But last night he abruptly appeared, his shirtless tattooed body seeming to fill my doorway. It is customary for a fellow inmate not to violate the space of another, so he stood just outside the door. A little flustered at seeing him, I recovered my sense of hospitality and invited him into the cell and introduced him to my new cellmate.
“Robert Dietrich, can I get a book from you?” “Of course, no problem,” I said beginning to quickly pull out my relatively extensive 50-volume library. “I was looking for a philosophy book,” he said. My library tends to run towards theology and public affairs. Not sure I had what he was looking for.
He checked out Dostoevsky’s Notes From the House of the Dead and one of Dennis’ books, A Walk in the Woods. But I suggested Chris Hedges’ book, The World As It Is, thinking that Hedges’ writing was crisp, easy to read, but critically insightful and intellectually stimulating. And his essays were all brief so if he did not like the book he could figure it out quickly.
He did end up taking the Hedges’ book and I forgot about the incident until two days later when Gabriel again showed up at my door, walking right in and startling me. “Robert, I never went to college or nothing,” he announced abruptly, “but I like to know shit and I know you know shit about how the state works and stuff. That book really lays shit out. He explains shit the way it actually goes down, man. When he says that Wall Street bankers are just like drug dealers on the street, I’m telling you, that’s real, that’s the way it goes down.”
I don’t know what I expected or even if I had any expectations at all. So it is an understatement to say I was shocked at such an immediate and positive response to one of my most favorite books.
I spent the entire day feeling pretty elated and in the evening I had another shock when my walking exercises were disturbed with an unexpected call-out of my name from the “Latino Hood.” “Robert.” I turned to see a heavyset Latino inmate pointing at Gabriel and asking if he could borrow the Hedges’ book next.
Gabriel was effusive about Hedges to his friend Eddie: “Yeah, this guy was a war reporter and he came back to this country and tried to write about what he really saw but they wouldn’t let him. They said, ‘this is what you are gonna write,’ so he just quit.” I volunteered that Hedges worked for the NY Times and that he attended Harvard University, both elite organizations, but that he was for poor people. I told Eddie that I had another of Hedges’ books in my room. Gabriel immediately wanted to know which one it was. He turned to the front of the book, which listed other titles by Hedges. I pointed out the title, but Eddie decided to wait for Gabriel’s book.
I walked away feeling profoundly moved at having connected across such a vast cultural and intellectual divide.
All my love and prayers,
UPDATE AUGUST 1: Below is a new Dennis update–letters from Tensie and Dennis:
The kids and I were able to visit Dennis this weekend. It was a good visit and we were all so grateful to just be together and look into one another’s eyes and laugh and tell stories and remind ourselves of who we are. I asked Dennis to write something to share with you and I’ve attached his letter to mine.
It’s been a difficult situation and the details of it will be shared once he is released. For now, we are thankful that his charges were expunged and that he is in general population with Jeff.
Thomas Merton said “that in order to love one another, we need to be involved in one another’s history.” You are involved in ours and we sense your love. Thank you.
Let us continue to hold Dennis, Jeff and all those prisoners of conscience in prayer as they speak Truth to power.
With gratitude and hope,
Dear Friends and Family,
It’s been a little while since I have sent something out, so it’s time for a little update. On this past Friday I celebrated, here in prison, my 66th Birthday. It was a good day in that, although I was not able to be with my family and loved ones, I was surrounded by your love and full of gratitude for all of you who have been so supportive during this time. I was also very thankful to be back on my unit after spending two weeks in the Special Housing Unit (the “SHU”). That experience was hard for me, but, again, I felt held in God’s loving hands and your hearts as well.
I want you all to know that I am very aware of all of the love and support you gave me and Tensie and the children during that time. There were an impressively large number of letters and emails written to the institution on my behalf. And I know that Tensie received many calls of support and offers for help. It was truly a time of people coming together and I am both humbled and touched by the outpouring of love. I cannot thank you enough.
As with everything since I have been here, it is important to me to try and point out that whatever I am experiencing, I am not the only one, and that my trials are also experienced by countless others in the prison system. It is so important that we all realize this and do what we can to advocate, not just for our loved ones, but also for all those in our prisons and especially for those who have no voice or don’t have access to the incredible support that I have. The “hole’ is a harsh place and, unfortunately, it is not always applied justly. Guidelines need to be put into place to ensure that no one is unjustly subjected to that environment and that our prison systems are held accountable for that. It’s a matter of acting humanely with one another and we should not be satisfied until we have arranged for the dignity of all people in the system.
I have about a month left on my sentence. I have become aware of so much in these past three months; I know the power of love, the power of community, the flaws in our justice system and the immense gift of having a circle of loved ones to support me. I wish everyone of my fellow inmates had that kind of love shown to them. I know it may not be possible to arrange for that, but it is possible for us all to be aware that prison reform is an important issue and that all of those unseen and unheard people in our prisons are dependent on our advocacy to make the necessary changes. It is the only way we can show love to most of those incarcerated.
So thank you so much. I feel your love and am grateful for your support. I know Tensie and the kids are grateful as well. Love is the answer and love in action is the source of our hope. Thank you for your love in action.
Blessings to you all,
UPDATE JULY 26: Below is a new update letter about Dennis from Tensie.
Good News! Dennis just called and said he had his hearing today and charges have been dropped! However, he will not be returned to general population until tomorrow. For now, he is asking that no more letters be sent to the prison on his behalf. He will explain more when the kids and I see him on Saturday and Sunday.
We are of course relieved and yet there are many questions that remain unexplained and he was clear that he did not want to talk about them on the phone. If you know of anybody who might want to write to the prison, please ask them not to, as it could jeopardize him.
Thank you again and again for your witness of love and solidarity, for taking the time to write to, and for him and for your faithful prayer and friendship.
We continue the vigil for peace, for justice for a world rid of nuclear weapons. For this we pray.
UPDATE JULY 23: The following is a message about Dennis from Tensie.
The long vigil continues and once again we’re all looking to Tuesday for a resolution to this long and unjust ordeal Dennis and countless others go through at the hands of the BOP.
Thank you all for your timely responses and support of Dennis. He and I are comforted by it.
I spoke with him by phone today and he says that in the 10 days he’s been in the SHU, he’s had only 1hour, total, of ‘rec. time’ when they’re suppose to have 1 hour a day! Clearly they are not following their own protocol. I am speaking with an attorney who seems to be interested in potentially bringing a civil rights action against MDC but unfortunately that wouldn’t impact Dennis until long after he has left, but it could help others who might face a similar situation.
Also, this Friday, July 29th is his birthday. It would be great if he could feel your support with a card or letter.
Thank you again for everything you’re doing. Prayer and community continue providing hope.
UPDATE JULY22: The following is the latest from Tensie, who visited Dennis yesterday evening.
Tensie had a good visit with Dennis yesterday. Dennis remains in good spirits, but seems very tired. Dennis and Tensie are now fully convinced that Dennis has been placed in the SHU because he has been publishing his column. His hearing is now scheduled for this coming Tuesday—after being arbitrarily delayed for a glitch on his charging papers. The hope is that all the letters that went to the warden and emails to the detention center counsel will help assure the hearing finally happens—and pressure the administration to drop the contrived charge against him.
Dennis is convinced, that if he continues to publish his column, the detention center administration will take away his access to phone, mail and email for the remainder of his stay. Tensie already has not received several letters Dennis wrote to her. The loss of communication with family and others now outweighs the gain in publishing from prison—so he will delay his publishing until after he is out.
Of course, knowing the huge support he is receiving from all of us—and that he is in our hearts and minds—is a huge gift for Dennis. I know that those among the folks receiving this email who have spent time in prison—especially the SHU—understand this much better than I can.
What a hell imprisonment is for so many people—especially those that lack a support network like Dennis and have little hope. When Dennis was moved to the SHU—and even when he is moving to the visiting room—he is handcuffed and escorted by three guards—one of whom carries a club. His writing has been illuminating the danger and darkness of life on the prison block.
UPDATE JULY 19: The following information originates from Tensie, Dennis Apel’s wife. It explains what is happening with a request to help in this situation. Please read carefully.
An update and request concerning Dennis:
Last Thursday, Dennis was confined in the segregated housing unit and charged with introducing an illicit drug into the prison. The prison administration has informed him that a card that was sent to him by mail (which Dennis has not seen), was detected to have traces of amphetamine. Dennis is supposed to have a hearing on this charge, but the administration will not inform him or Tensie when the hearing will be scheduled. The charging paper Dennis received stated that the date of the hearing is “to be determined.” Tensie learned that these hearings are normally held on Tuesdays. Dennis was not given a hearing today.
Dennis was told who sent the card. Tensie contacted the person—a long term friend of Dennis and Tensie—and absolutely not someone who would send a card laced with a narcotic or have or use narcotics. When that friend learned the news, he immediately sent a notarized affidavit by fax to the prison (yesterday) stating clearly that the card he sent did not have any illicit substance on it.
Tensie is asking that we quickly send letters to the warden of the detention center on behalf of Dennis and bearing witness to his character. I have drafted a template that we can each work from. It is below. You can fax the letter to 213-253-9526.
L. J. Milusnic, Warden
535 North Alameda STREET
LOS ANGELES, CA 90012
RE: Inmate John Dennis Apel
REGISTER NUMBER 26142-112
Dear Warden Milusnic:
I write concerning inmate John Dennis Apel. I have learned that Mr. Apel has been confined in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU), and has been charged with introducing an illicit drug into the MDC Los Angeles. Supposedly, the charge is being made against Mr. Apel because a card that was mailed to him at the MDC was detected to be tainted with traces of amphetamine. I believe that a hearing for Mr. Apel to address this matter remains unscheduled, extending his confinement in the SHU indefinitely.
I am a long term and close friend of Mr. Apel and have known him for ______ years. Mr. Apel is in prison because he crossed a green line at a military base carrying a sign criticizing the maintenance and use of nuclear weapons. Mr. Apel was orderly and peaceful in his protest and did not resist arrest. He was charged with trespass, although he was standing on part of the base that is open to the public. Mr. Apel is a Catholic Worker committed to peace and nonviolence. He dedicates his life to helping the poor with food, clothing, medical care, and shelter.
I can say with full confidence, that Mr. Apel does not use illicit drugs nor has any involvement with them. It is absurd to think that he would arrange for, or would encourage, someone from outside the detention center to mail him an illicit substance. It is unjust that he is being confined in the SHU and has not been given a hearing and opportunity to deny and oppose this charge.
I urge you to end Mr. Apel’s confinement in the SHU immediately, and if a hearing is necessary, to schedule one as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
ALSO, there is a new reflection by Dennis posted at the Santa Barbara Independent.
UPDATE JULY 14: Dennis Apel has been moved into the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit–aka “the hole”) Read (Dennis’ wife) Tensie’s letter below:
I wanted to write this myself and let you all know that Dennis was taken from his cell this morning at 8am and told to gather his things because he was being sent to the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit). It is unclear why this has happened and we are trying to get as much information as we can but it is limited. Jeff reports that there is no other explanation than that it is punitive because of his continued publications in the Santa Barbara Independent. I have not heard from Dennis directly and I’m assuming I won’t until he is able to write and tell me what has happened. I contacted Erwin Chemerinsky his lawyer at the Supreme Court and Dean of UCI Law School and he will write a letter to the Warden expressing his concern. Because we are not completely certain as to what is happening, I would ask that you please refrain from writing anything to the Warden yourselves. There might be a time for that, but I don’t think it has arrived yet.
At this point, we are asking for your prayers, that I know have been with us all along, but now, we are needing them in a more concentrated way. I promise to keep you updated with news as things unfold. Dennis is strong and has felt your support throughout. Thank you. The kids and I are also doing okay and we remain holding on to the hope that God will continue sustaining us all until Dennis comes home on September 2nd.
In hope and gratitude,
UPDATE JULY 10: Dennis Apel has another reflection posted in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Below are a few letters from Jeff dating back to his first week in MDC.
5/4/16 Day 2
First day was most difficult: ten hours of cold holding tanks. I was finally assigned to 9N (9th floor North wing). Previously, I have always been housed on 5N, which is the lightweight module. The higher up you go, the more “heavyweight” you get, so I was a little unnerved when I got dropped on the ninth floor. It is quite literally composed of heavyweights; when I first walked in, I didn’t see anyone under 300 lbs. Very intimidating. But I was escorted to my cell and Ryan, a cool orderly, was very solicitous, bringing me clothes, cup, towel, washcloth, toothbrush.
It was very late, close to 9:30 lockdown, but Ryan wanted to know if I wanted a shower. All I really wanted to do was collapse onto my bed. But then I remembered the heavy emphasis placed on personal hygiene in the jailhouse. So I said yes and took my washcloth, towel, and newly issued Irish Spring soap and went to the showers.
Now the showers here are personal single stalls with a door. You are expected to wear your clothes into the stall and disrobe inside. Of course there are no clothing hooks nor are there grab bars–and it is slippery. Definitely not built for the elderly handicapped. As you well know, I have bad legs and standing on two legs is painful, but standing on one on a slippery floor and taking of my jumpsuit is like a circus act,⎯putting it back on was even more death-defying. I performed my requisite ablutions with as much speed as possible and returned to my cell.
My roommate was quite hospitable, offering me books, tea, and making my bed for me. But he is quite loquacious. He told me his name was Wolverine, but his real name is Joshua Fink. He is up on gun charges, has an affinity for the confederate flag, and a disdain for the Feds. He is very kind; several times he has brought my meals to my room, and teaches me the prison rules, both official and unofficial. But, as I said, he is very talkative and goes on and on about his criminal exploits, prison time, drug use⎯so that the first night I just said, “I have to go to sleep.”
When I woke up in the morning, Wolverine said, “What happened to you? Were you having some PTSD experience or what?”
What happened was that I had a really bad nightmare. I dreamed I was in jail and this big guy in the bunk next to me threw a blanket over my face and I was paralyzed and suffocating, so I began screaming. When I woke up I was cold and sweating, but realized it was just a dream. But when I fell back asleep, I had the exact same dream again. In the morning, Wolverine said, “Man, you were screaming and screaming. You had the guards running all over the place looking for whoever it was that was being killed.”
I stayed in bed and slept and read all the next day. Wolverine brought me breakfast and lunch. I only ate the bran flakes, got up at 5 for chow, then exercised for two hours. I felt really good after that, but before I went to bed that night I gave Wolverine a roll of toilet paper and told him to please toss it on me if he hears me start screaming. The toilet paper roll is still under his mattress.
Pretty uneventful today. Started with a “shakedown.” All inmates are herded out onto the tiny deck. I fortunately found a wall to lean against and read my Dean Koontz while about 20 guards went through all of the cells, taking out extra mattresses, cups, food etc. Didn’t seem to be anything exciting like drugs, pruno, or God forbid, weapons. Also got a visit from the psychologist because on the medical intake form it stated that I had anxiety. She was so cute and friendly I almost shook her hand as she introduced herself. But that doesn’t seem to be the program between inmates and staff.
She wanted to know if I was still anxious.
“No.” I didn’t tell her about my dreams.
“Any thoughts of hurting yourself? Any thoughts of hurting anyone else?”
“So, are you feeling ok?”
“If you have any problems we have staff in the Psychology department 24/7. Just contact one of the guards.”
Currently my biggest problem is figuring out how to take a shower. Oh, I got Commissary, which is pretty good considering I have only been here three days. I got paper and pen. It feels good to be able to write.
May 5, 2016 Day 5
Up early this morning because I still don’t have my PAC # (Phone Access Code) without which I cannot use phone or computer or even make a request for a larger pair of shoes. And the PAC Lady is supposed to come around 8 am. Apparently what happened was that she did call my name on Tuesday, but I was still in a deep sleep of exhaustion and did not hear her. Until today I have been imitating my roommate and most other inmates⎯sleeping till lunchtime. Unconsciousness is one way of escaping your environment and your problems.
As part of my early rising, I stepped out on the Rec Deck. Can’t usually go out there because it is so small that it can only accommodate a spirited game of basketball, but this early it is empty. Walking out on the Deck, I had to step over a puddle of rainwater. I live in a completely artificial environment that could easily pass for a space station: steel tables; neon lights; recycled air; and stationary bikes and treadmills to replace real bikes and walking. So, to experience the chill of the fresh morning air, to see the sky, even through an overhead cage, to experience the gracious miracle of rainwater is such a gift.
It’s 9 am and the PAC Lady is still not here. “Oh, she doesn’t come on Fridays. She doesn’t come back till Monday.” Another inmate offers, “Maybe she will come after lunch.” I won’t count on an afternoon visit, but I will continue to keep vigil.
Thank you for sending Ron. I know how worried you must have been when I did not call. When they called me out for a legal visit I almost said, “I don’t have a lawyer,” but quickly remembered that it was presumably Ron Kaye. Got in the elevator to go downstairs, surprised but pleasantly shocked to see David standing with his face to the back wall, as all inmates are required to do. We chatted for the brief ride down. In the visiting room we could see Ron in one of the glassed cubicles. The guard told us that we could greet our attorney, but only one of us could visit at a time. David went first and I sat down for a while. It was wonderful to have a visit from Ron. He asked me why I didn’t have a phone card. I said, “You, a defense lawyer, must know that the government does not always function by its own rules.” We had a great but brief talk, just nice to see someone not in uniform, but the best thing was being able to pass along the message to you that I am healthy and doing fine. A great burden was lifted from my heart. I had such anxiety at my inability to communicate with you.
Visits are great, but afterwards you must strip naked before the guard and ruffle your hair, brush you hands behind your ears, open you mouth, put your fingers in your mouth, pull your cheeks back, lift your tongue, lift your nuts, turn around bend down and cough. “OK, you can put your clothes on.” End of visit.
Oh, one of the things I talked to Ron about was the segregation of the unit. This is not new; it was the same when I was here in ’91. There is a white section, a black section, and a Latino section. I think there might even be a separate section for the Paisas. Ron wanted to know if it was an official policy. No, it is not official, it appears to be a tacit cooperation between the guards and the orderlies to keep neighborhood “peace.” My cellmate recently told me that a cell in the “white neighborhood” might be empty soon and I will be asked to move to hold it as a “white” cell so that the purity of the neighborhood will not be violated. It does seem to work. There are no visible animosities. All races seem to be relatively friendly. But there are some underlying tensions. My cellmate, who describes himself as a “skinhead punk,” believes that the whites are discriminated against because the other races receive more cleaning supplies, trash cans, personal privileges than whites. “It’s not fair.” He also is distressed because our next-door neighbor, a Jewish guy, conducts a multi-racial legal study program in his room in the white neighborhood. “He’s really running a risk.”
Oh, speaking of Wolverine, I asked him if he wanted to hear the best jail story I ever heard. Keep in mind that the Wolverine has been in jail or prison for a total of 17 years. “So, I am in the holding cell and this MDC inmate just coming back from the hospital is telling us new guys about how a female inmate got pregnant here in MDC. Apparently a female inmate on 9 South had been communicating with a male inmate on 7 South through the air conditioning vents. It seems they had developed such an intense relationship through the air conditioning vents that the woman decides that she wants to have his baby. So she lets her “fishing line” down the vent to 7 South, her paramour then masturbates into a plastic bag, ties the bag of sperm to the fishing line, she pulls it up (talk about fishing), sticks her fingers into the bag and manually impregnates herself. Now she is about to give birth to a baby whose father she has never even seen, much less physically met. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The guys in the holding tank were skeptical, as you can imagine. “Yeah, I was in the hospital when she was there.” Another voice chimed in, “I thought sperm couldn’t live in the air.” “Oh yeah they are strong little fuckers.”
Wolverine laughed so hard he fell off his stool. “You are right, that is the best jail story I ever heard.”
UPDATE JULY 8: Dennis Apel has another reflection posted in the Santa Barbara Independent.
UPDATE JUNE 29: David Omondi has completed his 60 day sentence and has been released and is now back at the LACW for an indefinite period, at least until Jeff and Dennis are released in September, before returning to Nairobi.
Dennis has another reflection published in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Jeff is doing fine. Some of his letters going back to his entrance into L.A. Metropolitan Detention Center will be posted in the next few days. He is working on an article for the August Agitator.
UPDATE JUNE 17: Below is a letter from Dennis.
Dear Family and friends,
I thought it was time for an update. I am a couple of weeks away from the halfway point of my time here in prison. I would not say that I am completely acclimated but I have settled in somewhat and there is a semblance of a routine. As you know Jeff Dietrich my long-time friend and co-defendant is my cell mate. This brings me much joy as we are very comfortable with each other and that relieves the tension of living in a strange environment with someone with whom I may have not much in common.
I work now five days a week in “food service” from 12:30 till 6:30. I spend that time three floors down in the dish washing room/kitchen. All meals here are served on yellowish plastic trays with a dark brown plastic container/insert for the hot food. There are close to 800 inmates in the prison so there are a lot of trays and containers to wash. My crew washes all the dishes from both lunch and dinner. In between the lunch and dinner washings, we load the trays we have cleaned from lunch with the cold food for dinner. Someone else has already loaded the brown inserts with the hot food. It’s staggering how much food is not eaten and ends up in the garbage. This is partly because of the food choices the prison makes which the inmates don’t like and partly because the preparation and presentation sometimes leave a lot to be desired.
Not to be completely negative, however, it’s important to notice that in an intuition that often feels so dehumanizing and in a culture that is so racially divided, any act of kindness that breaks through is highly appreciated. For example the man who saw me shivering as I read a book outside my cell and gave me and extra sweatshirt he happened to have. Or the man who heard I was to be visited on the weekend and offered to cut my hair so I would look good for my family. Or the man who saw me reading a novel and came and offered me the two sequels to that novel. Or the guard late on a Friday evening who, when he heard that Tensie and the children had not been approved to visit after almost a month, went and talked to the unit manager to see if she could expedite approval. These are the beams of light that break through the darkness to bring me hope and gratitude.
I have received lots of cards and letters from family and friends and loved ones and for that I am also so grateful. It’s hard to describe how slowly time passes here and the well wishes and news from outside are a welcome break. My sincere thanks to all who have written and especially to all who have given such extraordinary support to Tensie and Rozella and Thomas.
The first two weeks I was here I attended Mass but the priest has gone for the summer so no more Mass. But Jeff and I have been doing our own little in-cell Bible study at night after lock down and that has been such a gift. We also share books we have received with one another and correspondence from mutual friends.
So….I hope that gives you some idea of how things are going. I feel safe and am held by your love, prayers and support. Thank you so much. And please don’t forget that I am here for all of us as a witness against the scourge of nuclear weapons which need to be abolished once and for all from the face of the earth. Let us continue to pray and to act to rid the world of such weapons.
UPDATE JUNE 15: David was released into a halfway house in the Los Angeles area where he will spend the rest of his time–14 days–before being fully released. He cannot leave the premises unless he is going to look for a job, which he is not. But he can sit outside and enjoy the outdoors. This LINK is to a letter he wrote a few days ago before being transfered.
UPDATE JUNE 13: David is doing well and is in countdown mode–18 days left. Jeff also is doing well and busy with letter writing. Dennis’ new blog post with the Santa Barbara Independent is now posted at this LINK, despite orders from prison officials not to send the newspaper anymore blog posts. We will see what, if anything, will happen to him. Keep writing support letters to them.
UPDATE JUNE 4: Jeff is doing OK, although he had some issues with his legs and knees relating to the work to which he and Dennis were assigned, but some pain meds and being able to take short rest periods have helped. Also, for an unknown reason his phone privileges were suspended until June 19. Both he and Catherine are really bummed. Fortunately they are now able to e-mail each other.
Below are letters from David and Dennis:
Greetings in the name of the Great Spirit that guides our steps regardless of our consciousness thereof. Despite continual changes in my housing situation, a spirit of love, compassion, and acceptance remains continually present with me, thanks in no small part to the support and prayers of family and friends around the world. Thank-you all so much for the grace and blessing you continue to share with me as I endeavor to remain present in each moment and share this grace with those around me. With the passing of Muhammad Ali last night, his spirit and words of resistance are also present with me – “I refuse to go 10,000 miles from here to help murder and kill other poor people, simply to continue the domination of white slave masters over the darker peoples of the earth.” Being in the BOP brings a keen awareness of this continued domination, of the lies, misinformation, and exploitation that upholds the “shit-stem”, and a unique opportunity to be present to the truth and light that shines from each of its victims.
Having heard from afar afield as NY regarding a letter I sent on May 23, Kempachi’s story, I feel a need to clarify certain aspects to a wider audience – if only to stem the flow of disparaging mail that has come my way since then. First of all, please understand that the letter was not meant for publication without prior verification – that was insisted upon by Kempachi, and I had hoped that this might be possible within a short time frame (May 25) for the Nuclear Resister, and if not by then, then anticipated undertaking the task myself upon my release, being totally unequipped to do so from this side of of the steel bars. Neither Kempachi or myself, ever claimed to be nuclear scientists, but I’m pretty sure we were both speaking of “enriched uranium” as opposed to “active” – despite incorrect terminology, and neither of us are certain about the correct name or spelling of what he referred to as “thryntium.” Secondly, please understand, as I wrote that Kempachi can go on at length about the pitfalls of the nuclear age. Being that he is quite empassioned about the matter and these pitfalls by far not confined to VAFB, he has a tendency to overwhelm the listener with information that can be hard to follow – especially given the unconventional syntax he employs as English is his second language. Third, the urgency with which I wrote arose from the knowledge that if we were to share his story, I needed to get it down in a timely manner given the BOP’s tendency to move people without warning and the possibility that we would be separated any day, and to do so in a way that would at least be pliable later on, while retaining the essence of his experience.
In spite of the shortcomings of that little missive, the truth of Kempachi’s story is nonetheless compelling. It is quite instructive as to the tendency of the nuclear empire to conceal and distort facts, to arrogantly claim a level of competence it simply does not possess, to employ state apparatus to prevent exposure and silence opposition by any means necessary, and to continue to victimize the poor and brown people’s of the Earth, as well as it’s own populace, in doing all of the above. I trust that this truth shines through despite “wrong facts” as some have written. And I hope that Kempachi’s story can at least inspire some reflection as to the ways in which we are all complicit in allowing the empire to continue these practices of distortion, pollution, and victimization – whether it be through the blind acceptance of the dominant narrative, the paying of taxes, or the laying aside of our personal responsibility to remain alert and truthful in these times of distraction and misinformation.
As it turns out, my sense of imminent separation from Kempachi was not unfounded, as it was on May 25 that I was moved down to 5 South from the relative comfort of 6 North. This is quite a mish-mash of a housing unit, with a decidedly more “prison-like” atmosphere, but still pales in comparison to other spots I’ve been privileged to experience in the BOP. Alot of the inmates here have violated children or compromised their co-conspirators, others require alot of special medical facilities and attention (wheelchairs, dialysis etc.), some are openly gay or bisexual, some have been recently released from the SHU for conflicts on other floors. Essentially, it’s a floor that houses folks who would/have faced challenges integrating in general population, but also an “overflow” for 5 North – the work floor to which inmates designated to MDC’s Cadre are meant to be housed, which is the category under which I now fall. There are certain benefits to being here – most notably the lack of overt prison politics that prevents certain forms of interaction between different groups of inmates, but there are drawbacks as well. It’s not particularly clean and COs don’t like working here so they tend to be harsher and more restrictive of certain privileges, even abusive in some cases. But there are still plenty of opportunities to serve, to accept service from others, and to find meaningful interactions.
No telling what the future may hold – both the case manager and the counselor have indicated that my time is too short for them to consider moving me across the hall or putting me to work, but the case manager on the other side gave a strong indication to the contrary at an orientation session on 5 North which I was required to participate in. Meanwhile on 5 South, my first cell mate moved over to 5 North – after much grumpiness and irritability regarding being stuck on this floor and the lack of his property which had not yet arrived from Beaumont – affording me a couple nights of solitude and the chance to do some much needed deep cleaning. Just in time to welcome a new cell mate (after late night lockdown – very unusual) who the CO informed me was in need of a good celly given his obvious apprehension at being in the BOP for the first time. So once again I find myself in a position to offer some basic supplies and comfort in terms of orientation and creating a peaceful, co-operative atmosphere in the cell. Chris is indeed in need of prayer – stressed about what he deems as unfounded charges from the feds, and his subsequent separation from a 9-year old son, he has spent the past 48 hours either in a state of panic or sleep. Keep us both in your prayers as we continue to navigate the unpredictable waters of the BOP. While I would certainly enjoy the opportunity to commune with Dennis and Jeff across the hall, I am still content and remain open to whatever the universe has in store for me. Thank-you again to all who continue to share love and support with Dennis, Jeff and myself.
With Gratitude, Love and Blessings
Dear Family and Friends,
Here is a little update on the goings on here.
As you know, Jeff and I are cell mates and we are so grateful. I had a decision to make this week. I have been writing a column for the Santa Barbara Independent but I was contacted by the prison to say they would prefer that I not write about the prison until my release in September. I could continue, but it would significantly delay my correspondence as it would require “extra monitoring.” After consulting with my community, I have decided to continue the column and let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully this won’t have a huge effect on my emails or letters.
Jeff and I were given our work assignments this week. We are working the afternoon Food Service job which for us so far has meant 5 hours of scrubbing the bottoms of pans with a wire brush on the first day, and washing stainless steel carts and stacking plastic lids the second day. I have a day off today and tomorrow and Jeff has Sunday and Monday off.
I have been receiving lots of letters and books and am grateful for all the support. Someone asked the question about what is allowed to come through so I will respond on this list for others who may want to know.
I can receive books when sent from a publisher, a book store or Amazon. No books sent by individuals. I can receive letters, either hand written or typed. I can receive cards. I can receive pictures but I think there is a limit but I don’t know what it is. So far I have received up to two photos in a letter. All have been computer printed on paper, but I think I am allowed regular pictures. Although I have received post cards, Tensie sent me a blank post card enclosed with a letter and it was all returned to her. No blank post cards. I believe newspaper clippings are okay.
We have been trying to get Tensie approved for visiting so that her and the kids can come but have not prevailed. It is unclear where the hang up is in the bureaucracy but we will keep trying.
If you have written and not received a response, please be patient and know that I am so grateful for your love and support.
I am now about 3 months from my release date. I have yet to have my “Team Meeting” to discuss the plans for me, but I believe that will happen soon.
You are all in my thoughts and prayers and I am so grateful for you and for the support you have given to Tensie and the children.
All my love,
UPDATE MAY 30: This LINK is to the third in a series of reflections by Dennis published in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Below is a note Dennis wrote:
Dear Friends and Family,
Today marks 20 days that I have been in prison. It’s been a long 20 days and it is a discipline not to dwell on the notion that I have to do that 5 more times. One day at a time is the best strategy and being present to the moment seems to be the recipe for sanity.
I tried being on the “no flesh” diet for a little over two weeks. But instead of meat items on my tray, I received a portion of chopped celery and carrots mixed with raw tofu. That was served with every lunch and dinner except for four. It got to the point that I was dreading meals, not a good thing in prison. So I switched back to the regular diet, not that it’s fine cuisine, but at least there’s something different every meal.
I went to Mass twice, two Mondays in a row, which was nourishing but the priest is gone now until September so no more Mass. I am grateful to be doing daily Bible study with my friend and cell mate, Jeff.
I have been getting incredible support via letters and books and again I want to say that if you haven’t gotten a response from me it’s because envelopes and stamps are rationed. But please know that I am so grateful for your love and affirmation extended to me and Tensie and the kids.
I have calmed down considerably regarding the other inmates and my sense of safety. It helps having Jeff as my cell mate, but also it is just acclimation to the environment. Thank you all for your prayers, love and support. I love you too…
UPDATE MAY 26: David has been moved from 6 North to 5 South and he was officially designated to MDC to serve his sentence. He said that he should be on 5 North (with Jeff and Dennis), but it is full, and since his time is short, it is doubtful that he will end up there. David also was able to get the confusion about the length of his sentence straightened out. He will be released after serving 60 days. He also said that he still can see us on our Wednesday afternoon anti-war vigil (we have a slow procession around the entire downtown federal complex), but now he can observe us on the opposite side of the building.
UPDATE MAY 23: This LINK is to Dennis’ second reflection published in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Below is a reflection David wrote for The Nuclear Resister.
While writing this I am continually lifted by the support and prayers of so many on the outside, inspired by the appearance of the Full Moon, Mars, and Sagittarius in my cell window over the last three nights, and encouraged that the forces of Love and Life will prevail over our many perversions of justice. It has been my great pleasure to meet someone here on 6 North MDC LA who has quite a storied relationship with VAFB. Using the alias “Kempachi”, we both would like to share some of this story with you:
“YOU! DON’T MOVE!” Yelled the Lieutenant at a bewildered Kempachi. “Get him out of here, NOW! Didn’t you check his file?!” And the confounded CO’s in VAFB’s “work factory” begin to escort him back to his unit at Lompoc Prison as he feigns a lack of English skills. The astounding levels of incompetence that allowed Kempachi into the factory in the first place are not surprising, considering the ease with which he had hacked into the base’s supposedly impenetrable mainframe computer system not too long ago. His incredible acumen with electronics and ability to encode and decode complex software with rudimentary appliances should have been a red flag to anyone on VAFB who might have perused his background.
These were pre-internet times, but the Video Cipher 3 security system on VAFB poised no challenge to Kempachi, who was able to penetrate it quite easily – on a dare from a fellow tech wiz – and send the base a message: “STOP KILLING CHILDREN.” He was not an activist or social justice advocate, just a jet-set, genius playboy carrying out an entertaining ruse. But when a third party heard of a reward for information on the transgressors, it wasn’t long before the federal security apparatus located the co-conspirators and found whatever charge that would stick, tax fraud, in order to lock them up. During his 18 months of incarceration at Lompoc, Kempachi spent a significant amount of time in the hole for refusing to work for the base in any way.
Now, over 20 years later, Kempachi is convinced that the same levels of incompetence still exist on VAFB and warns that it’s just a matter of time before their irresponsible practices precipitate an epic disaster on a nuclear scale. He is well aware of their use of depleted Uranium in the testing of nuclear weapons and finds their target practice exercises quite despicable as they contaminate the waters of the Pacific Ocean and wreak havoc on the people of the Marshall Islands. Not only is the term “depleted” a serious misnomer – the stuff still has a half life of 10,000 years – the B5 rockets used in VAFB’s launches are well known for having seal problems, and he warns that the base is courting serious catastrophe in their employ.
Further, VAFB possesses both the depleted and active variety of Uranium, both of which have to be cooled constantly. Situated on the coast, the ocean is the most convenient source of water for this purpose, which is either expelled back into the ocean or into the ground. In his words, non-contamination of this water is simply impossible. Although base officials claim that the levels of radiation escaping their facility are “safe”, Kempachi has learned through his own explorations that most of the patients treated at Lompoc General Hospital suffer from cancer of the kidney and liver. Meanwhile, the base is highly secretive about the ailments treated at their own internal hospital.
Now on trial for charges that include fraud and manufacturing of an illegal access device, he once again finds himself the victim of a snitch who was caught using one of his complex encoding devices to commit bank fraud. And despite dedicating the last 15 years of his life to voluntary service projects in places like Kenya and El Salvador, donating thousands for free water and education projects, the Assistant DA in his case is on the record as saying “Whatever charge I give you will be equal to life because you have to be locked up until technology changes,” and the judge too has declared “I know who you are and I wish I could give you life.”
Kempachi can go on unceasingly about the pitfalls of the nuclear age – over budget power plants constantly leaking, the military’s inexplicable use of Uranium tipped anti-aircraft bullets, the disposal of Thryntium into the environment (which causes kidney/liver damage and other untold ailments) – the list is quite lengthy. With VAFB’S adjacency to the ocean and proximity to extensive field agriculture and livestock industries, his warnings are indeed foreboding. His story is a real testament to the indiscriminate violence of the nuclear empire, and lends great credence to the acts of vigilers, protesters, resisters and truth-tellers all around the world. This insanity must end. Now.
KEMPACHI, and David Omondi
UPDATE MAY 21: Jeff is doing good. He spends most of his time either reading, writing, exercising, or in prayer. The next Agitator will include some of Jeff’s writing.
This is a LETTER from David. David is still trying to deal with a mix up between the court’s sentence of two months and what the B.O.P. computer lists as six month sentence. An attorney friend of the LACW will again attempt to get this mix up corrected.
This LINK is to the first in a series of reflections by Dennis published in the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper. Below is another note from Dennis:
Dear family and friends,
I have “served” ten of my 120 days. If I can do that another 11 times, I will have made it. By some extraordinary stroke of luck or grace, I have ended up in a cell with my long-time friend and co-defendant Jeff Dietrich of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. If all goes well, we will be spending most of our 4 months of custody in each other’ company. What a gift and a miracle!
After about four days here my mail began to filter in. Thank you if you have written. I am only allowed to purchase 10 envelopes per week, so apologies if you have written and not gotten a response. Know that your love and support mean the world to me.
I can now communicate with Tensie and the kids by phone. That too is limited to 15 minutes per call (5 minutes to talk to each of them) and 300 minutes per month (a little less than 10 minutes per day). I’ve had word from some who have shown Tensie and the kids incredible kindness, especially those in the Beatitude Community. It brings me so much comfort and gratitude that good friends and family are supporting them. It’s not easy for them either.
Please know that I hold you all in my prayers of gratitude.
UPDATE MAY 18: At 9am today, Jeff was moved to the fifth floor and is now cellmates with Dennis. Rumor has it that David too will soon be moved to the same area. All will remain there for the duration of their sentence. Jeff is doing well, even better now that he and Dennis are reunited. David said he yearns to be with them. Jeff sent Catherine the signed form for her to be able to visit him; and he finally has the phone voice recognition issue resolved and is now calling on a regular schedule. He still has not seen the dentist for his toothache, but he has plenty of pain meds, which has helped a lot. He wants everyone to know he is safe and comfortable and is grateful for all the love and prayers.
UPDATE MAY 17: David lost his cellmate this morning (transferred to another floor), which allows him space and quiet, which is what he needs at the moment since he is having major lower back pain. He asks for prayers that the pain will subside.
Dennis Apel sent the following note:
Today marks one week (is that all?!!) since I arrived at MDC. It’s been quite a transition. Every time someone asks how long I’m in for and I respond, “four months” I get a reply something like, “Oh man! That’s nothing. That’s a breeze!” But THIS breeze is movin’ real slow.
It’s a difficult environment (I’m not complaining, that’s just the reality). There is a common area with 7 tables of eight (steel seats bolted to the floor), 4 TVs going simultaneously (no sound…you have to get a radio receiver with headphone to hear them), a microwave, and ice maker and a hot water dispenser. Most guys make meals from food they buy from the commissary (paid for with money on their books). Off the common room are 4 halls with cells lining both sides of them. Each cell has 2 bunks, a sink, a toilet and a locker. Everyone has a cell mate and there are 130 guys on the floor. All inmates are locked in their cells from 8:30 pm till 5:00 am when we are awakened and have about 60 seconds to get to breakfast. The cells are open most of the rest of the day and time can be spent in the common area or in the cell. Since there are 130 of us and only 56 seats, we are called to meals by “ranges” 4 ranges matching the four halls. By unwritten agreement, the 7 tables are assigned by race, 1 table for whites (the race with the fewest #s), 1 table for the “ChoMos” (the child molesters) and the other 5 divided between Blacks and Latinos. There are 8 common showers. There is a small outside deck for exercise or getting some fresh air.
The hardest parts are the constant din of 130 men yelling, guards yelling, the explosion of testosterone (I am by a long shot the scrawniest one here), the racial divides and sometimes tensions, and more than anything, the separation from family and friends.
So……why am I here???? I’m here because of a combination of conviction and stubbornness. Before I got here I would have told myself it’s mostly conviction, but the transition is so stark (scary even) that the whole environment conspires to convince me that conviction had less to do with this than stubbornness that my ego has betrayed me.
so….here is where you come in. You hold me. You support me. You hold my family and we all hold each other. Once I was able to communicate with them, my family brought me back to myself. Because, there IS a conviction, one that comes from faith and a desire for discipleship. Nuclear weapons are an atrocity beyond measure, and we cannot look the other way. I am not here for myself but for all of us. You are not there for me, but for all of us. We all have a role to play in the struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers, your love, and your support for me, Tensie, the kids, Jorge, and Beatitude House. We are the Body of Christ, we all have our part, and we all have each other, and I am grateful.
I am praying for you daily. Thank you, thank you. Love is the answer…
UPDATE MAY 11: Catherine received a letter from Jeff today since he is having difficulties with the voice recognition system involved with the phones. He is well, has a cellmate, whose name is Wolverine, with a heart of gold and loves to share all that he has, however, he likes to talk–unceasingly. Jeff enjoys solitude while in jail, so they are trying to strike a balance. He is on the ninth floor, which is puzzling since that floor is normally for hardcore felons.
Have yet to hear from Dennis.
David is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. He has taken to e-mailing a few of us, but more so his family in Kenya. He is on the sixth floor and has a window where he can see us while we are on our Wednesday vigil, although we were unable to see him.
All three cannot have visitors except for immediate family. Once transferred to the fifth floor, that will change. The fifth floor is minimum security, where the other floors range from low to maximum security. Hence, they would love to receive mail from all who would care to write. If you have some time, please sit down and write to them, the address can be found below. Thank you.
UPDATE May 9: Guadalupe Catholic Worker Dennis Apel has now turned himself in to federal authorities and is also being housed at MDC Los Angeles, the same facility as Jeff and David. If you care to check on Dennis’ status, enter: John D. Apel #26142-112 at this LINK. To write to him use the same address listed below.
Jeff was able to make a very brief phone call this morning. He had enough time to say he has tooth ache and has yet to see a dentist with no indication when that will happen. His publisher sent him some books last week, but he said he received a notice saying they were returned because she sent more than allowed and thus all were considered contraband. The call then was cut off.
David again called and said that he again briefly saw Jeff this morning in passing and Jeff looked well. David also asked for more money to be deposited in his account to help his cellmate, who is in a state of depression. He has no money and has not had contact with family in several months, and David wants to help him.
UPDATE May 5: We found out why Jeff has not yet called. They have yet to give him his “PAC” number, which allows an inmate to access the phones, purchase items from the commissary, and access the computer to see how much money is in their account, among other tasks. Our attorney visited both Jeff and David today to see how they were and if all was okay. He agreed to push the BOP to get Jeff his PAC number, which he should have received on the first day within four hours after being processed in.
David called and said he is okay, getting settled in, and was able to purchase long underwear because he has an A/C duct directly above his bed, which makes it exceedingly cold between midnight and 5am.