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By Eve Tetaz
I left Paris on June 28, 2012 and arrived in DC the same day to stand trial in DC Superiour Court on Wednesday, July 29th along with 13 co-defendants for having protested the death penalty on the steps of the Supreme Court in January. I was sentenced to 60 days in jail because I refused probation and to pay a fine on the grounds that although I broke a DC law, I was upholding my right under the first amendment of the Constitution to peacefully petition the government for a redress of grievances. I believe that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, and is a violation of the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. Three of my codefendants opted to spend 5 days in jail rather than do community service in order to remain in solidarity with me.
Jack Baringer, a lawyer friend who in the past has often defended me, drove me to the jail on Monday, July 2 to begin my 60 day sentence. When we arrived at the gates of DC Jail, I was greatly moved to see several of my co defendants standing in front of the jail holding a sign, “We will not be silent,” aloft in the air – a wonderful testimony of God’s beloved cpmmunity to continue to speak truth to power. A policeman allowed Jack to take a photo as long as the jail sign did not appear in it. I was searched, chained, given prison clothes, and led to a cell with a single cot. The shower and toilet were across the hall and the cell doors were left unlocked so that we could have access to the toilet, except during count time when the jail census was taken three times a day. My sister set up a telephone account with approved names which allowed me to telephone her. My commissary account had not been validated (nor was it ever put into effect) so I had to beg and borrow writing materials (all had been confiscated when I was admitted ) since stationary and envelopes had to be purchased at the jail. Several of the inmates gave me stuff from their commissary – further proof that the beloved community could exist even in jail.
There was an outcry of protest among people in regard to the severity of the penalty. Telephone calls were made and letters were written. Even the guards thought it outrageous that an 80 year old woman should be confined for peacefully and non-violently affirming her belief in the preciousness of all life. As a follower of Jesus, I cannot remain silent in my opposition to the prison system which is a violation of human rights. Monstrous behavior is unacceptable, but in holding people accountable for their acts of violence, their value as human beings must never be forgotten. It is the responsibility of society to discover the root causes of violence and treat them like a pernicious illness – to attempt to heal and reconcile the damaged soul rather than seek vengeance and destroy it. My God is merciful, compassionate and just toward all who repent and seek forgiveness.
Two weeks later, I was admitted to the cardiac unit of George Washington Hospital. When in the course of an examination, I was able to see my own heart beating (abeit too slowly), it was a transformative moment. I saw on the screen an image of great beauty. I realized with sudden clarity that no one , not even the government, has the right to stop this miracle of engineering from operating. Nobody is beyond the God’s mercy. If we dare to deny that God is forgiveness, than we are guilty of denying God is Love, Justice and Mercy. God have mercy upon us all.Two days later, I was discharged from the hospital and sent back to jail. Mark, my lawyer, filed a petition for my release on medical grounds. When Jack visited me on the Tuesday after my release from GW, he said, « You look terrible. This is outrageous. I’m getting you out of here. » Mark and he talked to the Judge and Prosecutor. The following Thursday, a hearing was scheduled. My sister, Ann Barnet, gave expert testimony as a medical doctor to the serious nature of my condition. In response ( to which Jack claimed had made him almost “drop his pants”), the Prosecutor asked for time served and a fine which the Judge ordered to be paid to the Victimes of Violent Crimes Fund. I was released that same night after having served 24 days instead of the original judgement of 60 days.
What better proof is there that the Beloved Community has the power to turn a heart of stone into that of a heart filled with love. Ainsi soit-il. Go in peace.