Kathleen Murphy / Religion News Service – 2005-03-21 09:20:27
Before going behind bars Tuesday (March 15), Sister Lelia “Lil” Mattingly said she expected jail would be cold and dreary compared to life in a convent. But the nun sentenced in connection with a protest in Georgia said her imprisonment follows Jesus’ way, “to speak the truth to power and pay the consequences.”
Mattingly, 63, reported Tuesday to the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security prison in Danbury, Conn., that is home to 1,300 female inmates. She will serve a six-month sentence for trespassing on a U.S. Army base.
Mattingly is among 11 activists who have been sentenced to jail time for their part in a Nov. 21 demonstration at Fort Benning, Ga., that involved several thousand protesters.
Mattingly was arrested during the annual protest against the base’s military school that has trained more than 57,000 Latin American soldiers, some of whom were later charged with human rights violations in their native countries.
A Maryknoll sister, Mattingly lived in Bolivia from 1971 until 1997 where she provided basic health care. She knew all four U.S. churchwomen raped and killed by security forces in El Salvador in 1980; two of those killed were Maryknoll nuns.
Mattingly said she tried to plant a cross inscribed with the names of Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan on the grounds of the school where the churchwomen’s killers were trained.
“The only way I could do that is to cross over the line,” Mattingly said. “They’re just very beautiful people who were brave enough to be there where the danger was because the people were in danger, too. And it’s like really believing in something that’s important enough to die for, and that’s been inspiring for me. I wouldn’t be able to die, but I could go to prison.”
In prison, Mattingly will sleep in a bunk bed, and her living situation will depend on whether she’s assigned to Danbury’s barracks-style prison camp or traditional cellblock housing.
Nicknamed “Club Fed,” the facility is the place media empress Martha Stewart requested but didn’t get. Inmates can take craft classes and use a baseball field and walking track. New York hotel queen Leona Helmsley served time there. Mattingly was allowed to bring her Bible when she reported to prison at 2 p.m., nothing else.
“I’m trying to prepare my soul,” Mattingly said a week before entering confinement. She said she expected prison might put her in “situations of humiliation, of punishment,” and confront her with “cases that will break my heart, such as mothers separated from their children.”
“I call it my new mission,” said Mattingly, “being a faith presence and having a love for people that I hope will be able to survive in this kind of an atmosphere.”
Brian DeRouwen, 27, another protester who will serve 120 days at California’s Taft Correctional Institute starting March 15, first met Mattingly the night before the demonstration at a meeting for those considering risking arrest by hopping the fence at the Army facility, formerly called the School of the Americas. The school is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
“She has had many sisters and brothers murdered at the hands of graduates of the School of the Americas. She knew exactly what she wanted to do,” said DeRouwen, a University of Dayton graduate student. “And with her beautiful meek voice, she was such a powerful voice for justice and dissent against this horrific system that tells lies, that says, `We’re fighting for freedom while we’re killing priests and nuns.'”
Training manuals used at the School of the Americas until 1991 advocated torture, execution and blackmail, according to a March 1992 U.S. Defense Department report. The school’s defenders have said its courses do not teach abuse and that today’s curriculum includes a human rights component. They say the school shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of some of its graduates.
Mattingly, originally from Louisville, Ky., said she sought to support Latin American people, to honor those killed by the School of the Americas’ graduates, and to express her outrage at what the Bush administration “is doing to take a hold on dominating the world.”
Mattingly visited Iraq in 2000. At her trial, she spoke against the “Salvador option,” a reported CIA plan — modeled on U.S.-supported death squads active in El Salvador in the 1970s and ’80s — to assassinate insurgency leaders in Iraq.
Her sentence will be up in time for another fall protest against the school. Each year, protesters mark the anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter in El Salvador in 1989 by Salvadoran army personnel.
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