PC(USA) ministers going to prison
They were among 100 arrested during
Fort Benning demonstration
by Alexa Smith, Presbyterian News Service
pastors enter prison; letters welcomed [9-21-02]
The two Presbyterian pastors sentenced to
prison for their participation in a vigil at the School of the
Americas in Fort Benning, GA, have begun serving their terms on
September 10, 2002.
If you want to send messages of support, here
are their addresses. Charles Booker-Hirsch cautions that titles
such as "The Rev." should not be used in the
Charles Booker-Hirsch #90961-020
P.O. Box 8000
Bedford PA 16701
Erik Johnson #90971-020
P.O. Box 3000
Manchester KY 40962
|NOTE: Three other SOA
protesters are being held under illegal conditions in Crisp
County Jail in Georgia. Sojourners
suggests ways to support them.
LOUISVILLE -- August 23, 2002 -- [posted
8-29-02] Two Presbyterian Church (USA) ministers sentenced for
trespassing on a Georgia military base during a non-violent
demonstration last November will begin serving their federal sentences
on Sept. 10.
The Rev. Chuck Booker-Hirsch, 41, will spend 90 days
at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution in Bradford, PA, about
360 miles from his home in Ann Arbor, MI. The Rev. Erik Johnson, 58, of
Maryville, TN, will serve six months at a federal prison in Manchester,
KY, about 170 miles from his home.
Booker-Hirsch also was fined $500. Johnson was fined
They were arrested for trespassing on federal property
at Fort Benning, an Army base near Columbus, GA, during an annual
protest against a facility that offers training to Latin American
military officers -- the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation (WHISC), formerly known as the School of the Americas.
More than 10,000 people took part in the event, which
marks the anniversary of the 1989 slaughter of six Jesuit priests in El
Salvador. More than 100 protesters walked onto federal property,
inviting arrest; 43 were later indicted, and 37 were tried and
Latin American activists say WHISC teaches abusive and
undemocratic practices and point out that many human-rights offenders in
Latin America were trained there. Defenders of the institute dispute the
allegations and note that the WHISC curriculum now includes a
human-rights component. The Army says it cannot be help responsible for
the conduct of every former trainee.
Booker-Hirsch and Johnson will be in minimum-security
"I'm on sabbatical … an involuntary one,"
said Booker-Hirsch, whose congregation, Northside Presbyterian Church in
Ann Arbor, will continue paying his salary while he is in jail.
He said it's ironic that his sentence will begin one
day before the anniversary of the terror attacks of last Sept. 11,
because he considers WHISC a school of terrorism in "our own
backyard." While most graduates may not be terrorists, he said,
"most of the human-rights atrocities (in Latin America) are done by
the school's graduates."
Johnson said he is especially worried now about
violence in Colombia, because the U.S. government is giving billions in
financial and military aid to that country while civilian killings are
on the rise. "I'm ready to go (to prison)," he said.
"What's most difficult for me is the burden of knowing what's
happening to my sisters and brothers in Latin America. These are serious
Johnson blames U.S. foreign policy for much of the
violence in Latin America, especially in Colombia.
Johnson's interim pastorate at the Church of the
Savior, a United Church of Christ congregation in Knoxville, TN, will
end two days before he goes to prison. The congregation's pastor is
returning from a sabbatical in Latin America.
"I'm not going to jail alone," Johnson said,
referring to his co-defendants and their supporters. "There are so
many with me."
He said he will use his prison time to witness to the
gospel, read, pray and continue resisting U.S. policies he has long
Johnson was assigned to a prison relatively close to
his home, but Booker-Hirsch was disappointed to learn that he will be
about 400 miles away from friends and relatives. He said he and his
five-year-old son, Drew, are making a paper chain to help the boy keep
track of passing time and know when his father will return.
"We're coming back," Booker-Hirsch said of
himself and other prisoners of conscience. "People disappear in
Latin America every day, and they never come back."
Booker-Hirsch's mailing address will be: FCI McKean,
P.O. Box 500, Bradford, PA 16701. Johnson's address: FCI Manchester,
P.O. Box 3000, Manchester, KY 40962.