Philip Berrigan Released from Federal Prison

By |2013-09-11T18:55:49-07:00November 18, 1998|

Before dawn on Feb. 12, 1997, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, six religious peace activists, Steve Baggarly from Norfolk, Vir., Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest from Baltimore, Mark Colville of New Haven, Conn., Susan Crane, from Baltimore, Tom Lewis-Borbely of Worcester, Mass. and the Rev. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest from San Jose, Calif., calling themselves Prince of Peace Plowshares, boarded the USS The Sullivans, an Aegis destroyer, at the Bath [Maine] Iron Works (BIW). Inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy to turn swords into plowshares, they poured their own blood and used hammers to beat on the hatches covering the tubes from which nuclear missiles can be fired and unfurled a banner which read Prince of Peace Plowshares, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…Isaiah 2:4.”

The federal government eventually charged them with two felonies: conspiracy to destroy government property and destruction of government property/aiding and abetting. On May 7, 1997, after Federal Judge Gene Carter denied an international law defense, a jury in Portland, Maine convicted all six defendants of both charges. On Oct. 27, 1997, Carter sentenced Berrigan to 24 months in prison, two-years of supervised probation and restitution of approximately $4,667.

On Feb. 16, 1998, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Northern Ireland, visited Berrigan in federal prison. She was moved to stage a nonviolent protest against a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. Prison authorities arrested her, but her charge of trespassing was dismissed. Berrigan, however, would serve ten days in solitary confinement and temporarily lose visiting privileges. However, the Plowshares activist is now scheduled for release from from the Federal Correctional Institute in Petersburg, Virginiaon 8:30 AM on Friday, November 20, 1998

Berrigan received enough “good-time” credit to be released before serving the entire 24 months. The other Prince of Peace Plowshares still incarcerated are Susan Crane and Steve Kelly. Crane received a 27-month sentence, while Kelly’s sentence is 25 months.

Elizabeth McAlister will be there when her husband Philip Berrigan walks out the prison gate. They will return to Baltimore’s Jonah House, the Christian resistance community which they helped form in 1973. That same day, some members of the Jonah House will be traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia.

There will be a massive protest at Fort Benning on Nov. 22, when as many as 1,000 people will be arrested trying to close down the School of the Americas. This is the infamous school at Fort Benning, which has trained thousands of the human rights abusers in Latin America.

On Feb. 12, 1997, in Sagadahoc County District Court, when the Prince of Peace Plowshares were brought to arraignment, Judge Joseph Field felt impassioned enough to say, “Anyone of my generation knows Philip Berrigan. He is a moral giant, the conscience of a generation.”

The Plowshares brought to Bath Iron Works an indictment against those who would use weapons of mass destruction. A portion of the indictment made this argument: “The Aegis weapons and system are a present and immediate danger to all life on earth and a robbery of human needs, human talents and resources. If the missiles exist they will be used. Disarmament brings peace; the weapons are the crime.” However, at their trial, they were forbidden to argue the USS The Sullivans, with its weapons of mass destruction, violates the Constitution, international law and the spiritual laws of God.

The Plowshares movement started on Sept. 8, 1980, when eight activists, including Philip and Daniel Berrigan, entered the General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and hammered and poured blood on two nose cones for nuclear warheads. Since then, there have been more than 50 Plowshares actions, and sentences have ranged in severity to as much as 18 years in jail.

Philip Berrigan and Tom Lewis-Borbely, as part of the Aegis Plowshares, for example, disarmed another Aegis destroyer, the USS Gettysburg, at BIW on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991. While this was the first Plowshares action for Steve Baggarly and Mark Colville, Susan Crane and Rev. Steve Kelly acted on Aug. 7, 1995, as the Jubilee Plowshares-West in disarming NAVSTAR navigational equipment at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, Calif.

In Berrigan’s autobiography, Fighting the Lamb’s War, Skirmishes with the American Empire, he emphasizes Plowshares activists understand “Christ was condemned in accordance with [Roman] law” and “[U.S.] law legalizes nuclear weapons.” It is expected that he will continue his vigorous efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. He will probably be sent to jail again.