By Norman Lowry
The May, 2012 edition of PeaceSigns included an account by Berry Friesen of the sentencing of Norman Lowry to 1-7 years in Pennsylvania state prison for criminal trespass at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Lancaster PA. Over a period of 28 month prior to his sentencing, Lowry on three occasions had protested the making of war by the U.S. military by interfering with the Center’s recruitment efforts. He is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution near Dallas, PA. His Conscience Behind Bars: The Prison Letters of Norman Lowry was published by Lulu in December, 2012. This is letter #14.
For those imprisoned the parole system is highly valued, as it provides opportunity for early release. Most see themselves as having little-to-no freedom in prison; freedom to them is an external – something that will make them happier, something that will remove their pain.
I am in prison because I am free. Freedom to me is internal, a gift only given by our loving Creator, a rock on which to stand firm in spite of pain and inconvenience. As such, the parole system has nothing of value to offer. It is simply a part of the problem, another mechanism in the systematic violence, racism, bigotry and poverty-production.
Throughout the course of my amped-up protestations (against military recruitment), release from incarceration has been solely dependent upon my willingness to acquiesce to the court’s demand that I agree to cease my acts of civil disobedience. As a matter of conscience, this will never occur as I consider it to be my obligation to break any law that protects the obvious tyranny of government, which is supposed to be the servant of its constituency and not its enslaver.
Parole remains my available ticket for early release from incarceration and has been available to me since my sentencing date (May 21, 2012). Recently, I was invited to my first official parole meeting, a pre-parole interview. During this interview, I asked to sign a letter of intent to max out my sentence, of which I have nearly six years remaining.
After reviewing my offense (trespass) and my scheduled release date (August 1, 2018), the interviewer was stunned by my choice. I explained that I was simply not interested in co-signing any system that sought to enslave my fellow man. The interviewer proceeded to schedule a parole board hearing. He stated my request to max out my sentence would be accepted if the board was unable to change my mind.
My parole board interview occurred the following day. As I am a nonviolent offender, I was interviewed by only one board member. She was most interested in discussion, which included questions about my “different” faith in Jesus and in its inherent hope for humanity. She was particularly interested in finding out how – given my assessment of world conditions and demographics — I could see good in others. As with my judges, she stated her belief that actions such as mine seldom seem to change things. Thus, she said, I would be wise to reconsider a return to “normal” society.
And she said she was touched by my seemingly serious affection for the oppressed and marginalized. It is my prayer that this is genuine, from her heart.
Finally, she asked for my bottom line statement. I told her that I love Jesus, her, her children, and future generations of her children enough to stand against fear and for love. This is a picture of how Jesus intends for life to be. I would rather invest the balance of my life with those whom we enslave than to aid in the process of enslavement.
In response, she said that my petition would be granted by the board but that I could apply for parole at any time should I choose to become part of “normal” society again. I reassured her that my conscience and my grand love for God and others would never allow for this to be. She then thanked me and
warmly shook my hand, wishing me well.
My escort guard was quite talkative after our meeting and also wished me well. As with my interviewer, I assured him of my continued prayers for him and his precious ones. Between him and my fellow inmates awaiting hearings (a five-plus hour process), Jesus opened the door to some quality dialogue. Sharing Jesus’ love and concern is such a joy! It is my continuing prayer that others may find hope in Jesus, as I am finding hope in him continually.
Upon returning to my cell block, my free times and meal times were filled with discussions, as the buzz of my choice to forego parole was most perplexing to other inmates. Many told me that they think me “nuts” yet also told me “thanks” for my stand and for listening to my “spiritual people” who are inspiring me to care. What joy it is to watch God work in the lives of those who have come to believe that there is no hope! How I praise him!
Parole is and will remain a non-option for me. I love God and my fellow man too much to change my mind. Prison (as with other kinds of oppression and enslavement) will never be something I like. It is a sewer, a privately constructed hell for those whom we choose not to value and thus marginalize, oppress, abuse and impoverish. It is the place to put people out of sight and out of mind. I will never like prison but I will like (and love) those imprisoned.
Neither prison nor any other illicit device of Satan or man is capable of taking my freedom from me. It is a gift of our loving God. . . . . period! Because I am free, I can live in this sewer, this hell, loving those enslaved here rather than using my freedom on the outside to be a part of society of slave makers and owners.
A couple of days ago, one of my spiritually wise people (Daniel) asked me what would happen if the parole board were to make my sentence disappear and release me from prison. I answered, “I would ask Jesus.”
Before entering prison, Jesus asked me to move from my comfortable, middle-to-upper income neighborhood and into the poor part of town. He then asked me to come to prison. Maybe he would lead me to live on a Native American Reservation, or in some other type of refugee camp, or on the streets. Wherever he would choose to lead me, I would gladly go, following in his footsteps.
Jesus, who created and owns all that exists, purposefully made himself poor that he might “reach across” to those who were the lowest and poorest in the eyes of their neighbors. How could I do less? “I am crucified with Christ . . . . . .”