My Mentor Was a Quaker Jailbird

As I’ve been studying the consequences of the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. military forces from northern Syria, I came across this fascinating article by Brian Terrell telling of a connection between Iowa Quakers and peace activists and events concerning Turkey and the Kurds in Syria in 2002.

Current events concerning Turkey and the Kurds in Syria remind me of a conversation I had with a US Air Force colonel almost 17 years ago in a courtroom in Des Moines. To refresh my memory, I dug deep into my closet and dusted off the transcript of the case, “STATE OF IOWA, plaintiff vs. CHRISTINE GAUNT et al.,” in which I was a defendant, heard in February, 2003, the month before the US invasion of Iraq. The following quotes from that dialogue are verbatim per the transcript.

The case concerned an alleged trespass at the headquarters of the 132nd Tactical Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard, based at Des Moines International civilian airport, on October 26, 2002. Activists from around Iowa blocked the gates of the base in protest of the 132nd’s participation in Operation Northern Watch, the no-fly zone over northern Iraq imposed by the US after the Gulf War that lasted until the Iraq War in 2003. Pilots and crews of the Guard’s F-16 fleet went to Turkey to participate in patrolling northern Iraq or to Kuwait to patrol in Operation Southern Watch for a month during most of the years those no-fly zones were in place.

The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”, by Brian Terrell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, October 18, 2019

Chris Gaunt, mentioned above is a family friend. Another person who was arrested that day was the late Sherry Hutchison, who was a dear friend of mine. Sherry had long been a peace activist in many different ways. She was a member of the Des Moines Valley Friends (Quaker) meeting and clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. I was blessed to be able to get to know Sherry better and work with her when she taught me how to be the clerk of that Committee. I realize we don’t often talk about these things, but it is hard to express how important and valuable it is for experienced members in leadership positions to pass their knowledge and wisdom on to those who will be taking on those roles.

My post yesterday was Sharing our Stories with Each Other. In that, I mentioned the Quaker Story Project as a way to preserve the stories of Quakers. The following story by Sherry about her arrest at the Iowa National Guard base mentioned above, is one of the stories available on the Quaker Story Project, and an example of how stories such as this survive after the authors have passed on.

Diary of a Jailbird by Sherry Hutchison

Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home 

The weekend of Nov. 15-16, 2002 started with a conference on Saturday at the Drake Olmsted Center, hosted by the Drake chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. Those who planned to do civil disobedience the next day at the army National Guard headquarters in Johnston attended a nonviolence training session in the afternoon. 

Crossing the Line 

Wendy Vasquez and I were among the ten people who planned to cross the line — a red line spray-painted on the grass on the grassy knoll opposite the entrance to the National Guard base.  

It was reassuring to see Meeting folks with the meeting’s banner which says, “Peace Is the Answer.”  

Carla Dawson, who hadn’t planned to cross the line, had been arrested even before I arrived, for stepping over it to help someone else. Several people made statements, and the Raging Grannies, from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, sang twice. As Wendy read the statement prepared by the group the day before, she was interrupted by the news that Jane Magers was being arrested, also unexpectedly, while trying to get out of the way of a TV camera. 

Carla was supposed to be Wendy’s support person; Jane was supposed to be mine. This left both of us without support persons, to whom you give the stuff you don’t want with you at the jail, and who expect to pick you up at the jail after your release. 

The group held hands as we started forward toward the Polk County Sheriff’s deputies, dressed in riot gear (probably to look scary; they’d been told we were nonviolent). They took us by our arms, two of them to each of us, handcuffed us with our hands behind our backs, and led us across the road toward the two paddy wagons. Our nonviolence trainers had advised us to interact with our captors, and we did. They were polite, though obviously eager to arrest as many as possible!  

Also, charges against Chris Gaunt, a protester from Grinnell who went limp seem to me to have been exaggerated. She was charged with resisting arrest (for going limp) and assault. The latter charge was added after she’d been thrown into the paddy wagon face down into a narrow space. When she complained that her wrists were hurting, she was advised to wiggle out of there. She could do that only by squirming, and unintentionally touched a trooper with a foot. (She later was my cell-mate in the Polk County jail.)

The ride to the jail was with our hands in handcuffs behind us; no seatbelts. However, the sheriff’s deputies said they’d take the interstate and freeway, to avoid the stops and starts from the shorter route. 

After we arrived there, the jailers brought bins for our clothing and all our personal items. We had to put on jail underwear, orange jump suits, socks and slippers. The men were in one glass-enclosed holding cell, the women in another.  

A young woman, Desiree, already was in the holding cell. We heard her story; she’d had a marijuana cigarette when she was arrested, but was charged with intent to manufacture and deliver drugs. She was going to plead guilty only to possession, not the additional charges.  

Being held in jail was a change of expectations. The people arrested in March for a similar protest had been released on their own recognizance after their information was taken.  

The jailers brought supper — a carton of milk, a ham and cheese sandwich on sliced white bread, and Twinkies. Two by two, most of us were told to pick up a blanket and a mat, and were led to a cell, where we were locked in for the night. The only thing that kept us from complete sensory deprivation was having a cell-mate to talk with. Mine, Chris Gaunt, had crossed the line at the School of the Americas and had served time in a county jail in Georgia. She said those jailers were contemptuous of everybody they held. At least, she said, here they were polite. 

That mat between me and the bunk didn’t provide much padding; I never could get into a position comfortable enough to go to sleep. 

In the morning, they brought us a carton of orange juice and one of milk, and some packaged sweet rolls. The most disorienting thing about being there was not knowing what time it was. I asked the jailer who led us to the courtroom what time it was; it was a little before 9 a.m. We were met there by Kathy, an attorney friend of our lawyer, Sally Frank. Kathy told us what we could expect and what our options were. We each saw the judge, pleaded not guilty, and were led back to our cells. 

After a long morning, it was time for lunch — a repeat of last night’s supper menu. A person could get malnutrition while gaining weight on jail food. It was late afternoon when a jailer came and told me to bring my mat and blanket; I was being bailed out! (Owen & D.J. Newlin were my benefactors.) The bail money had been brought that morning; it took all day for the jail & court people to labor through their paperwork. 

Wendy and Carla had spent the night in the holding tank with Desiree and another young woman who was brought in. She’d been arrested on a warrant for missing her court date; she’d been giving birth to a baby at that time. 

It was a relief to be able to change back into my own clothes, get my wrist watch back, and to be able to discipline my hair again with the clips and hair band I’d had to take off — and to see cars driven by friends ready to take us all back to our cars or home. I was thankful merely to feel like a human being again.

This entry was posted in civil disobedience, peace, Quaker, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My Mentor Was a Quaker Jailbird

  1. Bill Samuel says:

    I knew her when I was a child and my family attended Des Moines Valley Meeting (which I was invited to join but refused because of the Meeting’s attitude towards children). I have known many jailbirds. My faculty advisor at Wilmington College was Larry Gara, a Quaker who is the only American to have served two prison terms under the Selective Service Act.

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