Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary is a “maximum security” institution located in eastern Pennsylvania. Although Lewisburg is for prisoners considered to be dangerous criminal types—the reason for its high walls, gun turrets, sliding steel doors, triple locks, and guarded cell blocks—it also serves as a processing point for political prisoners and other “low-risk” convicts who pass through on their way to Lewisburg Farm or the nearby Allenwood Camp. The latter are “minimum security” arrangements, that is, prisons without walls.
The crucial difference between “maximum” and “minimum” security, however, is less architectural than psychological. The potential for violence at Lewisburg, where murders, rapes, and beatings among inmates are not uncommon, makes it a frightening place, especially for peaceful political prisoners, who are usually resented by the general population and the prison staff.
In mid-April, Father Philip Berrigan, after ten days as a fugitive, was apprehended and confined in maximum security in Lewisburg to serve a sentence of six years for having taken part in the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine draft board actions. On July 9, in his fourth month of maximum security and fourth day of voluntary solitary confinement, Father Berrigan wrote to Senator Charles Goodell. In a brief, mild-mannered letter, Berrigan protested his daily bread of cruel and unusual harassment—tampered mail, sanctioned stool pigeons, incessant surveillance, periodic shakedowns of person and quarters, denial of legitimate visitors, and the refusal of minimum security, which is the normal lot of political prisoners.
“The reason alleged for the latter,” Berrigan explained, “is the fact that we absconded (refusing to surrender to US marshals) on April 9th. (We did abscond to attend a peace rally in New York City, but we did notify both the press and the FBI.) The real reason, however, is this—my brother, Father Dan Berrigan, is still a fugitive; and everybody thinks that I can help apprehend him. Fortunately, he’s wise enough not to let me know where he is.”
He suggested that Goodell might wish to check up on his case and that of other political prisoners with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Berrigan closed the letter by contrasting the relatively comfortable nest inhabited by congressional doves with the jeopardized situation many war resisters endure. “I’m indicting no one,” he added. “I’m merely trying to point out that you need us, as we need you. Without us, you could not, perhaps, talk as freely against the war as you do. And without you, there would be complete intransigence from the government.”
Berrigan’s note was about to get a form reply of concern when Judy Poole, a nineteen-year-old Cornell student on leave to work for Goodell, rescued it from the pile and passed it up to the senator.
The senator was more sympathetic than most of his colleagues would have been. Goodell had introduced the first end-the-war amendment in Congress in September, 1969; he and McGovern were the only senators to appear at the November Moratorium in Washington; he was one of four …