Cool pic from the FJ archives. I don’t know much about it other than it may have originated at Haverford College and Rachel Davis DuBois might or might not be one of the women pictured.
My author chat interview with Joseph Olejak, author of 26 Weekends at Columbia County Jail in the March issue of Friends Journal.
Unlike most war tax resistance cases, Joseph’s was prosecuted and he was sentenced to 26 weekends at his local county jail (you can learn details about the sentencing from this article on the NWTRCC website).
I found Joseph’s piece far more interesting beyond the peace and taxes issue. Joseph started keeping a classic Quaker journal while in prison and documented the stories of his fellow inmates. The Friends Journal article, (and a part two to run later this year) is only an excerpt from these voluminous accounts. What I found striking is how often many of Joseph’s political and career choices (he’s a chiropracter) were surprisingly echoed in the lives of the prisoners. There was a lot of drug dependence starting in military service and quite a few stories seemed to be people “self medicating” from physical injuries or mental health issues. Many of these men wouldn’t be there if we had a more enlightened medical system, veteran support system, and decriminalized and treated non-violent drug addictions.
FJ’s videographer Jon Watts interviewed Joseph last year with far superior video production standards for the QuakerSpeak project: Why I Stopped Paying Taxes.
These days, Joseph is working on a letter-writing campaign at Old Chatham Meeting in New York in support of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund , working with sympathetic congresspeople since 1971 to pass legislation would redirect the taxes of people of conscience toward non-military spending.
Ninth Circuit Rules Against Quaker War Tax Resister. Court rules that Elizabeth Boardman’s protest is frivolous:
War tax resisters tend to be scrupulous and totally transparent in what they are doing, while tax protesters often engage in behavior, like hiding assets, that makes it difficult to distinguish them from tax evaders. This distinction probably accounts for the extreme rarity of prosecution of war tax resisters for tax crimes.
Mass incarceration from the inside: “This is the biggest racket they have going”. When Joseph Olejak was sentenced to 26 weekends in prison for war tax resistance, he brought along a journal. In excerpts printed in this month’s issue of Friends Journal, he shares some stories behind the mind-numbing statistics of mass incarceration.
[My fellow prisoner] John had this to say: ‘This is the biggest racket they have going. They like to keep you circling in and out, and they’ll violate you for the smallest thing.’
From Rebecca Onion in Slate, a great piece about inmates at America’s oldest women’s prison rewriting the history of its benevolent Quaker founders. Prisoners researching the history of the institution found that the common story didn’t line up with what they found:
“a feel-good story” about Quaker reformers rescuing women from abuse in men’s prisons and turned it into a darker, more complicated tale.
This article on the Quaker two Quaker women who started a prison in Indiana in 1873 who turn out not to be the benevolent figures handed down by history should not be terribly surprising.
A lot of 19th century Quaker reformist activity was equal parts interesting and horrid. There was a lot of condescension toward lower classes–Quaker scientists did some of the earliest eugenics studies and one working in South Jersey coined the word “moron” to label people of inferior genetics.
Another type of Quaker social work consisted of scrubbing the ethnicity and quirkiness out of social inferiors. There’s a great set of before and after pictures in Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890–1940 that shows an immigrant slum kitchen after the Quaker-connected Octavia Hill Association got through with it. They took down wallpaper and swept the place–as if mantlepiece clutter were to blame for the institutionalized poverty and racism these immigrants faced.
And yet… Some of these reformers’ work looks good on paper. The Octavia Hill renovation included adding a new window in the kitchen. Cleaning up ghettos and acclimatizing new immigrants to the unwritten norms of their new homeland is useful. I wonder if part of the problem is that these reformers weren’t asking the more radical questions–Why were immigrants fleeing here? Why were they being offered better jobs? Who profited by keeping them scared and desperate?
The twenty-first century inmates writing this new history have some perspective on this. They’re asking why women committing petty crimes were incarcerated while one of the prison’s co-founders lived off of the gains of an husband who embezzled large amounts of money.
In many ways this echoes the current discussions of white privilege. Crime was not then and is not now enforced equally. In Ferguson most of the town was literally classified as criminals based on the most subjective of broken laws. As pillars of the community Quakers were given a pass, both by outsiders and within our own ranks. We must ask hard questions about seemingly-neutral conflicts which result is ongoing patterns and we must constantly pay attention to who’s defining the definitions.
Also of interest: a long account of Rhonda Coffin (pictured), the prison co-founder whose husband lost the fortune (and who was later drummed out of Friends). She’s a fascinating and complicated figure at the forefront of the tectonic changes then occurring among Indiana Friends: wealthy, Evangelical, a social reformist and support of revivals. She argued for feminine values when establishing a prison and yet was stepping out of “traditional” female role herself by doing this work.
Meeting for Readings and How to Do Them. C Wess Daniels describes a way to engage the church community:
I’ve found this to be a great practice for churches looking to build group participation and engage with the biblical text in a new way.
How a Small Quaker Group Forced PNC Bank to Stop Financing Mountaintop Removal. George Lakey examines the tactical decisions behind the Quaker environmental groups organizing:
The group made a number of decisions along the way that attracted criticism, even from some who agreed with EQAT that global warming is a threat. EQAT recognized that many Americans are in denial about the class warfare raging around them. Targeting a bank, we though, might help people smell the coffee.