by John Murtari, 1999
I’ve just completed a month in jail with five more to go. I wanted to share my thoughts on what has happened. A primary goal of the Kids-Right.Org web site was to be a place to share experiences using Non Violent Action. If you are not familiar with the concept you can read about how it has been practiced at: www.kids-right.org/civil_back.htm and there is a summary essay at: www.kids-right.org/essays.htm.
More than anything in the world, I was looking forward to spending a peaceful and joy filled time this summer with my seven year old, Domenic. In the Fall I was planning to resume my efforts by walking in our local Federal Building, details at: www.kids-right.org/protest_dm.htm. It was not to be that way.
As is well documented at the web site, I am in jail over several issues involving child support. It appears the Judge did not approve of my reform efforts (from the transcript):
“… let me say Mr. Murtari if you put all the efforts you had in reforming the system, if you directed those specifically in paying child support, your life and Domenic’s would be much better … your continuing incarceration may be a detriment to Domenic. But that’s not the question. The question is not best interests of the child at this point … you need a wake up call with respect to what you are doing and the consequences they are having on your son.
Feelings & Action
Coming back to jail after being denied even a delay in my sentence so Dom could spend some summer vacation with family–was one of the most depressing rides in my life. I was hurt and I was angry. I wanted to lash back. I wanted to yell in that court room, “Judge, how can you be such a blind idiot!”
At times like that, self discipline is the only thing that kept my mouth shut–but I was still upset. I remember some powerful words from a Jesuit Priest. I had asked him how I should feel about an emotional issue. He told me, “John, you’re supposed to feel the way you feel … the only question is what are you going to do about those feelings.” I felt liberated!
The foundation of Non Violent Action is Faith in a loving God. That Faith allowed me to again work through the anger I had with Judges, Lawyers, and my former spouse (www.kids-right.org/apsalm.htm). To remember again these were my brothers & sisters. As much as I could not approve of their actions–I was still called to be good to them. It was not the first time I had to remind myself of this, and also not the last!
I can see why anger filled “protest” can be much more satisfying (in the short term). You get to criticize, yell, gossip and maybe punch your opponent. You can really “give it to them.”
How different could my experience of Non Violence be? That day in court, everybody else went home to family. I went to a jail cell. Is there any justice in that? Am I just beating my head against a wall? I certainly hope not, but I wish I could be sure.
At times I am almost crushed by the weight of the experience, by the uncertainty of the future. A lawyer friend laid out a very bleak legal future: continuing jail sentences and not only the loss of everything I own–but much less contact with Domenic. It would be very easy to write a hundred bad endings to this. How to continue? Faith.
Because I haven’t lied, yelled, or punched anyone, but only acted out of concern for my child–those same behaviors that landed me here also give me the moral courage to continue. The confidence that says I haven’t done anything to deserve this treatment.
The Faith that says I have a heavenly Father that loves me certainly as much as I love Domenic. I have talked to Domenic about the God who loves us and who hears our prayers–were those just hollow words I was saying? Now is my chance to show that I really believe them myself.
I try to do what I believe is right in the present and let God take care of the future. Some people have told me what I am doing isn’t going to help Domenic in the long run–I wonder how they know that? At times many of us have “cooperated” with the system and accepted something we didn’t think was right, but we were being told, “just give in for now, we’ll be able to go back to the Court later …”
Reread the section of our web site that talks about Mahatma Gandhi. He told people not to focus on the “results.” That people who worried about results could eventually justify any action to achieve their goals.
Non Violent Action just asks us to peacefully stand up for what we believe in and to demonstrate that through our own willingness to sacrifice–not by anger towards others. That willingness to sacrifice will change how other people feel and bring positive results.
Present & Future
Captivity can be a draining experience. I remember lessons from my POW training in the military. Take each day one at a time, don’t dwell on what might have been or on the future. In jail I discipline myself to a rigorous schedule, exercise three times a day, regular meals, times to play, and times to read.
Most of all, about 5 times a day, time to pray and reflect. That is the foundation. I have a book of Christian Prayers which has a varied section of Psalms for each day of the week. Never have I found the Biblical Psalms more meaningful–they capture the cry of the human heart. Some of my favorites Psalms, especially from prison, are Psalms 88 and 143.
Each night I pray for release the very next day. It is a humbling experience to realize my future depends on the good will of others, my brothers and sisters. So many people have written the judge on my behalf or spent hours in giving me support and advice (www.kids-right.org/letters_dm.htm). At times I am embarrassed by their good will. Before being jailed, I remember seeing E-Mail list messages asking for letters on someone’s behalf–I never had time or thought it wouldn’t matter. Can you imagine that! My experience has changed my way of thinking, funny how life works that way. The power of Non Violent Action to move the feelings of others.
I write a letter with a puzzle to Domenic once a week. I call and leave a message on their answering machine twice a week. I don’t know if he gets the letters or if he hears my phone messages–but I have done what I can. I don’t control the final result.
But if I need a reminder of why I am here, my continual lack of contact with Dom provides that! It should not be this way. I love my son Domenic very much and I will not voluntarily move to the “back of the bus” in his life.