March 4, 1998
From: Ellen Thomas, in D.C. Jail - #231-452, South 1, Cell 52, Lexington KY #11897-016
To: Jon Cohen and Michael Willrich, City Paper
Thanks for the article, I have it hanging on my wall here in D.C. Jail, on day 37 of my now 80-day sentence. (Thomas and I received another 30 days Wednesday from U.S. District Court Judge Flannery.) Although there are some gaps -- inevitable when you're reporting something you haven't lived -- it seems to me a fair and honest attempt to describe the vigil in Peace Park.
There are a few points I'd like to clarify:
(1) It's unfortunate that the unified, community-oriented, PEACEFUL vision of most of us wasn't as thoroughly stressed as the divisiveness of one of us. I'm convinced that if we can heal the differences among ourselves in Peace Park, the world too can cross the boundaries from hate to love. I've seen fearful people make great strides toward trust. To me, Peace Park is a microcosm of the greater world, and the problems we seek to resolve among ourselves, and with the government, are mirrored in the problems among nations. There IS one profound difference, though -- we don't have, or want, any weapon but truth.
(2) The Interior Department policy toward the vigil stems back to former Secretary James Watt, not Donald Hodel. In January, 1983, Mr. Watt wrote a memo stating the clearly unconstitutional policy: "It is my intention to ban all demonstrations in Lafayette Park and on the White House sidewalk." Three regulations have been written or selectively enforced since then in an inexorable push to make vigiling so painful as to be virtually impossible.
(3) DOI Solicitor Richard Robbins, not being present during most of the instances of police brutality we suffered in the early years (before we filed our lawsuit), may be officially aware only of one incident of police misconduct as described in your article. However, there were many more, and Mr. Robbins failed to mention that the same day the camera was stolen and film destroyed during our arrest, June 6, 1984, Officer David Haynes had beaten three of us, then charged us with assaulting him. The film which disappeared so conveniently had photographs of Officer Haynes punching Robert Dorrough, choking and kicking Thomas. And so it goes.
(4) I wish you had interviewed Bob Dorrough, whose signs are at the SE corner of Lafayette Park. He, too, is a visionary. He's been part of the vigil since 1983. I heard over the phone you published his letter this week -- that's wonderful, thank you. I look forward to reading it.
(5) As I wrote to Lloyd Grove after his December 14, 1984 Washington Post article, "Birth of a Street Person," I have NEVER heard Thomas describe himself as an "ex-heroin addict." Surely you know not everything that gets into print is the truth. Surely you should have double-checked that statement with Thomas. It undermines Thomas' dignity and credibility to saddle him with such a charge. In FACT, Thomas describes himself as a nomad, a truth-seeker, a philosopher (meaning "lover of wisdom"). And THAT is the truth.
(6) Maybe someday I'll live down the reputation of being a "pest"?
As I wait here in D.C. jail to be returned to Lexington to serve out my remaining 43 days, I ponder the many things I've learned in my journey through the penal system. The injustices are horrifying. (I'll be glad to share some of them with you, if you're interested.) This experience confirms my belief that we have a major overhaul ahead of us. Perhaps only the Second Coming can clean up humanity's act. But I'll keep hoping - and working - for a sane, nuclear-free world, and will head back to Peace Park when released April 16th. For now, though, thanks for your help.