"Come let us reason together. Although your sins
are as scarlet they shall be made white as snow." Isaiah
Thomas didn't believe that many people in the United States
had a clear understanding of the connection between their sins
and war; America fought its wars from far away. In Israel war
was closer to home, which might provide an incentive to end it.
Jesus had said that God's children would be peacemakers.
On Jesus' word Thomas scrapped his vague plans to return to the
U.S. and set out on foot from London bound for Israel, where he
now planned to sit at the Damascus Gate in the old city of Jerusalem,
to reason on behalf of peace.
Israel is a small country, a person can walk from its northern
to southern extremities in less than a week, yet it is considered
"the Holy Land" by the three major religions of the
western world. Experience made him believe that people in the
Middle East were more apt to have time for talking than folks
in the West.
Governments hadn't impressed him as being motivated by
reason. He had little idea what his journey held in store, maybe
a lifetime in prison. But that would be a communist, Turkish,
Syrian, or Israeli prison. He expected no difficulties in the
"free world," where a person doesn't need papers to
prove his existence is valid.
Thomas was standing on a corner in Dover looking at the
white cliffs and the port when the bobby approached.
"Good afternoon, sir. May I see your identification
papers please?" the constable asked. His nametag read "Timms."
"No, no, you don't understand. Papers. Everyone must
"Why?" Thomas asked.
"So we can tell who you are."
"That's no problem. I can tell you who I am. My name
is William Thomas, a stateless person with no political or religious
beliefs which would threaten anyone's person or property."
"I'll have to take you to the station."
"No you won't," Thomas said. The bobby took a
quick step backward, startled. "I give you my permission
to search me and to search my sleeping bag. If, after having done
so, you have no reason to suspect that I threaten the security
of any person or property then you can and should let me go."
The constable saw things differently. At the station Thomas
showed police officials his baptismal certificate, but they also
wanted to know his place of birth and the day he entered Great
Britain, information which Thomas refused to provide.
First the policemen threatened Thomas, promising to put
him in jail. "Remember that last bloke we found without papers?
How long's he been nicked now? Years, ain't it?"
After threats failed to produce the desired information
the officials moved to the next most gentle methods of police
state persuasion, and slapped him in the face several times. Next,
Thomas' arms were placed behind his back and a pair of handcuffs
were applied, with considerable pressure, not as a restraining
device, but more like a vice. He was slapped and threatened again.
When those tactics did not elicit Thomas' place of birth
or date of entry the police put him in a cell where he remained
unmolested until a Mr. Vetch, dressed as a civilian and identifying
himself as a representative of the British Home Office, came to
Mr. Vetch played the good guy in contrast to the coppers'
bad guy act. He was just there for a nice friendly conversation,
to see if he could help. He patiently asked questions, even though
Thomas twisted his questions about.
"Why do you keep asking me where I come from? Isn't
it more important to be concerned with where I'm going, what I'm
"What of your family, Mr. Thomas? It's been a good
while since they've heard from you, hasn't it? Don't you think
they must be worried about you?"
"Perhaps my parents are worried, but, as you can see,
I am in fine health so their worries would be unfounded. You're
not suggesting, are you, that if I am doing something of value
I should allow myself to be sidetracked by the unfounded fears
That kind of banter continued for quite awhile. Finally
official patience wore thin.
"I can't understand why you're so reluctant to give
us this information," Mr. Vetch sighed.
"And I can't understand why you're so anxious to have
"It's quite simple, really. We must know if you are
wanted by the police."
"Oh. And what if I'm not wanted by the police?"
"If you're not wanted by the police we'll let you
go. After all we can't very well put a man in jail simply because
he hasn't a passport."
That sounded reasonable. George Orwell had predicted 1984,
but it was still only 1979. Nonetheless, Thomas wanted to make
sure everyone understood.
"If I'm not wanted by the police then you'll let me
"Certainly. We don't want to put you in jail. If we
put you in jail we'll just have to feed you."
Feeling as if he'd been slightly paranoid Thomas told Mr.
Vetch that he'd been born in the United States and entered the
United Kingdom on June 29, 1979.
Interpol, the international police organization, had a
file on him from his trips in the Sinai, so, as Thomas expected,
Mr. Vetch returned after a short time.
"What will you do if we let you go?" Mr. Vetch
Thomas was sure that the police check had come back negative,
and that Mr. Vetch was preparing to welsh on his promise.
"I will continue to do what I was doing when your
people interrupted me. I'm going to leave your country."
"But what if the Belgians won't let you in?"
"That should not even enter into your considerations.
I don't anticipate any difficulties entering another country,
and you have no need to concern yourself with my travel plans."
"I'll have to consult my superiors."
"You don't have to do anything of the kind. You're
an intelligent human being. You are capable of making decisions
for yourself," Thomas encouraged. "Anyway if you don't
let me go what are you going to do with me? Once the Egyptian
government asked the government of the United States to have me
deported there. The Americans told them that the United States
was a free country, and that people couldn't be forced to enter
against their will. Now you people are in the same situation.
The last place on Earth that I wish to go is the United States.
It seems to me that your only options are to let me go or to keep
me in prison for the rest of my life."
"I'll have to consult my supervisors," Mr. Vetch
A short time later Constable Timms visited the cell. Ceremoniously
he laid a hand on Thomas' shoulder and recited, "I hereby
place you under arrest for overstaying a limited visa."