To: Director, U.S. Bureau of Prisons
520 First Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20001, USA
From: Mairead Corrigan Maguire
I am writing from Belfast, Northern Ireland to appeal to you to reverse the recent decision canceling all visitation rights for the internationally known, nonviolent peacemaker, Philip Berrigan, age 74, who is currently being held in the Petersburg, Virginia Federal Correctional Institution. I am appalled at this decision.
Firstly, let me say, that Philip Berrigan is being punished for something that he did not do, but for something that I did. This is unjust.
As I understand it, on March 10th, the Regional Supervisor of Virginia Prisons issued an order that Philip Berrigan is not to receive any further visits for one year. The Regional Supervisor is punishing Philip Berrigan not because of something Philip Berrigan did, but because of something I did. Three weeks earlier, on Monday, February 16th, 1998, while I was in the United States, I visited Phil Berrigan in the Petersburg prison. It was the first time I had met him, and I came to offer him my support in his work for peace.
At the time, the United States was threatening to bomb the people of Iraq, and so, in an effort to protest U.S. war preparations and ongoing U.S. nuclear weapons policy, I staged a peaceful protest in the Petersburg prison by refusing to leave--after my visit with Philip Berrigan had already concluded. My peaceful protest was an act of solidarity with this great man and his work for peace.
My action was solely my decision. I acted alone. This was not an action that Philip Berrigan suggested or talked me into. Why then punish Philip Berrigan for something that I did?
I was held overnight in the Richmond city jail and brought before a judge the next afternoon. To my surprise, the prosecutor recommended that all charges against me be dropped and the judge immediately released me.
Philip Berrigan should not be punished for something that I did, especially when the local judge and prosecutor decided that my action was not worthy of punishment. I was willing to take any punishment for my protest against United States war preparations, but none was given to me by the judge. It is illogical, unjust, and unfair then that Philip Berrigan should be punished for an action that I had taken, that he did not urge or take, that I was willing to be punished for, and that the courts decided was not worthy of punishment. Philip Berrigan's wife, children and friends should also not be punished for the next year because of my action. I am horrified by the Regional Supervisor's decision to cancel all visiting rights to Philip Berrigan for one year. To me, this is draconian punishment.
Secondly, let me say that I am appalled that the United States, which prides itself and presents itself to the world as the model of democracy, should so unjustly remove such a basic right as all visitations to a prisoner--and in this case, to such a noble, nonviolent person as Philip Berrigan. This treatment of Philip Berrigan, which is really cruel and barbaric, is not acceptable behavior from any democratic country. Philip Berrigan stands in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. He is one of the century's great voices for peace. I urge you to reverse this decision, and restore his right to regular visitations.
For my part, I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of Philip Berrigan's right to have regular visitations. Thank you very much for your immediate attention to this matter.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire
(Co-founder, Peace People, Northern Ireland;
1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) March 14, 1998