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Writings by Kathy Kelly

Hearing All Voices

Brandy, who lives down the hall, told us that each night a little bird sings a song outside their window. She and her roommates wonder if the bird is confused, if it thinks the sun is rising when the prison floodlights turn on, after sunset. Gypsi, my roommate, who lives in Kentucky, says we hear the song too, and it’s a bat! I like the notion of little bats delivering nocturnal songs to us before we settle in for the night.

The Storm Is Over

photo credit Charles O'Rear, EPA 1973Photo credit Charles O’Rear, EPA 1973Lightning flashed across Kentucky skies a few nights ago. “I love storms,” said my roommate, Gypsi, her eyes bright with excitement. Thunder boomed over the Kentucky hills and Atwood Hall, here in Lexington, KY’s federal prison. I fell asleep thinking of the gentle, haunting song our gospel choir sings: “It’s over now, It’s over now. I think that I can make it. The storm is over now.”

Sing Another Song

photo credit Chris Downer CC BY_SA 2.0Photo Credit Chris Downer CC BY-SA 2.0April 2, 2015
Here in Lexington federal prison’s Atwood Hall, squinting through the front doorway, I spotted a rust-red horse swiftly cantering across a nearby field. The setting sun cast a glow across the grasses and trees as the horse sped past. “Reminds me of the Pope,” I murmured to no one in particular. “What’s that?” Tiza asked. I tried to explain,

Crosscurrents

Professor Yang Yoon MoProfessor Yang Yoon Mo on Jeju IslandBy the time I leave Kentucky’s federal prison center, where I’m an inmate with a 3 month sentence, the world’s 12th-largest city may be without water. Estimates put the water reserve of Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, at sixty days. Sporadic outages have already begun, the wealthy are pooling money to receive water in tankers, and

St Patrick's Day Greetings from Prison

green triumphs over greygreen triumphs over greyAtwood Hall’s food service decided to serve roast beef and corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. I enjoyed my oatmeal, but feel appreciative of efforts to interrupt monotony and tedium here. Blissfully, nature trumped anyone’s efforts!



Possibility of Escape

FMC Lexington (photo credit: asylumprojects.org)FMC Lexington (photo credit: asylumprojects.org)It was a little over two weeks ago that Marlo entered Atwood Hall, here in Lexington federal prison. Nearly all the women here are nonviolent offenders. When I first saw Marlo, her eyes seemed glued to the tiled floors as she shuffled along hallways. I guessed her age to

A Pivot on the Peace Island

Kathy Kelly at Jeju IslandKathy Kelly at Jeju IslandJeju Island, South Korea – For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the Republic of Korea (ROK), as a guest of peace activists living in Gangjeong Village on ROK’s Jeju Island. Gangjeong is one of the ROK’s smallest villages, yet activists here, in their struggle against the construction of a massive naval base, have inspired people around the world.

Remembering Nur Agha Akbari

An Afghan friend, Nur Agha Akbari, was killed by gunmen in Afghanistan two weeks ago. The photo above shows his daughters sitting at his graveside. An Afghan friend, Nur Agha Akbari, was killed by gunmen in Afghanistan two weeks ago. The photo above shows his daughters sitting at his graveside.

July 3, 2013

On June 17th, in Afghanistan, The Frontier Post reported that unidentified gunmen shot dead two employees of the agriculture ministry as they traveled through the Logar province. One of them was our friend, Noor Agha Akbari. He and his colleague had been distributing gardening items in the Alam district and were on their way home to their families in Kabul.

In 2010, the first Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation to visit Afghanistan carried a short list of people whom an expat then living outside of Afghanistan strongly recommended we contact. When we called Nur Agha Akbari, he immediately agreed to meet with us, and so began a friendship which eventually allowed dozens of people from the U.S. to better understand challenges faced by ordinary Afghan families struggling for a better, fairer society. Now we are extending condolences to his family. As noted above, gunmen killed him as he traveled back to Kabul after having distributed gardening items in the Logar province.

Mr. Akbari was a robust, energetic, well educated man from a respected, academic Afghan family. In the late 1970s, Nur had gone to study agriculture in the UK and remained there, becoming an organic farmer. His four brothers had stayed in Afghanistan, or else returned there after studies abroad. His two eldest brothers had trained in the Soviet Union – one as an engineer, one as a nuclear scientist – and had received early warning of the likelihood of what came to be the 1979 Soviet invasion. They spoke out publicly about their fears as the invasion grew more and more imminent.

On December 27 of that year, Soviet troops occupied major government, media and military buildings in Kabul, initiating a nine-year war between a nationalist/fundamentalist resistance (the “Mujahideen”) and the Soviet occupiers. Soviet officials fired Nur’s oldest brother from his cancer research work at Kabul University and blacklisted him. He found himself unable to work, and soon joined the resistance. Nur doesn’t know much about what happened to him then, but he was among thousands of people bulldozed into mass graves after capture and execution by the Soviets. All told Nur knows very little about the fates of his three older brothers, all killed in the war. But their tragedy would largely shape his life.

Nur had arranged for his surviving, younger, brother to join him in the UK. But Nur would lie awake at night, thinking about the children and the wives of his slain brothers. Concerned that his nephews and nieces were now fending for themselves in Afghanistan’s war zones, fatherless and penniless, he resolved to return home.

Reflection from the road

On day 50 of the Guantanamo hunger strike and day 6 of a Witness Against Torture fast in solidarity with prisoners in Guantanamo, I’m on a bus traveling a mountain highway in Virginia. Spring colors, muted yet certain, emerge across fields and valleys. Distant blue peaks shadow farms where cows and horses graze. The scenery is picturesque and pastoral. A week ago, aboard a train to West Virginia, I stared at towns marked by a sad, strong contrast. The train passed through Appalachian towns. Collapsed houses, abandoned lots and blighted neighborhoods reminded me of war zones.

War without End

U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad, in March 2003, in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad, in March 2003, in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.

March 19, 2013

Ten years ago, in March of 2003, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated “Shock and Awe” attacks that the U.S. was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn’t want U.S. - led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families there, in open violation of the economic sanctions which directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society, - the poor, the elderly, and the children.

I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.

“I think I understand,” murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. “It’s a death row for infants.” Nearly all of the children were condemned to death, some after many days of writhing in pain on bloodstained mats, without pain relievers. Some died quickly, wasted by water-borne diseases. As the fluids ran out of their bodies, they appeared like withered, spoiled fruits. They could have lived, certainly should have lived - and laughed and danced, and run and played- but instead they were brutally and lethally punished by economic sanctions supposedly intended to punish a dictatorship over which civilians had no control.

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