It is quite possibly no news at all by now, that my brothers Philip and David Eberhardt are in the “hole” at Lewisburg Federal Prison; as nearly as we can learn, they were consigned there on or about July 8. For those unfamiliar with penal arrangements, it may be useful to describe “the hole,” whose existence is not widely discussed in prison guide books. Every prison boasts in one or another form, such a facility; a small isolated cell, with or without mattress and toilet, in which the condign crime of punishment may go forward for indefinite periods. No outside exercise, visitors, contacts, books; often, in winter, no heat (or excess heat, no ventilation); even, in extreme cases, no clothing. Such is the common threat; such often the fate assigned those who prove, in some way or other, recalcitrant against (the words are Philip's) “rehabilitation experts, under whose care one is transformed into a robot or a drone.”
Philip is declining to be so transformed. His decision may be of some moment, for the church also. As he was the first priest in our national history to become a political prisoner, so now his presence in the hole changes that dungeon literally into a “priest hole”—a throwback (throw forward?); in any case an historic link with other periods and other priests. In Elizabethan England, one remembers, Jesuits and others at the mercy of public justice, often hid out in airless pockets for days on end, while pursuivants sacked the premises in search of them.
But now that these men are holed in, it seems necessary to change our language in regard to their situation, as well as that of Bobby Seale and other ‘political prisoners.' I am suggesting that it is no longer accurate to speak of such men in these terms. Rather, they must be thought of as hostages of war.
A few facts. Philip and David have been kept for some three months, in a high-security prison, against all precedent which invariably consigns political prisoners to low-security work camps. They have been warned, moreover, that there will be no change in their prison conditions, until I have surrendered or been captured. Moreover, some time before the date when we were to surrender for our Catonsville 'crime,' we were told that once we were behind bars, the judge would hold hearings loading to reduction of sentence. Those hearings have since been held in regard to Tom Lewis, and his sentence of six years cut by half; he had surrendered on the appointed day. But Philip's sentence stands unchanged, because for some ten days, he refused induction into the armed forces of federal justice.
In simple mathematics, Philip is thus paying with three years of his life, for ten days at large—a ration of one hundred days in prison for each day he resisted. This, I submit, is a ratio of punishment to crime which recalls the Nazi or Fascist treatment of hostages of the maquis, the South African or Angolan disposition of captured guerrillas, the Ky bullies moving against Buddhists and students, the U.S. incarceration of Panthers without bail. The war has indeed come home, and Bobby Scale, David and Philip are among the first to be captured behind the lines.
Prior to the latest crisis at Lewisburg, a pattern of repressive treatment was slowly heating up the atmosphere. The facts are known to us by now. Philip was placed under suspicion of organizing a penal strike, his cell was repeatedly shaken down and his personal writing seized, his mail was over-censored, seized, sent back to friends (even to formerly approved correspondents) and used to attempt to trace my whereabouts. A memorandum was issued to guards to watch him as a potentially dangerous organizer. He was subject to shakedown search of person, in the yard; for what, we are in the dark. He and Eberhardt were singled out for two minor violations, even though they stood in a crowd of prisoners violating the same rule; none of the others was so charged. Finally, the chapel vestry where Philip had vested for Mass, was ransacked; for dynamite, firearms, writings—we have no clue.