Priest clocks up 11 years’ jail time for crimes of conscience

Standing up for his beliefs resulted in a Jesuit priest committing several crimes of conscience. So far Stephen Kelly has been incarcerated for 11 years and is currently being held in a federal prison for a 2018 crime.

The event that proved to be the “last straw” before his most recent loss of freedom involved cutting a padlock on a perimeter fence gate at the US Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on 4 April 2018.

The base is the Atlantic home port of the Navy’s Trident submarines, which are armed with D-5 nuclear missiles and carry enough firepower to “essentially end the human experiment”.

Kelly and six other Catholic peace activists (self-named as the Kings Bay Plowshares) made there way to three different parts of the nuclear base.

All seven were arrested and tried in the federal court of three felonies and misdemeanour trespassing, for what the U.S. attorney referred to as “vandalism” during their October 2019 trial.

At the time Kelly was on probation for a 2017 misdemeanor conviction. That conviction followed his protest at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base in Washington, which is the Trident submarines’ Pacific home port.

All seven – pictured – were convicted of the felonies and misdemenour. Because of his previous conviction, Kelly was denied bail and has now been cooling his heels a detention centre for eleven months for two nonviolent crimes of conscience.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has left all seven activists awaiting sentencing to federal prison for 11 months. While the other six have been released on bond, Kelly (71) is in a windowless jail where he rarely sees sunlight.

Prisoners are allowed “outside” occasionally when they are taken to what is described as “a cement cryptlike box with high walls and a grate-like fence as a roof”. If the sun is not directly overhead, the prisoners never see it.

Kelly’s current almost 30-month stint in jail has pushed the amount of time to beyond 11 years that he has spent behind bars, all for nonviolent direct action in the cause of peace.

Kelly’s set of stringent principles have seen him refuse work at the prison. Because all penal institutions rely on prisoner labour to function, he opts out of work that would support the racist prison industrial complex.

As a result, he has spent more than six years of his life in solitary confinement.

According to Amnesty International, solitary confinement is a human rights violation and often constitutes a breach of international law.

Described as a man of great discipline and a deep and abiding faith in the God of love, Kelly spends his time reading, commiserating with the 30-plus guys in his cellblock, leading a Bible study and maintaining his solitary witness for peace.

He “never bemoans his plight and always sounds upbeat on his frequent phone calls to his co-defendants and friends,” says fellow-protester Patrick O’Neill.



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