Jonah House supporters protest probation terms

2 with criminal records not allowed to live there

April 14, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

For the Catholic Worker peace activists who live there, West Baltimore's Jonah House is a place of community, prayer and good works, but to federal probation officials, it is a place of crime.

Two former members of the Jonah House community, Susan Crane and Michele Naar Obed, have returned there in defiance of the U.S. Department of Probation, which ordered them not to live in the house after their release from federal prison, where they served terms for civil disobedience.

About 20 people, including Crane and Obed, protested yesterday outside the downtown building that houses the federal probation offices, demanding that the probation terms be changed. No arrests were made.

"We say that we're not criminals," said Crane, "We're not violent people. We try to stop the evil around us."

Obed, who until recently had lived with her husband and 4-year-old daughter in Duluth, Minn., was released from prison in November 1997 after serving 18 months for defacing a nuclear submarine in Newport News, Va.

Philip Berrigan, Crane and four others were convicted of destroying government property after they boarded a nuclear-capable Aegis destroyer in a Maine shipyard in February 1997 and banged on it with hammers. Crane was released in February and returned to Jonah House despite being ordered by probation officials to relocate to Maine, where she says she has no ties.

Berrigan was permitted to return to Jonah House after his release from prison in November, but only if he did not live with anyone with a criminal record, except his wife, Elizabeth McAlister, who also has been arrested for civil disobedience. By living under the same roof with two felons, he is violating the terms of his probation.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Crane.

"They want to close us down, obviously," Berrigan said. "This is one way of handling us or any kind of dissent. It's just repression. They want the American public docile and manipulable and silent."

A probation official who met with members of the group during yesterday's protest said he would revisit the cases. "I'm going to look at each one of the cases and figure out exactly what happened," said Thomas Wise, deputy chief of the U.S. Probation Office in Baltimore.

Jonah House was founded in 1973 by Berrigan, McAlister and other activists protesting the war in Vietnam. Over the years, Jonah House members have engaged in acts of civil disobedience related to protests over war and the production of nuclear weapons.

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