Activist Berrigan confined alone after terrorist attacks

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 21, 2001|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

The 77-year-old peace activist Philip F. Berrigan was immediately shifted into solitary confinement at a federal penitentiary Sept. 11 when terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Berrigan was among a number of "high-profile" inmates segregated from the general population in federal prisons across the nation, according to Internet messages received Wednesday at Jonah House, the Roman Catholic anti-war community that Berrigan helped found in Baltimore nearly 30 years ago.

"Phil's in lockdown," said Elizabeth McAlister, Berrigan's wife, who is also a founder of Jonah House. "We don't even know if he's getting mail. We know he's not writing."

Berrigan is confined in the Federal Correctional Institution at Elkton, Ohio, a low-security prison.

Jonah House members believe that on Sept. 11 federal prison authorities also segregated Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist in prison for the killing of two FBI agents in 1975, and Marilyn Buck, convicted of joining a Black Liberation Army robbery of an armored truck during which two police officers and a Brink's guard were killed.

Berrigan has about three months to go on a sentence of a year and a day for violation of parole in connection with an anti-war demonstration at a naval base in Maine.

McAlister says she made about 15 phone calls to the prison Wednesday before she learned that Berrigan was in segregation.

In a letter asking for help from Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, she said that her husband was not allowed visitors or phone calls.

"I was not told why or for how long," she said. She was assured he was permitted to write letters. But she said she has not received any mail from him since before Sept. 11.

An aide to the senator was told that Berrigan was placed in segregation as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and that it was "for his own protection."

Officials at the Elkton prison referred questions to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Traci Billingsley, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said: "All institutions have taken appropriate security measures to make sure the institutions and inmates are secure."

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