I had a real treat a couple of weeks ago. Elli and I spent the weekend in New York City to celebrate our granddaughter, Josie’s second birthday. It took relatively little effort. A bit of planning, 3 or 4 hours in the car fighting heavy traffic, and we could join the other grandparents and a couple of aunts for a party with Josie, her parents and a few of their friends. It was a special, but commonplace, family ritual that fell within the normal course of our lives.
It isn’t so easy for some people. Just two days after I returned from New York, the RFC held its first granting meeting of the year. We made several dozen awards, but one new one stood out for me. We received a request from the grandson of RFC Advisory Board member Leonard Peltier. He asked for an Attica Fund prison visit travel grant to enable him to introduce Leonard to his great grandchildren. The family lives in South Dakota and can’t afford to visit Leonard who is now imprisoned in Danbury, Connecticut. What this family must go through just to consummate a simple family gathering enrages me. It saddens me that Leonard has been in prison for so long that neither his grandchildren, nor his growing number of great grandchildren, have ever known him as a free man. I hope every RFC contributor takes some pride in helping to facilitate this family reunion.
I learned of another bitter-sweet reunion at about the same time. I have told Ray Levasseur’s story many times (see Blogs “Ray Returns, Parts 1 & 2, 11/5 & 11/12/09). I first learned about Ray and his fellow Ohio 7 defendants in 1988. They were three married couples, and a single man who were arrested in 1985. The three couples had nine children between them. The government seized three of the children, interrogated them and held them incommunicado for weeks.
This horrible story evoked distressing memories of my childhood, but what happened to these kids, aged 1l, five and three, seemed even worse. Their plight percolated in my subconscious only to reemerge five months later with the realization that my dream of starting a foundation in my parents’ name had found its focus. The foundation would help children today suffering the same nightmare I endured as a child. While there were other factors involved, it is no exaggeration to say that the case of the Ohio 7 gave birth to the RFC.
Ray, who served almost 20 years in prison and is now out, last week wrote to tell me that he has been discharged from parole and is finally a totally free man. It was a short note, as he has a lot of people to communicate with, many of whom the conditions of his parole had forbid him to contact. He concluded his letter by describing a very special upcoming event: “Pat [Ray’s ex-wife] was one of those I was prohibited from having contact with, direct or indirect. [In two weeks] we’ll all be gathering together - the grandparents, three daughters and three grandchildren – in the same place for the first time.”
What a joy to share such family milestones. I dream of the day when all our beneficiary families can do so without state supervision.
The fact that these individuals are forced to serve terms so very far away from their families--and that parole can forbid you from talking to your family members--is something that is so sad. As someone who teaches criminal justice courses, this is also something that shocks my students. It needs more publicity!