The Transform Now Plowshares from left to right: Michael Walli, Sr. Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed. (Pax Christi)
MINNEAPOLIS — An 85-year-old nun, charged with sabotage and imprisoned for her nonviolent acts of protest against the military-industrial complex, was released from prison after an appeals court threw out a lower court’s conviction. Not just an advocate of nuclear disarmament, Sister Megan Rice also used her time in prison to speak out against the treatment of inmates in America.
Rice was convicted in May 2013, along with two other members of Transform Now Plowshares, for breaking into a U.S. government facility that stores uranium intended for use in nuclear weapons. While inside, the activists symbolically beat on the walls with hammers, painted anti-war slogans and poured out their own blood, collected in advance for that purpose.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit threw out Rice’s conviction for sabotage, a crime intended to be used against those who “interfered with the United States ability to wage war.” Though sentenced to three years in prison, Sister Megan Rice was freed Saturday, hours after the release of her fellow activists 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed.
At her original sentencing, Rice pleaded with the judge to receive more time, reading from a letter from a young Afghan supporter and declaring, “This is the next generation and it is for these people that we’re willing to give our lives.”
Prior to the nuclear protest, Rice taught for four decades as a missionary in Nigeria and Ghana before malaria ended that career. She told a University of Nevada researcher she was friends with Dorothy Day, the late founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which continues to inspire many members of that faith to oppose war and inequality. She’s protested at other government facilities before, from the Nevada Nuclear Test site to Fort Benning’s School of the Americas, where torture is taught to allied military forces.
Like many activists-turned political prisoners, Rice spoke out against prison conditions and the treatment of her fellow inmates during her incarceration. Though she was supposed to be imprisoned in Danbury, Connecticut, she was instead sent to a “temporary” holding center in Brooklyn, where she was warehoused in a room with 111 other prisoners, who also ate, showered and used the toilet in the same shared oversized cell. Prison reform advocates said the conditions were worse than those of other, male inmates at the same facility.
Despite her imprisonment, Rice continues to look toward a better future.
“In prisons around this country — so overcrowded by unjust laws, poverty and war-making — the patience and endurance of those I live with here is a constant source of admiration and hope that change is possible when the focus can be on what is of real value to the common good,” Sister Megan told the New York Daily News in January.