Re: [sixties-l] Query: Testimony Resources?

From: jo grant (
Date: Tue Jul 18 2000 - 06:40:00 CUT

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    Not sure this fits the bill, but it might.

    Back during 1970/71/72 a couple of prisoners in the federal pen, Atlanta,
    started a prisoner church called the Church of the New Song. The growth of
    the church was amazing. The two men who started it, Harry Theriault and
    Gerry Dorrough were locked in solitary by the government and spent (Jerry)
    eight years and (Harry) 10 years in solitary--for organizing the church.
    They were gifted jailhouse lawyers and went to the high Federal courts to
    gain the right to practice the religion.

    The federal court ruled that the Church of the New Song was a legal church.

    I was publishing an "underground" newspaper at the time, was an ex federal
    prisoner and knew what they were doing.. I used the Prisoners Digest
    International (also known as the Penal Digest International) to spread the
    word. We cited tha law cases, had good writers, and agents in all the
    prisons. Plus we had a Second Class Permit--same as the New York Times--so
    we were able to walk into the big newspapers when subscribers in a prison
    contacted us and said all the issues had been confescated by the warden.
    +We had help from major publications. I walkd into the NYTimes once , when
    all of our issues to prisoners at Attica were bruned by the warden. "Me
    today, you tomorrow," and they got on the phone. A bunch of our
    subscribers were killed in the riots. Three of my staff and I were there
    from the beginning.

    In less than a year there were ordained ministers in most large prisons and
    services were being held every Sunday. A couple dozen prisoners would show
    up for Protestant services and several hundred prisoners would show up for
    the Church of the New Song services.

    I spoke at Atlanta one Sunday. Took two services so all the prisoners were
    able to participate. The authorities began to freak.

    Massive measures were taken by the states and the feds to break up the
    church. It had, in many respects, the powerful effect on prisoners that I
    saw happening when students organized and shut down the University of Iowa
    in 1970. I was a student their at the time.

    I wrote about the church in my contribution to Voices From the Underground:
    Vol. 1--Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press. I'm not a
    very good writer. Tried to get one of our excellent writers to take care of
    the histry but no one anted to job since there was no money. When the
    publisher who had contracted to publish the two volume set backed out
    (citing fear of libel--informants, etc. were named by many of the writers)
    Ken Wachsberger (the editor) ran the book past a number of the large
    publishing houses. They all praised the books, but would not publish it.
    When he finally gave up I contacted some old friends, rased enough money to
    publish 2000 sets. We got great reviews, sold out Vol. 1. Still have copies
    of V2.

    Lost our collective butts financially. Took years to recover. There are
    still requests for V1, but never enough to attract investors. It's quite a
    remarkable volume. Most went to collegia and university libraries. You
    shouldn't have troble finding one from a reference desk somewhere. There's
    a review in the May 2, 1993 L.A. Times. Also a number of reviews included
    in the on-line material at: . I
    failed as a Capitalist--but don't consider that factor important. . The
    younger brother of our PDI photographer Warren Levicoff wrote his Ph.D.
    dissertation on a history of the church. He is Steve Levicoff. I might be
    able to get a copy on disk if your like to see it. If not I'll figure out
    where Steve is so you can get a copy of the (if I recall correctly)
    published book.

    During part of the time I was publishing the PDI I was head of the church
    in the free world and had access to almost all prisons. We were remarkably
    well organized. Finally, as I mentioned, the correctional systems got
    scared and shut the church down. They transferred all the primary ministers
    to country jails, put the strongest on the busses for the endless rides
    across the country spending a few weeks in country jails along the routes.
    Being dropped off, and being picked up a few weeks later.

    One of the reasons for the success was that we attracted those prisoners
    who were lifers, with no hope of parole. They were usually experienced
    jailhouse lawyers and absolutely fearless. Looked up to in he joints.
    Nothing could scare them. Amazing people. Inspired. Loved the role of
    minister, with all the rights that the chaplins had--without being able to
    walk out at the end of the day. The strongest attraction the prisoner
    ministers had was that (s)he was not a guard, while all chaplins in the
    state and federal systems had the same classification as GUARD.

    At first I thought it would be the great rehabilitatiion program. As an
    example to other prisoners I headed into rural Minnesota, and became a
    community resource. Growing our own food, canning, etc. working. Helping
    people who had no resourceful friends, and tried to convince prisoners that
    they could live full, satisfying lives with very little money and become
    leaders in poor communities, neighborhoods, etc.

    I finally burned out. Nor sure I ever really recovered.

    It's late. I'll send this off rather than wait to reread in inthe morning.
    I do that and I'll start editing and very get the thing off.


    j grant

    By the way, your lengthy post ( Re: corporations, Mon, 17 Jul 2000 13:48:14
    -0400) was a pleasure to read. Absolutely a gem. I'm sharing it with all
    my friends. Thanks.

    >I wonder if some on the list know some good written sources for personal
    >testimony to the powerful effects (feelings of liberation, empowerment,
    >etc.)of taking direct action, joining a collective action, etc. --from
    >within the student movement, Chicano movement, American Indian Movement,
    >and/or Gay Rights movement? I know of massive testimony from civil
    >rights/black power/poverty/& women's movements, but find it thin going
    >for these others...
    >Thanks in advance,
    >Ted Morgan

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