Chico woman headed to pen

FENCED IN <br>Dorothy Parker was sentenced last week to two months in federal prison for trespassing on government property during a protest.

Dorothy Parker was sentenced last week to two months in federal prison for trespassing on government property during a protest.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Chicoan Dorothy Parker was sentenced last week to two months in federal prison for trespassing onto the Ft. Benning Military base in Georgia last November in protest of the infamous training institute formally called the School of Americas.

Parker, 76, was one of 31 protestors sentenced Jan. 30 for the peaceful protest. Each faced fines of up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Two of those headed to prison are over 80, the youngest 19.

“We were in court on Monday [Jan. 30] and sentenced on Tuesday,” Parker said from her north Chico home this week.

She said the trespassing charges were a result of her and the others walking onto land that was posted “No Trespassing,” and ignoring a loudspeaker announcement.

“I don’t remember hearing that, but that is what the charge is,” she said.

Parker said she expected to be sentenced to three months of prison time, the normal punishment for a first offense.

“Four of us got 60 days, which was probably a combination of age and physical condition,” Parker said. “The younger gal who was 56 has MS and uses a cane.”

She said the charged were brought into the courthouse in groups of six, divided by how the individual members planned to plead. Parker pled not guilty, stipulating to the fact she was indeed on the posted grounds.

Though there was a group of federal defenders available to guide the charged through the legal process, Parker and two others chose to defend themselves.

She said would probably not trespass in protest any time soon for two reasons.

“That first night in the county jail was not pleasant, but one can survive,” she said. “The bigger problem is that if I got six months [sentencing] it would get in the way of my going down to Nicaragua with Habitat for Humanity in July.”

The protestors, 19,000 strong, gathered outside the gates of Ft. Benning to call for the closure of the training school, which has been linked to Latin American right-wing death squads. In the past decade, according to the Schools of America Watch, 183 people have served a combined 81 years in prison for protesting the school.

Last year Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., introduced HR 1217, which would suspend operations at the school and call for an investigation into the development and use of the torture manuals. The bill currently has 124 bipartisan co-sponsors. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, is not among them.

Parker, a retired mental health clinician and longtime registered Republican, said she is proud of what she’s done.

“Some folks who were wondering why, now that I’ve done it, are very supportive, including my family,” she said. “At first it was more, ‘Oh, Mom, do you have to do this?’ And I said ‘yeah’ because this school has been doing bad things and turning out people who go back to their countries and have very efficient ways of interrupting the people who are trying to get out from under the thumbs of dictators.”

Parker, who until now had no criminal record, said she expects to be notified to report to prison, possibly in Dublin, the nearest minimum-security federal penitentiary to Chico.

“We wait until they notify us,” she said. “They try to send you within 500 miles of where you live.”

Parker is also an active member of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She became involved with the Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program in Nicaragua in 1989, as well as the Seeds of Learning co-based in Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua and Sonoma, Ca. She has also led groups of North Americans to work with local campesinos and other working poor in Nicaragua and El Salvador.