The personal toll of peace protests


In this photo from May 9, 2013, following the conviction of the Plowshares protesters, Father Bill Bichsel, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma, Wash., hugs Michele Naar-Obed, wife of convicted Y-12 Transform Now Plowshares activist Greg Boertje-Obed.  (KNS photo/J. Miles Cary)

I tried to talk to Michele Naar-Obed back in May after a federal court jury convicted her husband, Greg Boertje-Obed, and two other Plowshares protesters — Sister Megan Rice and Michael Walli — on charges related to the July 28, 2012 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. At the time, however, she was understandly upset, too upset to talk about feelings as her husband faced the possibility of 30 years in prison.

More recently, I sent her an email (she lives in Duluth, Minn.) and asked how her husband was doing (currently incarcerated at a prison facility in Ocilla, Ga.), how she was doing, and the path forward. She and her husband had prepared for the inevitablility of their separation, which they’ve experienced before from past protest arrests. Indeed, they had renewed their wedding vows between the time of his arrest and his conviction.

Here’s what she had to say:

“I have not visited Greg yet. It’s a long way for me to travel to get a one-hour visit behind glass. I’d have to take off from work and rent a car so I likely will see him at the time of sentencing. We have been through this before. I was sent to Tallahassee FL FCI after I was sentenced  to 18 months for a plowshare action. Rachel (their daughter) was just 2 years old. She and Greg were able to visit every 4 months and visiting was very generous. Friday-Sunday in an open environment even supplied with swings and slides and games for kids. But that’s federal prison which is very different from private holding facilities.

“We get a 15-minute phone conversation weekly right now which is enough time for me to fill him in on life back here in MN. We recently experienced the death of a very dear friend and founder of the Duluth MN Catholic Worker. He was only 63 and died of a very aggressive thyroid cancer. He held a County Commissioner position in St. Louis Co. MN and he publicly supported the TNP action. I’m sure he would have written a letter to Judge Thapar if he was alive. He was diagnosed in April and deteriorated quickly but put up a good fight with chemo and radiation and held on until just last week.

“Greg’s spirits seem fine and he and Michae (Walli)l are getting along well with Bible studies and sharing mail. It’s Megan who seems to be suffering from isolation from friends and colleagues but luckily her health seems to be holding well. You probably know that Erik Johnson and Ralph Hutchison have visited all 3 of them on a monthly basis. Ralph’s updates on the visits are always full of joyful and encouraging news.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.