SOLIDARITY VISIT WITH MICHAEL LYONS
Today I visited Michael Lyons in Colchester Military Prison. He is currently serving a seven month sentence for refusing to carry out weapons training in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. Michael had already applied for conscientious objector status. With me were Martin Newell from London Catholic Worker, Stephan Gillies a local activist and Jill, Michael’s mum.
The visit lasted two hours and Michael was found to be in good spirits. He is being held with soldiers being discharged from the Army so that he can’t “infect the others that are staying in the Army”.
His main concern is the well-being of his wife Lillian, who is based in Plymouth. Michael is not being paid by the Navy whilst he is serving his sentence so his wife is struggling to meet the bills whilst working in a low paid job. She is also finding it difficult to make the long journey from Plymouth to Colchester to see Michael.
Michael is keen to become involved with the Peace Movement in the future. He has shown other servicemen with objections to the war in Afghanistan that they have a choice. Six months in Afghanistan taking part in the further destruction of that country or six months in prison with a clear conscience. As a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I know which option I would take.
Michael is spending a lot of his time in prison in the library. When not in the library there is a lot of pointless ironing and cleaning to be carried out prior to inspections. This is just the sort of training that will be useful in civvie street to Michael and the others being discharged after their sentences!
VIGIL IN SUPPORT OF MICHAEL’S ACTION
Whilst visiting Michael a vigil was held outside the main gate to celebrate his action and to encourage further resistance from inside the military. 27 people from London, Colchester and the surrounding area were present.
A shrine was erected by members of London Catholic Worker.
Giorgio Riva from the organisation payday spoke about the need for solidarity and inclusiveness in the peace movement in order to support refuseniks internationally.
Gwyn from the organisation at ease spoke about the details of Michael’s case and the work that she does in supporting soldiers who have a crises of conscience.
Ciaron O’Reilly of london catholic worker told of his own experiences of being in prison as a result of his peace activism. He also told us how valuable solidarity from the outside was in keeping him going whilst in prison.
Michael’s mother Jill thanked everyone for supporting her son and told us how proud she was of him.
Naomi Colvin from uk friends of bradley manning updated us on the persecution of Bradley Manning, currently held in a US military prison for allegedley leaking collateral murder to wikileaks.
The local Stop the War convener told us about an upcoming march in London and about meetings they were holding.
Martin and myself gave a report about our visit and encouraged others to write to Michael and visit him.
The visit and the vigil outside went very well. On the way back to London I phoned Michael’s wife Lillian to let her know how Michael was doing. We are planning to go back at the start of September, more details to follow.
HELP LILLIAN VISIT MICHAEL
Michael Lyon’s is presently being held in Colchester Military Prison. It is a 700 mile round trip for his wife Lilian to visit him. If you would like to make a donation to alleviate travel expenses make a cheque out to “London Catholic Worker”, write “Lyons” on the back of the cheque and send it to “Michael Lyons Support” c/o Giuseppe Conlon House, Harringey, London N4 1BG
On the 3/09/2011 I embarked on my second visit to Michael Lyons currently residing in Colchester Military Correction Unit for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.
It was a beautiful sunny morning and I felt more relaxed this time round knowing now the formalities and procedures of the unit.As it was an a.m visit the visting party was smaller with no sniffer dogs.The duty guard that ushered us in I noticed had my family name on his uniform ID to the exact spelling and we shared some breif family history.He being from Aberdeen, I explained my Grandads predicament of having to leave Glasgow for Dagenham Fords works on the decline of the Clyde shipbuilding industry.
Even though we had initial formalities last time of meeting someone for the first time in strange circumstances etc I still found Michael very easy to get on with.This time round it was extremely relaxed and with all the formalities of introduction dealt with last time I feel we talked sincerely and openly from the heart.
He looked very well indeed and obviously has a very strong spirit which radiates through him.
We talked about the politics surrounding his situation and I explained a little of my past experiences as an ex Marxist and once member of the Communist Party before my conversion to Catholicism.I was pleased to find Michael was already very aware of the surrounding political persuasions ready to use his case to suit their own particular ideologies and I likened his moral objection to war as a pure flame of conscience that could very easliy be stifled and extinguished by the the surrounding impure politics.I read to him some messages of support from my local Parish and left some reading material with the guards for Michael on second world war objector Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and I very much hope they allow him access to it once they’ve assessed it.
For me meeting Michael was an alltogether moving experience.I know how it feels, as you do too Ben, to have that seed of morality inside you grow into a force that compells you to act and take a different course to what you intially plotted to do albeit against all the odds.
I recognised him straight away when he was marched round to the unit and could see him breifly looking at the visitor crowd not knowing who he’s going to meet shows a lot of courage on his part.
Another lasting memory reminded me of something my Dad said to me when he had an automatic weapon pointed at him by a member of the security forces at close range and it was that there is no emotion in the eyes…similar to the fella with the sniffer dog that inspected us before we went in as I tried to get eye contact with him.That seed in Michael is the seed of personalism that has sprouted in a baron landscape.