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I met Mary H. when I was sixteen years old. She was twenty at the time and my parents had been asked by NYC Quakers to take her for the summer months.

Her “story” went like this. Born in a fundamentalist Christian Maryland, USA family — she had parents paying for her to attend a university in Maryland. Then one day she learned at her school that there was going to be a peaceful march outside of a biological weapons research lab in Betheda, Maryland.

She thought about the World War I mustard gas and tried to imagine the new lethal concoctions being made at the bio-weapons facility near her university. So she decided to join the serene lined-up march outside of the lab property in Bethesda.

Everyone was orderly with no ruckus there — simply walking and marching with signs and chants. Then suddenly the police swooped in on them with batons flying every which way.

Mary watching several police especially target a fallen, obviously homosexual young man near herself in the line and decided to fling her body on top of his in the thought that the assailants would be less likely to beat up a well-dressed young woman, who looked like a co-ed — a female university student.

She used the only means that she had to protect him against the assault. It was her own body. She just couldn’t bear watching him possibly beaten to death.

So she quickly went to his side and deliberately  fell on top of him. Then she rapidly locked him against herself using her arms and legs to tightly intertwine their two forms together. Then she pressed down onto him with all of her might so that she couldn’t be easily dragged off of him.

(She was right. The beaters left her alone. Besides it would have been hard to pull her up away from the man given her intense fervency and absolute will power to protect him using her only meansavailable — her total being in all of its inner strength of purpose…. Good luck in trying to yank her off of him given her level of resolve.)

Then the whole lot or most of them, the people in the protest gathering, were hauled off to jail. Accordingly, Mary found herself in jail and used her one allocated phone call to instruct her parents of that happening.

That night Mary’s parents bailed her out and told her that once her trial was over, she was to no longer live in their home. They were no longer going to support her university studies as they didn’t raise her to become so radical.

So in pain at their choice, she sought out the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) to help her since they have a track record for helping those in trouble. She could imagine nowhere else to turn.

For example, they were one of the few groups that helped the Germans after WWII and the German word for Quaker became the synonym for milk since they provided milk for young German children when most others shunned Germans, including the babies, after WWII. Indeed, they, for their effort, got the Nobel Peace Prize.

The man delivering the speech for the Quakers had no suitable clothes for the ceremony. So he borrowed a tux from Material Aid | American Friends Service Committee for the event and promptly returned it cleaned afterwords. Then it went to an orchestra conductor in Italy to wear during his work — another one, like the German children, who’d lost much in the war.

Worthwhile to read, his speech:

The Nobel Peace Prize 1947 – Presentation Speech

Friends Service Council , American Friends Service Committee … Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded this year’s Peace Prize to the Quakers, …

Certainly Mary was totally right to consider that these peacemakers would help her. They not only found her housing in NYC after they and she figured out about what she wanted to do next, they got her a student spot at Barnard College (sister school to Columbia University) and a job at Barnard to pay for her studies.

Way to go — yahoo! Good all the way around — for everyone involved in the discernment  process.

Quakers call it “coming to clearness” and a person seeking it often has an introspective, crucial and prayerful committee to help them find it. Thus, she wound up at Barnard after the query and serious thinking process of the committee was done in helping her figure out whatever was best, according to her, after inspection of realistic choices.

However, Barnard was closed for much of the summer. So she needed another place to live and work, which is the reason that my Quaker parents were contacted.

They had started, arguably, the first international, inter-religious, inter-ethnic, inter-economic camp in the USA in 1946. So there were Jews, Muslims, Hindus, poor children from shelters, rich kids that flew into the camp on their own family jets and youngsters from all around the world.

Ditto for the counselors: Imagine the shock of two girls in the 1950’s from the Deep South in USA, where Jim Crow Laws were in place, having a black counselor from Bermuda with her Master’s Degree in Education giving them orders, such as to make their beds, and educating them in larger ways.

So Mary was ensconced there summer after summer during the time that she completed her studies in NYC. I’m glad for it.

She became a close friend of mine for many years until she died at age 42, She also never regretted her choice to lie on top of the gay man. Some actions you just take because they are right.

She, always courageous and with a strong sense of inner convictions, never regretted her decision despite that it caused the tumultuous and greatly disturbing break that she had with her parents and that was taken from her higher education. After all, she maybe even helped the young man, who was being severely beaten and bashed with batons, to stay alive, she knew. So she was joyous!

Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Absorbing and heart-breaking story…! Mary life must set an example for all those who wish to serve human beings deprived of safety. Her rather pre-mature death is tearful. She would have served longer had she lived for some more years. Her life must inspire others to join the great cause of humanity and help world achieve lasting peace.
    Thanks for sharing the troubled and yet invaluable story of Mary H