With a hammer, pliers and baby bottles filled with blood, Carol Gilbert and two other Dominican nuns defied America's military might three years ago, cutting through a fence to paint red crosses in blood on a nuclear missile silo in Colorado.
Released yesterday after 33 months in federal prisons, Gilbert returned home to Baltimore and a potluck dinner party thrown by friends. Her only regret is that she was locked up during the war in Iraq when peace protests were at a peak.
"I would do the same thing all over again," she said during the dinner at St. Peter Claver Church. "I know we acted legally, morally and with great love."
The bulk of her time - 22 months - was spent in the women's prison at Alderson, W. Va., which was made famous by fellow inmate and millionaire homemaking diva Martha Stewart.
Sister Carol Gilbert exclaims at how much Leah Michaels, 14, has grown since she last saw her nearly three years ago.
(Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)
They bonded over yoga classes and shared meals, Gilbert said, calling Stewart "a strong and compassionate woman."
Celebrating Gilbert's return were other protesters of nuclear arms and war, many of whom also have spent time behind bars for the cause. They met Gilbert with hugs and kisses, and compliments on her prison complexion.
"What we're trying to do - what Sister Carol did - is begin the disarmament of nuclear weapons," said the Rev. John Dear, a Jesuit priest who spent eight months in prison for taking a hammer to an F-15 fighter. "We can't wait for the government to do it. And if they won't listen, we have to find other ways to be heard."
All around the parish hall hung banners proclaiming the verse from the Book of Isaiah: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares. ... Nations shall learn war no more."
Gilbert, 57, had an ID tag still hanging from her neck: Inmate 18056-039.
She said she was kept busy in prison scrubbing toilets. Every day, after a guard's whistle at 6:30 a.m., Gilbert trudged to breakfast and then off to the bathrooms, where she and five other women washed 16 toilets, 16 showers and 16 sinks.
At first, she said, the work made her angry.
"We all feel anger, but we must not let rage rule," Gilbert said. "I learned to make it a meditation, almost a prayer. I remembered I wasn't cleaning for the officers or the inspectors, but for the women there."
Another whistle at 4 p.m. signaled the end of the work day.
In her free time, Gilbert prayed and talked with the other women, she said.
She told of finding camaraderie and compassion among the inmates, who shared freely their toothpaste, shampoo and painful life stories.
And Gilbert told them of the crime that brought her there.
It was on a hill in Colorado that she and Sisters Ardeth Platte and Jackie Hudson chose to make their latest stand against nuclear arms, according to news accounts.
They wore white mop-up suits emblazoned with "Citizens Weapons Inspection Team" on the back and "Disarmament Specialists" on the front. The point, the nuns said, was to argue that while U.S.-backed weapons inspectors were looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States was holding weapons just as dangerous and illegal.
The silo, referred to by the military as N-8, contained Minuteman III nuclear missiles. The nuns cut through the fence and with bottles of their own blood sprayed six crosses on the silo lid before pounding a symbolic hammer on it.
The nuns had applied their hammers before to fighter jets, spray-painted protests on an Air Force weapons bunker in Michigan and distributed leaflets at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County.
But the Colorado protest brought their stiffest punishments. Hudson received 31 months and was released in March to return to her home in Bremerton, Wash. Platte received 41 months and remains in a Connecticut prison. All three women received three years' probation.
Gilbert said last night that prison had done little except to confirm her belief in government injustice. She said she kept up with the news by waking two hours before the first whistle to listen to the radio and keep abreast of the war in Iraq and nuclear proliferation.
She spent her other free time responding to the thousands of letters received after her actions in Colorado, Gilbert said.
Lawyer Anabel Dwyer, who has served as a coordinating attorney for all three nuns, said Gilbert was told she would have to serve her three years' probation in Denver.
Gilbert insisted she would return to Jonah House - the peace community in Baltimore - regardless, Dwyer said, and was told by a case manager a few weeks ago that she could report to the Baltimore federal probation officer.
She will have her first meeting with the officer tomorrow to find out whether she will be able to stay. "I've already given this government two years out of my life," Gilbert said. "I'm not going to give them three more."
As for the future, she did not rule out further acts of civil disobedience. "I will continue to live my life with love," she said. "I will continue following my conscience. Isn't that all we can do while we're here on Earth?"
© 2005 by The Baltimore Sun