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Prayer Group -- 10:30 AM PST, July 11, 2016

"If we both pray at the same time, we can be together in the same place for a little while." Set a reminder and Pray with the Hammonds -- 10:30 AM PST -- daily, until the guys come home.

Dwight and Steven have both repeatedly shared that the support that they cherish most, and are most humbled by, is your prayers. As another way to have a heart to heart connection with the guys, we've decided to start an online prayer group. We will pray for whatever the Lord puts on our hearts, and we will intercede for anyone and everyone that we feel is in need.

Join our group: www.facebook.com/groups/510024055861046

Visiting Terminal Island Take 2, July 10, 2016

Until I started routinely flying to LA to visit my incarcerated friends, I didn't realize how often the other passengers ask, “What are you headed to *insert-destination-here* for?” as a means of making small talk.

Whelp. You picked the wrong guy for small talk. I'm gonna lay a heavy story on you, so buckle up, we've got two hours.

It's funny the response you get when you tell someone you're headed to LA to visit your federally incarcerated friends. I can imagine the awkward position it puts the conversation initiator in, heck, I'm not sure what I would do with that statement if the roles were reversed.

One guy just blurted out, “I almost went to prison once...” then proceeded to tell me about his run-in with the Army's MP division in 1966. A then nineteen year old kid, he got caught with a joint and, in order to avoid a court-martial and 6 months in the stockade, volunteered to be one of the first shipped over to Vietnam. His CO thought that sounded like a fair deal, so he shipped out and spent ten months in 'Nam as a paratrooper. I asked if he thought that he'd made a good trade, and he was certain that he had.

It sure makes for an interesting conversation, no doubt.

Some people physically recoil while saying, “That's terrible.” Sometimes I leave it at that, and other times I launch into my oft repeated diatribe.

Others lean in and say, “Do you mind if I ask why?” and I proceed to regale them with this tale of the American dream, federal malfeasance, extreme media bias and/or incompetence, ineffective counsel, and a blatantly egregious abuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

My little spiel goes something like this:

Two dear friends of mine —salt of the earth ranchers, ages 74 and 47— were convicted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) for “maliciously” setting fire to under 140 acres of Federally administrated range ground —ground which they owned the grazing rights to— carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. One fire, a preemptive, defensive backfire burned around one acre, the other, a prescribed fire that trespassed on about 138 acres. Contrary to media coverage, and the claims of the prosecution, both fires were started on the Hammonds' private ground to protect and enhance the vegetation, and both had verbal authorization from BLM personnel. Due to long standing animosity between the Hammonds and various federal employees —partially stemming from the Hammonds filing a claim on, an ultimately obtaining, a water right that the Federal government had once laid claim to but failed to prove beneficial use of— the Hammonds were targeted, and made an example of.

One judge had deemed the mandatory minimum cruel and unusual, a sentence that would “shock the conscience,” sentencing them to 3 months plus probation for Dwight, the father; and 366 days plus probation for Steven, the son. The two acquiesced, and did the allotted amount of time —in SeaTac, an administrative security federal detention center with no yard and where the only windows were painted black, they didn't see sunlight for three months.

The federal prosecutor went on to appeal the sentence, and the 9th Circuit Court overturned the sentence, sending them back to prison for the remainder of the 5 year mandatory minimum – citing the fact that the Supreme Court "has upheld far tougher sentences for less serious or, at the very least, comparable offenses." Citing "a sentence of fifty years to life under California's three-strikes law for stealing nine videotapes," "a sentence of twenty-five years to life under California's three-strikes law for the theft of three golf clubs," "a forty-year sentence for possession of nine ounces of marijuana with the intent to distribute," and "a life sentence under Texas's recidivist statute for obtaining $120.75 by false pretenses." I don't know about you, but I'm of the school where two (or, in this case, multiple) wrongs don't make a right.

Nine out of ten people that I've spoken with about this subject, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, are astounded that something so unjust, so unconstitutional, so un-American, could happen in this country. The more often I visit the federal correctional facility, and slowly become acquainted with some of the inmates, their families, and their stories, the more painfully aware I am that this IS happening, and it is happening a much larger scale than I ever could have fathomed.

It's scary to delve in and investigate these things, scary because it undermines your whole perception of reality, of security. When I became aware of some of the inmates my friends were becoming acquainted with, I unintentionally noticed their names (detailed on a small patch on every shirt and the back pocket of every pair of slacks). When I returned home, I couldn't get them off my mind, so I began to investigate. Thank you, Google. A plethora of news articles and court transcripts are available with a few key strokes and a click of the mouse. Using this information, discernment, and first hand accounts, I have tried to be overtly objective about each individual.

In my opinion, even assuming that each inmate is guilty, the majority of the federally imposed repercussions directly related to the inmates' actions vastly outweigh the severity of their crimes. The cost to the individuals, their families, and SOCIETY is often quite disproportionate to the crime.

According to the Federal Register (https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-05437), for fiscal year 2014, the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in was $30,619.85 ($83.89 per day).

Let that sink in.

To keep two men imprisoned for the mandatory minimum of five years, for the heinous crime of inadvertently burning approximately $100 worth of Federally administrated land, it is going to cost American taxpayers over $300,000. And that's a conservative estimate, we know costs are only going to rise. This is just one cost associated with this sentence. Another? Although Federal prisons are now called “correctional facilities,” they are still primarily punitive.

In this context, Dictionary.com defines correction as: punishment intended to reform, improve, or rehabilitate; chastisement; reproof.

I see no restoration or rehabilitation happening, at least not as a result of anything that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is doing. The only reformation I've witnessed is due solely to the will of the inmate and the grace of God. Anyone who's ever made a New Year's resolution knows how very hard it is to permanently change one's behavior, and these men are doing it under extremely unhealthy emotional circumstances.

So, I started out writing about my experience traveling to and visiting the guys at the federal facility where they're incarcerated and went off on a tirade about the penal system... who wants to hear about the guys?

In short, physically and emotionally, they're doing amazing. They have such strong faith, and a wonderful support system; not to mention they're being wise.

They're watching, and learning, what works and what doesn't work. They're figuring out what they can focus on, and what can only bring them heartache. They miss their wives, they miss their children (and grandchildren), they miss their friends, but they're staying connected. Five minute phone calls (they get 300 minutes of phone time per month, if they're not restricted due to “disciplinary actions”) and a barrage of letters help, but honestly, they're not enough.

There's no substitute for that deep, intimate connection one can only get from unrestricted, unsupervised, face-to-face personal time. It's hard to make a real human connection when you feel that everything you do or say is being scrutinized by a third party who can arbitrarily take away your “privileges” or even put you in solitary confinement.

If you're the praying type, above all, pray for their emotional health. Pray for comfort, pray for strength. And, thank the Lord that they are in the facility that they are in, and that they are bunk mates. They have both repeatedly told me that the support that they cherish most, and are most humbled by, is your prayers. Because of this, I've decided to start an online prayer group. This group will pray daily, at 10:30 AM PST, and the guys will pray at the same time. We will pray for whatever the Lord puts on our hearts, and we will intercede for anyone and everyone that we feel is in need.

Independence Day, July 2, 2016

This Independence Day will be bittersweet for me, I'll be spending it like we often do, with the Hammond Family. But this Monday, there will be two glaring absences – Dwight with his 1980's patriotic Brushpopper, unfailing sense of humor, and mischevious smile, and Steven, with his toothy grin, epic hugs, and gracious demeanor.

Call me naive, but I still think our country is the greatest one on earth, largely because the Hammonds keep assuring me that it is. The principles that this country was founded on were divinely inspired, and are still relevant today – and I'm not the only one that thinks so. Despite what the media would have you believe, there are thousands of people who still believe in the Constitution; in our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So this 4th of July, while you shoot off fireworks and barbecue with your family, please take a moment to be thankful for those who sacrificed for your freedom, those who fought for your freedom, and those who died for your freedom. Pray for those who stood up for what they believe in, those who are sitting in a concrete box, surrounded by razor wire, counting the days until they can, once again, be reunited with their families.

God bless the USA.

‪#‎PrayfortheHammonds‬ ‪#‎FreetheHammonds‬

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Visiting Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution, May 13, 2016

As I drove past couples ambling hand in hand, rollerbladers, and dog walkers, the palm trees gently swayed from a light breeze whispering off the sun glinted Pacific. Around every corner and on what seemed like every fence, the vivid bougainvillea and jacaranda trees bloomed in their celebration of the ideal temperature, a cloudless 72 degrees. I was headed to spend eight hours locked in a concrete room with convicted criminals, and I was overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunity.

With trepidation and anxious hope, I navigated the infamous stop and go traffic from Marina del Ray to San Pedro, crossing the suspended Vincent Thomas bridge and finally reaching the industrial port area of Terminal Island. As I sat in my borrowed car, I arranged my quarters, keys, and a small scrap of paper inscribed with the guys' inmate numbers in my plastic baggie, then reached into my purse for my driver's license. To my dismay, my wallet was not in my purse. I looked under the seats, I looked in the trunk, and then I realized that it must of fallen out in the room were I had spent the previous night. Disappointed but determined, I started the car and pointed it north.

An hour and a half later, as I approached the facility, I drove past a small gathering of protestors with American flags, Gadsen flags, and #FreetheHammonds signs. Not wanting to lose one minute of our precious visiting time, I waved and drove into the parking lot of Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution. I once again gathered the few items allowed in the facility, threw up a flare prayer and walked to the beige concrete building surrounded by ocean, palm trees, chainlink and razor wire.

Not wanting to be denied entry and knowing the stringent dress code regulation, I had spent an uncharacteristic amount of time choosing the day's wardrobe, even so, I was concerned about the inspection. I signed in at a heavy wooden desk, was given a simple form to fill out, and was then directed to a waiting room with around 20 chairs and two east facing floor to ceiling windows.

As the room began to fill with women, children, and the occasional man, a solemn faced CO began to almost inaudibly call out last names. We lined up at a conveyor belt, and began to go through a process much like the TSA checkpoint at the airport. We took off our shoes, belts, glasses, and jackets, putting them in plastic bins to be sent through the x-ray machine, then we walked through the metal detector. After I received my black light visible hand stamp, I put my shoes and jacket back on, noticing woman being denied entry and sent out of the facility because her jeans were torn at the knees.

We were then sent to another waiting room, where we would sit for another fifteen to twenty minutes. I sat next to and spoke briefly with a smiling, but haggard woman carrying a newborn, trying to keep a toddling girl relatively quiet, and comforting a young boy. Again, they began calling out last names and we lined up to be identified and counted. We went through a series of gates and checkpoints, finally reaching the visiting room after about an hour of being herded from once place to another like potentially dangerous cattle.

We filed into a large, concrete room filled with tiny plastic tables and blue chairs. The southern wall was filled with floor to ceiling windows. Visible through several layers of chainlink and razor wire was a bay full of humongous container ships, docks and cranes. We were directed across the room to another checkpoint. I walked past a bank of vending machines, and gave my name, as well as Dwight's, to a smiling CO who directed me to a row of chairs and indicated that the inmate was to sit in the chair with the red dot.

I sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, waited, and watched men in khaki jumpsuits trickle into the room, the scene reminding me of an airport arrivals lounge. The room was filled with passionate kisses, loving embraces, and awkward handshakes complemented by faces filled with joy, love, laughter, apprehension, anxiety, and tears.

After a few minutes, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite people tentatively enter the room, his eyes sparkling. He was smiling, well fed, and sporting a better tan than I've had in years. We were allowed one good squeeze, then sat down to spend four hours visiting. We sat hunched over the table, our heads unusually close to one another, carefully enunciating in order to be understood over the din of a hundred concurrent conversations taking place in a reverberating concrete room. Over the course of the next two days we would end up talking about everything from the weather to those deep theological and philosophical questions often left unexplored in our bustling, fast paced world.

At three o'clock, the CO politely directed the inmates to the west side of the room and the visitors to the east side. We were allowed one more good squeeze, and then we separated. As the men were counted, identified, and sent out of the room tears streamed down my face. Some men left smiling bravely, blowing kisses, and waving at their children, wives, parents, and friends, while other men put their heads down and walked out without looking back.

The next day went smoother, I didn't forget anything and we got through the process to the visiting room much quicker. The COs recognized me from the day before, remembered my name, and seemed to be friendlier. I was able to spend several hours with each of the guys and left saddened, yet encouraged.

#PrayfortheHammonds #FreetheHammonds

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A Message from Steven, May 6, 2016

"Sometimes, when the sunlight bounces off the water just right, the reflection sparkles and dances on the ceiling. I lie in my bunk and think, 'God's beauty really is everywhere.' " -Steven Hammond (Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution 2016) #FreetheHammonds #PrayfortheHammonds

Update, May 4, 2016

I spent the weekend in LA. I'll be posting more details about my visit later, but I wanted to share a few brief things:

  1. Considering the circumstances, the guys looked and sounded great.

  2. The facility is one of the nicest and most requested assignments in the BOP.

  3. They recognize that thousands of people are supporting them.

  4. They truly appreciate every effort being made in their names, and only request that we all remain respectful to one another and true to God's direction.

  5. They have very strong faith and that gives them great peace.

  6. The one and only thing that they would ask for is your continuing prayers.

  7. #PrayfortheHammonds #FreetheHammonds