Category Archives: My Thoughts

A Bright Light from Federal Prison

Kathy Kelly, now serving a three-month term in federal prison

Kathy Kelly, now serving a three-month term in federal prison for protesting drone warfare

Chicago peace activist and “Bright Light of the Second City” Kathy Kelly, three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is in the midst of a three-month stint in a Lexington, Kentucky federal prison. According to Democracy Now, Kelly, along with another activist, “was arrested after offering bread and an indictment against drone warfare.” (Click the above link to see the interview.)

Specifically, on June 1, 2014, Kelly carried bread and a letter across a line at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base. At that location, a squadron operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan.

As Kelly said to Democracy Now, “Afghanistan has been an epicenter of drone warfare. And a good symbol for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread. I carried a loaf of bread and a letter, wanting to talk to the commandant. We thought it was important to know how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.”

Kelly was tried and convicted in federal court in December 2014. She is the co-coordinator of Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, “Kelly has made numerous trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, organizing a young people’s non-violence group called Afghan Peace Volunteers, and recording and writing about the testimony of those whose families and friends have been killed in drone attacks.”

Her current confinement in Kelly’s fourth is a federal facility. She’s “been jailed in various county jails and other kinds of lockups more times than I can count,” Kelly said in a February 11, 2015 article she wrote for

Kelly’s letter from prison continues: “’We must begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society,’” said Dr. [Martin Luther] King, and it’s a shift that in many ways we’ve yet to make. He called for a rapid shift and said, ‘We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive.’”

“Poignancy” is the word that embodies Kelly’s writing. Describing a recent day in prison, she says, “every day, here in Atwood Hall, prisoners long to receive fairness, forgiveness and love but instead offer these treasures to those around them. The other day, at a choir rehearsal, we practiced a song called “Breaking the Chains.” The lively refrain, ‘I hear the chains falling’ filled the small chapel. Swaying and clapping, we could believe another world is coming.”

Spirituality: A Loaded Word

An essay I wrote titled “Spirituality:”Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 9.32.19 AM  a loaded word,” recently was published in the About Place Journal, a Wisconsin-based literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society. Michael McDermott, editor of the publication, asked me to write the piece after he and I enjoyed an interesting conversation one day about  the challenges I faced when deciding upon the book title Bright Lights of the Second City —  which originally was to be titled Second City Spirituality.


Cure Violence: Slutkin’s Revolutionary Approach Saves Many Lives

SlutkinSpeaking recently at the inaugural Leeuwenhoek* Lecture at the UIC School of Public Health in Chicago, Gary Slutkin, MD, Founder and Executive Director of Cure Violence, talked to attendees in a language we could all understand. Simply put, human behavior is all about imitation, or copying the behaviors of those around us — even when we’re not conscious of doing so.

Slutkin, who is featured in Bright Lights of the Second City, explained the science and methodology that guides Cure Violence’s work, as well as the organization’s latest local and global initiatives. (Note: Cure Violence still goes by its original name, Ceasefire, in Illinois).

The Cure Violence model is based on the standard approach to reversing any other outbreak of an epidemic disease, says Slutkin: first, interrupt transmission of the disease; second, reduce the threat to those at greatest risk; and third, change community norms.

For good or ill, human behavior  derives from copying others. When children and young adults are regularly subjected to violent behavior, there's pressure on them to imitate it.

For good or ill, human behavior derives from copying others. When children and young adults are regularly subjected to violent behavior, there’s pressure on them to imitate it.

“The end game to reducing violence is a change in norms/expectations where violence occurs,” Slutkin explains. “We’re all products of our environment. We’ve copied and imitated someone or something,”

A few indicators of the success of the Cure Violence approach

1. According to a 2012 report by the New York City Council Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, Cure Violence, when properly implemented, reduces shooting incidents by between 16 and 34 percent. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in August 2014 that New York City will invest $12.7 million — nearly triple the previous year’s budget allocation —in Cure Violence programs, expanding the program’s reach to 14 of the city’s highest-crime precincts.

2. The New York Times bestseller by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, A Path Appears, focuses on transforming lives by sharing the compelling stories of how real people have changed the world. One of only a few organizations highlighted, Cure Violence is depicted as a beacon for its pioneering work – accomplished at the grass roots level — devoted to raising the stakes in accomplishing social change. A recent New York Times book review of A Path Appears reinforces the impact of the Cure Violence approach in reducing urban violence:

“The physician Gary Slutkin learned the principles of disease control from a decade of working in Africa, including in cholera-ravaged refugee camps; when he returned home to Chicago, he applied his knowledge of public health to curbing the spread of gang violence. He decided to treat violence as an infectious disease, hiring “violence interrupters” to stop the epidemic from spreading. The Justice Department found that Slutkin’s organization, Cure Violence, reduced shootings by as much as 28 percent in some areas. Slutkin estimates a dollar spent on his programs saves $15.77 in medical and legal costs alone.”

3. Here are a few recent domestic highlights: In Chicago, city-funded sites saw a 75% percent reduction in shootings; Yonkers, NY, went 27 months without a shooting or killing; and New Orleans recorded 200-plus days without a homicide. (Go to for more specifics.)

* Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch scientist who first observed previously unknown and invisible microorganism, leading to a scientific understanding of disease contagion and treatment of previously incurable diseases. The generous gifts of Leeuwenhoek League donors allow Cure Violence, in the same way, to make visible the contagious nature of violence, and to lead local, national and global efforts to treat and reduce violence using a health approach.