(Crisis Magazine) — The author of this article is a convicted criminal. I was lured into a “life of crime” beginning in 1978 by someone who himself was once charged with federal racketeering. I have been called by judges “a dangerous person from whom society needs to be protected,” a “recidivist,” and, most recently, by the Attorney General of New York, even a “terrorist.” I have spent time in jail for my “crimes.”
Just last month I concluded a 45-day jail term at the Oakland County Jail in Pontiac, Michigan, out of which I served thirty-four days. On March 31st, I was booked into cellblock F1. One of the first things I wanted to do, which is the case with most inmates, was make “contact” with the “outside world.” So, I took a seat in a line of chairs to make a phone call on one of four phones available for sixty-four prisoners.
“Fresh” prisoners usually attract attention, and I was no exception – except for the kind of scrutiny to which I was “subjected.” A black, heavyset inmate came up to me accompanied by two others and said: “You just don’t look like someone who gets into much trouble. Whatcha in here for anyway?”
I hadn’t been in the cellblock yet one hour and already fellow prisoners were curious as to why I shared their fate. I was somewhat trepid regarding how I would be treated once inmates knew about my “crime” – nonetheless, I told them. “Well, I was arrested when I tried to talk women out of abortion at an abortion center – and provide a witness to the humanity of their unborn children. When the police came, I told them I couldn’t leave because human lives were at stake.”
“What! You gotta be kiddin’!” was the reaction of the inmate who had asked the question. By now, a tiny crowd of other women surrounded me – all with a similar reaction. “You’re in here for that? Why is that a crime?” And: “That’s ridiculous!” One inmate asked: “And how much jail time did you get for that?” I responded: “Forty-five days.” “Wow,” said one inmate, “You got more time than I got – and I’m here … well, never mind that!”
The initial shock regarding my “crime” was immediately followed by an intense discussion about abortion itself. I was interrogated as to whether I believed there were any instances in which I thought abortion was justified. One slender black woman asked: “Hey, come on, what about a thirteen-year-old who’s raped?” My explanation of why even a baby conceived in rape possessed a right to life would be the beginning of my thirty-four-day witness to the sanctity of life in the Oakland County Jail.
I was not alone. Fellow pro-lifer Laura Gies had been arrested with me and thankfully also booked into cellblock F1. On April 23, 2022, we had participated in a Red Rose Rescue with four others: Elizabeth Wagi, Matthew Connolly, Jacob Gregor, and Fr. Fidelis Moscinski of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. At the same time we were in jail, John Hinshaw was sentenced to a thirty-day term in New York for a Red Rose Rescue he did in Long Island.
Our Michigan rescue occurred at Northland Family Planning, located in Southfield, Michigan – where the unborn are killed through the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy. Red Rose Rescuers enter the abortion facility to talk with the women already seated in the waiting room. We seek to persuade them to give life to their children, giving them a final opportunity to choose life, offering words of encouragement, practical material assistance, pamphlets about abortion, and, of course, red roses. Attached to each rose is a card with phone numbers of local pregnancy help centers and more words of encouragement.
If any women are still intent on killing their children, at least some of the rescuers stay with the unborn – soon to be victims of abortion. Red Rose Rescuers remain with the unwanted – continuing to plead for their lives and continuing for as long as they can to witness to the sanctity of the lives of these outcast, abandoned human beings. The rescuers cannot just leave the unwanted; they have to be taken away.
And so, when the police eventually arrived, we were handcuffed and “taken away.” We were charged with misdemeanor crimes of trespassing, interference with business relations, and obstruction of an officer – the latter “crime” only because we failed to obey the “lawful” order of the arresting officers to leave the abortion center.
In February 2023, we stood trial in the 46th District Court of Judge Cynthia Arvant. We were ably defended by the very committed and skilled attorney Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center. With every legal and moral argument, Muise presented our motion to Arvant requesting a “defense of others” – a defense by which we could explain to the jury that our “trespass” on private property was justified to prevent the greater harm of death to others – that we acted in defense of others. The motion was denied.
In a post-Roe America, unborn children in the State of Michigan are not recognized as “others” – and they certainly were not recognized as other human beings at the time of the rescue! In essence then, for the purposes of judicial proceedings, unborn children simply do not exist. I have even heard judges state in other rescue trials: “No harm is caused when abortions are performed.” Judge Arvant characterized the harm caused at Northland Family Planning as “legal harm.” So, “motion denied.”
On February 21st, we were convicted, with sentencing scheduled for March 30th. Arvant hoped we would walk out of her court satisfied that we only were subject to eighteen months probation. However, for the second time in the history of pro-life activism, among other probation conditions, she imposed that we remain five hundred feet from every abortion center in the county, including hospitals that perform abortions.
Judge Marc Barron, in our 2018 Red Rose Rescue trial, imposed the same condition, which we deliberately “violated” a few months later. However, unlike Barron, Arvant went an important step further. She required we verbally affirm that we would “agree to comply” with the condition. In conscience, we could not do so.
In my sentencing statement, regarding the five-hundred-foot restriction, I told Arvant:
That’s like telling someone not to feed the poor, not to help people who are in danger. That’s the essence of what you are asking. I believe that if your life was in danger, if for some reason it was legal to exterminate you, you would want someone to quote, unquote ‘break the law to defend you.’ The law’s wrong, the law that says a certain people-group, in this case unborn children, may be subject to extermination, is just wrong. It’s an unjust law. And here Your Honor, here you have the opportunity to put an upside-down world somewhat upside right. You have the opportunity now Judge Arvant to do something right in a system that’s based on a lie … that unborn children don’t exist, you can set that lie aside now, in this sentencing where you have a lot more discretion.
Arvant insisted that she had no choice according to the law but to impose a sentence and to keep us away from places and circumstances, in other words, abortion centers, where we were likely to break the law again. After all, a jury of our peers found us guilty of crimes. I said, “But I am not guilty. In the objective world of what’s right and wrong, I am not guilty.”
Arvant responded: “I don’t operate in the objective world.” (The transcript was made available through its purchase by Lynn Mills for LifeSiteNews.)
And there it is! By not operating “in the objective world,” the unborn are put to death. By not operating in the objective world, all kinds of real crimes are justified. Judge Arvant, and all others like her, prefer to prop up and order their “reality” according to a lie. The only “reality” that matters is that which is codified by law, and “the Arvants” actually believe that such legally codified lies are the foundation of social order.
Even Renee Chelian, the owner of Northland Family Planning, read a “victim’s” statement. The first thing she said was, “Your Honor, these defendants have no respect for the law.” Apparently, it has not yet dawned on Renee that she has no respect for life. But, it’s by not “operating in the objective world” that she is permitted to operate.
We were immediately shackled, hands and feet, and taken to the Oakland County Jail, about to start a jail term that would take us through Holy Week and Easter. It is easy to conclude that, whether guilty or innocent, serving a jail sentence is simply a suffering that one must endure. Yes, the food is awful, the so-called bed is hard, and the cellblock is full of unpleasant sounds of clanging metal doors, hard and harsh shouting of deputies, and noisy inmates.
However, in the midst of the deprivations and indignities, our arrest, our trial, and the jail experience itself was a continued witness to the injustice of abortion as we continued our witness to the unborn we tried to save, a continuing witness to the sanctity of life in the Culture of Death. Cellblock F1 became our mission field.
The jail experience was filled with enormous blessings. The first blessing was the nearly unanimous respect we received from our fellow inmates. Nearly everyone believed we didn’t belong in jail for our “crime” of trying to save babies from abortion. Their respect was very humbling. I can say with confidence that ninety percent of our fellow inmates were in jail for drug or alcohol-related issues – lives very broken. Knowing we were devout Christians, many of them wanted to talk with us; some even opened up about their own abortions which they regretted. We counseled them, prayed with them, and even evangelized them.
Inmates could order rosaries from the chaplain’s office. Indeed, one of the first things I notice when arriving in F1 was how many inmates were wearing plastic rosaries around their necks or wrapped around their wrists. The rosaries came with a pamphlet on how to pray it, but I wondered how many women, donning the beads like jailhouse jewelry, actually did. My cellmate, in jail for alcohol-related convictions, was very Catholic and very pro-life – unbelievably, someone I actually knew from having worked together on pro-life projects! We were both surprised as could be to see one another incarcerated!
She, Laura, and I teamed up and began to pray the Rosary in the noisy day room. We invited a few other inmates whom we knew were Catholic to join us. They did. Then even a few more spontaneously joined our group – some not even Catholic! It was also a humbling experience to listen to the non-Catholics, some with no more than a ninth-grade education, stumble through the prayers with such sincerity. Oddly, we never had to explain why Catholics pray to Mary. We now had a regular group and prayed the Rosary every morning with residents of F1.
Within the first week of our incarceration, Laura Gies had a cellmate who was pregnant. Her name was Moniesha. When this large, black woman knew why Laura was in jail, she wanted to talk. She had just given birth to a baby three months ago. Pregnant again, she told Laura that she was considering aborting the baby. Ironically, the baby born in December had been saved by sidewalk counselors who stood at the edge of the large parking lot at Northland Family Planning and reached out to Moniesha! Laura, of course, talked to her cellmate – a long and intense discussion about God, her life, and the beauty of the unborn child growing within her. And Moniesha made a decision to give life to her baby. It was Good Friday.
The male pro-lifers were equally busy. Matthew Connolly, in cellblock G2, overheard an inmate on the phone yelling at his girlfriend, apparently forcing her into an abortion with the words: “Get rid of that baby!”
Matthew was working as a jail trustee and had the job of delivering meals to the inmates. Whenever he came to this man’s cell, he would smile and say to him in a quiet voice, “God bless you. Choose life.” This went on for the better part of a week.
One day, however, this man stopped Matthew and wished to have a conversation with him. Matthew seized the opportunity to speak to him about the great blessing of a child and the incredible importance of fatherhood, as well as the violence of abortion. After their talk, the man told Matthew that he had been selfish and unfair toward his pregnant girlfriend. He decided not to pressure her to get an abortion and even spoke of his excitement over having a little son or daughter!
Later, the inmate told Matthew that he called his girlfriend and told her he would support her and their little baby, and the girlfriend assured him she was keeping their child.
Three weeks into our jail sentence, one inmate physically attacked another. This immediately caused the deputies to order the whole cellblock on a “lockdown” – all inmates ordered to return to their cells. All of a sudden, F1 swarmed with extra deputies who seemed to appear out of nowhere! I was already in our cell, shaken out of private prayer by all of the commotion. Complying with the lockdown, my cellmate entered.
Both of us stood near the cell’s metal door, which was left ajar about two inches, confused as to what was going on. Suddenly, a female deputy came by and angrily yelled: “Miller, when a lockdown is ordered, you’re supposed to shut the cell door!” and she proceeded to do so, slamming it shut, making her point with a loud bang. My cellmate stood three feet away from me, but oddly I was singled out. Soon, when order was restored, another deputy assigned to F1 for the evening informed me that I was to serve a punishment for the infraction – namely, that I was put on personal lockdown, forced to confinement in my cell for the next 24 hours.
I was instantly consumed by anger. And I was also surprised at how quickly I was overcome by that emotion. And, too, I was angry at myself for my angry reaction to the unjust punishment. My goal was to give all my sufferings to God in atonement for the injustice and sin of abortion – to unite my sufferings to Jesus on the Cross. Now I was squandering the spiritual fruits of doing just that in this instance. Instead of accepting the punishment, I rebelled against it, feeling deeply the injustice of the entire system that claimed I was a criminal for trying to defend innocent human lives – with this lockdown imposed on me now a part of that system.
About half an hour into that lockdown, I heard the loud, terse voice of the deputy call out “Miller, 22” – 22 being the number of my cell. I thought, “What do they want now!?” I climbed down from my upper bunk and made my way to the deputy’s office. When I stood before him, not knowing what to expect, he suddenly handed me a book. I had no idea where the book came from – or why he was giving it to me.
Yes, inmates may have books sent to them, and some books had already been sent to me – but they always came with a paper indicating the person who sent them. This book had no such paper. I looked at the title and was instantly amazed. The book was He Leadeth Me, the spiritual autobiography of Fr. Walter Ciszek – the sequel to his other volume, With God in Russia.
Accused of being a Vatican spy following World War II, Ciszek spent over twenty years in Soviet prisons and work camps that included years in solitary confinement. That I should receive this tome just now was God’s voice to me. Certainly, that the book should appear just when I felt the burden of my own jail time was no coincidence or accident! And it certainly put my own jail experience well into perspective! Fr. Ciszek’s sufferings told me I had very little to complain about. I took the cherished volume back to my cell and began reading it immediately. My anger melted away. I surrendered to everything.
Being on a personal lockdown was very new to me. I didn’t know what was expected of an inmate in this situation. Breakfast was at five o’clock in the morning. What was I to do at meal times? Should I go down and get my tray, eat with my fellow inmates, then return to my cell? I had no idea what to do. My very supportive cellmate said, “At breakfast time, I’ll go down and ask the deputy what are the rules.”
So, when inmates were called for breakfast, my cellmate left the cell. I waited anxiously for her return. Within minutes she was back and blurted out: “You’re free! The deputy today has no record of your being on any lockdown!” I was overjoyed, and also stupefied! I felt like an angel had come to release me as once an angel had done for St. Peter.
What does it mean for pro-lifers to be in jail? It actually makes sense for us to be here. In this Culture of Death – in the morally upside-down world, pro-lifers have placed themselves on the side of an unwanted, outcast people. During our trial the unborn remained outcast – and so convicted in defense of them, we are “counted among the wicked” and sent to jail. Thus, we remain in solidarity with the outcast.
Decades ago, Joan Andrews Bell, was sentenced to a five-year jail term, of which she served two-and a half years for her “one-woman” rescue in Florida. In a letter from prison Joan poignantly stated:
You reject them, you reject me. Our aim, our goal, [is] to wipe out the line of distinction between the preborn & their born friends … The rougher it gets for us, the more we can rejoice that … no longer are we being treated so much as the privileged born, but as the discriminated against preborn …
We do not expect justice in the courts … We should in truth tell the court that we, as defenders & friends of the preborn, expect no justice & no compassion, as the true defendants, the preborn children, received none & were killed without due process on the day of the rescue attempt …
They died for the crimes of being preborn & unwanted. We expect no justice from a judicial system that decrees such savagery nor from a government that allows it. If it is a crime, punishable by death, to be unwanted, maybe it should be a crime, punishable by death, to love the unwanted and to act to protect them.
And whether it is practical for pro-lifers to go to jail, she stated in another prison letter:
No government can operate without the support of the populace. All it takes is a very small, but visible and determined, minority willing to suffer and even die for truth and justice in order to force a change in judicial, governmental or social policy. A nation cannot stand under the weight of a holocaust if there is a strong enough outcry against it. Pro-lifers must be willing to suffer and to act, or else be willing to live through many more decades of slaughter. (Richard Cowden-Guido, You Reject Them, You Reject Me: The Prison Letters of Joan Andrews, Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 1988, pg. 126)
When we unite our sufferings to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross for the sake of what is right – in the end it is the most practical act of all.
Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine.