COLUMBUS, GA — Nancy Smith of Claverack was convicted in U.S. district court January 5 of trespassing on military property, a federal misdemeanor.
The conviction carries a sentence of six months in federal prison.
Ms. Smith, 78, changed her not-guilty plea to nolo contendere, meaning she did not contest the charge, during the brief proceedings, which were reportedly attended by a large group of supporters.
She will now spend a few days in Muskogee County jail before being assigned to a federal prison for the duration of her sentence. At press time the name of the prison was not known.
In November Ms. Smith was part of an annual demonstration that protests the training of military personnel from other countries at what used to be called the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning. She deliberately walked into territory forbidden to demonstrators and, as expected, was arrested.
The School of the Americas Watch organized the demonstration and assisted Ms. Smith with her legal case.
As part of a statement sent to friends and supporters, Ms. Smith, a retired psychology professor at Columbia-Greene Community College, mused on her situation, writing that she was not “particularly worried about going to prison,” saying that it would be “a far different experience for me if I were not white, middle class, educated and old…. I face less risk in prison simply by virtue of my race and economic class.”
She also expressed gratitude for the help she has had preparing for her sentence, though she acknowledged that she would not have “much time, privacy or opportunity to reflect on my experiences. Nor will I be able to communicate much, if at all, with my family and friends” when she is in a federal prison.
Asked if her cause didn’t seem hopeless after 20 years of annual protests, Ms. Smith wrote, “People keep going to the protest because the problem still exists, and is being replicated in other countries all over the world. The School of the Americas is a specific example of our country’s regrettable commitment to a militaristic foreign policy, and the SOA Watch protest is an expression of concern for that militarism.
“It’s incorrect to say that nothing has changed in the past two decades of the protests. Some countries no longer send their soldiers to be trained at SOA because of its notorious history. If these countries can make that decision, why can’t we be similarly moved to end SOA?”
She concluded, by saying, “I’ve walked 2,000 miles in the past two years for peace, social justice and a nuclear-free world. When you walk this path there are all kinds of people to walk with, people who believe in the things you do, and who are willing to put those beliefs into action.”