“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
No-one wants to go to prison, but increasing numbers of supporters of campaigns like Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain, who are choosing to resist the destruction of humanity and are prepared to accept the consequences of their actions, are facing time in prison.
Michelle Charlesworth, 56, from Oxfordshire has been in prison since 4th May after taking part in multiple Just Stop Oil actions at the Kingsbury oil terminal since the 1st April. At Birmingham Crown Court, today she was sentenced to a further 33 days in prison, after being found guilty of several counts of breaking the Kingsbury injunction and failing to attend court.
Michelle, a grandmother, has previously worked in Human Resources and supported those who have survived domestic abuse and homelessness before working on a variety of community environmental projects. Why has she gone to these lengths? She says:
“My beautiful grandson will be 3 years old in June. His future and the futures of all the young people in this country are being stolen by the continued ecocidal activities of the fossil fuel industry. This negligent Government continues to grant new licences and by doing so, are complicit in this ecocide. I cannot stand by and watch, I will not stand by.”
During her first 14 days in prison Michelle has been engaged in a civil resistance campaign, after she received sanctions from prison governor Kelly Clark for allegedly gluing on in court on 4th May. She was put in solitary confinement for over 24 hours. This involved remaining in her cell with no contact with other prisoners and taking exercise in a small, concrete, fenced pen. She was given no change of clothes and struggled to sleep as a result of distressed cries from another inmate. Amy Pritchard, 37 from London was also given the same treatment.
Along with seven other female Just Stop Oil supporters at HMP Foston Hall, Michelle started practising nonviolent non-compliance with the prison authorities, including refusing to leave her cell for two court appearances which resulted in rough treatment and use of “pain compliance”.
The eight women were seeking a meeting with the prison governor, Kelly Clark, demanding that she drop the adjudication procedure against Michelle Charlesworth and declare a climate and ecological emergency (CEE) and act upon it.
Writing from prison last week, Michelle said
“My courage is not wavering and I am here to do a job. Inmates are curious and want to know more. It’s interesting how little officers and inmates seem to know or understand about the existential crisis we are in. Everyone is looking at us and wondering why we would go to such lengths.
“There is much work to do, sharing the message and showing this part of society what we are all about. Courage, love, solidarity, nonviolent resistance. The disruptions we have caused have impacted our wing – however the messages being filtered back through the prison grape vine is that there is respect for what we are doing”
However, by Saturday 14th May the situation and Michelle’s mood appear to have taken a darker turn:
“Day 10 started early with me writing another statement to be read out to the governor for ‘refusing’ to attend court. (My 3rd adjudication). I feel privileged to have been able to spend time with these individuals holding powerful positions in the prison systems. I must believe that every time I share a little more of the truth that it is landing, a seed or two may even start to grow.
“I have however been cautioned that if I continue to disobey that their processes will mean that my punishment will become uncomfortable and the previous rough handling that I experienced was referenced as an example of what that might look like.
“I’m feeling emotionally exhausted today. And tearful. Receiving 2 large envelopes filled with emails from supporters has helped to inspire me to write this message. Thank you for all the kind words, I am humbled by the outpouring of love and support.
“I have a summons to appear in court on Tuesday, I’m hoping to speak to a solicitor before then. Comms have been tricky, credit on phone, delays with top up, delays with adding numbers to my approved phone list… but – I will go with my body – whatever I am feeling, that will be the decision. RADICAL TRUST that all will be OK because I am being a Good Ancestor, giving hope and so I know that the universe, the divine power, that gives us breath, will ensure that my test is not more than I can bear. Pray that I will remain composed, able to deliver my message, and speak for us all.
“Thank you for this wonderful community that I am proud to be a part of. I can look forward to a time when we can have some fun and enjoy a glass or two in the sunshine. “
We await news of how Michelle has responded to this latest penalty.