YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION: A PRISON LETTER TO YOKO ONO

September 22, 2019 – 4:42 am

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The place for forgiveness. By Susie Day.

Dear Yoko Ono,

Years, years, and years ago, in 1980, a pathetically deranged man murdered the love of your life. You were walking home, into the Manhattan building where you lived, and suddenly this man, seeking the world’s adoration, gunned down your husband, John Lennon. Mark Chapman was given a 20-to-life sentence. After almost four decades, he remains in prison. You want to keep him there for the rest of his life.

One year before John Lennon died, across the river in Brooklyn, a 21-year-old woman and her teenage friend broke into an apartment and killed the elderly couple who lived there, stabbing them 70 times when they refused to hand over money for drugs. Valerie Gaiter was given a 50-to-life sentence. She entered prison forty years ago and died this August in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility of untreated esophageal cancer, having been told for months that the pain in her throat was just acid reflux.

That’s what sending someone to prison for the rest of their life means. Aging into sickness and death in a place where the food is bad and healthcare barely exists. Because, gratifying as it may feel to see people sent off to rot behind walls, there are two unseen realities in play: (1) People who want someone to die in prison usually have no idea of what prison is like; and (2) Bad as prison can be, people inside can and do change.

Since 2000, when Chapman became eligible for parole, you, Yoko Ono, have written letters to the NY Parole Board asking that he be denied, saying Chapman’s release would “bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion”; that for the safety of your family, and his own safety, Chapman should remain locked up. In later years, you’ve relied on your attorney to convey the message: “Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono has consistently opposed release.”

Out here in the world, we, who also miss John Lennon, take little notice. Like you, we’ve gone on to weather AIDS, 9/11, an exploding prison population, and so much more.

Back in 1979, Amber Grumet, the daughter of the couple Val Gaiter helped kill, couldn’t bring herself to attend her parents’ murder trial. She still has trouble holding herself together. Last year, she told City Limits that she didn’t know if she wanted Val Gaiter released. But Amber Grumet did think prison sentences seemed too long; that more emphasis should be placed on rehabilitation. “I’m very torn between my own individual situation and my politics and philosophy,” she said. “I tried to bring myself together into one human being. I finally gave up. That’s the way I exist.”

That’s pretty much how we all exist, Yoko Ono.

Remember, when so many of us – activists, students, artists – were trying to keep the 1960s together? When we either were following Che and creating “Two, Three, Many Vietnams” or imploring the world to “Give Peace a Chance”? To paraphrase another John Lennon song, whether or not we wanted full-on revolution, we all did want to change the world.

Remember those photos of peaceniks confronting stalwart American GIs with flowers? They seem unbearably quaint now. We smile wistfully at the memory of you and John in 1969, protesting the Vietnam War by spending a highly publicized week of your honeymoon in an Amsterdam bed, promoting “bed-ins for world peace.” The Peace Movement you endorsed welcomed home US soldiers, as long as they decried the war crimes this country had sent them to carry out. These were often men who killed or tortured hundreds of Vietnamese. No prison time for them.

Then Victory – the war ended! But, as the peace movement disbanded, new, stealthier wars commenced. Today, we can’t name all the countries where the US has sent its military; we can’t count the deaths for which this country is responsible.

Back in 1980, as the US government began sending aid to the Contras, Valerie Gaiter was beginning her prison sentence. When she died, forty years and many proxy wars later, Gaiter still had ten years to go before she would be eligible for parole.

At Bedford prison, everyone who knew Val Gaiter attested to how she had changed over decades. She worked training dogs for veterans with PTSD. She jumped at every opportunity for education or personal growth the prison could offer. In 2012, despite 20 letters from the prison staff, Governor Cuomo denied her petition for clemency.

A few months before she died, Val wrote in a letter, “The impact of what I did and the pain I have caused… will live with me for the rest of my life and forever be a reminder of what I was and how I can never be again… For that I am totally remorseful.”

Mark Chapman, with a clean prison record since 1994 and designated “low risk” of recidivism, will probably go before the NY Parole Board again in 2020. He’s said he feels “more and more shame” every year for what he did; that he knows the pain he caused will linger “even after I die.”

My letter to you isn’t only about Mark Chapman. It isn’t only about the thousands of people aging in US prisons, who express profound remorse yet are too often refused by parole boards that won’t look beyond “the nature of the crime.” It isn’t even about the restorative justice projects now beginning to offer some hope. It’s a question I want to ask you, Yoko Ono.

What has Mark Chapman being in prison all these years done to heal your loss? Or ours, for that matter?

I would never dare ask you to forgive. Yet who is not worthy of being mourned? When and how should mourning determine Justice?

Your answer, Yoko Ono, will help us to see, if it was ever, ever possible to Give Peace a Chance.

Note: Susie Day is a writer. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  1. 8 Responses to “YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION: A PRISON LETTER TO YOKO ONO”

  2. Some people should rot in prison. Some of them have a great time in prison if you believe Richard Speck. Leave Yoko alone.

    By Bernard Zalon on Sep 22, 2019

  3. You are an absolute moron Susie. As someone who worked in corrections for 30 years, I had daily dealings with the scum of the earth. Yet none of them belonged in jail for life more than that POS. First of all, he should have gotten the death penalty, not be allowed to live all these years. Even the bible says an eye for an eye. But this wasn’t any old murderer. He came to NY specifically to kill John. John, a man of peace & love, & one of the most talented musician ever born. Thanks to him, I have never been able to listen to Beatle or John without a tinge of sadness. I also can’t read about John without welling up, & I know that I’m not alone feeling this way. But more than the personal level, he killed a husband & father, stealing from them the chance to grow old together. So yes, it isn’t just Yoko who wants him to die in prison, there are millions of us.

    By donald sherlock on Sep 23, 2019

  4. Dear Susie,
    is this article of yours to be taken seriously or is it a joke?
    In both cases it is sad.
    What does give peace a chance has to do with a psychopath that announced his planned murder and did eventually ended up full filling his commitment, what mercy should this man have?
    To be able to be again as he was on a tv show explaining how he commited the crime? to let him be strolling in your neighborhood would that be “cool” for you? To let him have a web site? To let him write how his life has changed since he killed John Lennon?
    I wonder what you would say about a person that would have killed your partner like he did with Yoko Ono or about someone who stabbed to death your family like Valerie Gaiter did.
    Would you ask for mercy for these people?

    By BobCatAl on Sep 23, 2019

  5. she probably wants to marry him.

    By David Jordan on Sep 23, 2019

  6. Every bleeding heart who wants a prisoner released because of “good behavior” should have that prisoner live with them in their own house, and see just how reformed they are. John Lennon was shot 5 times in the back by this pathological killer. Can you imagine the terror he caused for John in his last moments of his life? This after John signed a copy of Double Fantasy for him? People who end up in prison are there for a reason. Most of them have had chance after chance to reform, but still committed crimes. I have no mercy for them.

    By Big E on Sep 23, 2019

  7. What a pathetic letter Susie — its as if you’re suggesting that these people in prison are the victims. Chapman is a horrible, horrible individual — I don’t feel sorry for him — he killed one of the greatest individuals to walk the earth. He deserves to die in prison — he. never gave John the chance to live out his life — think all of all he could have accomplished. To hell with Chapman — you ought to be ashamed. Leave his grieving widow alone. How dare you!

    By Lee Zimmerman on Sep 25, 2019

  8. I think this gentleman must remain behind bars until the day he dies.

    By Alberto Boschini on Sep 28, 2019

  9. Wow. The mind reels. Chapman is an evil animal and does NOT deserve to live with the rest of us. Case closed. He buttered his bread, now he can LIE in it. And don’t go dumping this on Yoko. She suffered enough. Chapman has yet to suffer. The world lost a favorite son. How dare you suggest that letting that putz roam around free is in any way tolerable. People who murder can go fuck themselves. You may quote me.

    By Glen Banks on Nov 6, 2019

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