This Badass 85-Year-Old Nun Is Getting Out Of Prison

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images.
Over a year ago, a Tennessee court sentenced an 84-year-old nun to three years in prison. The charges? A violation of the Sabotage Act, meaning she interfered with the United States' ability to wage war. In reality, she and two companions cut the fences at a nuclear storage facility and slipped inside to protest. 

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit threw out the sabotage charge, the strongest against Sister Megan Rice (now 85). 

 "In cases like this, the prosecution has gone too far with the interpretation of statutes," Rice's lawyer, Marc Shapiro, who took on the case pro bono, told us in reference to the Sabotage Act. "These statutes have a purpose and intent behind them. The government is not at liberty to bring a charge just because it can do so. In a world where there's a lot of talking about national security going on, it's important to know what the parameters are for attempting to injure the national defense," he said.
Sister Rice's intention was, indeed, not to hurt America, but rather to protest the dangers of nuclear weapons. During her February 2014 sentencing, Rice said that she would be happy to stay in prison for life in order to protect "the next generation" from the hazards of nuclear arms. "It is for these people that we're willing to give our lives," she said in her closing statement. 

"I do not think Sister Megan Rice meant her closing statement politically. I think she is sincere — [an] unusual person," Brenda Murray, administrative law judge and co-chair of the Women in Prison Project, told us. 

Shapiro agrees. "[Rice's] willingness to stay in prison was a reflection of her lifelong commitment to this issue. The statement she was making is that she is devoting her life to this cause."

Prior to her incarceration, Rice spent 40 years teaching as part of a missionary project in Africa. After contracting malaria, she returned to the United States. Back on home turf, she and two of her fellow Ploughshares members trespassed into the Oak Ridge, TN nuclear facility and decorated it with reproachful spray paint and human blood. That's when they were arrested.

During her time at a high-rise detention center in Brooklyn, where conditions are reportedly deplorable, Sister Megan Rice shifted her activism to rallying against the state of prison conditions for women in the United States. She and other advocates argued that American prisons were never designed to house convicted women, who, unlike men, are not generally violent offenders. 

If everything goes as planned, she could be heading home in a few weeks. 

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