Readers: This is the second of three columns on freedom.
I once pastored a church where our music minister, Don Smith, often greeted our congregation with a harmonious “Hello! “
Unfortunately, our sleeping parishioners often failed to convey his enthusiasm. On these occasions, Smith launched a question to resuscitate the elderly worshipers: “How many of you would rather be here than the best prison in Turkey?” “
A few hands rose cautiously in favor of their current accommodations, but most only moaned.
As crazy as Smith’s choice might be, he was trying to give our parishioners perspective. Ten years later, in 1998, I was able to directly appreciate his point of view while visiting a Turkish prison.
At the time, I was an Air Force chaplain at Izmir Air Base, when I answered a phone call from our Deputy Commander, Lt. Col. Horace J. Phillips.
“Chaplain, how would you like to go to jail today?” ” He asked.
“Forgive me, sir?” “
Phillips laughed the same “gotcha laugh” he had often used to certify me for diving.
Then, as if to clean his diving mask from the sea water, he expelled his sparkling mirth to explain that one of our members of the Security Force (military policeman) had been held in the infamous Bucca prison.
“I need you to accompany the lawyer and myself to the prison to check on the sergeant’s welfare.”
I took a troubled breath and asked, “What’s the load? “
“Turkish insult law,” the grassroots lawyer replied over speakerphone with Phillips.
The law, still in effect today, prohibits anyone from saying or doing anything the government considers offensive. If found guilty, our aviator could face a sentence of one to three years in prison.
Phillips explained that the drunken sergeant “insulted” the Turks by emptying his bladder on a statue of Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
“Sounds pretty insulting, indeed,” I said.
During our hour-long drive to the prison, the lawyer reminded us that Turkey had not signed up to the typical prison release deal that the US military enjoys with most people. country. She informed us that normally, minor offenses committed by US military personnel are dealt with by a US military tribunal.
“Unless we can do some magic,” she added, “our boy is here to stay.”
Just after noon, we presented an ID to the guards who then took us through the barriers.
Hearing the doors of Turkish prisons close behind you is not an experience for the faint of heart. The smell suddenly became indescribable. Rats passed us in the opposite direction. It seemed that even the rodents were preparing their escape.
Every part reminded me of the 1978 movie “Midnight Express”. The film follows American student Billy Hayes, who spent four years in a Turkish prison for drug trafficking before finally crossing the Maritsa River by boat to free himself.
Soon we found our sergeant pacing his cell, a contrite cop who remembered little of his escapades. He did not seem fit to swim for freedom.
I do not know what a person detained in a Turkish prison feels when seeing a chaplain enter his cell. But his pale expression suggested that he might be expecting his last rites.
Our lawyer took her best shot out of her briefcase, typed apologies. She advised him to sign saying, “If you apologize, we could get you released with your promise to appear again for trial.” “
The next day, the Turks greeted the signed apology and, with a nod to Phillips, cleared the sergeant to board a return flight.
The Sergeant’s story often takes a step back when I hear people constantly complaining about restrictions on their personal freedoms, such as taxes, masks, or speed limits on an empty stretch of the desert highway.
If Smith and I were leading the cult again today, we would probably ask these plaintiffs to join us in Keith Greenwood’s song:
I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave me this right.
And I would gladly get up
Close to you and defend it even today;
Because there is no doubt that I love this land.
God bless the USA!
Then, if I thought I heard a lack of enthusiasm, I would ask them all, “How many of you would rather be here today than the most beautiful prison in Turkey?”
Part of this column is taken from Norris’ book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving.” His books are available at www.thechaplain.net. Contact him at [email protected] or 10556 Combie Road, Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @ chaplain.