Even though one month has passed since Tim DeChristopher began his two-year sentence in federal prison for disrupting an oil and gas industry auction, nothing has silenced the environmental activist’s criticism of the legal system that put him there. (Read my previous post on Tim DeChristopher for the case’s back story)

In a hand-written letter to Grist’s Jennifer Prediger, published yesterday, DeChristopher continues to question the U.S. government’s moral authority.

“Apparently, all [U.S. District Judge Dee Benson] really wanted was an apology, and for that, two years in prison could have been avoided.” DeChristopher even recalls Benson admitting DeChristopher’s crime “wasn’t that bad.” However, Benson added at the July 26 sentencing that DeChristopher’s “continuing trail of statements” and his “lack of regret” required a deterrent.

While prosecutors continue to offer DeChristopher plea bargains, most recently a reduced 30-day sentence, he has rejected all offers. “With all criminal cases, of which 85 percent end in a plea bargain, the government has a strong incentive to avoid a trial,” DeChristopher writes. “In addition to cutting the expense of a trial, a plea bargain helps concentrate power in the hands of government officials… Their willingness to let a direct action off with a slap on the wrist while handing out two years for political statements comes from their understanding of the power of an individual.”

As TreeHugger’s Brian Merchant wrote yesterday in response to DeChristopher’s statement, “If DeChristopher were to recant and apologize, his sole criminal deed would be some minor bureaucratic meddling… It’s the persistent, vocal objecting to the state’s policy that animates the crime, not the deed itself. But that persistent, vocal objecting to the status quo is also what’s so important to the fabric of a robust democracy—to cultivating a power structure that adequately responds to the needs and demands of its citizenry.”

DeChristopher acknowledges in his letter that a single person acting alone “can’t have a meaningful direct impact on our political system,” but says the government understands “the very same thing our founding fathers did when they wrote [the First Amendment]: What one person can do is to plant the seeds of love and outrage in the hearts of a movement. And if those hearts are fertile ground, those seeds of love and outrage will grow into a revolution.” Expect more to come.

Justin Alvarez

José Castrellón is a Panamanian photographer who identifies with cultural changes and the impact they have on different places. For more of his work, including Priti Baiks, check out his website. Justin Alvarez is an editorial assistant at Guernica. Read more about him here.

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