Kelly being released in Georgia
April 14, 2021
TACOMA — A priest who has spent more than a decade behind bars for breaking federal laws in a stand against nuclear weapons, including at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, was released from prison Tuesday at the U.S. District Courthouse.
The Rev. Steve Kelly was brought across the country by the U.S. Marshals Service from Georgia, where he’d finished prison time for breaking into the East Coast Trident submarine base, to face allegations that he’d violated probation for trespassing onto the Bangor base in March 2017.
Kelly, 72, refused to follow probation requirements for the same reason he’s broken into federal properties for more than 25 years: as a matter of conscience.
“I think that it’s probably best said that while there are nuclear weapons out there, my conscience will probably be very consistent about this,” Kelly told Magistrate Judge David W. Christel on Tuesday.
Christel, acknowledging Kelly had served the maximum sentence for a probation violation, released him. A U.S. Marshal walked the Jesuit priest, still in prison khakis, out the front door of the courthouse where he was met by other anti-nuclear weapon activists.
Kelly, among the most ardent nuclear weapons protesters in the country, said he will continue acts of civil disobedience “while there’s still breath in my body.”
“It’s his purpose in life,” said longtime friend and fellow activist George Rodkey. “He’s very focused.”
He also risks a quick return to prison. If he fails to check in later this week with a probation officer in Georgia, where he completed a sentence for breaking into Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, another warrant will be issued for his arrest.
Kelly has participated in five “plowshares” actions — named for a Bible chapter in which the prophet Isaiah calls to “beat swords into plowshares” — including one that led to his arrest in November 2009 at Bangor. He joined four others in cutting into both the fence of the base and another of Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, which stores nuclear missiles for the base’s Trident submarines. They held a sign, “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident: Illegal + Immoral,” and were arrested by Marines.
Kelly, who is from the Bay Area, returned to Kitsap in March 2017, where he and other activists were arrested for crossing a blue line denoting federal property at the Bangor base. But instead of a jail sentence, as he had requested, he received a fine, community service and probation — and didn’t comply with all three aspects.
In April 2018, he and six others broke into the Kings Bay base, a crime that sent Kelly to prison for a 33-month sentence. But because of the probation violation from the Bangor trespassing, he remained in custody for a 3 1/2-month journey involving quarantines, COVID-19 tests and flights between prisons in Florida, Oklahoma and Nevada before arriving here at the end of March. His release Tuesday comes after more than three years behind bars.
Kelly isn’t sure where he’ll go next; he’s currently staying with fellow Jesuits in the area.
“I’ll have to go where the sails are full from the wind,” Kelly said.