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The Gerbil Cage: Faith, Rights, Sacrifice & Family Law Reform

Good People & People of Faith,

We have talked about NonViolent Action, as practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as a critical method in our struggle for protection of our GREAT Civil Right to be parents to our children. My current jail sentence (as have the others) gives me time and motivation to reflect on this. For background and details, see: http://www.AKidsRight.Org/actionc_syr/

I/We need another loving mother and father to join this effort to get a meeting between parents and Senator Clinton. This message is being written to you -- the loving parent, abused by the system, but who still believes and is at a point in their lives where they are ready to make a leap of Faith for reform, for their children, and for themselves.

I'm in a new location this time, Cayuga County Jail located in Auburn, New York. When the U.S. Marshals said they would be moving me there I thought it would be a good deal. A facility located in a rural area where there would be a civil relationship between prisoners and staff. I was mistaken.

I write this on October 2nd, my birthday! I turn 48 years old in jail. What an achievement! I'm sitting on my steel bunk with my Sealy extra-extra-extra firm mattress -- or is that extra thin? I call my new home the 'Gerbil Cage.' There are 13 of us in here -- beds about 4 feet apart.

The Gerbil Cage

There is one TV and you can't escape the sound. Our litter box is right in front and you can watch TV from the seat (Homer Simpson would love it!) It only has about a 3' privacy wall -- do you get the idea?

The size of the Gerbil Cage, 24' wide and about 40' long. That includes our dining room, a couple of steel tables right next to the TV and the litter box! We get to stay here for our meals -- isn't room service great?

Oh, I might smell a bit right now. Even though I take a shower everyday I'm still wearing the same jail clothes I had a week ago. It seems they don't have quite enough to go around.

I almost felt bad till I met a guy with no underwear and pants two sizes too large. It seems he came in with colored underwear. They took that away, but didn't give him a replacement -- for a week he walked around with one hand wrapped around his pants -- imagine that!

After several days of pleading with the guards he was able to get a pair of pants only one size too large, still no underwear -- but he was a happier man!

I am happy to report the local sheriff is an Equal Opportunity Employer. They have a lot of female guards. They walk through our cage any time, even when we are using the litter box! They are even there when we are taking a shower (they try to keep their backs turned).

Worth the Sacrifice

What do you think about that kind of treatment and environment? A person loses their freedom in jail -- but don't they still deserve human dignity?

Are you upset by this? Going to become an activist for jail reform -- the rights of prisoners? I may write a few letters or make a phone call, but would I go to jail over the issue -- no. Would I violate an order and walk outside the offices of Senator Clinton over this? No. Would you?

But I may find myself back here next year. Why? Because my right to be a parent to my child has been violated. Would I be willing to sacrifice more time in a Gerbil Cage over that? Yes. What does it take to do that? Faith.


A lot of people tune out about now. A lot of people don't want Faith pushed on them. I quite agree and we are not selling Faith.

A lot of people tell me talking about Faith detracts from the purpose of our Group -- I'll believe that when I have one of those folks here with me in the Gerbil Cage. How about you?

The essence of NonViolent Action is the belief that voluntary personal sacrifice can be a powerful force for social change -- and always effective in personal change.

What did it take for a Black person in the Fifties to peacefully attempt to sit in the front of the bus? Knowing he would not only be thrown off the bus and jailed -- but the local Klan might visit his home and burn it down?

Is that fair? Would you do something like that? For those 'early adoptors' it took a lot of Faith -- for it would seem no one cared. Later on this type of action became 'trendy.' There was more media attention and people with little or no Faith (but still good, concerned people) would participate in the actions. The reward justified the risk.

Is NonViolent Action and the Faith it requires really practical today? The Blacks that participated in the Fifties had a strong, community church based Faith -- do we have that among parents now? Most of the Blacks did not have much property -- what about us now?

What about me?

I'll tell you what troubles me most and it is not 6 weeks in a Gerbil Cage. I am an only child and my 88 year old mother is at home in Lyons -- alone.

She immigrated to America from Italy after marrying my father. Who would have ever thought she would become a mother at 40, and him a new father at 64! She became a grandmother at 77 and my son Domenic means the world to her.

We make at least four trips a year to the other side of the country to spend a weekend with him -- she has made all but one. She refuses the wheelchair through the airport, "I'm not old yet!" She lives on a small social security check and it costs us everything we have to see Dom. I'm driving a 1988 Dodge Caravan with a quarter million miles on it!

I have some cousins in town that help her with groceries (many thanks to Mary & Phil Paliotti) and I try to call her everyday from here, but I worry. Is the risk worth it? Am I doing the right thing? I worry about the potential pain to myself and others. But do I have any doubt that my sacrifice is important? No. Do I have any regrets? No.


You really get time to think here. Do you have any words you can use to complete the following sentence?

I would voluntarily sacrifice months in a Gerbil Cage for the following (with no certainty of achieving my goal):

  • My freedom of speech.
  • My freedom of religion.
  • My freedom from slavery.
  • My right to sit anywhere on a bus.
  • My right to be a parent to my own child.
  • To get revenge on a former spouse, judge, lawyer or social worker?

What about that last one? Would you undergo certain suffering for a chance at revenge? Sound pretty sick? Our motivation must be based on the love we have for our children.

Did anyone else see that?

If you have been through the system I'm sure you have had moments with your child or former spouse that you wish could have been recorded for a Court. But there was no tape -- how unfair! How can I get someone to notice and care?

As a person who struggles with Faith, I have to remind myself there is a loving God who not only knows, and sees, and cares -- but also has the power to act.

What about Faith?

I am a former Air Force Pilot and an engineer. I'm used to reading dials, numbers, and graphs -- sure measures of reality. My struggle with Faith is never ending.

How much of the Bible is actual fact? I have no idea. Much of what we believe depends on our Faith. But there may be one "fact" many of us can agree on.

The Bible is people trying to describe their experiences and those of others with the Divine. The experiences as they thought it was or should have been. There are many recurring in its pages. One of them important to NonViolent Action is:

"Many times the power of the Divine becomes visible in human existence only after an act of Faith." Human acts of Faith (and sacrifice) are followed by Divine action. One of the greatest "sins" is a failure to act with Faith and trust in the Divine.

For those parents of Faith, you must certainly know you are loved by God. Your children, true innocence, are certainly loved. God weeps with us in response to the terrible tragedies our families have experienced.

Why doesn't God make it better? What loving sacrifice are we willing to make first? Do we have the confidence that Divine action will surely follow?

NonViolent Action requires we be prepared for the worst case scenario. If we get the meeting with Senator Clinton and associated publicity -- great! But if that doesn't happen and no one seems to care? I always know it will matter to Domenic and me as a positive demonstration of love. And as a person of Faith I know that a loving God sees, knows and cares about what is happening. A God who can also act, but also requires my action and sacrifice.

If you haven't visited our material on NonViolent Action, please check the web site at: http://www.AKidsRight.Org/civil_back.htm 

When will we see our GREAT right protected?

When I asked the question about motivation I listed some GREAT rights we have as people. I sure do believe being a parent to my own child deserves to be on that list -- maybe even at the top? How about you?

Maybe we have two big obstacles in our path.

ONE - We need people ready to sacrifice to make this right a reality -- as people sacrificed in the past for our other GREAT rights.

TWO - We need to formulate the words that describe our GREAT right to be a parent. This may sound simple, but we have a ways to go.

Think of "Freedom of Religion." That sounds easy to understand and obvious, but think of Ancient Egypt -- where your King was also your God. Many would have seen 'Freedom of Religion' as a call to anarchy!

One question we all need to ask when we look at wording -- is it GREAT enough? Would I/you be willing to sit in a Gerbil Cage for:

  • A rebuttable presumption of joint custody?
  • Procedural changes that require mediation first?
  • More training and education for social workers?

What is our GREAT right?

BOTH parents of a child are EQUAL parents of that child in every sense of the word. They are the ones empowered to determine what is in "their child's best interest."

If either parent chooses not to live with the other -- they are still EQUAL parents. They will alternate equal physical custody of their child. They will share legal custody of their child and also alternate 'tie breaking' authority when decisions have to be made.

In ANY case where a party (whether it be the other spouse or social services or child protective services) requests a Court Order to intervene in one or both parents' relationship with their child -- there is a 'Protective Barrier' which must be overcome: The Government must first prove in a Criminal Court that the parent(s) have been a demonstrated malicious and serious threat to their children. The parent(s) have:

  • A presumption of innocence protected by a jury.
  • A right to counsel.
  • A right to speedy trial.

What do you think about all this? Your FEEDBACK to this message is welcome and we are eager to share it with others. You are also welcome to write to me in jail. My address is: John Murtari, P.O. Box 518, Auburn, NY 13021 (Please include your return address in the text of your message. The Jail often times rips off return address labels).

If you are concerned about these issues and would like to help, please take the time to fax a letter to the offices of Senator Clinton and the other officials involved. Their contact information is at the web site and also follows at the end of this message.

P.S. I'm happy to say I was moved out of the Gerbil Cage to a regular cell after two weeks. I'm a much happier man! I should be released from jail on November 5th, 2004

-- John Murtari ____________________________________________________________________ Coordinator AKidsRight.Org                                                    jmurtari@AKidsRight.Org
"A Kid's Right to BOTH parents"

Toll Free (877) 635-1968(x-211)                                             http://www.AKidsRight.Org/

========================== Please send a fax or make a phone call to the Senator's offices both in Washington and Syracuse. They are paying attention to what is going on here. The Senator is a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families.

You don't have to be a resident of New York to call her offices.

Syracuse Local rep, Cathy Calhoun, tel: 315-448-0470, fax: 315-448-0476

Washington Scheduling Office, Lona Valmoro (Senior Advisor to the Senator), tel: 202-224-4451, fax: 202-228-0121

Most of all, you don't have to express anger. Just let her staff know that you care about Civil Rights protection for families and the Senator should meet with parent's groups regarding the need for National reform... Let them know being a parent is one of our GREATEST rights. It needs official recognition and protection.