Meeting the Manning Family
by Ciaron O’Reilly and Genny Bove
[The family acknowledges Bradley’s choice to live as a woman under the name Chelsea and to be referred to using the female pronoun, but understandably they say that “it’s going to take some getting used to.” During the meeting, the name Bradley was used throughout by members of the family. Chelsea has been Bradley to the family for nearly 26 years and adjustment will take time; the report below reflects the way the conversation took place].
The other night, we sat in a hotel bar in Pembrokeshire with the Welsh family of U.S. military prisoner Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) as the young soldier they last saw outside prison walls over three years ago starts a 35 year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth. Kansas, U.S.A.
During the course of the evening, I found the family to be very compassionate, resolute, humble, appreciative and concerned. I found I had much in common with them and their predicament.
We both had Irish fathers (theirs from Rathmines, Dublin city, mine from Clara, Co. Offaly). We had both been to Leavenworth (them to visit Bradley, me on a short Con Air stopover en route to El Reno, Federal Prison, Oklahoma). Mrs. Manning and I had both lived in Oklahoma (she raising her son and daughter in an isolated situation outside a small town, me in El Reno). One uncle was wearing a Manchester United jersey, the team I have supported since 1968. I was able to share some of the struggles my mum, aunts and uncles had been through during my imprisonment in the United States and other jurisdictions. I was able to share experiences of solidarity I had received as a prisoner: what had worked and what proved to be counter-productive.
I was able to hand over £465 to defray their travel costs to visit Bradley in Ft. Leavenworth. This money had been raised primarily at the following events:
- Turnstyles, Brisbane 2012
- Giuseppe Conlon House August 4th 2013
- Jello Biafra gig, Camden August 19th 2013 & busking on follow up Camden vigil
- VfP Ben Griffin & CW Ciaron O’Reilly speaking at Greenbelt 2013
It was a moving and humbling experience to meet members of Bradley’s family, most for the first time. During this meeting, we heard first hand how the whole family has been affected by the three year imprisonment, the torture, the trial and is now coping with the outcome and planning for the future. We heard about bad experiences at the hands of the media and others and about the family’s efforts to keep in contact and visit Bradley. To date they have done this without any outside help or support.
Ciaron brought along the money raised at events he’s initiated and organised. Fundraising not being my forte, I brought along a bag of fresh vegetables from my garden (you can’t eat money… but you can’t book flights with veg. either!) A whistle, badges and stickers completed our offering.
So here we were giving money towards the Welsh family’s travel costs past and future and immediately the aunt said that they wanted to send funds to Bradley’s sister Casey to help her pay for flights from DC to Leavenworth since the car journey is so long and she has a young family. That gesture speaks volumes. As in all families, relationships and dynamics are complex but my overwhelming impression of the family was one of mutual support and compassion and a determination to help each other be there for Bradley.
The devastating consequences of having a family member a political prisoner of conscience in the U.S. shouldn’t be underestimated. The small things we can do to ease that journey will be much appreciated, but we should all be aware that the family is understandably cautious about outside contact, that trust is fragile and we need to offer any support sensitively and respectfully.
How to donate
DONATE TO MANNING’S WELSH BASED FAMILY TO DEFRAY TRANSPORT COSTS OF U.S. PRISON VISITS
Please consider making a donation or raising funds. This is one way we can do something practical at home to support Manning in jail in the U.S.
A specific bank account has yet to be set up, in the meantime you can:
- Donate by making cheques payable to “London Catholic Worker”
- Write “Manning family support” on the back of the cheque
- Send to: Giuseppe Conlon House 49 Mattison Road London N4 1BG ENGLAND
For more information Ph. Ciaron 07 927 259 363 (from outside the UK +44 7 927 259 363)
Email ciaronx AT yahoo.com