Grandmother reflects on her 60 day sentence for ‘trespassing’ at SOA

After being released from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove at 5:00 a.m., she joined friends for lunch at 12:30 p.m. at the Elk Grove Brewery & Restaurant. This was where she enjoyed her final meal in freedom with her friends and supporters immediately before turning herself in at the jail on March 21.  

"I’m glad to regain my freedom and see my friends and family," said Webster, the founder of the 1000 Grandmothers peace organization at her "welcome back" lunch. "It was all worth it and I call on everybody to call your Congressman and tell him or her to vote yes on HR 1707."  

Webster trespassed on the base to protest the teaching of counter-insurgency techniques and torture to Latin American soldiers that return to their home countries and commit atrocities, including massacres of women and children. In the same spirit as the civil rights movement, she used non-violent civil disobedience to shine a spotlight on the teachings of the school, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2000 – and known as the "School of the Assassins" throughout Latin America. 

When she turned herself in on March 21, Webster said she didn’t know what to expect. "I have never been to jail before and it wasn’t as bad as I expected," she reflected, although she noted that other inmates told her that conditions are much worse in the crowded Sacramento County Jail in downtown Sacramento, where many of the inmates had been transferred from.  

"The one thing that I constantly experienced was the ‘good cop, bad cop, syndrome," she noted. "I realized that this was intentional to keep the prisoners constantly off balance and under the jail’s control." 

When she first arrived in the prison, she was put in the "working dormitory" where other inmates cheered her when they saw her interviewed by Channel 13 TV News before being incarcerated. Then prison officials, apparently in response to her reception by other prisoners, put her in lock-up for four days. She was then sent back to the "working dormitory" where she spent the rest of her sentence. 

She saw first hand how women were discriminated against in Sacramento County’s prison-industrial complex. "The men get paid for their work in jail, but the women don’t – and nobody could explain why," she stated. 

Besides the consistently "terrible" food, Webster noted that the inmates constantly complained of headaches, skin rashes, and eye irritation caused by a persistent black mold that permeated the wall from the bathroom into the dorm. 

"The women who were located in the section of the dorm where the mold was thickest were the sickest of the inmates," Webster said. "They asked to be moved to other bunks, but the jail officials refused their requests." 

In spite of persistent oral and written complaints to the jail staff, the staff never eliminated the black mold, either. "Inmates sent a letter about eliminating the black mold to the Watch Commander, as well as writing 4 grievances, but he never took care of it," disclosed Webster.  

One prison guard asked Webster, "Why did you do this?" before she left.

She responded that she went to jail to protest the torture and murder practiced by graduates of the SOA. "If it is necessary to close the SOA, I would be willing to come back to this jail." 

The inmates at Rio Cosumnes are locked up from 2 months to 1 year, the vast majority for nonviolent crimes. Most of the women she was locked up with were incarcerated for drugs, prostitution or theft, although a few had been jailed for assault. 

She was very grateful for the upwelling of support she received from Sacramento Valley peace and social justice activists, as well as others from throughout the world that heard about her sentence through extensive posts about her on the Internet. 

"I received letters of support from England and France and throughout the U.S.," she said. "I received an average of 10 to 15 letters every day. The other inmates, who received few or no letters from outside, liked to read my letters." 

"There were a lot of women in their forties in my dorm who were ready to change their lives and were committed to not going back to prison," she added. "I told them that they should join the peace movement!" 

After lunch, Cathy returned home to Chico, where her first stop was at Congressman Wally Herger’s office to urge him to vote in support of H.R. 1707. This bill would suspend operations at the School of Americas until an investigation is completed into the crimes alleged to have been committed by SOA graduates.  

Webster also delivered a pair of hand-knitted booties to Congressman Herger’s office when she spoke to his staff about the SOA to remind him of the Grandmothers’ plea that decisions be made with all the children of the world in mind. Booties have become the symbol of the 1000 Grandmothers and the group targeted about 130 key Congressional representatives to receive similar booties in Washington that week. All of the booties have been knitted by grandmothers and their friends, including a large number contributed by a group of nun at the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix in Michigan.

 For more information about 1000 Grandmothers, contact Cathy Webster at,,