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Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02-0001

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AI: Today is October 27, 2000. We're here in Seattle, Washington, with Peter Irons. I'm Alice Ito. Co-interviewer is Lori Bannai, and videographer is Dana Hoshide. Thanks again, Peter, for continuing on with the interview.

PI: Sure.

AI: Last time when we ended, you were describing some of your experience in prison and were coming toward the end of your prison experience. But if you could tell a little bit more about that time, and when it was that you decided to, that you would continue on with graduate school afterwards and your plans and what you did.

PI: I had pretty much decided before I went into prison that I would go back to school when I got out, although I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I'd been in sociology in graduate school at the University of New Hampshire for a short time, and sociology had been my undergraduate major at Antioch. And so I was probably thinking I'd do that. But one thing that happened, very important event in my life, really, when I was in prison. It's very hard to get reading material. And all, at that time everything that was sent in, books, magazines, newspapers, had to be censored and reviewed. And it was also not only the censorship, but it was a very time-consuming, and they put limits on who could send materials. They had to be sent directly from the publisher so that, that, I guess they were afraid people would hollow out books and put in drugs or guns or things like that. But at any rate, since I'd been very active in the Civil Rights movement before I went to prison, I heard of a book, I don't quite remember how, but there was a book called, SNCC: The New Abolitionists. And it was a, sort of a history or a memoir, really, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, written by a historian named Howard Zinn, who was at Boston University. And Howard Zinn had been very active himself in the Civil Rights movement. In fact, he'd been fired from a teaching job at Spellman College in Atlanta, which was a historically black women's college, for being too active in the Civil Rights movement. So I got a copy of this book, and it was really fascinating. And so I had asked whoever sent it to me to get more books by Howard Zinn, and I started corresponding with him. I just wrote to him and said that I'd really admired his work and, actually I think I asked him if he could send me, or have his publisher send me copies of other books he'd done, because he'd written several at that time. One of them was a book called Vietnam -- it was a book about the Vietnam War. I forget the exact title, but it was the case for pulling out of the war. And so our correspondence went on. I never actually met him. He didn't come down to visit me in Danbury. At that time they restricted visitors to immediate family members.

But at one point I remember getting a copy of a book that Howard Zinn had written. It was called The Logic of Withdrawal. And then he wrote another little book on civil disobedience. It was defending civil disobedience as a protest tactic, sort of based on Thoreau and Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement. And he sent me a copy of that book. It was a very short little book. And I read it and I thought it was really good. So I passed it on to some of my friends to read. And I remember one of them came back and said, "Man, that's really amazing. That's awesome." And I said, "What's that?" And he said, "Look, right here." And I had not even realized, because I'd skipped over it, that Howard had dedicated that book to me. He'd never have, having met me, he said, "To Peter Irons and the other draft resisters." Well, sort of a collective dedication, but it was my name. I was very impressed and touched by that. So I wrote to Howard as my release date was approaching. I had gone up before the parole board. And after you serve one-third of your sentence, you are eligible for parole. That was after I'd been in for a year. And I was not expecting to be paroled, but I discovered the very minute I walked into the room with the parole board that I wasn't going to get out, because the first question they asked me was, "How long have you been a Jehovah's Witness?" And they had assumed that everybody, all draft resisters were Jehovah's Witnesses. And I realized they hadn't even read the parole report or the file. And sure enough I got turned down. But, so I wrote to Howard, and I said, "Could you ask the proper people at Boston University to send me an application for graduate school?" And I didn't know whether I could be admitted or how I would pay for it. And a couple of weeks later, I got a letter back from Howard that said, "You have been admitted to the graduate school with a full fellowship." And that was just astounding.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.