Preparing for Jail
As a Witness, I had only one choice: to refuse military service and to find myself in jail. In past years, the men of my religion were treated very brutally in jail. My father for example, was incarcerated at Makronisos and was subjected to many tortures. These tortures left indelible marks on him up to his death, and perhaps may have lead to it. He often repeated the story of being struck by an Orthodox priest.
During our times, however, the conditions were better, almost rosy in comparison. Aside from the isolation and the separation from our loved ones, jail was less painful than the military itself. Before my registration in Corinth, we called one of our friends named Stamatis, who had just finished his jail term, in order to get a better understanding of what life in jail was all about. He was serving as an Elder” while in jail. We ended up meeting face-to-face, and he explained that in jail all the Witnesses are not necessarily good. Some of them are immature, and they annoy and scandalize the rest. Thus, I needed to be very careful in my choice of friends and to remember that I’m being imprisoned for Jehovah and not for people.
I found everything Stamatis said to be quite natural and normal. It did not cross my mind to question how it is possible for a society that monopolizes “purity” to have “bad Christians.” After preparing me for what I might encounter in jail and advising me how to deal with these different circumstances, Stamatis shook my hand and wished me well. Five years later when we would meet up again, we would both be on the outside and disfellowshipped from the Organization.
Before my registration, I also made it a point to visit Bethel, the central offices of the Organization in Marousi for further advice. During my visit, I met one more young man whom I would soon join at the Disciplinary Ward in Corinth. The office worker in charge of military matters briefly repeated what Stamatis had already told me.
He forewarned, “From the moment you pass through the door of the army camp, you will be on your own: you and God. To anyone who asks, you will reply that your refusal of military duty is clearly your personal choice and not your duty as a Witness. You must not give the impression that the organization has an anti-nationalist agenda. They must understand that your choice to refuse the military is clearly your own.”
As far as I was concerned, what he was saying was the truth. Although the Organization had led me to espouse this decision, this was also my own creed, and I preferred to die rather than to transgress against my conscience on this matter. However, this was not the case with all the imprisoned Witnesses. In the following months, I met many young men who did not have a problem with their conscience when it came to military service. Some went to jail not to disappoint their families, others went out of fear of being disfellowshiped by the Organization. For these last ones, their imprisonment was not the result of their own free choice: it was mainly due to coercion from the Organization. They did not necessarily find anything wrong with weapons training or serving their country in areas where weapons would be excluded (a disfellowship as mandated by law), yet they were compelled to undergo imprisonment because disfellowship from the Organization was something far worse.
Ten years later, the Organization adopted an even more stringent position against those who refused military service. In an attempt to present the image of the Organization as being impeccable despite some unruly actions of a few Witnesses, the Organization created committees which would determine whether or not someone should be imprisoned with other Witnesses or with the criminals. If one is deemed “immature,” the committee would not allow him to be with other Witnesses, disregarding all the dangers of being to forced to cohabitate among criminals. Thus, they would compel him to enlist in the army, thereby meddling with his conscience by this cunning method.
To gain a better perspective of what disfellowship means for a Witness, I will relate to one specific incident. When I was in the jail of Avlona, they brought in a very nice, polite young man for refusal of military service. We lived together for a few months, and I observed how terribly he was affected by this jail sentence. I had seen him during visiting hours crying continuously while holding his wife in his arms. One day, quite unexpectedly, we learned that this Witness signed himself out of jail to join his army rank. We were all very surprised. I especially harbored some feelings of anger against him. We considered him a traitor of the faith, immature and a coward. A brief time later we were informed that he was disfellowshipped, and his wife wanted nothing to do with him.
I never learned what became of him. Although now, in my mind, he is not a traitor. He is a man of free will and a very beloved person. However, I know exactly what he encountered. He lost relatives, friends, religion, and most likely his wife as well because of his decision to join the military ranks. I pray that God may protect him and strengthen him, wherever he may be.