At the Disciplinary Ward
Eleven days after my wedding proposal, I was traveling with my fiancée and our families towards Corinth. I was feeling lost, unable to adapt to so many abrupt changes in my life. A few days ago, I promised to share my life with this young woman, and in just a few hours I would encounter the very loss of my freedom. I was no longer in charge of my destiny. From this point on, I would follow the unfolding events carrying me along as if in a dream.
We exhausted all the free time I had that day, showing up for enlistment at the last possible moment, striving to enjoy every last minute of my freedom. Finally, we entered the camp of Corinth. I embraced everyone who escorted me, and then after hugging and kissing my fiancée, I handed her a letter. Afterwards, I took my suitcase with my necessities and walked toward the guard. I told him that I was here for enlistment, and he directed me where to go. As I walked away, I glanced back at my fiancée who was busy reading my letter.
I asked a soldier for the whereabouts of the Commanding Officer, and he pointed at a certain building. I wanted to see him first, being uncertain of the reaction of his lower personnel toward my refusal of service. As I walked along, prayed to God to provide me with the strength and wisdom to act according to His will. My mind was buzzing with an arsenal of thoughts, preparing to defend against every possible argument from the officer in charge. However, I had already been informed by the Witnesses at Corinth that the Commanding Officer was a man with understanding and this put me at ease.
Suddenly a very stern voice interrupted my thoughts: “Hey! Where do you think you are going?”
I turned and saw a soldier. “I would like to speak to the Commander!” I answered.
“It is forbidden! Go back with the others and wait for enlistment!” He told me
“But I have something personal to tell him!” I insisted.
“Do what I tell you, unless you are looking for problems!” he said.
I returned and sat on a bench across from the entrance feeling discouraged. I was relieved to see that my relatives were still waiting outside. I waited a few more minutes until the enervating soldier stepped away. During this interval, while all my relatives were looking toward me, I observed that my fiancée had turned her back. Although she was afar, I sensed that she was crying and did not want me to see her, to spare me from additional pain. I stood up again and carefully walked toward the direction of the Commanding Officer’s quarters. I was stopped at the door by someone dressed in civilian’s clothing and asked where I was going. When I said that I was seeking the Commanding Officer, the man said, “I am he.”
“I came for enlistment, but I need to tell you that for reasons of conscience I must deny the military identity.”
“That’s ok my son. Go with the others and they will tell you what to do. We have others like you.”
I thanked him but left puzzled. I couldn’t imagine that this would be so easy! I was happy to learn that, except for the young man I had met in Bethel, there would be others like me. After the registration proceedings were completed, I advanced toward a table where they were handing out army uniforms. Naturally I refused, and they called a Corporal who was serving as a Warden to escort me to the Disciplinary Ward. The Disciplinary Ward was an old building, but well maintained on the outside. The interior, however, left much to be desired.
As I entered, I was greeted by Stathis and Thanasis, the other two “brothers” who had refused to enlist. The first one was the young man I had met at Bethel. The second one, Thanais, had lived most of his early years like a man who does not care for God. Although he was the son of Witnesses, he lived without any Christian boundaries. This was the case until the day he went to Corinth to register. Then, while his entire family believed he would be “dressed” as a soldier, he suddenly changed his mind and decided to refuse and to embrace the religion of his parents, which he had neglected for so many years. His ignorance was overt, even in the most basic matters of the faith of the Witnesses. Along with being in prison, he also had to undertake a difficult struggle against some deeply rooted passions he had acquired from his previous lifestyle.
From the beginning, I noticed that both Stamatis and Thanasis treated the Warden as a long lost friend and vice versa. George, the Corporal Warden, was a very nice young man who did all he could to make our stay more pleasant. During the month that I stayed at the Ward, he became my friend as well, and we even started a Biblical study together, going over one of the books of the Witnesses (in the future he never failed to visit us in the military prison of Avlonas). I was impressed by the fact that he left us free to roam around the courtyard of the Ward, where we could easily have access to the main road. However, we never took advantage of George’s kindness, being careful not to create any problems for him.
When I first saw my new room in the Ward, especially the bed, I wondered how I could possibly lay down there. The mattress and the blanket were full of all sorts of stains. I took a deep breath and sat on the filthy mattress. “Well, when you fall in the ocean you must swim,” I thought. I adapted rather quickly to these conditions, and I chose the cleanest military blanket found in the Ward. In this place, the only consolations were the friendly Warden, the visitations, and the generous portions of food. As every trained Witness should do, I immediately began to promote my faith to all those around me: the prison guards, the wardens, the drug addicts, and the deserters. Even the new-age guard nicknamed “Magician” by everyone did not escape my missionary efforts. During the month that I stayed there, I began two Scriptural studies, one with the Warden and a second one with the drug addict named Dimitris. I also wrote my first letter to my fiancée, including a number of comments against military service, not knowing that all correspondence is screened. The letter vanished. However, the study with the Warden was so influential that one evening he summoned the soldiers at the Unit Recreation Center and began relating everything he learned about the future of the world as imagined by the Witnesses.
The month went by very slowly for me, so slow that it left me with as many memories as the entire year at the Military Prison of Avlonas did. I passed my days reading my new Bible, which I had bought a few months prior, and writing letters to my fiancée. I even subjected myself to a daily schedule to take advantage of every minute spent in jail for my “spiritual” progress. I had developed what the people of the Watchtower Society called a “deep sense of the urgency of time.”
Finally, the time came to go to Avlonas. They took me in the police wagon, and after two stops (one at the police station and one at the Office of Transfers), I saw the walls of the prison. Along the way, everything went well with the exception of the rude attitude of a high ranked police officer. He openly expressed that if it were possible, he would shoot everyone who refused to serve their country. He obviously considered himself a great patriot. While he was saying all these things, I thought about the totally different approach at the Disciplinary Ward, not only from the Warden, but even from the Commanding Officer, the guards, and especially from the soldier who was sent to help us reconsider our stance. He was a very polite young man, but very ignorant in the matters of faith. It was easy for me to counter his arguments and even turn them against him. I remember that toward the end of the discussion, he had to seek help from another inmate, asking him, “You, mister of mustash, do you believe the things he is saying?”
“Yes!” was the answer of mustash-Dimitri who already had a great number of Sciptural studies under his belt. After this, the soldier left and never returned.