Peg Millett: Jail Is Temporary, Her Cause Isn't

We sat on the stone steps outside the Durango women's jail. It was late afternoon. Mike Black, the attorney, kept looking through his briefcase. Lawyers always make themselves look busy.

The sun was coming at us from an angle and the shadows were deepening. But it was hotter now than it had been all day.

The steps and lobby were crowded with people who had come to visit. There is always more misery in this world than we think.

"Peg has agreed to talk," said Black who is the attorney for Peg Millett. "She can't talk about the case, of course. Peg's been in jail without bond for a month now. It's not easy for her. Honestly, we don't know when we'll be able to get her released. It isn't right, but we'll just have to keep trying."

Millett, 35, is charged with trying to sabotage nuclear plants in three states. She's a member of Earth First!, a group dedicated to saving the environment.

Years before, she had traveled across Spain on horseback, revisiting the towns which Don Quixote de la Mancha had traversed as an aging, idealistic knight.

For the past few years, Millett has lived quietly in the woods south of Prescott. She earned a living at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. They decided to dispense with her services the day she was arrested by the FBI. Without a job, she became a bond risk. Given the ideological swing of the current Supreme Court, Millett seems to have picked exactly the wrong time to let it be known that she, like her hero Don Quixote, is looking for windmills to fight.

Millett allegedly was with two other Prescott activists last month when they attempted to destroy a tower carrying power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station to the Central Arizona Project.

Before that, Millett had taken part in an Earth First! protest against the installation of a huge telescope on Mount Graham.

She had been arrested because an FBI undercover agent had spent almost a year infiltrating her group and had made a point of befriending Millett.

"We both made a mistake," Millett once said of the FBI man. "I thought he was my friend. He thought I was his enemy."

The FBI claims to have 35 incriminating tape recordings made by the FBI undercover agent. Most, presumably, involve Millett.

It didn't take long for the guards to bring Millett to the visitor's room. She was still wearing the same type of baggy blue jail suit I had seen her wearing in federal court weeks before.

Millett took a seat at the long table in the low-ceilinged room. Guards sat at the other end, watching. They were too far away to hear what we were saying.

"How is life in jail?" I asked.
She smiled. She seemed at ease. There were no signs of nervousness or distrust.

"I'm finding out that I can be adaptable," she said. Her voice was normal. There was no tension.

"Hopefully, I sleep until they serve breakfast," Millett said. "That's about five. I get my breakfast and give it to other women because I don't eat then.

"When breakfast is through, I write letters or try to read some of the books friends have sent to me. I've got Thomas Merton's Seeds of Contemplation and C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. They've helped me a lot in this place.

"I do a lot of dreaming and I write them down."
Millett smiled.
"I've had several dreams about our Judas goat friend, for example.

"I listen to the stories of the other women in here. They are like nothing I've ever encountered in my life. They make me very sad."

Millett hesitated. She shrugged:
"Sometimes it's really hard being in here. Sometimes, it's not so hard."

While we spoke, her attorney busied himself reading through his legal papers.

"Listen to this," Black said, interrupting. "This is direct from the nuclear regulatory's own report . . . it says that `given the occurrence of a blackout the core melt or core damage is dependent on the reliability of heat-

removal systems that are not dependent on AC power.'"
Millett smiled. "The government knows how to lie when it has to, doesn't it?" she said. There was no bitterness. Only a recognition of a fact.

In court, Millett had been declared too dangerous to be granted bond because, according to the FBI, her actions could have caused a meltdown at Palo Verde. The document Black held in his hand proved that supposition totally false.

We talked for another half hour.
Millett has traveled much of the world. She is an expert horse trainer and has run stables in Norway and Scotland. She has lived in Alaska and Spain and has hitchhiked across the United States.

"I went to the college of hard knocks," she says. "After I graduated from Gerard High here in 1971, I did a lot of traveling. I went to Wyoming and worked as a driver for a float trip company that took people downriver on rafts.

"I went up to Alaska with my uncle for two years. I fished and I built cabins. It was such a beautiful place. I lived in Prince William Sound and I fished there. I cried when I heard about the oil spill."

She talked more about what it's like to be an inmate in the Durango women's jail.

"There's an L-shaped room and there are fifty of us off it in tiny rooms. There are two women in each room off the main room.

"There's a table in the main room and a television set. It goes full blast from early morning until eleven o'clock. On Fridays and Saturdays it stays on until 2 a.m.

"That part's difficult for me because I haven't watched television in years. Now, I'm getting sucked into watching some of it."

Millett runs two miles every day. After running, she takes a shower, but it's necessary to put the same sweaty clothes back on. She tries to do aerobic dancing at night. She sings a lot. Most of her songs are sad, she says.

"When I can, I watch the sunsets and the mountains. We have a view that faces west. It makes me cry."

Tears came into her eyes now.

"There are times when I'm in the recreation yard and I lay down on the ground on my belly," Millett said, and there was passion in her voice.

"I watch the doves and I can't let myself think about my home and the earth or the trees.

"It's all going real fast and that hurts me."
She was crying.
"Some day I'll be out of jail," she said, looking up. "My jail time will be over. But my work won't."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick