Interview with Juanita Nelson
The following short excerpts are from an interview transcript with Juanita Nelson (Wallace Nelson's wife):
But the best thing that ever happened to me, being a reporter: that's where I met Wally…who became my life partner. He was in prison, in jail at the time, in the Cuyahoga [Ohio] County Jail because he was a conscientious objector; that is, he would not go to war. And he signed up as a conscientious objector and was put in one of the camps, CO camps, called "civilian public service," although he called it "civilian public slavery." But he realized, soon after he got there that he should never have registered, period. He was there for about a year, and he, with five cohorts, walked out of CPS and went to Detroit and they started a service in a poor community and all that, but of course they were finally picked up. The reason I met him was that the sheriff asked our paper to send a reporter down. Well, two of us went down, and Wally and his friend who were there saw us pass through, escorted by the sheriff, and decided that, "Oh, they must be pretty important." So they had outside contacts, mostly Friends, Quakers, and they found out who we were. So they asked me to come down, and so I started visiting them. And I became a pacifist for sure. I was never not a pacifist; I wasn’t a warmonger or anything like that, but I just hadn't thought about it. And I shall never forget that, asking him, "Well, what would you do if...?" as people are always asking, "if you were pretty sure someone was trying to kill you?? And he said, "I would try to protect myself by putting my hands over my head maybe, that sort of thing, but in the end I couldn't decide that my life was worth more than somebody else’s." And that really I guess I was ready for it, and that really moved me. And that was a very life-changing thing for me.
Well, Wally and his friend were in jail, by the way, because they had been offered the opportunity, in quotes, to go to federal prison while their case was on appeal. But they said, "We don't choose to serve." And you see, you have to sign something..."I choose to serve." They said "We are not choosing to serve," so they were there for a year, which time would not have counted on the five-year sentence they finally got that was upheld. But he was sent to prison, first to Milan, Michigan, and then to the prison in Connecticut, which is... now a women's prison, which is interesting. I corresponded with him; although interestingly enough I wrote to his friend because they could receive only seven letters a week each and they knew pretty much the same people. And I drew his friend Joe, and so we kept up a correspondence. And then when he was released after a total of thirty-three months, including the county jail and the federal prisons, he was on a hunger strike after a while. He said, "You've got me in jail; you're responsible for this, and I am not going to eat until I am on the other side of these walls." Well for eighteen days he didn't have any food, and then they started force-feeding him. I can't ever remember quite...I think altogether it was a total of at least 87 days, and that he...didn't eat for 18 days, and then was force-fed once a day, 'cause they wouldn't submit to any more of the--that's a long story so I won't go into that. The first time they tried to feed them, they held them down 'cause they...deliberately put tubes too big; it went through his nose down into stomach, esophagus, or whatever, however it is. And, so he lost a lot of weight, and then went to St. Paul to recuperate with a brother, who was a minister, and then came to Cleveland. And then, that's when we really got to know each other; you know, you don't know somebody when they're in prison, you know I mean [chuckle] how can you know them really? And I didn't even visit them, at that time either. But anyway, then in 1948-he was released in '46, I think it was, '46, '47-and in '48 we decided that we would join our fates and so, we became-what do they say these days, "an item?" [laugh]
--Taken from Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association Library, Deerfield, Massachusetts. Used with permission. For the full interview see <http://www.americancenturies.mass.edu/centapp/oh/interview.do?shortName=nelson_interview>