Tim DeChristopher wants to work in the social justice ministry of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, but The Bureau of Prisons is standing in his way.
The job would be perfect for him, but because the job he takes is fulfilling a work requirement for the halfway-house he’s living in, the bureau gets the final say. DeChristopher, famously known as “Bidder 70,” began serving 15 months in federal prison for disrupting an auction of public lands to fossil fuel companies in 2008. The Bureau of Prisons said social justice ministry is too close to what landed him prison in the first place.
Nevermind that the public land auctions have since been revealed as massive giveaways to oil companies, and that the Bureau of Land Management—responsible for managing both the protection of public lands and their exploitation—has flagrantly and illegally violated a requirement to consider climate change when deciding on resource development.
“The public lands were the central candy store where the oil industry walked in and took what it wanted,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in 2010, just after rescinding the leases on massive swathes of land in the Western U.S.—including some of the thousands of acres in Utah DeChristopher protected.
DeChristopher’s time spent as a guide for at-risk youth in the Utah wilderness kindled his deep dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“Just about every kid was having a problem adjusting to society and that couldn’t be a problem with human nature, it had to be a flaw with society and not the other way around,” DeChristophertold The Progressive in a 2011 interview. “I realized that I could be more effective changing the fundamental flaws.”
DeChristopher attempted to use a necessity or “choice of evil” defense against charges of lying to the federal government and violating a federal law that establishes a competitive auction system. He cited watching his mother’s unsuccessful fight in legal channels against the West Virginia coal companies and mountaintop removal. His defense was denied, and he was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
“I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system,” DeChristopher said in a final statement at his trial. “I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.”
DeChristopher is finishing his time at the halfway house. Instead of working at the church—and DeChristopher is himself a Unitarian Universalist—he has taken a job offer from a bookstore.
He could be released on parole in April.