Last Appeal Denied, Draft Resister Starts Prison Term
Benjamin H. Sasway, the first man indicted for resisting draft registration since the Vietnam era, surrendered Monday to begin a 30-month prison sentence.
In stark contrast to his three-year appeals battle, which ended April 1 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear further arguments in his case, Sasway’s appearance in federal court was over in minutes. Dressed in a jacket, tie and blue jeans, Sasway laconically accepted the imposition of his sentence.
“I have nothing to say at this point,” Sasway, 24, told U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., who had originally sentenced the Vista native in October, 1982. After spending 40 days in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Sasway was freed on a $10,000 bond.
“You ought to know that as a district judge, I have an obligation to uphold the law,” Thompson told Sasway before he was led away by federal marshals. “Your obligation is to obey the law. You have voluntarily chosen to disobey the law, and you have continued to encourage others to do so.”
With that, the Humboldt State University student was led out of the courtroom to the cheers of about 20 supporters. More than 100 demonstrators followed Sasway 10 blocks from an early morning press conference in downtown San Diego to the steps of the courthouse, where he made his final public comments before returning to prison.
“I’m going in now, and I may not come out for a while, but I’m going to be remembering this kind of demonstration and others like it that have happened in the last five years,” he said. “It’s been a long five years. It has not at all been easy, but it’s been worth it.”
Sasway was indicted in June, 1982, for refusing to comply with a federal law requiring men born in 1960 and in subsequent years to fill out registration forms at post offices within 30 days of their 18th birthdays.
Selective Service began a file on Sasway in 1980, after he wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter opposing renewed registration and saying he would not comply.
Defense attorney Charles T. Bumer said Sasway, who was designated a “low-level” offender at the time of his sentencing, could be released at any time but will probably serve about six months at a federal prison camp.
“The Bureau of Prisons could turn around and release him today, though they obviously won’t,” Bumer said. “I remember that when Ben first made his decision in this, he expected that the consequences might be five hard years in federal prison.”
Bumer said Sasway could still file a motion to delay the sentence, but that to do so would be “an exercise in futility.”
Sasway, whose family has supported him throughout his legal battle, was accompanied by his parents, Joseph and Delores Sasway; his grandmother, Jean Sasway, and his girlfriend, Laurel Linstedt.