‘Surprisingly humane’: Elderly US veterans arrested at Shannon describe their prison stay

‘Veterans for Peace’ Ken Mayers (82) and Tarak Kauff (77) are accused of trespassing at the airport

Anti-war protesters Ken Mayers (right), retired US marine, and Tarak Kauff, retired from the US Army, after being released from jail in Limerick. Photograph: Alan Place

Anti-war protesters Ken Mayers (right), retired US marine, and Tarak Kauff, retired from the US Army, after being released from jail in Limerick. Photograph: Alan Place

 

After being locked up for 13 days on remand at Limerick Prison, Ken Mayers (82) and Tarak Kauff (77) were released on bail into the afternoon sun at Shannonside on Friday afternoon.

The two elderly former US servicemen are accused of engaging in a security breach at Shannon Airport on St Patrick’s Day, namely causing €2,500 worth of criminal damage to the airport’s perimeter fence, as well as unlawfully trespassing into a taxiway.

Wearing “Veterans for Peace” sweatshirts they told The Irish Times that their “eight foot by 13 foot” jail bunker was mostly a hospitable place and the prison population treated them like “celebrities”.

But while they didn’t suffer the embarrassment of “slopping out”, a practice that is slowly being ended at the jail, their toilet didn’t flush.

Kauff and Mayers are part of an anti-war group of former US servicemen and servicewomen.

Their combined €5,000 bail was paid by anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan, a former army commandant and UN peace keeper.

Sitting in Horgan’s home, a few hours after eating breakfast in jail, they tucked into brown bread with strawberry jam, and began making phone calls to their loved ones back in the US.

‘They’re human beings who need another chance’

They said they were warmly welcomed by “prisoners and guards” and that their jail time was “surprisingly humane”.

Their cell contained “a double decker bunk, a sink, a counter-desk, two plastic chairs and a toilet,” said Mayers, a former US marine.

“The plumbing didn’t work. We’d fill a bucket with water and flush it that way. But it was certainly liveable. It had a window and we could get plenty of light and it had a TV set.”

They ate well, and did push ups in the prison yard whenever they were allowed out of their cell.

Their stay in C block “away from the murders and really violent criminals” was a positive experience, and they befriended a number of prisoners, Kauff explained.

“One fella, a really nice person, had been caught with a machine gun. Some of the younger fellas were in there for stealing cars, some were in there for drugs and being caught with heroin, armed robbery things like that.

“But I want to say, these were not bad human beings – these were human beings who need another chance,” added the former US soldier.

Kauff said he told the inmates in the Limerick jail to do more to stand up for their rights.

“I said you need to stick together and you need to organise, for example, things like the toilet, they should have clean toilets; they’re human beings.”

The pair said they were arrested as they went to “inspect” a plane at Shannon, which they believed contained “soldiers” and “munitions”.

They were both informed by district court judge Marie Keane at a hearing in Ennis on March 18th, that they were facing “very serious charges”.

The pair are due before Ennis District Court again on Wednesday.