Joan Andrews does not look like a criminal. Slight, soft-spoken, a devout Roman Catholic, easily moved to tears—this is not the typical profile of an inmate at a maximum-security prison. But Joan Andrews is, nonetheless, one year into a five-year sentence at Broward Correctional Institute, a Florida women’s prison.

I have visited Broward. Many of its prisoners are drug offenders or violent criminals. Homosexuality is rampant. It is a stark, maximum-security joint.

This is the last place you would expect to find Joan Andrews, known to her friends as “Saint Joan.” But this is the same woman whom a judge pronounced an “unrepentant” felon.

Her crime? On March 26, 1986, she entered a Florida abortion clinic for a prolife sit-in and attempted to unplug a suction machine used to perform abortions. She was charged and convicted of criminal mischief, burglary, and resisting arrest without violence.

The prosecution asked for a one-year sentence. The judge gave her five.

Miss Andrews announced to the court, “The only way I can protest for unborn children now is by noncooperation in jail.” She then dropped to the courtroom floor and refused to cooperate with prison officials at any stage of her processing. Labeled a trouble maker, she was transferred to Broward where, as of this writing, she remains in a solitary confinement cell.

On one level, surely, this is an outrage. The day Andrews was sentenced, two men convicted as accessories to murder stood before the same judge. He sent them to prison for four years. Five years in a maximum-security prison for Joan Andrews’s “crimes,” which stem from moral conviction rather than moral deficiency, is disproportionately harsh.

But Joan Andrews’s case raises questions that go beyond the justice of ...

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