American War Tax Resister Joseph Olejak Writes from Jail

The Friends Journal has run a second collection of writings from Joseph Olejak’s jail experiences. Olejak served a series of 26 weekends at Columbia County (New York) Jail as part of his sentence for tax resistance.

Here are a couple of excerpts that concern the unusually difficult path of this war tax resister:

Weekend 11

This weekend was the most boring of all the weekends. My mind began to turn about all the loose ends in my life that have been unraveling since I began the peace witness. The frayed edges are many and are getting more and more difficult to manage as time marches on. I keep thinking of the central question in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22: “What does a sane man do in an insane society?”

My situation is becoming more insane by the day. I made what seemed to be a sane response to violence, but the price is very high. The sums I have been required to pay — restitution to the court, keeping current with taxes, paying child support, paying lawyers to manage this giant mess, and maintaining an apartment and staying current with business expenses — are completely unmanageable.

Weekend 18

…Back in when I was sentenced to the 26 weekends, I had to inform my employer — a company I do consulting work for — that I could no longer work on the weekends. Since the information was public knowledge and there would be a good chance my war tax resistance would be known, I opted to tell them the truth.

They fired me.

I applied to the probation department this week to attend a speakers’ conference in Las Vegas to jump-start my speaking career. I filled out all the forms and wrote a nice letter.

Request denied.

I got a call on from my probation officer. She sounded like she wanted me to take this opportunity, but her hands were tied by the bureaucratic nightmare she works in. “We got your request. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to deny it.”

Getting fired and losing the income from consulting was a big blow both financially and emotionally. What it meant from a practical standpoint was clear. I could not pay the tax bill for for New York State or federal income tax. They’d set me up to fail.

As I sat in my office with a dead phone in my hand, I came to the sickening realization that the prison-industrial complex was not some abstract thing that affects other unfortunate people. It was directly impacting my life. I am now and — as far out as I can see — will be in a debt spiral to various agencies of government until the day I die.