<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

What made me come forward? 

One of the most common questions I
am getting asked, especially lately, is
why did I come forward at the time I
did, after so many years in the industry?

Well, I figured it was time to address
that question, especially for the skeptics
out there who think I am somehow
"getting something out of this." That it
can't possibly have anything to do
with a noble decision on my part to
right a grievous wrong or because my
guilt-ridden conscience got too heavy.

This is kind of long, but there is a lot
to say, and there seem to be a number
of people who want to know.

I guess the best place to start on this
story would be the beginning. I was born
in the foothills of the Ozarks in Arkansas,
(yes, I'm a real hillbilly) to a dirt-poor
family. I did all the things that I was
taught - hunting, fishing, various chores
around the farm. I milked cows and
gathered eggs when I was young. My father
was in Viet Nam and came back to spend
the rest of his life in the VA mental ward.
I was 4 or 5 - I don't remember much
about him, since he went to war the day
after I was conceived.

As the oldest, I had a great responsibility
in the family to help provide for my brothers
and sister. As I got older, around 8, I started
hunting for food with a .22 and .410, mostly
getting squirrels and rabbits, with an occasional
wild turkey. I even got my first deer that year.
This was a source of pride for me and a big step
toward manhood in my family.

On my 14th birthday I was given a job
on my uncle's catch crew, catching
chickens, for what was then Lane
Poultry. (Two years later Tyson
bought out Lane.) This was the only
source of income for me, my mother,
and my four brothers and one sister.
This was the only job I could get at
that age. No one wanted to hire at 14-
year-old, plus my mother required me
to stay in school and catching chickens
was a night job. This way I could go
to school during the day and work
at night. I didn't sleep much, but we
survived and had enough to eat.

After graduation I joined the Army,
both to better my chances in life
and because military service in my
family was a tradition. My father's
father was a 32-year career Marine
that retired as a Command Sergeant
Major. He fought in WWII, Korea,
and Viet Nam. My father was
medically discharged from 7th Special
Forces in 1969. My Uncle Floyd went
MIA in Viet Nam in 1967. We still
don't know what happened to him.

I was decorated for combat operations
in Panama and discharged in 1990. I
came home to find that my training
and experience was not needed by any
sector of the business community in
my area. (Indeed, if I had practiced what
I had learned I would not be sitting here
breathing free air right now.)

So, I went to work at the only industry in
town. Tyson was, at the time, (and still
is to a large extent now) the highest
paying labor work with job security
in the area. I have several members of
my family that still work at Tyson. Tyson
is a huge part of the economy in this rural
area.

As I began to work there, I started seeing
people doing things to the chickens that
were not necessary in order to process
them. And, it began to bother me. I also
saw situations where a few simple
mechanical repairs or alterations would
alleviate a lot of suffering in the chickens.
At the time, I was still a meat-eater, and
I understood that, in order to eat meat,
animals had to die. But, I didn't believe
they should have to suffer first. All of
my life I was taught to kill clean and quick.
Even when what I was killing was somebody
trying to kill me. I still didn't want them
to suffer.

As time wore on, I got to where I didn't
eat chicken, because I felt so bad
about the way the chickens were treated,
but still ate other meats . I just
couldn't eat chickens anymore. Not after
seeing all the things I saw.

I repeatedly, over the years, went to my
supervisors with suggestions of ways to
keep the chickens from being made to
suffer so much. They ignored me. When
I saw that this was failing, I took the job
as a back-dock trainer, which is teaching
people to hang and kill chickens. I thought
that if I could train them to do the job in a
humane way, over a long period of time, I
could create a group of humane workers
(at least as humane as can be expected
under these circumstances).

I had some successes there, but not nearly
enough. So, I adopted a more direct approach.
I got into a couple of fights over the way the
other employees were treating the chickens.
I got reprimanded and laid off for three days
over it and lost my trainer status. I built a
dry ice bomb and used it like a grenade at a
guy that had just intentionally smothered to
death over 1800 chickens by overdumping
them on the incoming conveyor belt so that
he could get a 5-minute break. We had to stop
and pull off all the dead ones. I need to stress
the point that this was not an attempt to actually
hurt the guy, but to scare him. He was bruised,
but nothing more. He certainly was not dead,
like the chickens he smothered were. I actually
got away with this one, but several people saw
what I did and how I did it, unfortunately.

After that, they started using dry ice bombs
on the chickens and I regretted the fact that
it was because of me that they knew how to
do it. I'm sure that no one reading this has
any clue as to how horribly gruesome a sight
it is to see what happens when you blow up
chickens in this manner. Let me try to describe
it to you. Whatever you conjure in your
imagination can't compare to the reality of
such a sight right in front of your face.

Imagine a poor, innocent chicken, already
having survived a horrendous life on the
factory farm. Most of these chickens have
about half as many feathers on them as you
see on a healthy chicken. Every one of those
bare spots has got a bloody, pussy (as in PUS,
you perv) sore on it. It's eyes are all
runny from the ammonia burning them.
The pitiful birds just lay there on the belt,
without hope, waiting to die. It is a sad,
pathetic sight. Here comes along this
guy on break time with nothing better to
do than to take a dry ice bomb, twice the
size of the one I used on a grown man, and
stuff it onto the belt underneath a chicken.
Now keep in mind that there was not just
one chicken on the belt at this time, but
close to 1000. He timed it so that it would
go off just as the rest of us came back into
the hanging cage from break. It killed
probably 40 chickens in all. The ones
closest to it were mangled. The one it was
sitting under was blown 10 ft. across the
room into a concrete wall and left a smear
of blood 2 ft. wide and 6 ft. long all the
way to the floor. The ones that were a little
further away weren't mangled, but were
twitching and jerking, flopping around on
the belt. Their eyes were blown out of
their heads and they were bleeding from
the eye sockets, their mouths, and rectums.
When you picked one of them up it felt
like a sandwich bag full of Jello. The ones
that lived through this were hollering in
such a panicked way. They were scared to
death. It made me feel sick.

It was at that point that I gave up on
being able to change the system from
within. I guess you just can't make some
people care about something that they
just don't care about.

I stayed on for awhile, even after that,
because I had no other prospects for
employment around here. In fact, I
still haven't been able to find work since
left last November 12. This is the first
time I have been unemployed since I
was 14 years old.

I had pretty much given hope on getting
anyone to care about this, especially
around here. I kept hearing from everyone
I talked to that they were "just chickens."
Even at that time, I still ate meat, just not
chickens.

Talking about this with my wife one day
(who had been kept in the dark about
the horrendous things that went on
down at the plant out of sensitivity for
her love of animals) she told me that
there were people who did care about
this. So, we got together and wrote
a complaint to PETA, detailing some
of the incidents I saw and offering any
more information they might want.

And they wanted a LOT. You see,
unbeknownst to me at the time, they
had started a campaign against KFC.
I was completely ignorant of the animal
rights scene at that time. I hadn't
even heard of PETA. I knew about
the SPCA and Humane Society, but I
thought all they did was run shelters
for cats and dogs. Turns out they
do a whole lot more.

Well, after talking with these people,
browsing the various sites, I came
to learn that this type of cruelty
was quite widespread throughout
the factory farming industry, and not
something that only happened in
Grannis, AR and other poultry
processing facilities.

So, now I don't eat any meat because
I don't like the way it is raised and
processed. The only eggs I eat come
from our chickens we have here. They
all have names and when they die we
bury them. They each have personalities
all their own and do a little "dance" when
we come out with goodies for them.

And I intend to do everything I can to
change the way animals are raised and
processed. I realize that not everybody
is going to choose to be vegetarian, at
least not in my lifetime. But they can
choose not to promote all this
unnecessary suffering by being careful
where they spend their money.

That is the only way that change will
happen. It won't happen because
big business suddenly gets a guilty
conscience, anymore than I suddenly
got a guilty conscience. It wasn't
sudden. It was a gradual understanding
of the sheer wrongness of my actions
by my participation in such a cruel,
barbaric industry.

Change won't happen because of
politicians, either. Big business
makes too many campaign contributions
to keep things as they are. When it does
finally happen, it will be because of each
and every person that chose to vote
with their dollars for a kinder way of
doing business.

When that day comes, I think the world
will be a better place to live in.


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