Saturday, September 15, 2012

32 hrs in jail for Obstructing Pipeline Construction

Six of us had agreed to commit non-violent civil disobedience on the 12th of September to show that Spectra Energy's Pipeline is a threat to Public Safety. This blog post is describing the post arrest experience, while in custody with the nypd from one person's perspective.  



The 6th Precinct is one of the oldest precincts in NYC. Their equipment is pretty decrepit. After my arrest, I was taken to the room where their only holding cell is and handcuffed to the bench outside the cell. Soon afterwards, three more of us were brought in. They put the three women in the cell and handcuffed our male comrade to the bench. We were all in high spirits when the remaining two were brought in. We cheered as they entered the room that contained a single cell, a desk, an ancient computerized thumbprint machine that kept getting error messages and a metal bench with blue leg irons on one side. They proceeded to lock the other male arrestee to the bench and our brave female comrade joined us in the cell.

Much like life, jail is what you make of it. If you look at it in a certain way, it can be fun. We made the most of our situation and we were lucky enough to be all held in the same room, so we could play games to while away the time. We laughed, sang, played charades and word games as the arresting officers fumbled their way through intake with the decrepit, ancient computer and crappy locks. 

The arresting officers had lost two i.d.'s so we had to help them locate the i.d.'s by calling our support team from the arresting officers iphone. This was not our one phone call, however. They never offered us a phone call or food or water for that matter. We did not receive an opportunity to call our lawyers or make any other phone calls. After being there for 8 hours, we were all extremely hungry. We had been spending some of our time describing our favorite recipes to each other, which kind of helped but also made our hunger all the more acute. 

We finally started advocating for food, asking if there was a vending machine or something we could get some snacks from. Luckily, one of us had some money on him and we gave it to the AO to go harvest snacks from the precinct's vending machine. She came back without snacks, with the dollars still in her hand and told us that our friends on the outside would be bringing us some food presently. 

A little while later, the other officer came in bearing a bag with snacks from our support team. We eagerly awaited the handing out of juice smoothies and granola bars & snickers bars. She gave first to the guys and then took the bag and set it on her desk as she busied herself with some papers. All of us women were handcuffed to the bench, one with the leg shackle around her ankle. We all stared at the bag, mouths watering. She let us sit there while the guys were chowing down their snacks. When she finally gave it to us she says, "hurry up and eat this. Hurry up we have to go." Suddenly, when we finally got the food it was time to go. If you've ever had nothing to eat for 10 hrs and then your suddenly cramming as much food into your mouth as possible, as quickly as you can, it doesn't make for very good digestion. Call me crazy, but trying desperately to nourish ourselves while being yelled at to hurry up was not the greatest dinner break. "hurry up! Eat!" She didn't let us have the all the snacks that our support team supplied us with, she withheld a bunch, claiming this sudden urgency to leave the precinct. Shout out to our support team! The food helped a lot. Thank you! Hope she gave you back what she wouldn't let us have. I hid one of the granola bars in my bra for later. 

This is when they started chaining us together with metal hand cuffs attached by a chain. We lined up and filed out awkwardly in chains. Our friends were in the lobby and they cheered when they saw us. 

This is the shot taken by our support person from behind the counter. Thanks, Kim! This is when we learned that the press had picked up our story and the Gothamist had written an article. This made us all very happy to hear about. 

As we were led outside to the waiting paddy wagon, we saw a crowd of supporters on the sidewalk. They all started chanting when they saw us. This boosted our spirits considerably! They were chanting "Spectra Stinks" and "We love you" and "We are unstoppable, Another world is Possible." I don't know if they heard us, but we mic checked back "We love YOU too!" 
Jail Support is super important. Thanks to all who made the effort to be there for us. Your support made a huge difference.

The inside of the paddy wagon was stark, white, well lit and air conditioned. It was freezing in there. We weren't sure if they thought we were sides of beef needing refrigeration or a group of peaceful activists that had just committed civil disobedience to block a dangerous radioactive and potentially explosive pipeline construction site. 

They brought us downtown. When we arrived we had to stand outside on a concrete slab. We felt like an Acapella group for some reason, and started singing doo wop songs. 

When they brought us into the Tombs, it was sobering. We quietly stood in a line behind a large group of arrested people of varying shapes and sizes, but pretty much all men.  One man was fully laying, passed out on the floor in the line. 

We were made to stand there for at least an hour, with our wrists going numb from the metal cuffs that it turns out the arresting officer had attached to us upside down, making it more painful and more difficult for them to unlock. 

One by one they unlocked us and brought us into another room downstairs. There sat a small, bald man behind a desk in an Orwellian scene. He told me to step up to the metal table. He took my mug shots and then compelled me to come forward to look into an apparatus designed to take a scan of my eyes. I did not consent to this procedure, stating health concerns because I have the beginning of cataracts. This seemed to infuriate the little man behind the desk. He had a little fit of anger, threatening me that they would hold me longer if I did not obey. I stood firm. 

They took me back out and one by one we were led into that little room. Two out of the six of us refused the retina scan. 

Next they brought us to see the doctor. As we were waiting in the hallway, the granola bar I had hid in my dress started to fall down my shirt. I whispered to my comrade, "oh no, it's falling." "push it back up." she whispered back. In my attempt to do so, it made a crinkly noise. The arresting officer came up to me and said "Give it to me" I said, "what?" and she said "whatever you are eating" I dont know how she thought I was managing to eat something with both hands locked behind my back. I am no Houdini. I finally relented, telling her, "It's in my bra" She confiscated the blueberry granola bar I was looking forward to sharing with my comrades once we got booked. She put it in her pocket. We were so hungry. This whole experience was like a soft torture. Why would you not let someone hungry eat food that was bought with the sole purpose of feeding us. I hope she enjoyed that bar because we would not be given food for another 5 hours. The first food they gave us was two small boxes each of dry, unsweetened shredded wheat and a half pint of awful skim milk. We didn't eat again until 10 hrs later when we got our choice of the proverbial cheese sandwich or peanut butter & some sickly sweet Goo which could hardly pass for jam.  

The FDNY medic who we saw next was probably the nicest person we encountered along the way. He seemed genuinely concerned about our physical and mental well being. But, knowing that an admission of any mental distress or admission of physical discomfort would slow the process down, we all said a resounding NO to all of his questions. He spotted a mark on one of our legs and made a big deal about putting a band aid on it. I had not felt any pain in my back yet, that came later.

We were then led to yet another hallway, when our two male friends were taken away and we again had to stand uncomfortably waiting for who knows what to occur. While we were waiting we were in front of a desk behind which sat a correctional officer watching television. On the screen they showed what we would see over and over while we were in custody. On the news they were showing the clips from Libya. "Anti American Protests" was repeating over and over. Two undercover nypd cops came over and intently watched the screen, muttering racist things. I believe the media is trying to brainwash the masses to associate the words "Anti American" with the word "Protest" out of context of the situation in Libya, what could be more American than a peaceful Protest? Our country was founded on a peaceful protest, the Boston Tea Party. 

We were brought upstairs finally around 12:45am. We entered the holding cell, where there were already some other women inside. 

The clock on the dingy wall outside the cell in central booking never moves. It is 7:05 forever in that place. We arrived at 7:05 and we left at 7:05. When we arrived there, chained together like dangerous criminals, we had already spent 10 hours in the 6th Precinct. Before all was said and done, we would spend 32 hours inside. 

We were not allowed to make a phone call. Both of the payphones in the cell where we were being held were broken. After 20 hours inside, I made a big stink about not having been allowed to make phone calls. The Officer on duty basically told me to call 311 when I got out of jail and make a complaint. 
A few hours later, I again demanded our phone call, knowing that the phone in the next cell over was actually working because we could hear a woman in there loudly shouting into the phone. The correction officer shows me my paperwork. It says on the record from the good old 6th precinct that I "refused phone call" which is a bold faced lie.  

Finally they allowed us to go into the cell next door and call out. The phone barely worked, so our people on the outside could hardly hear what we were saying. It was a very frustrating experience.We did manage to get ahold of the NLG who told us we would be docketed between 2:30 & 7pm. At around 2:30 a sudden Sharp pain started in my lower back. We asked the corrections officer for some advil for the pain, but she said they had none. It made it very hard for me to be there. My back hurt in every position. Sitting, laying standing didn't matter. I realized then that the way I was carried by the police during my arrest had torqued my body badly. The pain was so intense that I crumpled onto the floor in pain. At about 6:45, they came and got two of us, leaving just myself & my friend. We were getting increasingly anxious that we might be forced to stay yet another night in that awful place, being starved, trying to sleep to pass the time more quickly, on hard narrow wooden benches with the hysteria from the television set & the cocaphany of voices. Finally, at around 8 pm, I think, we were called downstairs to go to in front of the judge.  

In central booking, they use every means possible to make you feel demeaned and less than human. One of the ways they do this is by not feeding you. They also did not give us access to clean water to drink. There was a dirty sink in the holding cell, but no cups. When we and others asked for cups we were told to use the empty milk containers as cups. One woman complained that she was allergic to milk. She was give no solution. Largely, complaints are ignored and belittled. 

Most of the women in the cell were people of color under the age of 30. A man came in and started, one by one to ask us personal questions. He claimed that there was a point system and the more information we divulged, the more points we would score. The higher points we scored would mean the judge was more likely to release us on our own recognizance. These questions were very personal. They asked us for first and last names of people we lived with, of people that might be showing up in court to support us. They asked what we did for a living, where we worked, how much money we made and if we were in drug rehab. 
I found these questions to be extremely alarming considering our rights to remain silent. They basically bribe you to reveal personal information or else spend more time in jail. I told them very little besides basic information that would show I am not a flight risk. Others told him everything he asked for, in hopes this would buy them favor with the judge. How wrong is this?

Beyond the inconvenience and annoyance, being in jail is a deep experience. You are exposed to the inherent racism of the prison industrial complex. You will see the disproportionate number of people of color represented in jail. You will hear the stories from your fellow cellmates. Like the one from a young mother: "My baby was sick. I didn't even think twice. I got her the medicine. Her eyes were red with fever, I did what I had to do. I have never been arrested before" Or the another : "I had a 5 year old parking ticket. I told the officer I would go pay it, but he arrested me instead" 

At about the 28th hour two of us were led downstairs to the court room to see the judge. About another hour transpired before the last two of us were sent downstairs. We were put into yet another holding cell, where we were allowed to finally speak to a lawyer. My lawyer was from the Legal Aid society. He interviewed me in a little cubicle where he asked me to fill him in why we were doing civil disobedience. I told him about Spectra Energy's pipeline and the reasons we were protesting it's construction. He told me that bail would be set by the DA but likely dismissed by the judge. I was finally brought into court at around the 30th hour. Immediately upon entering the courtroom, I was compelled to approach a desk behind which sat a police woman. She held up a device and told me to look into it, "open your eyes wide" I said, "No" and they, again were shocked by my lack of consent. This is a voluntary scan, yet they never divulge the voluntary nature of the scan. Most people allow it, thinking it is mandatory. 

They angrily told me to sit back down and then much to my dismay they led me back into the holding cell with no explanation. When I asked the Corrections Officer what was going on he said "You missed your chance, now you have to wait. When they are ready they will call you" He would offer no other explanation. This had me sweating. The idea of spending another night in that cold, dirty awful place with no food or good water to drink was daunting to say the least. I implored him to tell them I would do it, anything to get me out of there. This is what they want. They use coercion at every chance they can. They are in control, after all, they have the keys to the jail cell. About ten tense minutes later, my lawyer again appeared in the cubicle. He informed me that I indeed was not obligated to consent to this retina scan. He told me I would be called back out soon. 

When they called me back out, the Corrections Officer told me "you better fall in line or else you will stay in another night" I went into the court room, they again tried to scan my eyes. I again faltered, asking "if I say no, will I have to stay another night?" There was a quick, angry exchange. Then my lawyer spoke up. He said "She is not required by law to consent to this, your superiors have informed me of this fact. So I was allowed to approach the bench. My lawyer, after hearing the charges from the DA, which ironically included a recommendation to do community service (ok, I'll do community service, gladly. How about helping to launch a direct action campaign to stop a dangerous pipeline from coming into NYC and destroying the communities lives?), very eloquently stated our reasons for the civil disobedience and recommended I be released on my own recognizance. The judge set bail at $1000. I was the only one who he did that with. I was also the only one that had refused a retina scan in the court room. You put two and two together.

Luckily, my friends from OWS jail support were there. They immediately went and paid my bail. I went back into the cell for a few more moments with my friend and fellow arrestee who was pretty nervous that she would be in jail another night. We hugged and they came and released me. 

When I walked out into the lobby, there was a small group of people to welcome me, hug me and provide me with support. A delicious sandwich, a cigarette, warm clothes and hugs were given to me. Mark Adams from Mutant Legal, who had stayed outside 100 Center Street all night waiting for our release, was there to put arnica on my wrists. I can't say enough how important Jail Support is to people who get arrested for civil disobedience. Thanks to all who do this labor of love.

If you think you can't get arrested for what you believe in because you have a job, a kid, a cat, a dog, a plant etc etc. You might want to re-think this. Think of it this way: Do you ever take a weekend vacation? How do you make sure your cat, dog, kid, job etc survives without you when you are on vacation? 

If you can take a vacation, you can get arrested. It's exactly the same, but just not as fun. It's also more educational. 


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