We were taken to the recreation area small gym room with a basketball hoop - of a cell block and given mattresses. Also, two more individuals were taken from a cell in this block and put with our group. They had been arrested very early on Monday morning, and honestly thought that they were the only men from the protests in the jail. They hadnt been allowed any contact with their lawyers, and were advised to stay in their cell all day for fear of being harmed by the rest of the inmates. Needless to say, they were glad to see us.
We began a meeting to figure out our goals and plans: how to get in contact with our lawyers, how to get together with the rest of the group, and how to build solidarity with the general prison population. This caused our two new companions to say that they wanted to return to their cells. Apparently, the previous night, the inmates who had been put on 24 hour lockdown (locked in their cells) on our behalf - noticed the protestors gathered outside and were shouting various nasty things about them nasty enough to make this pair pretty uncomfortable about the idea of getting all cozy them. However, all the prisoners we had run into during processing were fairly supportive of what we were doing. We agreed to be cautious and respectful of the inmates, but also agreed that the lockdown wasnt doing anyone any good, and was obviously only in place to create animosity between us and the inmates. We also decided to refuse our breakfast, in order to put pressure on the prison officials to listen to our demands, and because our new comrades threw out the idea that there were sedatives in the food. I thought about this, and it made total sense, since after eating the meal the previous day, I was constantly dozing off and having very strange daydreams. (After getting out, I asked the legal team about this, and they said it was standard prison procedure, and that next time I should talk to the inmates, who know specifically which foods are drugged and which arent.) We concluded the meeting, and went to sleep after spending 38 hours in processing, sleeping on benches and floors, I was quite relieved to finally be able to lie down on a mattress even a ratty prison one. Unfortunately, we were awoken about ten minutes later to the sounds of breakfast being served 4:30 AM is breakfast time in the big-house. We stuck to our plan, refused the meal, and even persuaded those inmates serving the food to give our food to those folks locked down. Apparently this split the prisoners into two groups: those who were voicing their support and eating our food, and those who were still not supporting us and eating our food. We then went back to sleep until lunchtime (around 10:30).
We awoke, most of us refusing our meal once again, and began to state, rather loudly, our disagreement with the lockdown to the guards. We then went around to the cells and spoke with the inmates, explaining that we did not agree with the lockdown, and that it was a tactic being used by the prison to turn us against one another. Most of them, however, already were stating that they supported us, many of them raising a clenched fist the sign we had been using for "solidarity." We then returned to the gym and, realizing that we were blocking their only means of recreation (and really the only thing there was to do in the prison) by being in there, we gathered up our mattresses and moved to a different part of the cell block. At the point, the guards ended the lockdown, and the inmates were let out. A few of them came down to speak with us, and we had some great conversations - many were very up to snuff on political issues. We found out that the book cart that had gone around earlier that day only did so because we were there it hadnt been around in a year. We also spoke to some of the guys doing the janitorial work (who had been free during the lockdown) and found out that they work 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and made $6.50 a month. Lets give it up for sweatshops. One of them told us they did it, despite the horrid pay, in order have increased mobility around the prison, primarily to see more sunlight. Apparently, there were some prisoners who hadnt seen sunlight in over 200 days. Depriving individuals of sunlight is certainly necessary in order to "rehabilitate" them into productive members of society.
Most of the prisoners told us to stick together, and that we had the prison system completely swamped. "Theyre gonna have to get rid of yall. They cant handle this many. You guys just stick together, and theyll have to do something." "Just dont let them split you up. What you guys are doing is right. Just keep it up, and stick together." I realized that we should have never been afraid of these guys they knew the system far better than we did, so of course they knew when they were locked down, it wasnt our fault. Many of them told us that the prison uses any reasoning it can to keep them locked down, and it was just using us another excuse. The majority of them supported us not because of our political beliefs, but because we were screwing with the system that was screwing them. And, due to our privilege and our numbers, we had a chance at beating it from the inside.
We also met two other folks who had been arrested for protest/related charges, but had been processed and held separately from the rest of us. I dont recall the circumstances of the one, but the second was a hispanic man who knew there were protests going on, but had no idea what they wee about. He happened to be walking along and picked up a bottle he saw laying on the ground. He picked it up, thinking there was booze in it, only to find himself soon being arrested for possession of a molotov cocktail.
We were next visited by another of our lawyers, who simply filled us in on the status of our demands and what was going on with the other groups and outside. We gave him a list of everyone who was in our group, and told him about the two who had been split up from us. It was also during this time that we were allowed to use the phones for the first time. I called my parents, and, not realizing that this would be the only phone call I would be able to make the whole time I was in jail, simply told them what was going on, and that I was all right (as opposed to giving them more contact information so they could spread the word of my whereabouts.) By the way, in jails, any one number can only be called three times each day in each cell block, so we had to be careful about calling the legal number. Also, since all calls made are collect, you cannot call cell phones (this was a problem since I had memorized a cell phone number to let the rest of my affinity group know where I was.)
We then met and decided that we would go on a hunger strike in order to build solidarity with the inmates, and to put pressure on the prison (they are required to put you under solitary medical supervision after three days if you stop eating, but they obviously did not have the facilities to do that with our large numbers.) Shortly after refusing our dinner, we were taken to another cell block, to be reunited with our fellow male activists.
Our new area consisted of a cell block similar to the one we had just left, except one wing consisted of two-tiers, each with a doored-off corridor of cells, such that each corridor could be contained individually. We were split up between these two tiers (I was placed in the lower), so that we could not communicate as a group, but only as two sub-groups. We were assigned two to a cell, each cell being about 14" by 5" with a barred door. After spending some time in our cells, we were allowed to meet as a entire group in the upper level.
At this meeting, we needed to consense to five demands we were making to the prosecutors (via the lawyers) and rank them in order of importance. The guards told us we could meet for one hour, so we were under extreme stress for time. This was probably the most difficult consensus meeting I experienced: we were all tired, we had some very important decisions to make, and a very short amount of time to make them in. As if that wasnt enough, in the middle of the meeting, the guards started pulling people out to see their lawyers (of course, we had been misinformed and lied to so many times, we had no idea what to expect from this.) We decided to get through the demands stuff as quickly as possible, since it was important for all of us including the women that we get our consensus out to the lawyers, then decide what to do about being split up, i.e. were we going to lock arms and refuse to leave at the risk of being beaten up and tear gassed. As rough as the process was going, and as stressful and frustrating as it was, it was amazing to me to see us sticking to consensus. It is one thing to use consensus to determine if your group is going to allocate money for this or to that, but entirely different when you are using it to make real-time decisions that immediately affect your physical well-being. We werent using consensus merely out of principle, because we feel better because we were doing it, but because it works, and was the best way to deal with the situation. No individual should have controlling voice, and everyone needs to have a chance to voice their concerns, if everyones well-being is at stake. You cannot have solidarity if you do not have consensus, and actions such as lock-downs cannot work without solidarity. We realized that the only way we had any power was if we remained united as an organic, single-bodied whole, and the only way to do that is through stressful, frustrating, time-consuming consensus process. So, although that meeting was one of the most difficult moments of my entire ordeal, it is also one of the most inspiring if 60 men can act as a consensus-based collective in that sort of situation, then the process can certainly work in most any situation. Consensus process: Im a big fan.
Soon, those who were pulled out returned with some alarming news. Apparently, one of the judges had ordered all the public defenders who didnt seem to have any connections with the Midnight Special to begin bond proceedings without consult those whom they were representing, i.e. we were being kicked out of the system against our will. As soon as we were given this information, we were ordered back to our cells and locked down for the night. In a flurry of passion, a few of us (including myself) ripped off our bracelets in order to slow down the process of identification should our numbers be called. However, it was a pretty silly thing to do, since we didnt get consense with the group about it, only a small handful did it, and basically the same effect could be attained, with much less risk, by simply turning the bracelet inside-out. We later learned that removing your bracelet is usually considered attempting escape, and results in loss of visitation and phone rights, even with lawyers. Luckily, there were never any repercussions the prison really just didnt want to deal with us.
We awoke Thursday morning and were allowed to take showers (although we were pretty skittish about it, thinking that the showers were just a trick to get us to leave our cells so they could get us and split us up it was difficult for us to trust the guards after all wed been through.) We spent the day developing press releases, until around 2:00 when our lawyers came for another visit. They gave us more information on our bargaining points, including the womens consensus. (I guess nows a good time to tell you what we were bargaining for: 1) That we be allowed to withhold our names. 2) That the felony charges be reduced to misdemeanors. 3) That the misdemeanor charges be reduced to jaywalking infractions, with the fines reduced to time served, or, if that didnt go through, no more than $15. 4) That we be allowed to set the order in which we are released (so we could get the most vulnerable individuals out first). 5) That the deal cover all arrests that occurred from the Friday before the protests onward.) We also received some more information about the outside world, and some advice as to what type of tactics we should use should they try to separate us. We also learned that we had completely filled the jail, and that the warden had 36 more hours in which to rectify the situation. She was currently in the process of shipping other inmates out to other prisons in other states. When the floor was opened up to questions and discussion, the consensus processed was once again strained, and I noticed the two lawyers giving each other some interesting looks. Thats when I realized who gendered this whole ordeal was: consensus relies a great deal on individuals listening, paying attention, and, for the most part, not speaking. In order for things to run quickly and smoothly, you have to really think about whether or not what youre about to say has not already been said, and that it is directly relevant to the current discussion. Also, if the facilitator decides that what you are saying does not meet those criteria, and moves on to the next comment in the stack, you have to be patient enough to go along with it, and not take it personally. Unfortunately, men generally arent very good at listening, love to hear themselves speak, have huge egos, little patience, and, frankly, many of us just dont know when to keep our mouths shut. I then realized how much more smoothly the consensus process (otherwise known as feminist process) must have been going for the group of 90 women than it was for us 60 men. I could tell the lawyers (who had been working their butts off for the past four days and were probably pretty low on patience themselves) were giving each other looks that must have been saying "these people are ridiculous. Why did we come in here? Next time, lets just go with what the women decide." At least thats what I was saying.
Just as we were finishing up the meeting, the guards jumped in and started calling out peoples numbers to go to court the bond proceedings had begun. Most of those called refused to identify themselves, which pissed the guards off. We were all sent back to our cells, where they pulled out eight guys to go to court. The lawyers had explained to us all that we simply had to fire our public attorneys, but we were afraid of how those would be treated, and if they would be brought back to join us. Also, it should be noted that, in the confusion, not all of us made it into our proper cells, just to mess with the guards some more.
When then discussed what we would do should they come back for more, and consensed on a plan. Sure enough, about an hour later, they came for my cellmate (nicknamed Be Jammin, he lived on a sailboat in Florida and was a massage therapist not a bad profession to have around when youre locked in a jail cell). We confirmed that indeed he was being taken to go to court, gave the call, and everybody in our cell block stripped completely naked in about 10 seconds. Everyone one of us, entirely butt-naked. The guards flipped at first they were very disturbed, and tried to reason with us: "Come on, why you doin that? Just put your clothes back on and talk to me. Maybe youre not going to court. Maybe your lawyers here to see you. Just out your clothes back on." Eventually, they just started laughing once they realized everyone was naked. As ridiculous as it was, the tactic worked: they never even opened the cell door, and didnt come back for anybody else. However, we remained naked just in case for about two hours (people who are very hungry and very naked become very silly), and were on "nudity alert" for the rest of the time we were jailed.
We remained locked in our cells for the next couple of hours, and the guards kept coming through making counts of us (They normally count every inmate twice a day, but this time they were counting every hour.) Eventually, they came in with a flashlight and were opening every cell and looking inside, one at a time. We asked what they were doing, and they said "looking for a basketball," which made no sense to us since we hadnt been allowed near the rec area of this block. Finally, they got to one cell, shouted "There you are!" and pulled a guy out. Apparently, when we had played musical cells, one of the cells had tripled up, with the third guy hiding under blankets on the top bunk. When the guards think that someone is missing, the hour, the warden is called, the second hour the head of the department of corrections is called, and the third, the mayor of DC is called. Needless to say, the guards were really pissed. We were kept on lockdown until around noon the next day a total of about 22 hours stuck in our cells.
Being in a prison cell is pretty tough to take. It doesnt seem that big a deal to talk about it, but it really does something to your head when you walk up to those bars and realize you cant go any further to be able to see outside, but to be trapped in that little enclosure. Im certain I wouldnt have made it through the experience had I done it alone. For twenty-two hours, we were in little boxes with absolutely nothing to do. We kept time by singing, telling stories, and, at one point, we just made noise screaming, yelling, banging on whatever for about 45 minutes. Every time we would stop, wed hear the group above us doing the same thing, so wed pick back up. Oh, and I forgot about ohming. This was a tactic we had used through the protests and the jail time. Any time things started escalating (getting out of control), someone would start an "ohm" you know, "ooohhhhmmmmmmm" and everyone else would jump in. It sounds silly, but is extremely effective. We used it at the lockdown when some of the police were about to get violent with some kids who were about to get violent, and all the cops on the barriers took about three steps back. Not only is it effective as a deescalating tactic, but it really helps calm your own nerves as well. So we did that a lot when we were locked down, to keep our faculties intact.
Late that night, the eight who had been taken away came back. Not only did they fire their public attorneys, but two of them appeared before the judge in some sort of hearing, and the prosecution ended up looking really bad. The judge was apparently very cool, and at one point during the trial ended up calling the head of the corporation council (the prosecuting body) and ordered that they begin negotiating with our lawyers the next morning. Also, on their way out of the jail, some protestors tried to block the van from leaving. They were pepper sprayed, and one woman, who was merely taking pictures, was shoved to the ground and had to be taken to the hospital for whiplash. However, while they were pepper spraying out of the van, apparently some of it wafted back in and got one of the marshalls.
On Friday, we were let back out after lunch was served (a few people had begun eating at this point, but many of us were still on hunger strike), and we worked on some more press releases, plus the usual barrage of consensus meeting to figure out whos who and whats what, although at this point most of us were really run down. At around five or six, our lawyers came to tell us that a deal had been reached, but that we only had 45 minutes to agree to it. It wasnt everything we had hoped for, but it seemed like a pretty good plan. The misdemeanors would be dropped to jaywalking, with a $5 fine. The deal covered all those arrested from Friday the 14th onward, and we would be able to set the order of release. We would have to give our names, but no other information (and since they already had many of our names through fingerprints, this wasnt such a big deal), but the big sticker was that the District Attorney, who was prosecuting all the federal charged, refused to negotiate entirely. However, after discussing with the lawyers, we learned that most of the charges were questionable, and thus would not stand up in court very well, some of those with felonies were not expecting solidarity (i.e. they had been expecting to take their case to court even before they were arrested), and at least one (involving a guy who got drunk, wandered into an apartment, and broke a vcr) stretched the limits of solidarity. Also, all of the federal cases had given their names and were out on bond, and the Midnight Special would be providing legal support for all of them. After some discussion, we finally agreed to the points. We then had to wait, all of us with the fear that the women would refuse, and be willing to stay until the DA negotiated (which our lawyers said would not occur until hell froze over).
Eventually, the guards brought in pads on which we were to write out names and our numbers. We had to give real names, since we knew that the Man had a lot of our fingerprints in little computers all over the world. However, for those of us (like myself) who were pretty sure we werent in The System, our lawyers suggested that we might not be thinking too clearly (having not eaten in so long) and some of us may be dyslexic. Thus, in addition to writing my name rather sloppily, I added an extra letter to my last name. We finished press releases, were able to get some phone calls made, and waited. I also forgot to mention that for about three- four hours in the evening each night, they pumped in some really cheesy elevator-style R& B music, and, to make it worse, it had commercials. It was extremely annoying, a form of psychological warfare, for sure. Finally, we were taken out of our cells at 3 AM, and I was released at around 5 on Saturday morning AM (I had been afraid that it would take another 24 hours to process me out), to the cheers of a fairly large crowd. Better yet, there was a food wagon with chili, fruit, and bread awaiting my three-day empty tummy. Hoo-rah! I was reunited with "C," (who, though she was papered out against her will early Tuesday morning, had stayed outside the jail the whole week in the rain and the cold) and "H," who had been in jail with the women, and had a rather different experience than mine. (Strangely enough, we never had to actually sign anything to be released my only guess is that they were sick of paperwork.)