Chicago, IL – Solidarity Through a Plexiglass window: An occupier who makes weekly visits to the NATO 5 brings a friend who has never visited prison before.
Chicago, IL – A visit to the NATO 5: An activist from Occupy Chicago finds solidarity even behind locked doors and iron bars.
New York, NY – A Visit with Mark Adams, J26, Part One: An activist visits Mark Adam’s an occupier sentenced to forty-five days in jail for his involvement in D17 at Duarte Square in New York City.
New York, NY – A Visit with Mark Adams, J26, Part Two: An activist visits Mark Adam’s an occupier sentenced to forty-five days in jail for his involvement in D17 at Duarte Square in New York City.
Read all our past #JailSolidarity stories here.
On the east side of the street there is a strip of grass. People are often sitting, waiting–usually for hours–for loved ones to walk out of the gates, always looking over their shoulders to make sure they don’t miss them. Sometimes when you’re in the area you get the pleasure of witnessing one of these reunions. People run into the street to embrace their families with smiles and sometimes even tears.
Even further south is the entrance to another division–Division 10–where two of my friends, two of the NATO 5, are currently being held. I go to visit one of them, Sabi, usually once a week and I can tell the guards are beginning to recognize me.
Two blocks further is 31st Street, the southernmost point of the jail. Hang a right and you’re on your way to Division 9, Supermax, the division that holds “the worst of the worst.” This is where my other three friends, the rest of the NATO 5, are being held.
After the first round with security, you are let out into a parking lot. There is one small building, the entrance to the lair. On your way to the doors you sometimes see prisoners on what is almost an enclosed porch. They are sometimes playing basketball, sometimes just standing against the fence, taking in the fresh air and sunshine.
Once inside the building you are led down a half-spiral staircase and told to wait behind a red line nearly 15 feet from the desk. Sometimes there is a line of people and sometimes there isn’t; either way you will have to wait behind that red tape line for what feels like forever, but in actuality is usually about two minutes.
After you tell them who you want to see, you silently pray that nothing is wrong, like the division being on lockdown or your friend being in the hole. After holding your breath while they type away at a computer for a few minutes, you are told to have a seat and they’ll call your friend’s name.
This is always the most agonizing part. The seats are these big stone blocks and all there is to read are signs warning against property destruction to the already-broken water fountains, the list of prohibited items, and the list of artículos prohibidos en español. Cell phones are not allowed, so most of the time people make quiet conversation. The walls are gray concrete and the floors dark tile. Sometimes the room is so crowded that people have to resort to standing or sitting against the wall by the men’s bathroom. Yes, in theory it’s truly wonderful, that so many people are keeping connections with those on the inside, but I doubt you’ve had to sit on the floor of a county jail waiting room two inches from the men’s bathroom.
My first time visiting was not long after the guys were arrested. The division still had this weird system because they didn’t want them interacting with others, so one of the three would take up an entire visiting room, just him and his visitor. Because of this I had to wait nearly four hours to meet Jacob (aka Brian Church, who goes by his middle name). While I was waiting one of the guards came in holding a blue jersey with white lettering that said “Super Maxxx” in a scripty font.
When I finally got to meet Jacob he came in and gave me this sort of confused look as he sat down, hands cuffed in neon orange, a graying thermal under his bright yellow jumpsuit, his freckles matching his red-orange hair.
“The worst of the worst.”
The entire time I had to fight the tears that were welling up. He probably thought that I was crazy, or that I was PMSing, nearly crying over a person I had only seen behind Plexiglass or in the newspaper.
This week I brought an old friend of mine, Cari, to meet Jacob. She is not an activist and has never even been to a protest, but she wanted to come along. We walked to Division 9, were greeted with a nice pat-down and walk through metal detector number one, and then headed toward the entrance of the lair. This time there were no yellow jumpsuits playing basketball or pressing their faces as close to fresh air as possible.
After waiting behind the red tape line, Cari and I register with a guard who keeps cracking jokes about the Olive Garden and their breadsticks, while on the other side of the room mothers are trying to control their children as they wait to see their husbands for the first time in a week for a mere 30 minutes, and that’s if they’re lucky.
After signing in, we sit on the cold concrete slab, a relief after being in nearly 100 degree weather outside. Twenty minutes of waiting and one of the guards begins yelling names. I do not hear Jacob’s, but she does call out “Chase, Jared!”–another of the NATO 5–and my other friend excitedly gets up and waits in line behind metal detector number two.
Another 30 minutes, and she calls another group of people. This time I hear “Church, Brian!” and Cari and I go wait in the line. We are told to go up to the third floor. When we get there most of the seats are taken, though there is one at the end where we wait until they bring Jacob out.
Not long after we enter, one of the guards opens the door and yellow jumpsuits start shuffling into the room, looking for a face they recognize and then sitting across from it, through a sheet of Plexiglass.
When Jacob comes in, I wave and smile to him and he sits down. Same neon orange handcuffs, same bright yellow jumpsuit, same freckles that match his red-orange hair. We start talking and catching up. He says he is doing okay and before long he asks Cari her name and introduces himself. She says, in a breaking voice, “Hi, I’m Cari.” I look over to see that her shaking hands are trying to shield her eyes, and I am immediately brought back to my first visit with Jacob.
For the next 15 minutes, Jacob and I talk about Occupy and Anaheim. I ask him if he needs any books and he asks me if I can print out pictures from May Day and the FTP march he went on only hours before he was arrested.
As we are leaving the visiting room, I ask Cari what she thought of her first jail visit, and she says, “It was okay. He totally doesn’t belong in there, though. He just seems like some kid. How old is he again?”
“Twenty,” I respond.
As part of Occupy Chicago’s ongoing jail solidarity effort for the NATO 5, who are facing terrorism charges, I have been attending as many court dates as my schedule allows. Most of these court dates are just for updates, or to set new court dates, but being there is an important show of support. At the first few I attended we pushed our luck a bit by standing and raising fists in solidarity, so much so that the judge has taken to reading a decorum order before calling any of their cases. He claims it’s not really aimed at us, just meant as a point of information for “people who only know about court from TV,” but since it uses words like “conduct of solidarity” and “protest,” I tend to take it personally.
Here’s what a NATO 5 court decorum order looks like:
All persons in the courtroom must remain silent during all proceedings. There will be no talking, noise making, standing, kneeling, waving, hand raising or other conduct of solidarity, camaraderie, protest, approval or disapproval in the courtroom or in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Going to court is always a bit of a hassle, but worth it to me in the end, even just to see a glimpse of them through the tinted glass that separates us from the courtroom itself. It makes the long drive, seemingly random security procedures, and waiting through other cases worthwhile.
Visiting hours for the NATO 5 always conflict with work and other obligations of mine, so I haven’t been able to see any of them until this week, when I had a few days off. For me, spending my time off making visits to friends in jail is the new normal. I put out the word that I was planning a visit for Monday afternoon and found two small groups of friends also planning to visit. I met up with the earlier group and we left our stuff at an occupier’s apartment within walking distance of the jail and set out on our way. (Note to everyone: being without my cell phone for several hours makes me twitchy.)
We walked about a mile to Division 9, the maximum security jail where the original NATO 3 are being held. It was a cool 97 degrees, abundant sunshine and humidity making us sweaty within minutes. We walked in holding only our IDs but were still patted down and sent through a metal detector. Inside we waited to sign in for our visits – I was seeing Jared Chase. I’ve never met any of them personally, but have been sending books from the Occupy Chicago library and Jared had sent me a personal thank you. So I figured he would be my first visit. When they asked me what my relationship to him was, I wanted to say “comrade-in-arms” but settled for the safer description of “friend.” Then we sat on stone-tiled benches and waited to be called. There was a lot of bureaucracy and waiting involved, which isn’t surprising, but does start to feel mind-numbing after a bit. When I was finally called I walked through another metal detector, got patted down again, then made my way to an elevator that took us up to the visitation room.
The visitation room has no air conditioning, and I soon felt sticky and claustrophobic. It is a long, narrow room made entirely of gray concrete, barely large enough to accommodate friends and family on one side of the Plexiglas, up to 10 or 12 prisoners on the other. With no phone I had no idea what time it was, because who wears a watch anymore? It’s a tiny taste of what prisoners feel all the time, miserably uncomfortable and cut off from the outside. I must also admit that I felt my privilege, seeing the racial breakdown of the room. The number of young children visiting their fathers — and how routine it seemed for them — was heartbreaking.
Eventually a group of prisoners was brought in, and most of the people I had come up with had their visit. No Jared. I waited through the visit, which lasted 20 minutes or so. Then waited for the guards to exchange one batch of prisoners for another. Still no Jared. It had been at least an hour at this point, so I went back downstairs and asked at the desk. They told me to go back up and wait. I saw my friends in the outer waiting room, already finished with their visit to Jacob, another of the NATO 5, and felt bad for holding things up. But I would have felt worse if Jared came out for a visit and nobody was there. So up I went.
I sat in that sweltering room through another prisoner switch and watched as a third batch started filing in. By this point I had become friends with some of the other visitors, who were impressed at how long I’d been kept waiting. They began flagging down the guard and asking him when Jared Chase was going to be brought in. Soon some of the prisoners whose visitors weren’t there yet chimed in as well. It was a surprising show of support to me, all these strangers wanting to make sure I got my visit.
About halfway through the third visit, they finally brought Jared in. I had been getting discouraged and wondering if it was worth sticking around, but one look at him gave me my answer. I introduced myself and he thanked me again for sending books. He is quiet-spoken and it was sometimes hard to hear him over the noise of 10 other visits in progress, but we managed to have a good conversation. He told me what other books he’s been reading and asked for updates on the student protests in Montreal and the impending teachers’ strike in Chicago. He hadn’t heard much about the police violence and subsequent protests in Anaheim, so I filled him in. He told me he grew up in Anaheim. He wanted to make sure the others were getting visits as well, and I was touched at his concern. It would have been a lovely conversation had there not been a window between us, had he not been cuffed, had we both been free to leave the building.
But parts of the conversation were more difficult. He told me that he’d been “in the hole” (solitary confinement) all of last week, and hadn’t been allowed visitors. The reason they gave him was that there “weren’t enough cells.” I could tell that he didn’t buy that excuse, and neither did I. He looked sad and a bit lost when he said, “I didn’t even do anything, and they put me in the hole all week.” I wanted to give him a hug, because he looked like he needed it.
He told me he’s getting lots of letters, and he really appreciates them. He’s trying to write back to everyone but currently isn’t allowed to have a pen, due to a prisoner stabbing last weekend that put them on lockdown. Hopefully he’ll be able to resume writing letters soon. Looking in his eyes as he told me this, I felt a mixture of sadness and outrage. This man doesn’t belong in a place where pens are considered weapons, and not in the metaphorical mightier-than-the-sword sense. He belongs in the streets with us, changing the world.
I reassured him that we haven’t forgotten them, that we will continue to visit and write and send books and show up for court. But I could see that being in jail, and periodically in solitary confinement for no apparent reason, is wearing on him. As our shortened visit drew to a close, he thanked me for messages of solidarity from other occupied cities and gave me a solidarity fist on his way out.
I want to encourage anybody who is able to please visit those who are still incarcerated while they fight these ridiculous charges. I know the above story is full of frustration and bureaucracy, but it’s so necessary and so worth it in the end. They are trying to break these guys down by randomly imposing solitary confinement on them and making it nearly impossible for them to see visitors. But we won’t let the games they play keep us from supporting our comrades.
We will not forget them. We will not waver in our support, no matter what they do to discourage us. Our strength lies in our solidarity.
To learn more about the NATO 5 and our jail solidarity efforts, visit http://nato5.occupychi.org
To learn more about the Occupy Chicago library’s efforts to coordinate book donations to the NATO 5 or to donate shipping funds, visit http://ochilibrary.wordpress.com/books-for-the-nato-5/