Chicago, IL–“What are you doing for New Year’s?” The question, posed by friends and family members this past week, seemed innocent enough. When I cheerfully answered, “Protesting the prison industrial complex,” however, most people were taken aback.
My sister-in-law tried to convince me that a prison protest on New Year’s Eve would accomplish nothing beyond annoying the guards. A friend said I should take the day off of political activism and do something fun. My parents have given up making sense of my extracurricular activities altogether.
But to me, a prison noise demonstration was the only place I wanted to be. I have been very active in supporting political prisoners this past year, primarily the NATO 5 and Jeremy Hammond. Through my interactions with them and the system that has taken them hostage, I have come to recognize how many lives are ruined when we lock people in cages. I no longer trust the “justice” system to determine guilt or innocence, and I know that the prisons have done far more harm to individuals and our society as a whole than can ever be justified.
The first noise demonstration began mid-afternoon at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, a federal prison. Like many protest actions I have attended, there was a festive spirit to the gathering. Many protesters wore brightly colored masks and used a variety of New Year’s party noisemakers to add to the general ruckus. The plaza was still cordoned off with yellow CRIME SCENE tape from a recent prison break, in which two bank robbers successfully wove a rope out of bed sheets and lowered themselves down 15 stories. One of the men remains at large. We asked people to bring their old bed sheets and knotted them into a rope of our own right there in the plaza. It was a symbol of liberation for all who are incarcerated as well as an embarrassing reminder of the facility’s recent security breach.
We chanted and sang, shouted and danced. A few people swung the bed sheets like a jump rope. We marched around the building, followed closely by Chicago Police Department and Department of Homeland Security vehicles. The building goes straight up and has only the narrowest of windows, but we were soon able to see prisoners waving at us from every floor. Some turned their lights off and on repeatedly to get our attention. We cheered. The guards just stood their ground and glared at us.
The first noise demo ended at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building. A woman spoke about travesty of workplace raids, as well as whole families rounded up in home raids, all resulting in record numbers of deportations. These immigration detention centers are like a shadow prison system – “detention” is not considered “incarceration” and a different set of rules apply to the undocumented.
The plan was to circle the perimeter of the jail, which is close to a 2-mile walk. (Cook County is not only one of the most notorious jails in the country, but also the largest, and houses 10,000 inmates at any given time.) But first we veered off course and crossed the street to stop by Division 11, the newest section of the jail, built outside of the main compound. The other divisions are set back behind rolls of razor wire or overlap with other buildings, blocking our view of the windows. But Division 11 has windows facing directly onto an open plaza, and we were able to easily see and be seen by those inside.
The reaction of the inmates to our presence was incredible. We saw rows of silhouettes waving, clapping, dancing, jumping with joy. They banged on the windows and flickered their lights at us. One inmate took off his uniform shirt and swung it around his head. It was the most electric, uplifting feeling imaginable. The band played louder, we danced and clapped and made some noise. We ignored the guards yelling at us and the lights flashing atop squad cars and gave it everything we had. When we finally turned back to circle the main compound, a young woman stopped banging on a pot lid long enough to exchange a high five and irrepressible grin with me.
The jubilant spirit did not last long. Within a few minutes, we were having a tense confrontation with our law enforcement escorts, which result in a violent and entirely unnecessary arrest. The protester would later be charged with felony aggravated battery, but the only violence I saw that night was perpetrated by officers of the law on unarmed, peaceful activists.
Still, we made a complete circuit around the jail. On the last leg of the journey we spent some time blocking a side street with the bed sheet rope snaked between us, dancing and singing. It was a glorious moment, in no way diminished by the police officers watching us dubiously from every direction.
As a society, we try to hide our problems, to lock them away instead of working proactively on solutions. When our problems inevitably worsen and multiply we lock those away, too – and find a way to make the whole system profitable for well-connected individuals and corporations. We do everything possible to make prisoners –– most of whom are serving time for non-violent offenses, most of whom have dark skin –– invisible.
Noise demos such as these, in solidarity with others held on New Year’s Eve across the globe, refuse to buy in to that mentality. We stand up and say: They have hidden you away, but we see you. They have told us to forget, but we remember you. They have demanded that jail be miserable and dehumanizing –– but we brought you a marching band.
In a call from Cook County Jail on the morning of December 31st, one of the NATO 5 explained to me: “It’s hard to be in here this time of year. Even if you aren’t big on celebrating the holidays, other people are feeling it. Everybody is missing someone.”
I feel good about how we spent New Year’s Eve. It was exciting to see prisoners expressing joy, which they get to do so rarely. It was cathartic to unleash my own pent up frustration at the jail’s unforgiving walls in the form of a primal, wordless scream. Most of all, it was inspiring to see so many others committed to supporting prisoners in 2013 and beyond.
This is what solidarity looks like.
Photos courtesy of Lee Klawans and Chicago Indymedia.]]>
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/
New York, NY–We were led to an old gymnasium, decorated with an odd juxtaposition of colorful murals of the NYC skyline – including a tragically ironic depiction of the Statue of Liberty – and plastic chairs arranged in neat rows, which were sorted by the number of seats for visitors. We were pointed to a set of three chairs across a round plastic table facing a lone seat – a setup designed to ensure our being physically separate from Mark. We were allowed to hold his hands (and did so – the entire time) but couldn’t move closer to him or sit on the floor near him.
We waited in anticipation for a few moments, and then, suddenly, there was the lovely, bearded man walking slowly across the room towards us, a wide smile breaking his somber face as he saw us. The three of us engulfed him in an amazing group hug (a corrections officer chuckled that we were going to suffocate him), and then long, lovely individual hugs before sitting down. His hugs are still super wonderful and feel as they always have – teddybearish, heartfelt, and huge. He looked a bit thinner (by, he later told us, about 8lbs), but bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and ostensibly healthy overall.
We started out conveying individual greetings and messages from a plethora of supporters who had asked us to give their regards. We told him about the solidarity actions outside Rector Coopers’ house and which are ongoing outside of Trinity Wall Street. We related the story of a comrade who had been turned away by corrections officers on a previous visit due to insufficient ID, and how a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles had left him so frustrated that he had three-quarters of the DMV pumping their fists in the air shouting “[expletive] the system!” And we talked about the amazing community meeting that empowered the Otter Solidarity Team to set up his visits, and all the collaborative organizing throughout the community that has gone into supporting him while he’s gone. He was especially moved by this: “That might make this all worthwhile, in some way,” he said.
And Mark shared quite a bit with us – in fact, he spoke about as much as the three of us did, combined. We’d gone in somewhat concerned that he would be withdrawn, but found him to be extremely present and coherent. What he told us, though, was at times difficult to hear. He described feeling that he had left part of himself behind when he was taken to jail, and explained that “in here, this isn’t the real Mark Adams.” He expressed some anxiety about being able to rejoin his full self upon release, but it felt to us like the stories we brought from the outside had already relit – at least, momentarily – Mark’s internal Roman-candle-in-waiting. He grinned when we assured him that the Mark we know and love is very much outside the barbed-wire fences, in our hearts and conversations and on our signs, and will be waiting for him along with the rest of us when he gets out.
He said that he knew our visit would leave him happy for the next few hours but then he would go back to how he usually is. He spends most of his time in his bunk, reading, doesn’t go outside and tries to keep to himself.
He’s received quite a bit of written correspondence – so much, in fact, that the corrections officers remarked to him that he was getting mail “like Lil Wayne did when he was in Rikers!” Some of the letters came from quite a distance, and Mark said he was particularly tickled by some childrens’ drawings of the D17 courtroom – a big round judge, and Mark sitting on a bench with a big beard. He again reiterated that he doesn’t often feel up to writing back, and we assured him that every time this statement from him has been passed along, everyone’s all “pssh” and that he shouldn’t feel any sense of obligation.
An interesting and useful bit that came up: he loves all of the books he has been receiving but he doesn’t know who any of them are from because the packages are opened and discarded before he receives the books. In the future, if you are sending him a book and want him to know it’s from you, write a note inside the cover for him. He also voiced some amused bafflement at the amount of communist literature he had received: “whoever keeps sending those books – I get it!” he told us grinningly. He stores the books in a large tupperware under his bed- it is completely full and he is trying to figure out what to do with the surplus books. There is no library at Rikers and if they get left around, books often wander off with the corrections officers.
Mark brought up his hunger strike, and how it has helped him bring his protest to Rikers. “I came to Occupy Wall Street to march and hold signs, and I can’t do that in here,” he explained. His hunger strike has brought him the power to fight back against the trauma and disempowerment of his sudden abduction, and to politicize his time in jail. The heightened medical attention he has received has brought him many people – doctors, counselors – with whom to discuss his politics and Occupy Wall Street. We shared some of the community’s concerns about his hunger strike – related to his well-being, the outside-jail politics of it, and the impact it may have on the OWS community – and he welcomed the “honest” feedback and promised to consider the concerns. “I’m not one of those comrades who won’t listen,” he promised, and we assured him that we already knew that about him.
Mark described his perception that officers at Rikers were somewhat taken by surprise by his adamant refusal to agree to any normal medical treatments given to inmates upon admittance (many of us already know of Mark’s avowed dislike of allopathy) and even more by his decision to pursue a hunger strike during his incarceration. One of the results is he sees a doctor twice a day, a different doctor each visit, which gives him many people to talk to about his statement. He is on some semblance of a juice fast, but the only juice available comes from powder – so, it’s basically flavored sugar water. The healthiest thing he has access to is three bottles of Powerade he’s allowed from the commissary each week. His sugar levels are being monitored by doctors to keep his glucose at healthy-ish levels. He told us of the awful food available to inmates, and even if he wasn’t on a hunger strike there wouldn’t be much for him to eat. All meals involve mostly meat dishes. There are two options- regular, and kosher/halal, but no vegetarian or vegan choices, and what few vegetables accompany the meal would not constitute appropriate nutrition on their own.
We tried to run the visiting schedule by him, but Mark has enjoyed the surprise of not knowing who is coming, and trusts our judgment. “I mean, you guys know who my friends are, right?” he said with a big old Mark Adams grin on his face. And he knows who his friends are, too, and feels very loved.
We were given no warnings as to how much time had passed during the course of our visit, and seemingly out of the blue, the C.O. who had led us in handed us back our boarding passes. We looked at him quizzically, not ready to understand what that signified. “Time to go,” he explained. And that was it. We took our time for another minute of loving squeezes, and watched Mark shuffle back to the door through which he came (we caught him making a goofy face at a C.O. on his way out), as we were escorted back out the door we had entered, out past security and onto the bus. For all the hours of waiting and negotiating the Rikers bureaucracy to see Mark for that one bittersweet hour, the exit was rapid and painless. By around 5:30 we were back on the city bus and headed off of the island.
The contrast was stark, and tragic: we returned to our lives of freedom and companionship; he to his of confinement and isolation. We decompress, together, in a comfortable living room, while Mark – along with 14,000 other Rikers inmates, and another 7 million across the country – are left alone to process the injustice and dehumanization perpetuated by mass incarceration.]]>
New York, NY–We spent the previous twenty-four hours preparing ourselves for what we imagined would be a difficult day: poring over the DOC website’s rules and regulations, reading and rereading reportbacks from the last two visits, seeking and receiving much great advice from lots of great people – and bracing ourselves emotionally. We were probably as prepared as we possibly could have been, but it took the visceral experience to truly grasp its weight.
Upon our arrival via the Q100 bus from Queens Plaza, we followed other visitors towards the entrance along a path that seemed constructed to immediately make you feel trapped and uncomfortable. We stood in line for about 20 minutes between two chain-link fences with barely enough space between them for two columns of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The inside fence has large-print advisory signs on them, which were a challenge to read because there was no room to stand back. The only sign with reasonably-sized lettering was, for some reason, elevated about 20 feet in the air, making it just as difficult to read but in a totally opposite way. Almost every sign throughout the visit bore rules upon rules, and threats of arrest if any of these rules were broken – as if we needed the reminder.
The sun beat down. In the distance, we could see large, imposing buildings surrounded by barbed wire, and we wondered where Mark was. We were among only about six white folks of about 50 total people in sight. Almost all of the other visitors were women with young children, and most seemed inured to the dehumanizing bureaucracy that frustrated us at every turn.
We left everything in the first locker except our quarters, some cash, our IDs, and the books we brought for Mark — (The Gift, The Wu-Tang Manual, and a book of poetry by Adam Mansbach) — and proceeded through the first security checkpoint. We waited in another line inside for about 30 minutes, and when we got to the front of the line, we were each in turn identified, asked for an address, and quizzed as to our relationship with Mark. We were a little surprised when they fingerprinted us and took mugshots, which were printed out and given to us on rectangular paper that looked and served exactly like airline boarding passes.
After another 30 minute wait, we were pointed towards a white bus, which took us to the Eric M. Taylor Center. The short drive across the plaza reminded us we were now trapped in the belly of the beast – giving us the slightest taste of the “YOU CANT LEAVE” message that inevitably resounds for all prisoners throughout every moment of their sentence. It also allowed us a glimpse at Incarceration City – isolated buildings, each surrounded with violent tangles of barbed wire. Every inch of the place is a visual threat, its role as an institution of confinement and disempowerment constantly reinforced.
We received a brief lecture from a corrections officer before being let into the building, including mention that there had been “a slashing” at the building next door earlier that day and no one was being allowed in or out of that place today. After another security check, the back of our left hand was stamped with a clear substance. We were bewildered by the invisible stamp; we don’t know what it was. We were told it was to mark that we had been through security, but we don’t know how to read it and have no idea what, if anything, it says. (We would love to know more about this practice, if anyone knows.)
After an excruciatingly long hour (or so – without phones or watches, and no clocks on the walls, the entire visit felt as though it took place in a time vacuum) in a room full of chairs reminiscent of a free clinic’s waiting room (the soap opera and hysterical baby really set the scene) we were finally called to enter the “visiting floor”.]]>
Rikers Island, NY – As of today, I am on my sixth day of a hunger strike. I intend to use my body to make a political statement and to continue to draw attention to the fact that Trinity Church put me behind bars. What would Jesus do?
Thank you to all my friends, no, family, for supporting me. You mean the world to me and I intend to continue my hunger strike until I see your beautiful faces outside. I love you all and hope to see you very soon.
With rage and solidarity,
Chicago, IL–My gentle friend was returned to state custody even as I willed otherwise. Three days later, my Occupy Chicago brothers and I sat on cold stone benches, watching families visit their fathers for the hallmark holiday. We drove to visit our comrade together because that’s what families do. It was a hot Sunday, and I had finally entered the waiting area after being reminded my tank top was not welcome and I had to cover my body in a tee-shirt. At our comrade’s cellblock division, the guards did not perform the vigorous pat-down we found in other sections, even though they’re all part of the same Cook County system. In this division, number 6, my brothers and I simply dumped our nearly-empty pockets into bins and walked through metal detectors. At this entry point, the guards didn’t slap my breasts around, for which I was grateful. The last time I tried to visit my comrades and forced to consent to the state touching my body, my tits ached for days. Even though female guards were the ones searching my delicate skin for weapons, drugs, or maybe cigarettes, they still used the backs of their hands while I stood stock-still, rooted to the ground, choking on rage.After turning in our identification and while waiting for our background checks to clear, we sat on chilly marble benches, no phones or cigarettes to pass the endless time. We had hoped to also visit one of the NATO5 political prisoners that day, but it was looking unlikely we’d even see our solidaritécomrade.
One side of the cavernous waiting room boasted lockers, above which a sign reading “Visitor Lockers” was posted. Across the room, another sign read “Gun Lockers”. One of my brothers remarked it was like a high school football scoreboard: home versus visitors. He was right. They have guns. We have car keys and chapstick, our cellphones locked in my car. It’s truly an unfair fight and we are on their turf. Occupy Chicago’s lawyer told us recently that we were fighting an information insurrection. At that moment, we were defenseless. We could only compile mental notes.
Theoretically for aesthetics, tiny windows were cut in to the towering, multistory beige walls, making the square panels into block-shaped cartoon faces, with thin straight lines for mouths. I imagined them whispering to each other, reporting the sadness they had collected from the day after visiting hours were over. The energy was oppressive, depressive. At times, I could barely breathe with the weight of it all. I was waiting on the state, watching the minutes tick down as I gave them my coerced consent to check my background for warrants, forced permission for them to learn my name and address so I could offer some comfort to a fellow activist who had committed no crime. I would lean my head on my nearest brother’s shoulder, seeking reassurance that being locked in this bastard cop nest was the right direct action to take. Realizing the entire situation’s gravity, my brothers and I reached consensus that we would appear as boisterous and happy as humanly possible when we speaking with our comrade. We were all uncomfortable with Cook County’s chill, the process, and the environment and we’d only been there a few hours. Unlike our comrade, we could leave. His cold concrete cell was not our home. We were just the visiting team.
The guards would bark at the guests, uncaring they were addressing humans, with earnest need to see their dearests. Looking around, the floor in the waiting area was covered in food scraps and garbage. The restrooms had no toilet paper. Not only were the prisoners treated as subhuman, undeserving of quality and care, we, their visitors, were as well.
Groups of visitors, mostly children, mothers, and daughters came and went in 25 minute intervals. After each, I chirped to my family, “we’re up next!” until the room cleared out and finally the three of us, a couple and a man in wheelchair were directed into Visitation Room One. The visitation room was an ugly smoker’s yellow. The walls used to be white but had been exposed to so much exhaled nicotine, they began to turn a sickly morning-piss color. I longed for the open sky. Possibly as a cruel joke, we sat in plastic outdoor chairs. They were rickety and dirty. Our eyes were drawn to an unwieldy contraption before us and as one, we grimaced. A communication unit divided us from our fellow visitors and their time with loved ones, but that didn’t offer much space or privacy for conversation. In front of us all, a large black metal box with a centered video screen, an ATM-camera, and a payphone handset was the only connection to our comrade. There were no windows, just walls and a protruding box. We picked up the phone preemptively and the guard yelled at us, making everyone jump. Apparently, one mishandling of the 1990s-model telephone and the entire prison-industrial complex collapses.
Finally, we were instructed to pick up the handset and the monitor lit up, displaying our friend’s face. As one, my brothers and I beamed love and excitement into camera. We greeted him as one would a visiting dearheart, with “heyyyyyyy!’s” and grins bright enough to illumine the night. The conversation was hard, as we three had to share one phone. For the entire 15 minutes, two of us weren’t able to hear what our comrade was saying to me or our brother. The video camera which relayed his image into our screen was angled down, so we all stared at the crown of his head. We rarely saw his eyes or his smile. I hadn’t spoken to our fellow Occupier before picking up that handset. I had seen him around at our Cermak office, General Assembly and actions, but I flit in and out of Chicago so quickly, I simply hadn’t the time to befriend him past my congenial wave and smile. Now I was speaking with him, laughing with him. This person for whose freedom I’d worked so hard for staring at me from a black box in a wall. I tried not to cry. His arm was bandaged and in a sling. He said his arm had been fractured at the elbow. He didn’t say how. It was smart of him to keep quiet, as the communication device doubled as a recorder.
Realizing this and the breadth of the entire situation, my eyes widened and filled before I could choke back my emotions. I wasn’t conscious of reaching for my brother’s hand until I felt him in my own. My hand was slick and cold; my face masking my inner rage and sadness at the broken systems of government and law. We told him all of time, energy, efforts, care, and concern we were actualizing for him. We asked him how we could make his existence in there easier. He asked for Bukowski, commissary funds for toilet paper, and to let Occupy Detroit know he was all right. We promised to accomplish all of those requests. The final five minutes of our 15 minute visit was counted down digitally in the upper right corner of the video screen. We said good-bye and the video monitor blinked off. As the screen went black, I felt the forced light and levity I’d been projecting to bolster him fade away. My chest hollowed and I sat in that dirty, flimsy chair for a moment with my head hanging down, face in my hands. Simply, my brain was overwhelmed at the abject cruelty of the state and the lies of those bastards who ripped a gentle man from his world, in order to prove a point to we who speak out against repression, we who attempt to build a better world for all people.
As we walked silently through the doors and into the sunlight, the chill from that prison lingered in my bones. Leaving the cold rooms with the dirty floors and power-drunk guards is next to unbearable. Even though we go home, we’re not gone. We remain in locked away in our visited comrade’s memory, in the remains of the endless day locked away from all known beauty and joy. One of the Occupy family will be back the next visiting day. Jail support is hard on me, hard on my delicate heart, but serving jail time would be impossible without comrades, like me, like anyone who can harden their hearts and stand up in solidarity to the state. By dedicating time and energy to support our caged friends, we’re demonstrating to the state, the world, and to each other that their cases will not be forgotten.
– Natalie Solidarity –]]>
Chicago, Il – In the depressing afternoon of June 14th, I watched the same tactics from prosecutors regarding freedoms of the remaining NATO5 “terrorists.” After dejectedly exiting 26th and California, my comrades and I drove across Chicago to support another prisoner. In a different courtroom with similar ridiculous charges levied against yet another gentle comrade whose only crime was daring to stand up to the bully state, I watched an Occupier stand in front of a judge. This time, instead of shackles, he entered the room with his right arm heavily bandaged and in a sling, and his body was in disrepair. The bruised, battered and shocked accounts from thathorrible night of his brutal and unnecessarily forceful arrest at the Quebec Solidaritérally and Casserole march showed his arm was fine before incarceration. He’s being charged with a crime against police that he did not commit. The irony is lost not on us, that all those cops’ goals include breaking protester bodies and crippling Occupy Chicago’s spine, while our ambitions instead encompass nonviolently creating new structures to improve this world. Our comrade’s body and spirit have been damaged by the very state we are striving to improve for the people, even those bastard cops.
Even though I gasped in horror and empathic pain, verbally echoing the looks of sadness, pain, rage, and anger emanating from the faces of our friends filling courtroom bench, there was nowhere else I’d rather sit. I had to see, not just for myself, but for the defendant as well. I needed to sit on the front lines of injustice, listen to the lies of state, absorb the fuel to figuratively burn this society down and nonviolently establish more beneficial structures for all people, especially ones like the defendant and the NATO5, whose only crime is raising their voices against a cancerous state. Court and jail support are essential to the health of a movement. They keep the movement focused on past struggles for which our family sacrificed their freedom, and strengthen us to work even more closely, as well as remind us how quickly our own freedom can be taken away by the state. Solidarity is the tenderness between struggles. Jail solidarity means calling our dedicated and beloved lawyers to check on our comrades and setting up visits to see our friends. That solidarity manifests itself when we fellow activists attend court dates and surround the space outside prison cells. It means sitting on those cold benches, radiating love and care. Jail support is what binds us together in- and outside of the cells.
Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago not only do we continue to support our allies’ struggles, as in Quebec, we’re continuing to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources and in reaction to the June 7 brutal and savage police attacks on Chicago’s peaceful protesters, speaking out against police suppression and brutality.
Organizing is doing what is loved and tying that love into doing what’s needed for the greater good. We become better activists, better supporters, and better friends by educating ourselves and others. Before my fellow protesters were caged, I knew nothing about prison support. After diving in to the blazing ocean of others’ pain andtears by reading haunting firsthand accounts of jail life and treading visceral, hot water after internalizing the stories of crushing loneliness and omnipresent fear which manifests itself through incarceration, listening to what can be accomplished, we determined where and how to direct Occupy Chicago’s dedicated energy, bodies and resources. To support our caged comrades, we all keep fighting by keeping their struggle present in the public consciousness through past and upcoming press conferences, noise demonstrations, fundraising, education,courtroom solidarity, radical direct actions, and political pressure campaigns. We show our comrades we love them by establishing working groups, , letter-writing parties, and visitation day/time announcements. We show them love simply by standing with them and reassuring them that they are not alone.
While I’m not physically caged with my comrades, I feel locked away. My energy, heart, and body are as dedicated to their fight and to their comfort. Precisely as Occupy fights for systemic change by highlighting the interconnectedness of home foreclosure to the education debt crisis and the corporatization of financial structures, forging the correlations of a repressive state climate coupled with brutal police repression and political imprisonment to Occupy Chicago’s overarching society-rebuilding endeavors is an exercise in solidarity.
Experiencing the waves of gratitude once we attained our victory of their freedom is enough to buoy me through the nights when I can’t sleep, thinking of people I used to stand with in the streets, now caged. Seeing, then freeing our comrades only inspires me to keep working, keep struggling, until the prisons come down, the movement for which our comrades have sacrificed their freedom will support them in our collective struggle.
Chicago, IL – Boots on the ground is one aspect of protest, arguably the most fun, most invigorating, and proffers the sentiment that our voices and bodies are transforming the system. With our manic dancing to the song of our unified voices singing, “Ah! Anteee! Anteee-capeeetalista!” in the streets under the ruling class’s nose, how could the public remain unmoved? How can they not join in and support us, even for a moment?
With our energy, spirit, dedication, and words, we are altering reality. We are unstoppable. We are building a better world with every step forward towards the heart of downtown Chicago. When we stand in the streets, screaming for social change, educating and empowering our sisters, brothers and the masses, governing power structures do their best to remove us. Police step in and attempt to silence our voices on behalf of the state by making arrests. When de-arresting fails and our family is ripped from us by the state’s savage hands and those boots on the ground are transformed into prison slippers on a cold cement floor, how does our movement stand? What do we do, as revolutionaries, when our comrades, our family-in-arms, the people with whom we make social change, are locked away from us?
We stand in solidarity, as we do in the streets. We are dedicated to one another, dedicated to social change, and, like the power of our people, that doesn’t stop when our freedom is taken away. Jail solidarity means waiting outside the holding area or prison with hot coffee, cheers, hugs and warm bodies for fellow protesters locked away. Jail support means bandaging our friends who were smashed to the concrete by the state with words and kindness, ministering the sunset-colored bruises, massaging away the aches from unnecessary and excessive uses of force. Jail solidarity means writing letters featuring silly stories and cartoons, sending reading material like science fiction, nonfiction, and art supplies like colored pencils and paper.
Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago, not only do we support our allies’ struggles, we continue to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, and providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources on manufacturing empty terrorist threats.
Currently, the City of Chicago chose to waste taxpayer resources to pay police informants to infiltrate Occupy Chicago. From there, National Lawyers Guild speculates that the informants, named Mo and Gloves orchestrated the scenarios that the group of arrestees known as the NATO5 would eventually be charged with. The Chicago Police, (and most notably not the FBI) were able to arrest our nonviolent comrades because they had entrapped them. Mo and Gloves initiated conversation, planned the actions and procured the items the NATO5 were arrested in connection with. The state has silenced dissent with lies and stolen these boys’ freedom. The loss of freedom for one is a loss for all.
Jail support is hard on the heart. When three of the NATO5, Brent, Jay, and Jacob were lead into court, shackled at their waists, wrists, and ankles, I leapt to my feet, eyes blurred by tears of hot rage. These children, barely old enough attend college, were dressed in mustard yellow jumpsuits with the letters DOC [Department Of Corrections] screaming from their backs. They looked so small. Bulletproof glass separated me from rushing into the court and hugging them. The following day, I watched the final two members of the NATO5, Mark and Sebastian look equally as small and helpless in their jumpsuits, powerless against Cook County Attorney General Anita Alvarez’s kangaroo court. While being lead away to their isolated cells and away from us, they glimpsed us standing and raising our fists to them in solidarity.
In the constant state of police repression we so agitate against, this is the end result: innocence in chains, with damage we can witness and scarring we cannot fathom.
We are activists, actively agitating against the world as it is currently established. Only a part of that conflict takes place in our streets. The majority takes place in our hearts, and our love of and for our fellow humans bolsters us through the cold nights in and outside of jails. It soothes us as we nervously wait to visit our friends who have been taken from us. Just as Occupy Chicago is the glue that binds the systemic struggles together, jail support keeps us strong and dedicated to one another, even through the heartbreak of visiting comrades through walls and television communication units.