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.
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,
So I decided to halt things and run to Foley Square that evening to show my support for Mark with other protesters.
I got there early at 7pm, meeting with a small group of comrades sitting by the fountain near the southern part of the park. A live streamer was on hand, giving anyone who was there in support of Mark a chance to tell his audience their thoughts or feelings about the trial As we mulled about, a few made signs, many of which had drawings of thick beards to hold before one’s face, because “We are all Mark Adams.” I looked across Centre Street at the Supreme Court building, whose engraving read that “the true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I didn’t know what to make of those words that evening, except for a feeling that as things continue, more and more can only wake up and see that the state is not working in their interests.
I had come out to support, unsure of what we would be up to tonight. I asked a few people but others were confused as I was. And just where was everyone? I overheard we would be marching and saw on Twitter that the Feminist GA was happening. The plan was to march to Reverend Cooper’s home in the village, where we would hold a vigil. By then, the Feminist GA would be done and would meet us there, after which we would discuss our feelings about Mark and what had happened to him.
We left Foley just around 8pm, chanting “Free Mark Adams and all political prisoners.” If there’s one thing you can count on our community doing, it’s making light of terrible situations, so another popular chant was “We want the sexy bearded man (and so do you!)” It was probably not the best chant for outreach, but it boosted morale in a situation that many were angered and deeply saddened by. We eventually took the streets, mic-checking outside of opened-window restaurant fronts and tour buses to explain why we were out tonight.
One tour guide called the police, or threatened to, while we blocked her bus from moving, but we didn’t care; we’d established before leaving Foley Square that we would not be arrested, that if we saw the police we would simply rush to the sidewalk and comply with the rules. We didn’t want to be too controversial, because Mark would be upset if our rally to show solidarity with him ended up with more people being arrested. That isn’t to say there was no small drama: one man heckled us out his window, high above, and another threw an egg at us some blocks away. But we kept on.
Aside from passing a cop car that happened to be parked along a sidewalk we marched down, there was no police presence until we made it to Cooper’s home. We congratulated ourselves on marching through the streets with no conflicts with authority, and organized ourselves on the sidewalk, careful to keep it open for pedestrian traffic. Someone had brought small candles, which were passed out and lit.
A couple of police officers crossed the street to ask us what we were doing. There seemed to be nothing very accusatory about it, just asking what a random group of people congregating on a residential street planned to do there. We explained Mark’s story and that we were only here as bodies and to discuss what had happened. The police were cool about it and told us all was well so long as we kept the sidewalk open.
Eventually a white shirt came and interrupted us all to repeat to us that the sidewalk and stoop must be clear. The sidewalk and stoop were already clear, which made the whole thing redundant, and his tone lacked the courtesy that the previous two officers spoke with. He—and a couple new officers—spent the rest of the time occupying the stoop himself.
Someone who had spoken to the officers earlier said that Cooper was in fact home, that he’d called the police because he would not face us. Cooper was being cowardly and bringing in his own personal guards, courtesy of the NYPD. But still we complied with the police—we had no intent on blocking anyone from anything in the first place—and no issues arose. We watched out for each other, policing ourselves in regards to pedestrian traffic. We began our speak-out session, in which peoples words were carried down the line of us over different generations of mic-checks.
Where the march’s atmosphere was somewhere between celebratory and anger, this quiet moment was a mix between sadness and inspiration. Some talked about their hopes that Mark might organize from prison; others expressed that the best way we could support Mark would be through our actions and by looking at his enthusiasm and attitude as example. Someone pointed out that we kept talking about him in past-tense, that he was not dead and we would see him again. This comment got a few chuckles and brought the mood up a little bit.
I wondered what the police officers were thinking or feeling about all of these words. They understand sacrifice and must have understood that this trial was a moment in which we all realized that our sacrifices are in fact very real. But our group tonight was showing no signs of being discouraged, and I think the vigil presented a very human look at us that might sometimes be lost in the heat of an action. It’s consistently difficult to rank beautiful moments in the Occupy Wall Street community, but I think all of us coming together the night of June 18th is among one of the most poignant.
I went home carrying my cardboard Mark Adam beard. I didn’t want to throw it away or abandon it. So I put it on my desk, in the hopes that when I feel lazy or exasperated while working or question whether anything I do is worth it all, I can be reminded of Mark’s example and get shit done with a smile. So I’ll thank him for that when he returns, because he will.
– Joe Sutton –]]>