How many friendships forged in fire do you have?
It is safe to say not “all kinds of folks” will stare down a thousand automobiles while standing on the highway holding your hand. It takes a certain type of person to do that. Like, a person who is a little bit crazy. (Crazy for justice, anyway.) That’s why it didn’t surprise me that protesters who had just met could relate to each other immediately. When you sit in a jail cell it doesn’t matter what your education is, where you hail from, the life you lead or the company you usually keep. At that moment, you are all the same. No sleep, no recent bathing and physical discomfort bring out the punch drunk in people. It also brings out a lot of humanity. It was completely natural to wipe sweat off our faces on each other’s sleeves and shirts, sometimes without asking, like you would instinctively smooth your child’s unkempt hair.
There were times friends cried, like the several hours the corrections driver refused to open the bus windows or let us drink water, preferring to listen to us melt. So hot. So thirsty. STL Correctional Facility officers finally opened the windows after an arrestee almost threw up from heat exhaustion. I understand detention is designed for discomfort but it shouldn’t cause pain or jeopardize your health. To pre-empt those who think protesters deserve to be run over or handled roughly, I would point out the 1791 ratification of the 8th Amendment prohibiting “cruel or unusual punishment”. Some were in handcuffs for 13 hours. Prolonged handcuffing behind your back can be especially painful if you have existing back or shoulder issues, which many protesters did.
We were detained several hours at an impromptu processing center at the Police Academy gymnasitorium guarded by an officer armed with an orange rubber bullet rifle. They made us remove belts and shoe laces after patting us down, a second time. Officers herded us back into the bus and drove to Clayton to process us. All over again. As the bus pulled up to the Injustice Center, we began chanting upon spotting a sizable crowd of supporters awaiting our release. Other friendships forged in fire. A more welcome sight there is not. Another pat-down. They placed smaller groups in jail cells. We answered the jail nurse’s absurd questions about our vaginas. ANOTHER pat-down. (that’s four, if you’re counting). A metal detector marked the entrance to the Common area where most of us were reunited.
There we encountered the self-important jail concierge officer inexplicably wearing sunglasses at 1:00 a.m. in a windowless room. We were also bemused by cranky Officer finger-printing. So many rules. Be quiet. Don’t smoke. Don’t be hungry. Don’t walk around TOO much. Don’t exercise. Be compliant. Be thankful to eat rank bologna sandwiches. Shut the door to the restroom. No, really, SHUT THE DOOR. Be more quiet. It was like they were in charge or something.
Some new jail friends engaged Officer jail concierge in conversation for a while, trying to peel back the layers of the institutional mindset that made him say things like “It doesn’t matter what school you attend, you can get a great education in a library.” I assume University of Phoenix could offer Stanford on-line courses if the school itself didn’t make any difference. He argued that “All Lives Matter” despite being black. STOP THAT. There was an absurd chipmunk stuffed animal you were asked to look at when Officer mug shot took your photo, despite the fact we’d been photographed twice already. The concierge ordered us to stay within the red lines painted on the floor. There were also two menacing, curiously-molded plastic chairs they might use to restrain Hannibal Lector in the front of a room I will describe as like a really shitty dinky airport waiting area.
It wasn’t until about 6:00 a.m., a full twelve hours into confinement, that it occurred to any of us we could read the phone book to pass the time. Or ironically read the closed captioning on a Law & Order T.V. marathon. All we could really do was talk, quietly. At the risk of reinforcing stereotypical male perception that women talk about the weirdest shit, I confess we women did have lively conversation about garlic herbal remedies for yeast infections. Oddly, yeast infections were the topic of a completely different conversation with totally different women earlier in the morning. I’m a big fan of vagina stories because women can spend a lot of time talking about vaginas, especially in the Pokey. Two women spoke of being raped as young girls so matter-of-factly it nearly made me cry. One of the best discoveries in the Can was how much of an asset enormous hooters can be. One of my fellow inmates smuggled snacks as well as a cell phone under her mammaries. I won’t be able not to think of boobs the next time I see a melted York peppermint patty. The same ingenious woman repurposed a brown lunch bag containing two bologna sandwiches into a prison pillow.
Takeaways from jail:
Jail is not for people who: “smell good”, need exercise, don’t appreciate uniformed dude bros acting like masters of the universe, chain smoke, obsess about efficiency, need alone time, like hygiene, or don’t enjoy waiting. And waiting. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional hangover. You know how you feel the third day after you break up with your two-year boy/girlfriend? You know it’s for the best and it won’t always suck, but it’s still hard. I thought that once I caught up on sleep and ate an entire pizza by myself that I’d be right as rain. It turns out that once those needs are met you start thinking about how horribly human beings can treat people you care about.