Have you made an activist friendship?
On August 9, 2015, the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, a few dozen Ferguson protesters led by black leaders shut down Highway I-70 during rush hour. It is safe to say not “all kinds of white folks” will stare down thousands of automobiles while standing on the highway holding your hand. Only a certain type of white person does that. Like, a person who is a little bit radical. (Radical for justice, anyway.) This is the reason I wasn’t surprised that protesters who just met related to each other immediately.
When you sit in a jail cell, your education level doesn’t matter. The booking officer doesn’t care about your outside hobbies. Also, the life you led or the company you keep is irrelevant. At that moment, all arrestees are the same. Thankfully, sleep deprivation and physical discomfort bring out the punch drunk in people. Activist friendship also brings out a lot of humanity on top of the reason that brought you together in the first place.
harsh conditions inspire activist friendship
As police rounded us up, a fellow protester wiped dirt off my face as a mother would smooth her child’s unkempt hair. When someone in handcuffs had sweat in their eyes, another activist offered the sleeve of her shirt. For several hours in the St. Louis August heat, a corrections officer wielded kingly control over us. After Highway Patrol officers put restraints on our wrists, they herded arrestees into several thirty year old buses.
There we sat, handcuffed behind our backs, in a bus parked on asphalt. For four to five hours. Needless to say, officers gave zero fucks about our discomfort. Arrestees aren’t entitled to air-conditioning or concierge service. We pleaded but he refused to open the bus windows. Several asked for water, but he scoffed as he preferred to listen to us melt. Conditions were so extreme some in the activist friendship circle cried. So hot. And thirsty. Cuffs cutting off circulation.
Finally, STL Correctional Facility officers opened the windows after an arrestee almost vomited 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 direct you to the 1791 ratification of the 8th Amendment. That’s the one 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.
Friends: a site for sore eyes, wrists & body
After hours in the Hell Bus, officers took us to an unconventional processing center. To wit, the Police Academy gymnasitorium. An officer armed with an orange rubber bullet rifle trained on us at all times stood guard. They made us remove belts and shoe laces after a second pat down. Officers led us still handcuffed back to the bus. Another hour later they drove us to St. Louis County (In)justice Center in Clayton for processing. Again. As the bus pulled up, we saw them. Our people. A sizable crowd of activist friendship supporters awaited our release. There is no more welcome sight. 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.
At one o’clock a.m., a self-important Correctional Officer wearing sunglasses shouted rules at us. Be quiet. Don’t smoke. Stop being hungry. Don’t walk around TOO much. Refrain from exercise. Be compliant. Stay behind the red floor tape. Be thankful to eat rank bologna sandwiches. Shut the door to the restroom. No, really, SHUT THE DOOR. Be more quiet.
confinement is boring AF
turns out we can talk about body parts for hours
Chasing boredom, an activist engaged The Correctional officer in conversation. She tried to peel back the layers of the institutional mindset that made him say things like, “All Lives Matter”. Unsurprisingly, she got nowhere. It wasn’t until 6:00 a.m., a full twelve hours into confinement, that it occurred to any of us we could read the actual phone book to pass 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 stereotypes, women talk about the weirdest shit. I confess a group of women enthusiastically discussed garlic herbal remedies for yeast infections. Oddly, a totally different group of women broached the topic of yeast infections earlier in the morning.
Stories are practically the only way to pass time in the Pokey. Talk was superficial but also ran deep. Two women spoke bluntly of being raped as young girls. The brightest spot in the Can was discovering enormous hooters can. 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” or need exercise. If you don’t appreciate uniformed dude bros acting like masters of the universe, steer clear of jail. Moreover, other activities not conducive to confinement include chain smoking, obsessing about efficiency, and alone time. Avoid arrest if you like hygiene, or don’t enjoy waiting and more waiting. The fatigue after release was intense. I thought once I caught up on sleep and ate an entire pizza by myself that I’d be right as rain. Once those needs are met, I thought about why we stopped traffic in the first place.