I’ve spent about a year in either county jails or federal prisons in my lifetime, all for nonviolent direct actions on issues like war and peace, racial justice and climate justice. 11 months of that year were in 1970 and 1971 for a “Catholic Left” action at the Rochester, NY federal building during the Vietnam war.
My latest time behind bars, the 19th time I’ve been arrested, was three weeks ago. I was removed from a US Senate hearing room on Capitol Hill in DC and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing passage during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I stood up and spoke out in opposition to the two fossil fuel industry-connected nominees put forward by Trump to be in the leadership of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. FERC is a rubber stamp agency for the methane gas industry.
I ended up in custody of Capitol Police, DC Metro Police and US Marshals from 10 am June 6 to 6 pm June 7. Between 10 am and 10 pm on the 6th I was given three baloney and cheese sandwiches on white bread. From 10 pm on the 6th to 6 pm on the 7th I was given no food. The same was true for the 70 or so guys in lock-up with me for much of that time. The vast majority of those men were young and African American, in for things like not paying a bus fare, alleged domestic violence, drugs or robbery.
Central Cell Block, where I was held the first day, wasn’t a very nice place. We all slept on a metal slab with no mattress, pillow, sheet or blanket. Throughout the day and night there were loud metallic sounds either from individuals on drugs and/or with emotional problems hitting the metal walls or because the metal slabs we slept on would make that sound when people got on or off them. There was a toilet and water fountain in each cell. Most of us had a roommate to share the 8 x 6 foot space, about 6 x 3 feet of move-around room because of the space taken up by the metal slabs and toilet.
Early on the morning of the 7th we were transported to the rooms underneath the courthouse where we were to be arraigned in the afternoon. For most of the morning the 70 of us were locked up in one room together. In addition to being locked in the room, each of us was hobbled with leg chains.
About 12:30 we were moved to several other rooms that turned out to be right below the actual arraignment courtroom. In addition to the leg chains, we were handcuffed and our handcuffs were attached to a chain put around our waist.
In other words, our bodies were locked in holding cells; our feet were chained; our hands were cuffed, and we could hardly use them because they were locked to a waist chain. You’d think that we were a group of murderers about to attack one another.
We actually got along OK throughout the day, with the exception of one guy who clearly had some anger issues who was removed by the marshals to somewhere else because of the verbal hostility he was venting toward another prisoner. Otherwise, there was a lot of normal human interaction among us.
It was striking to see the big role the US Marshals were playing in arraignment court. I’ve never before seen them so omnipresent in a court setting. It wasn’t just the large numbers—maybe 25-30 of them—who were involved with the custody of us 70 or so guys at certain points, like when they put handcuffs and waist chains on us. It was also their role in the courtroom when I finally got up there at 6, the last person brought before the judge. At least two US Marshals were playing the role of court clerks sitting next to the judge, in addition to others moving prisoners into and out of court. I wonder when this arrangement started, sure seemed to be feds-heavy to me.
Jail can be hard, as these two days were, but I always come away from jail experiences feeling more knowledgeable. I am reminded of the realities of life for other people, particularly low-income people of color dealing with racism and class oppression, and in the police/jail/courts/prison system, and this is a good thing.
Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.