October 14, 2001
Well, I’ve now done jail time.
Here’s the short form: Friday it rained. The group tried to get under cover in the Plaza area. Rather than let us stay there, King County Admin called the police and made a complaint of criminal trespass. Six of us faced it out because we considered it unjust and were arrested: Claude “Cowboy” Nalls, Ted “Tex” Shirey, and Richard West, all homeless; Scott Morrow and Michele Marchand, SHARE/WHEEL staff members; and me, a formerly homeless volunteer.
I have never been arrested, never gone to jail. It was all new to me, and not a whole lot like books or TV. Michele’s done this before, four or five times. She’s an experienced political prisoner. She said that this time was the easiest on her. I like to think it’s because she had me along.
Two of us, myself and Michele, were given a trial date of October 23rd and released on Personal Recognizance (you give your word to return for trial.) We got out in 10 hours. She says that’s a record.
The four men were arraigned this morning before a judge, who gave them trial dates and released three on Personal Recognizance, one on bail.
I didn’t get much sleep Friday night (neither did Wes) but I’m rested up and fine now. (So is Wes.)
A more detailed account follows, for those interested.
I wasn’t feeling well Friday. Thursday I had just freaked, having too much to do in too little time. I cut back to the things that I had to do because nobody else could do them, which included my part in the StreetWrites performance (which went well.) Friday morning I got up early to work on the StreetWrites ‘zine, and about 2PM I zapped out and went home to bed. At 9PM I was still zapped and decided to stay home unless I was called in for an emergency.
At 10:30 PM, one of the guys called and said that it was raining, so the group had gone into the Plaza, under cover, and the police had been called. I went down immediately — I live just two blocks away — went into the plaza, and sat down with the other five folks who were still there. Everyone who did not want to get arrested had gone on out of the Plaza by then. Some had gone back to sleep on the sidewalk, and the rest had scattered.
A reporter asked me later what the point was. Why had I been willing to be arrested? I said, “Because it was just not fair to keep homeless people out on the sidewalk in the rain when there was a place just a few steps away where they could get out of the rain, without harming anybody or any property.” Wes says I shouldn’t have said it was “not fair.” I should have said it was stupid.
An officer from the King County Sheriff’s Department came in to give us a final warning. “I understand that you are all here because of a lack of shelter. If you wish, we can help you find shelter space somewhere tonight, but you can’t stay here. If you stay here, you will be arrested.” I told him, “Officer, I know that this is what you have to say. But you know the realities as well as we do. All the shelter is full up.” (Seattle has 6,000 people homeless each night, and 2,800 shelter beds.)
If you are ever in a position where you have to enforce something that isn’t right, be honest with yourself about what you’re doing. You are responsible for what you do, even when it’s “under orders.” If what you say is a lie, you are the one lying, even if you were told to say it.
I want to say here that every officer who dealt with me in the course of the evening was polite and decent, and a couple of them were friendly and sympathetic. Scott and Tex had both taken some verbal harassment before I got there. I heard that Scott’s mother was insulted, and Tex was told to “get a job.” (Like over half of the people who are homeless, by the way, Tex does have a job. It’s just not enough to pay rent in this town!) But there was nothing as exciting as that after I got there.
There had been four police officers, three King County security officers, and a King County Sheriff’s officer there to start with, but they didn’t act until eight backup officers had arrived. In the meantime, all six of us sat there quietly, or walked over to the barrier line to chat with supporters serving as witnesses, and one reporter from the Times. Scott went to sleep!
When the backup officers arrived, they approached each of us three at a time. Two got me to my feet. The third gave me a final warning and asked if I would leave the area. I said, “No.” “You are now under arrest.”
My hands were manacled behind my back with plastic ties. They fasten one around your left wrist, then fasten the other around your right after looping it through the left one. At first it felt too tight, but I wiggled my right hand a bit and it seemed okay then. I thought I could live with it. I realized later that I should have said something right then. Those really were too tight!
But then Ted wriggled clear out of his, while in the van, just to scratch his nose. He said he’d done the same thing back when he was arrested at the 1998 Tent City.
We were all in good spirits, and laughing more than most people on their way to jail probably do unless they’re high!
We were taken several miles away, to the West Precinct, to be booked. Rather, I should say, for the first stage of being booked. There they took our personal information, took “mug shot” photos with our faces above a form with name, charge, etc. on it, had us empty our pockets and logged in our possessions. We went into a holding room to wait for transfer to jail, while they ran our names through the computer for any current warrants, etc. (Ted got metal handcuffs at this point.)
Now came my first puzzle of the evening. We were alone in this concrete room, our hands still fastened behind our backs. Mine were starting to hurt, and tingle with loss of circulation, and my right arm (my bad one) was starting to ache. But I found graffiti scratched into the paint beside the door, and other marks around the room, including penciled above my head level on the far wall. Nobody did that with their hands tied behind their back!
And of course my nose itched. Michele stuck her knee out and let me rub my nose against her jeans. I told her that is the gesture of a true friend. I let her rub her nose against the knee of my sweatpants, too.
We were arrested about 10:45 PM. We went into the holding cell at about 12:15 AM. We were in there about an hour. I had been very meditative about the whole experience so far, but as my hands began to bother me more and more I found that I could no longer stay grounded and centered and flowing with the Tao. I have always had a very high tolerance for pain, but I realized that was because I could distract myself easily with books, or writing, or computers. Without any of those distractions, I hurt. So I began regaling poor Michele with the theories I had been mulling over recently, about the sociological origins of war, my latest theological speculations, what religious tolerance is based on, etc. etc. At one point she stopped her pacing (Michele is a pacer) and said, “I never realized this before — you are a very thinky person. You deal with things by thinking them out. I deal with them by feeling them out.” As an example, she described the movie “Fearless” and what it meant to her.
Later we found out that the guys, in their own holding cell, heard everything we said! Or at least everything that I said. They teased me about it, too.
At ten after one I gave in and decided, as a scientific experiment, to see if I could get an officer’s attention and find out if they would do something to relieve the pain of the plastic handcuffs. I’d gladly trade for metal ones! I was told that we were about to be moved to the jail. I already knew that the cuffs would be taken off once we were in jail.
Michele thought at first that the officer had answered my question with, “Well, you’re in jail!” But no, he wasn’t rude at all.
Out of the holding cell, back down the halls, back into the van. Driving for miles again, to King County Jail, two blocks from where we started. Women in one direction, men in another. Standing at a desk where we were asked more questions. An officer finally came up to cut the ties. As soon as she cut the right one and I could move me hands, I groaned, moving them around stiffly but with relief. “Yeah, these things aren’t made for comfort are they?” she said, in a sardonic “What would you expect?” tone, as she moved to cut the tie off my left wrist. Then we both saw my left wrist. The flesh had swollen up around the tie, which had rubbed a wide band of angry red across my skin. She was very quiet as she worked to wriggle the cutter under the band and cut it off without cutting me.
We surrendered all the rest of our possessions here, even our shoes, everything down to one shirt and one pair of pants. This included my meds, which I had made sure to bring along in the original prescription bottles because I have to take them regularly. A nurse was called to take charge of them and check them out. I was told I would talk to a nurse later, who could dispense them to me.
A female officer patted each of us down. This is thorough, and involves a lot more rolling seams between the fingers than “patting.” Then we walked through a metal detector, and after all that the metal detector still went off! We took off our glasses. It still went off. I was wearing a bra with underwires, and Michele had metal fasteners on her jeans. The officers decided that was enough to explain the detector going off, and let us on through. As we walked down the hall, I heard one of them explaining to another that this was a new model detector, about a thousand times more sensitive than the old kind. I did wonder how useful it was if they shrugged off its alerts. Not that I wanted to be strip-searched, but it rather worried me that I wasn’t.
Now we were put into a detention cell with other women, waiting for further “processing.” This was a room a little larger than the first, with the same concrete walls and floor, with the addition of two metal ledges just about long and wide enough for one small woman to lie down on, two metal stools, two pay phones and one free phone, a TV high in the far left corner, and a metal toilet-sink combination (no lid) in one corner behind a low wall that only shielded it from someone in the far left corner of the room who was sitting down. I promptly resolved I would not use it no matter how long I had to stay there.
During the course of the evening the number of women in the room varied from a low of five to a high of fourteen. There were six other women there when we arrived. There were no murderers or drunks picking fights, and although we did get a couple of women who kept hollering that they shouldn’t have been arrested, this was b***s***, they didn’t keep it up for long. The one who stayed angry the longest was a redhead from Pierce County who said that Pierce County jail was lots better than this one, and they booked you faster too.
Later one of the other women in the cell asked Michele and I what we were in for. When we told her, she was also disgusted with King County.
I called Wes right away but couldn’t get through, so I called the front desk where we lived to take a message to him that yes, I’d been arrested, I was just fine, and it was very important to answer the phone the next time it rang because someone whould be calling soon to ask him to vouch for me, if they decided to release me on Personal Recognizance.
I was called out of the room five times. The first time was to meet with a nurse, who took my mental health history and then informed me that they couldn’t let me have any meds until they checked with the pharmacy in the morning to make sure this was my prescription! I did get upset at that point. I felt like crying. I explained that I stay stable because I’ve learned what to do when I’m under stress: eating well, drinking lots of water, taking my vitamins, resting, talking with friends, reading or writing, and taking my meds. I was under stress now and I couldn’t do any of those things. I had depended on at least being able to take my meds! From what the nurse said, if I really started to freak out or fall apart on them, they’d get me emergency treatment, but only then. I did ask for a drink of water. The nurse said I could have all I wanted, but I said I only wanted a few swallows because I didn’t want to have to pee in that cell.
When I got back Michele suggested I call Wes. I was able to get through this time. He said that from the computer logs, just as the previous call was trying to get through, the computer had initiated an attempt to dial out! He’d turned the modem off for the night. We had a long talk and it calmed me down. Then I stretched out on the floor and managed to nap a bit, and I was calm the rest of the night.
Hours later, about 4:45, I was called out by a Release Officer, to take information about where I lived and worked and who could vouch for me. On tha basis of this they would decide whether to keep me until trial, set bail or release me on my word to return for trial.
Michele had been interviewed long before. We were both starting to worry that they might be slower in my case because of my mental health history, which would be ironic. Because of my mental health, I had to get out of there and take my meds! Michele had told the Release Officer when she was interviewed that she wasn’t going to leave without me.
About an hour later, the Release Officer came back with a form that said I could be released on my own recognizance. But, she told me, I couldn’t be released until they finished booking me, which still wasn’t completed yet.
She came back one more time to have me vouch for Ted Shirey, whom I’ve known since 1998. I verified his personal information. Then she asked, “If released on his personal recognizance, would he return for trial?” I said, “Sure. He did it before. We went through this in 1998.”
“I thought I remembered you,” she said. “Oh, I wasn’t here,” I told her. “I’d gone down to the courthouse to try to get an injunction to stop the police from arresting the others (at Tent City). The city sent down two attorneys, two staff members from the Mayor’s office, and two or three clerks to argue the case against me. I was never so flattered!”
“Well that’s a great use of the city’s resources isn’t it?” she said sarcastically. “You’d think they could have used all that money to start another homeless shelter!”
Still more hours later, a little before 7 AM, they called me out to take my fingerprints and another photo (this time both front and profile) and they finally asked me my social security number. Now, according to Michele, the “booking” really began. Of course, I thought, they couldn’t do a real check on my record or outstanding warrants until they had my fingerprints and social security number. Another puzzle: Why is this the last thing they do?
At 7 AM they brought us a meal: a brown paper sack lunch of baloney and cheese on white bread, potato chips, a cookie, milk, and an orange. I told Michele that this is not the first time I’ve eaten potato chips or a cookie for breakfast, but it’s the first time I’ve been fed them for breakfast!
Finally both our names were called at once. Along with one other woman waiting, we went down more halls and were told to sit on a bench. One by one, we went to a window to get our personal effects given back to us, and into a changing room to put our shoes and shorts and jewelry back on. My wallet and rings were in a sealed pack, though, and I was so tickled by the official look if it that I decided to leave the bag sealed until I could get into the office and scan a picture of it.
I thought that was it, but we still had to wait! “The Sergeant” was now reviewing our paperwork and had to sign off on it. But at a quarter to nine an officer walked us out of the building and we were free! Michele headed straight to the nearest store for a pack of cigarettes. Not only can’t you smoke while in detention, but they don’t give back cigarettes with your personal effects!
“I’ve been thinking,” I told Michele. “Everyone goes through the same things, whether they are innocent or guilty. Everyone has to suffer the cuffs, the cold cell, trying to lie down on a metal shelf you keep slipping off of, not being allowed to take meds, not being allowed to read, only allowed watching all the inane TV shows you usually avoid by reading, having your cigarettes taken away. Once you get to court, you are innocent until proven guilty. Until you get to court, you are guilty until proven innocent.”
“There you go thinking again,” said Michele.