A continuation of the scattered photo album: a few longer recollections
Sitting in the courtroom. Finally, finally! They are allowing us to see a judge at 10:00am on July 30th, after holding us for the maximum amount of time they legally could. The women are seated in the front three rows. (We were told that usually the women were only allotted the first two rows, but we skewed their statistics that day.) As we wait in our yellow “LOVE” t-shirts, the men are ushered in behind us.
Every single male is wearing black and white stripes. They were made to wear jail-issue pink socks and underwear, in an effort to emasculate them. On their feet are orange rubber clogs. The backs of their shirts read “Sheriff’s Inmate: Unsentenced.”
We are not allowed to have any contact with the men. We are not allowed to speak to other women. In fact, we are told the only people we can speak to are legal council.
Our lawyers have not shown up. Word came that they are in the building, but they are being detained by security and aren’t being let through. The judge enters and begins calling people up. Public defenders are running around asking people how they would like to plea. They have yet to speak to me.
I’m staring at a piece of paper in my hands saying that if I don’t post a $500 bond, then I will be held until my trial date. They were assigning dates in late August. I had no money on me; I’d plundered my bank accounts just to get here. My friends and family are 2,000 miles away.
One by one, the women on my bench are being called up until I am the only one left sitting in my row. A man with a tie and glasses dashes up to me and says a lot of words. I get the impression he is a lawyer. He asks me for my plea, and I say, “Not guilty.” I ask him about my options, tell him my concerns. I’m sleep-deprived and starving. Things are moving very quickly, and I don’t understand what’s going on.
He says, “Sounds good, don’t worry,” and dashes away, giving me no answers.
It is too much. I burst into tears.
The van has darkened; we must have pulled inside a building. We quickly slip our plastic cuffs back on behind our backs as we wait for the Phoenix police to unload us. Our bodies are pressed together, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. We are all covered in sweat, first from the oppressive heat and humidity outside, then from the stifling back of the police van. If anything, the van has been the more uncomfortable of the two, since the air conditioning isn’t working in the back.
We’ve been singing the “Meditation on Breathing” all the way from the Wells Fargo building to the county jail. “When I breathe in…I breathe in peace…. When I breathe out…I breathe out love….”
The door opens, and an officer gently helps us down. It feels funny to stop singing, as though I’ve suddenly lost one of my senses. I look around the basement parking garage in confusion; it is full of men and women in full riot gear, complete with plexiglass shields. They are crowding around the exit with their backs to us, shouting to each other. The din echoes off the walls of the garage. I find out later that they were part of the sheriff’s department, not the Phoenix police.
The police officer explains to us, apologetically, that he’s going to have to put us back in the van for our own protection; he’s not sure, but it would appear that our protesters outside have not remained peaceful, and he is afraid we might come to harm when the doors are opened. For all he knows, someone might throw a bomb into the garage.
After all, why else would the sheriff’s deputies need to be in full riot gear?
As we are escorted back into the van, I am confused; our people, claiming to “Stand on the Side of Love,” would not resort to violence. I knew it in my bones. What in the world was going on?
From the back of the police van, we watch the garage doors open. I’m expecting screams, shouting…rioting, basically. But the din actually quiets once they go out. Next thing I know, we’re watching President Peter Morales of the Unitarian Universalist Association get patted down and cuffed.
The police don’t seem to understand why we are so interested in this particular prisoner. “He’s the elected President of our denomination,” one of us explains. The officer still didn’t see the significance.
“He’s our Pope,” I say. We just got arrested with our “pope”; we must be doing something right.
The riot squads are still shouting and milling around, but the doors have closed again. The police officer kindly helps us out of the van again and asks us to go stand with our backs to the wall.
As we walk towards the wall, I see Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray, seated on the ground, bound in the remnants of a hard blockade with several students. Her right arm is free, but her other arm is encased in a PVC pipe; the sheriff’s people are trying to cut through the pipe to disengage her left arm so she can be cuffed. It looks like they’re using a pair of giant clippers. I found out later that they broke the saw and were trying alternative methods.
We stand for a moment next to a line of gentlemen, including President Morales, against the wall. Then we are escorted through the door and into the jail.
Probably somewhere around 4am. There are no clocks, no windows to the outside. Our white, cinderblock cell is lit by the unchanging fluorescent lights that never turn off.
The worst part is the sense of isolation from the workings of the world; having phones available, but either they don’t work or we can’t remember the number or we can’t make a collect call to a cell phone; guards won’t answer when we ask what time it is; knowing our people, our friends, are out there fighting for us, but being unable to talk to them, to get reassurance; wanting to make decisions, or choices, or plans, but not having enough information to do so—not having even the ability to do so.
So we try to sleep. It’s hard for me, since the only thing to sleep on is the cement floor. We’re all cold from the excessive air conditioning. Prisoners aren’t allowed sleeping mats or blankets until they’ve been in custody for over 24 hours. At this point, it’s only been fifteen.
When we were fed, back at 6:30pm, one of the inmates warned us to only eat one of our two hot dog buns. We asked why.
“Because that’s going to be the softest pillow you have tonight.”
We stuffed our hot dog buns into one of our shoes, and we’re using that to keep our heads off the cement floor. Many of my sisters, unknown to each other before today, have spent portions of the night spooning each other for warmth.
Unfortunately, with my cracked rib, I can’t curl up on my side, though my aching body desperately wants to. In this isolated place, we all crave human comfort, human contact, human warmth. So I lie on my back and close my eyes.
Then one of my sisters lies on her back to my right, then another to my left, warm against my shoulders. Another lies beyond her, and another, until there are five of us in a row, quiet, exhausted, and present.
We drift off.
I jump as the door bangs open. To the best of my recollection, the guard opened the door for no other reason than to wake us up.
“What do you call four yellow people with a white person in the middle?” he calls.
I blink up at him in total confusion. I raise my head enough to look at the row of us lying on the floor; each of the two outside women are wearing the yellow “LOVE” t-shirts; the woman in the middle is dressed in white.
And I blurt out the only answer I can think of. “A twinkie?”
The guard pauses. “A…twinkie?”
“Yes. That’s the yellow cake with the cream filling,” I explain helpfully. I think to myself that it must have been some time since he had to make a meal from a vending machine.
“Huh.” He closes the door. I close my eyes.