Reflection on the 1/17/02 Action
By Pamela Dyer
The decision to be involved in an act of peaceful civil disobedience with six fellow abolitionists was not made
lightly, but was made easily.
I participated out of respect and support for those Americans who would see their country rid itself of a practice that is costly, illogical, unnecessary, and a blight on the human rights record of a nation that is capable of better.
My 32 hrs in custody was a learning experience, while it reaffirmed my belief that there are all types in all walks
of life, it did nothing to lessen my distrust in a judicial system, which the majority of Americans are still content
to entrust with life and death decisions.
From the physical standpoint, apart from the lack of water, the conditions and treatment were honestly no worse than expected. We were well informed prior to the action, and I think we all knew what we were getting into.
I found the cops ranged from professional to friendly, with the exception of one Capitol Police Officer (Rick's 10-year veteran of the force) who chose to play "hardball" and may have initiated the delaying tactics that resulted in our spending the night in jail.
Those tactics aside it was still disgusting that a court system that spends millions of dollars every year to put a small percentage of killers into body bags couldn't provide decent office equipment for the personnel who protect that court.
Peggy and I spent five or so hours cuffed to the wall in a booking room opposite another small office so had a good view of proceedings - or lack thereof.
While the arresting office was good-natured it was hard to tell if his frustration with the outdated method of writing us up was real or feigned. Peggy and I were cooperative and helpful to the extent of ensuring that our ID's did not become "lost" in the mess and to pointing out forms that had already been filled in and passed on. The overall lack of rancour regarding our actions was reflected by the cop who fingerprinted me, as he put it: "You're doing your job and I'm doing mine".
Good humour was markedly absent after we were transported to Central Booking. Unlike the Capitol cops, the
guards at the jail were indifferent to the point of being callous.
Although surprisingly clean, the jail was incredibly hot; thirst was a serious issue. Three, polite, direct (no shouting down the tier) requests for water from different female prisoners, plus one from our attorney when he visited us, were ignored. Eventually (possibly after 11:00 pm), a young officer responded but only when advised that we had received nothing since our arrest. Each of the "females" on the tier received a cup and a half of water. Basically a "processing plant", Central Cell Block and its personnel lived up (or should that be down) to the "warehousing" trend in confinement. By comparison, our fellow inmates were positively human. During the night Peggy had a succession of four cellmates, I had one, then none, then was moved to join a young woman in a cell with a non-functioning toilet - dehydration has its blessings!
Our ride was to the courthouse the following morning was less cramped than the men's. There were only four
females in our side of the transport van and the uncomfortable conditions were offset by suggestive joking
between one of the women and a couple of guys on the other side of the partition - a new variation on "safe
Central Cell Block's warehouse environment was perpetuated in the courthouse holding facilities.
The area where all the females were held was as cold as the overnight cells had been hot. It was very noisy
and positively theatrical at times but never threatening. Several of the women were shocked that we could be
arrested for a non-violent protest and were understandably supportive.
Twice during the day we were herded to the "squat and cough" cage to use the toilet. On the first of those visits, couple of women started complaining of hunger. A US marshal with the mood swings of major PMS responded rather childishly by standing in front of the cage munching cookies.
At the shift change, she was replaced by a better looking and better-tempered young marshal (male) who knew several of the inmates by sight if not name. Indeed, many of the women were veterans of the system - a sad reflection on its failure. One warmly dressed individual was most thoughtful and efficient at locating prisoners. If nobody responded when a number was called by the marshals, she would go to those curled up on the steel counters or the floor and rouse them or check their wristbands so they wouldn't miss their turn in court. Even so at least two female prisoners were "lost" somewhere in the system.
The conditions of incarceration were a grumbling point. Their "deterrent" effect lead to some interesting discussions. One woman proclaimed she was going to go work in a supermarket but her voice was more wistful than convincing. Some were "not coming back here again" by virtue of not getting caught again - yeah right! Others were planning on what they would do "next time" to make their stay more tolerable.
I guess you could describe the whole experience as a 32-hour seminar on the ineptitude, inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our judicial system. Unfortunately those who could best learn from such a seminar are never likely to step foot where the seven of us chose to go.
Do I believe our small action was worthwhile? Absolutely! The freedom of speech challenge is valid and hopefully, the pending court case will serve as a reminder that not only will the fight against the death penalty continue on all fronts: religious, moral, fiscal, legislative and, where appropriate, NON-VIOLENT civil disobedience, but that it will continue with the support of the International Community.
female # 2 (aka Pam or the "Crazy Canuck")
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