Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. — Eugene V. Debs at his trial for sedition, September 14, 1918
Before my son was killed in Iraq, I wouldn’t say that I “respected” or “feared” authority—that’s never been in my nature. However, looking back, I think I was terrified of crossing the proverbial line. Relating my rude awakening and experiences since then, I know that the line is drawn by the violent empire and arbitrarily re-drawn whenever it suits the needs of the police state.
After my son Casey was killed in a U.S. imperial war based on lies and waged for profit and I became an anti-empire activist, I have been arrested too many times to keep track.
I stopped counting at 20.
Besides the frustration of being “popped” for exercising my so-called constitutional rights, the many, many hours I have spent in jail have been ultra eye opening to me.
I have been in holding cells with fellow activists (of course), accused sex-workers, drug addicts, petty thieves, embezzlers, drug dealers, and once with a woman who had stabbed her common law husband (after years of abuse). All the rest were arrested for “crimes” of economic deprivation. I have NEVER once been in jail with a war or Wall Street criminal.
As uncomfortable or abusive as my arrests and incarcerations have been, I always knew that there was someone “out” there who was working to get me sprung as quickly as possible. I have often been in tears leaving my fellow inmates because I knew that most of them wouldn’t be so fortunate.
One of my worst stays in jail (in the top three) was in the legendary Tombs of NYC after the class traitors in blue had brutally arrested me (concussion and dislocated shoulder).
The four of us activists who were arrested in front of the US mission to the UN were stuck in a large filthy cell for the night with about 20 other women. As bad as that place is, there is the “Abu Ghraib” of the U.S. sitting on an island right off of Manhattan: Rikers.
Rikers Island is the second largest jail system in the country. It is located on an island in the East River, right next to Manhattan, a mere 300 yards from the runways at LaGuardia Airport. It consists of 10 jails which house an average of 14,000 inmates per night. Since 1990, six class action suits have been filed by the Department of Justice against Rikers due to rampant brutality and gross violations prisoners’ rights. The most recent (2015) class action suit found a culture of “deep-seated violence,” resulting in a “staggering” number of injuries, where “adolescents are at a constant risk of physical harm.
As an antiwar “criminal,” I have always realized my privilege, but I don’t need any commandments, constitutions, or declarations to dictate my behavior: Every last person on this planet has the same right to dignity. Along with the vast majority of the prison-industrial complex of the US, dignity is a human right in very short supply at Rikers Island. The system and its lackeys regularly dehumanize those illegally incarcerated (some without any charges for the past six years) with rampant physical and sexual abuse and torture.
Millions of people in the surrounding area live, work, play, and exist in very close proximity to the scourge of Rikers Island, and I am confident that most don’t give it, or their fellow humans trapped in indefinite detention there, one thought during the day. We signed this call do and we are willing to put our bodies on the line for change.
I hope that if it’s at all possible, any one reading this will join us in this very important action:
- Friday, October 23rd at 9am at the Queens side of Rikers Island.
(Meet at 19th Ave and Hazen Street)
- RSVP on Facebook event
- Go to #RiseUpOctober for more information about this protest and the three days of action in NYC.
Originally published at Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.
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