Raw Testimony After Jail – Drake Logan
San Francisco County Jail, 1:30am, 21 August 2010
Do you have any serious medical conditions? asks the jail nurse.
Yes, actually, I do. I’m seriously ill due to the prolonged effects of living in the corporate police state we call America. I need treatment immediately…
Is what I wished I’d said. I wish I had told the truth. But however full of integrity my words and actions were while I was U-locked by the neck to a Bike Spill blockading the entrance to the Arco-BP gas station on Fell street for three hours, I ended up lying to the nurse.
No, I actually said.
Then, Are you taking any medications that you need in the next four hours? No. Have you lost consciousness within the last 12 hours? No. Do you drink alcohol? Occasionally. Okay, so you don’t experience any detox effects? No… And a half dozen other medical checklist questions formed the only instance of anyone in the San Francisco County Jail giving half a shit about my wellbeing while incarcerated for my overt show of love and care for our fair City, by being arrested in civil disobedience–because the corporate bureaucracy that governs us does not protect or serve us with it’s laws. Meaning it is time to break them, intentionally, carefully. In highly premeditated acts of resistance.
Which is why, when the SFPD officer looked at our thorny bramble of bike parts, and asked us Is this stuff all connected? We just laughed, the U-bolts rising with our chests as we laid there like a human dam choking off the flow of sauce from BP to its loyally dissociated customers.
The officer fondles the center U-lock of our bike crime, which connects the chain of four junk bike frames we’ve strung from end to end of the gas station entrance. Every TV news station in the Bay Area suddenly was interested in what I had to say about to the world two seconds after I’d placed a Kryptonite around my neck and had someone mysteriously kidnap the key. The officer’s fondling leads nowhere, as he discovers Yes, it is all locked together and the essential parts are all U-bolted into place, so No, neither your bic pen nor your baton nor your gun your taser or your dehumanizing stares will not break this down enough to haul it off-site.
We’ve already been locked down for an hour and a half when the officer makes this groundbreaking discovery. Two of the other BP entrances are being blocked by fellow bike spillers. I discover I can’t count high enough to record in memory the number of overweight motor vehicles I see consider their inability to turn into the gas station, then continue their loud buzz down Fell Street. Toward, no doubt, whatever other heinous gas station they can find to feed on that night.
But what matters is they’ve found themselves blocked from interacting with the business as usual of an International War Criminal, err I mean oil company, at the hands of their fellow citizens. I felt care for them as people, driving, trapped in the nearly airtight structure of a manufactured zeitgeist of psychotically disconnected consumption; even while I felt hate for their actions. I cared about them, as souls, passing in the night, incurring their karma now and eventually, as we all do. Which is why, the night before, I’d invented the sign for our demonstration which read May They Be Reincarnated as Pelicans. Specifically I had the BP executives and their oil-hugging US government cronies in mind.
I also hope the pelicans will be reincarnated as radical activists who feel empowered enough to Do Something About the oppressive systems which our lives are embedded in.
As for the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t know if it can be reincarnated as anything. From what I’ve seen in all the footage the corporate media has completely blacked out from popular consciousness, I think the Gulf is far too tar-soaked to merge through any bardo plane of the afterlife. I’m no marine biologist, but I’ve got enough of a frontal lobe to know that all that black liquid cancer is going to metastasize into the rest of the world’s oceans, and the land it is connected to. And what it is connected to is everything.
The same cancerous marriage between our corporations and our government which gave birth to this oil spill is the one that gave birth to this criminally dehumanizing criminal justice system, which held me in its coldly tight embrace from 9pm Friday night ‘til 1pm on Saturday.
After experiencing the loving care of the jail nurse for ten minutes, I am walked down to a holding cell at the end of the hall. The metal of the handcuffs behind my back is the warmest thing I can find to contact in the place.
The jailer uncuffs me in the cell and leaves me there without words. Fifteen feet above me there are two long sections of multi-tube fluorescents, which emit the brightest artificial light I’ve ever felt in my eyes. It’s 2am. There’s a plastic baggie with a few crumpled slices of bread and an equally artificial clump of peanut butter, plus a couple of opened milk servings, leftover from whatever so-called meal the former inhabitants were served. The wooden benches are just as hard as the concrete sidewalk I rested my spine on while choking the BP gas flow into the city. I don’t smell the place after an hour or so, but the walls keep feeling like they are outgassing a sticky, stress-soaked pollution into the air. Exhausted, I take off my jacket to put under my head on the bench, and with the its arm pulled over my eyes, I float around in half-sleep for a while.
When I jerk back to consciousness in the dark fold of my jacket, I find I’m now as cold as everything else in the cell. I push the metal buzzer by the door. Five minutes later an officer appears. She opens the two inch square box in the side of the door and yells,
WHAT’S YOUR EMERGENCY?
Me, shaking, Hey, uh, can I get a blanket or something, it’s really cold in here?
We don’t have blankets in here.
Me, Well can I have a sweatshirt or something?
Her, cocky, You already have a jacket! Slams the box closed and walks away.
Because I still retain my humanity I find myself surprised, although I shouldn’t be.
FUCKING THANK YOU! I yell back. Fuck You Very Much.
I haven’t been booked in yet, nor fingerprinted, nor given an answer regarding what my exact arrest charges are, nor told any rotten scrap of information regarding any part of the process being inflicted on me currently.
Time gets slippery in there, under those fluorescents. I put my jacket back on, because I realize that all the guards are thoroughly crazy; and by crazy I mean stripped of their humanity by what their occupation requires of them. I decide to pace the cage to get warm again. I walk in long rectangles and feel my hands along the pale orange ghosts of the haunted house.
Keys jangle on the hips of officers at irregular intervals, reminding me who has the concrete power to let anyone go anywhere. Eventually a jangle walks up to my cell door and lets me out–but only to walk toward the front of the hall again. On the way I ask him what is going on, and what my charges are. Ma’am you haven’t even been booked in yet, you’re going to have to be fingerprinted in a while.
When am I going to be fingerprinted? I ask.
I don’t know, in an hour or so, he answers. I get put in a bathroom-sized cell where three other women have already been sitting for hours. At this point I have little hope I wont have to stay here over the weekend until a possible arraignment on Monday. I think loudly to myself, This place is fucking with me.
What’re you in here for? one woman asks me.
Drowsy…Oh, I was arrested ‘cause I was blocking the entrance to a BP gas station for three hours, with a U-lock around my neck to a bunch of bike parts.
Her, Whoa, fuck.
What about you?
Yeah, me too, both the other women answer.
Three DUI’s, a protester, and a few more trashed bread and peanut butters, just hanging out. The one who asked me what I was in for, she said she had a glass of wine at the end of dinner out with her mom, then got stopped for a backseat passenger not wearing a seatbelt, and blew a hair line above the legal limit. She took to raising questions into the air, and I felt myself compelled to answer.
These fucking orange socks! Why’d they have to take all our shoes off?
I’m surprised at how readily I have an answer: Because they’re torturing you.
She half laughs in surprise, or dismissal.
I tell her, No, I’m serious. We need call it what the fuck it is, otherwise we’ll get confused as to what is happening to us and who we are, which is what the torture is about. To confuse you and make you believe you deserve to be treated like this.
Then later, she’s pissed and yelling Why the fuck is nothing happening!? They told me I’d be here four to six hours, and I’m not even fucking BOOKED yet! I mean, what the fuck!
Me, Because it’s torture.
Then, It’s cold in here, why’s it so fucking cold in here?
…Then, Dude, shouldn’t they, like, at least tell us SOMETHING? I mean, this is fucked up–every time I hear the keys I think SOMETHING is going to FUCKING HAPPEN, and then NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS!
Yeah, because it’s torture. I raise my voice so (I hope) the cells across the concrete can hear, Because we live in a fucking fascist Police State that denies us basic fucking human rights as soon as we get picked up and put in jail because MAYBE we MAY HAVE done something wrong, but maybe not! They don’t care if we’re freezing in here, they don’t do anything about if we’re scared or worried about what’s gonna happen next! Because that’s what you do if you want to dehumanize people! That’s what you do if you want to make them feel like worthless pieces of shit who don’t deserve to be treated properly! Because we live in a fucking inhumane police state, that’s why they’re torturing you in here.
It’s at least two and a half more hours before I am fingerprinted. Then put back into a different cell. I push the buzzer to ask what the hell is going on. After a couple of minutes, another officer opens the square box–
WHAT IS YOUR MEDICAL EMERGENCY?
I want to know my charges–what am I being charged with?
WHAT IS YOUR MEDICAL EMERGENCY?
I need you to tell me what is going on and how long I’m being held for.
He scoffs. ARE YOU BREATHING?
I cock my head and shoot as much defiant irony as I can bear back into his face. He slams the box closed.
At 4:45am they throw us baggies containing four slices of fake bread, one slice of fake cheese, and one very large clump of fake peanut butter. Plus a small box of milk. My stomach feels tangly, so I eat some. This happens again at about 10:30am. I keep reminding them about the torture.
Have I asked to be here? Yes, absolutely. I fully intended to be arrested and booked into jail due to my empowered stance on how much the shit is fucked currently. In fact, I would have considered my demonstration less successful had it not lead to my arrest and temporary incarceration. I desired, I needed, I yearned to break the laws of the government that is failing to protect and serve me with its laws and actions, which is its only job. No matter how much it acts like this is not its only job–no matter how much its words and its actions betray the fact that this job is usually the furthest thing from its mind–no matter how much my government trashes its own mandate to serve We the People, I do not forget. I will never, ever forget that they are perpetually committing the crime of having the whole thing backwards.
So have I asked to be here? Emphatically, Yes. Have I broken laws tonight? Yes. Have I refused to follow the orders of SFPD officers? Yes. Repeatedly. Until they had to call the Fire Department because nothing in their cop toolbox could un-bolt us from a pile of spilled bikes choking off the BP gas flow on Fell Street.
All this considered, does it follow that the criminal justice system should psychologically and physically torture me while I am locked in its house?
In an era when the word torture needs routinely be applied to things like indefinite detention without charge in secret prisons, water-boarding, pornographic prisoner photography by military wardens, and interrogation tactics that remind us daily that the Nazis really weren’t defeated at all, I could find myself hesitant to use the word torture to describe my experience in the San Francisco County Jail over a period of eleven hours after I’d been willfully arrested in civil disobedience.
But happily, I am not at all hesitant to apply this word to my treatment in jail. No matter how extremely the definition of torture is pushed to its limits by the ruling elite and their systematically desensitized mercenaries, it does not mean that the degrading, dehumanizing treatment one receives in jail is no longer torture.
It is only the fact that these extreme practices of torture are continuing worldwide without much prosecution, and the fact that our ruling systems have oppressed We the People for so damn long, that our treatment on the streets and in the jails could seem like small fries.
So now, I find myself asking To what purpose, this torture? Or in another word, Why? Why degrade and dehumanize people that are caught in progress or in suspicion of breaking laws?
I’ll give you my best answer. To give people a traumatic experience of disempowerment at the hands of authority. A trauma doled out to individuals in jail regardless of whether they’ve ended up there due to substance use, failed attempts to survive poverty, crimes of violence, or crimes of political conscience.
What is the effect of this traumatic experience of disempowerment? To instill fear, and the avoidance of challenge to authority. And, likewise, to keep a perpetual cops-and-robbers scenario going in We the People, that has us always thinking like us-versus-the-cops, or us-versus-we-don’t-even-know-who because everything’s so mystified and secretive. That has us thinking Oh that fucking cop should’ve never pulled me over instead of thinking No one should ever be treated like I’m being treated in here. That has us never getting real treatment for alcoholism. That has us never earning a living wage enough to feel like we’re more than surviving so we can get out of our stuck patterns. Torturing people when we get right up next to the bad side of the law–when we’re in jail–gives us a traumatic experience when they need it most. Trauma shuts you down, makes you feel less like a person, less significant, more wretched. Does this make a person more likely to change themselves or their actions? I would argue not. Because what a person really needs before they can change is to believe they can change. To believe in the possibility of something else.
The trauma inflicted after you’ve been taken in for a DUI or for possession of some other substance–no different from the trauma inflicted after you’ve been taken in for an act of civil disobedience. Same jail, same rules, same mystifying delays, same sandwiches. Same message: You see who’s in control here, right? Not You. The state. The Industry that is the state. We’ll decide what happens, what changes and what doesn’t. And we’ll do it at our own damn convenience.
It is very important that you believe this message, You the People. Very important to the status quo going on in your own personal life as well as the collective life around you. Because when people stop believing in that, people realize that there is incredible power in themselves, and in the acts of resistance and justice of individuals and small groups. Even if the incredible power of such an act is simply that, for several days afterward you are filled to the brim with a hot-stoked sense of integrity with your values, and feel the open possibility that you can go on working for change, instead of shutting down.
It’s noon; though there is no leak of daylight in the whole place, I figure it must be some form of foggy daytime outside. They take the lot of us DUIs and a Civil Disobedient into the front room to be cited out, by the one single officer who is signing off on the dozens of citations for San Francisco County on a Friday night. Finally, after signing our citations–mine with just a court date for Monday, no charges listed–we’re given our possessions and let into a closet sized room, and the door slides closed behind us. I think to myself, Finally, I’m about to see daylight, the officer is just going to open the door on the other side of the room now and we’ll be out. But no. Both doors stay shut, for five or so more minutes. No words, nothing happening.
I can see people queuing for something on the other side, through the crack by the door. Eventually, I start banging on the door. HEH-LLO!? Nothing.
Yelling to no one, ARE YOU GOING TO LET US OUT OF HERE? HELLO!
Nothing. Now I’m more pissed off than I’ve been all night. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON! I kick the door repeatedly with my boot. Someone from the other side pipes up, HEY honey, they ain’t gonna let you out if you keep yellin’ like that! They gonna just put you right back in that tank! You can’t keep screamin’ like that! …You hear me?
Me, pissed off, Yeah, I got you. I actually am scared that if I make too much of a ruckus they won’t let me out. But I can only contain my rage for a minute or so. WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING! MY FUCKING GOD I HATE THIS PLACE. FUCK YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FUCKING POLICE STATE!
And with that, the door opens onto the lobby, then into the fog-lit day, and then into the open-air jail which governs us.
In the day and a half since I walked out of that door, I’ve noticed the feeling of integrity flowing through my whole body, lightening my step, and reminding me that I have no idea what is possible in this life.