From Stop Patriarchy

Jailhouse Blog

August 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Freedom Riders at Austin courthouse

August 15. On Tuesday, August 12 in San Antonio, we had a meeting to discuss how we might influence the judge's decision in the HB2 trial, as closing arguments were scheduled for Wednesday. Eleven of us decided to risk arrest, and we set out for Austin with a courtroom observer, a legal witness to our planned action, a videographer and photographer. The next morning, we demonstrated on the public sidewalk outside the federal courthouse, as we had the week prior, as attorneys and observers arrived for closing arguments. There were no other demonstrators either for or against HB2. When the closing arguments concluded, we formed a tableau on the steps of the courthouse, where we were not authorized to demonstrate. Eight were dressed in all black, holding bloody coathangers and the poster-size photos of women who have lost their lives to illegal or self-induced abortions, and three of us in all white, holding ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY posters. We stood motionless in silent protest in the 100 degree midday sun for almost an hour as those inside the courtroom exited the building. There wasn't as much of a police presence as there had been the week prior, and we were not arrested. We went to eat and re-hydrate and come up with another plan. We decided to shut down the busy intersection outside the governor's mansion at rush hour.

Governor's mansion, August 13, 2014

At 4:00 pm, we went to the corner of 11th Street and Colorado Street. We proceeded as if to cross the street, but instead spread out with the women in white in the center, flanked by the women in black, every alternate one of us facing one direction, the rest the opposite. We chanted our messages at the top of our lungs. At first, motorists were angry and leaned on their horns. Some of them drove closer to us in an attempt to scare us into getting out of their way, but we were undaunted. The unity in commitment was impressive. Shortly, a bicycle cop arrived and gave us five seconds to clear the street. We persisted. He called for reinforcements, and we were cuffed with our hands behind our backs in old-school metal cuffs and sat down on the hot asphalt in the sun to wait for the paddy wagon. I guess they weren't that interested in clearing the street! I was fortunate to have a poster to sit on, but even so, the hot, hard surface hurt my bony knees and it was hard to change position in cuffs. Then something truly amazing happened. Women began to exit their cars and bottle-feed us from their water bottles. They were tearful, thanking us for doing this work. One said to me, "Here, let me tuck your hair behind your ears so it won't be in your eyes." I was also having allergy problems because we were by a park with lots of trees, so I had put a cough drop into my mouth when I saw that they were going to cuff us. A bee was jonesing after my cough drop, so I couldn't continue to chant part of the time. As a gardener, though, I was thrilled to see a bee!

Some of us were dragged, some carried, to the paddy wagon, where our cuffs were exchanged for zip ties. Both the metal cuffs and zip ties were excruciating. We were patted down by female guards wearing latex gloves, our vulvas grabbed. We were put into three separate chambers within the paddy wagon, each containing a metal bench along one wall with four seatbelts. We continued to chant loudly, stomping on the metal floor and kicking the opposite wall. When the four of us were strapped in, a metal bar wrapped in foam was lowered across our collective laps as if we were going on an amusement park ride. For some unknown reason, the eleventh woman was transported separately in the back of a police car. For the purpose of risking arrest, we each had with us our photo ID and a few bucks (so as not to incur an additional charge of vagrancy). We had written our attorney's phone number on our arms. One of the women noticed that most of the phone numbers had been obliterated by sunscreen and sweat, so she began a chant of the digits, so we could memorize them. Our shoes and pocket contents were confiscated upon arrival at the Travis County jail. I had not gotten the memo to wear socks. For a woman with a pretty intense germ phobia, I coped surprisingly well. Again, we were patted down, and a TSA-type wand waved around our bodies to detect metal. Piercings were removed from women who had them. For some reason, I was the only one permitted to keep my eyeglasses. We were later issued ugly, filthy, much-used, mismatched flip flops without regard for our size. Mine were a large men's size and I found it difficult to walk in them. Two of the revolutionaries were put into solitary holding cells and the rest of us were four and five per cell. Each cell had a stainless steel toilet with only a partial concrete partition for privacy.  There was a sink/water fountain where the tank would ordinarily be. No way was I drinking from that! There was no soap and no toilet paper. A single concrete bench was built into the wall, and a thick glass window faced the guards' desk.

Those of us housed together amused ourselves by chatting and singing. At one point, one of the revolutionaries was moved from the other group cell into ours. I joked to her, "New girl, we're going to beat you down." Eventually, we were summoned one at a time to the guards' desk where we were questioned. The first question regarded suicidal ideations which I answered in the negative. The rest of the questions seemed random and I responded repeatedly that I would not answer them and wanted to consult with my attorney. I had sweat and sunscreen in my eyes, so I couldn't see well, but I did see that the guard checked a lot of boxes without asking me anything. For refusing to answer the questions, I was added to the other two in isolation cells under "suicide watch". I think they must have had only three individual holding cells, because the others remained together in the two group cells. The isolation cells were at a right angle to the group cells, so we could see them through our glass (they looked like they were in a zoo) and they could see us, but the three of us in isolation could not see one another. I was in the center cell, and by pressing my ear absolutely flat against the glass, I could hear the revolutionaries on either side of me being questioned again by the guards with their doors open. We remained united in our insistence on speaking with our attorney. When I heard one of my neighbor's toilet flush, I got an idea. I shouted into the toilet bowl, "Can you hear me?" and she could hear me because our toilets were back-to-back on either side of the wall. We had to shout slowly and distinctly because there was an echo, but at least we could communicate.

Next, three of us were taken to the booking area to see the nurse. One of us had not been given the ugly flip-flops, but she said she wanted to show off her pink pedicure anyway, adding "Pink is the new black". This was a very entertaining crew with whom to be arrested. Our vital signs were taken, and we refused to answer the nurse's questions, again invoking our right to consult with our attorney. We were returned to our holding cells. I signed to the revolutionaries in the group cells, "Do you know American Sign Language?", but they did not. I could see a clock, so at 7 pm, I indicated to them the time, but they did not get the significance that our weekly webcast was beginning. The only time I had toilet paper was while alone in this cell. I lay on the bench with my feet up on the glass, ankles crossed, "casual", as one of the younger revolutionaries would say.

Shortly, I noticed an intercom with a button. I pressed the button to see if any of the other women could hear me. They could not. So I held it pressed and sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". A guard came and told me to only press the button in case of emergency, so I held it pressed and sang a round of protest songs beginning with "If I Had a Hammer". Soon the guards began escorting us to the desk one at a time to call our attorney. He said he expected to be able to get us out sometime in the night.

Next we were taken one at a time to a dressing area where our clothing, including underwear, was taken and we were given prison stripes to wear, short-sleeved tops and elastic-waist pants. It was cold, so I pulled my arms inside the sleeves. The guard found that intolerable and insisted my arms come back out. From there, we were escorted singly back to booking, where our mug shots and fingerprints were taken. Every time I passed a garbage can, I made a big production of coughing and spitting, just to be obnoxious. Every guard with whom I came in contact tried to chat me up to get me to talk. "Were ya'll protesting for or against abortion?" "Frankly, I don't understand why ya'll are in here." They got only stony silence in return. From booking, I was taken through two sets of heavy metal sliding locked doors to an inner solitary cell, where I was stripped of the prison stripes and my eyeglasses, and issued what they called a "smock". It only covered the front of the torso, much like a baseball catcher's chest protector or the lead apron worn while getting dental x-rays. It had two sets of straps meant to go over the shoulders and around the waist, but the velcro was worn out, so there was no way to fasten it.

The inside of the cell was the same as the holding cell, with a smaller glass window but nothing to see except the wall and the outer locked door. There was a narrow vertical window about two inches wide covered by heavy-duty window screen. The female guard who put me in there warned, "And don't shout or you will just make it harder on yourself!" I think there were four cells in a row on the first floor, and there were stairs to an upper floor. I was in the first cell under the stairs. I jumped up to look out my window when I heard the outer metal door open and saw another of the revolutionaries escorted to a cell at the other end of the row. The concrete ledge which served as the bed was cold, so I lay on my "smock" instead of covering with it. I was wishing for some socks and a blanket. I looked up and saw a red light adjacent to the ceiling light fixture and realized there was a camera there. I was finding the whole thing pretty comical (confident that attorneys were going to get me out). It wasn't long before I fell asleep. I was awakened by a male guard banging on my door, shouting "Gibson, cover up!" I replied, "I'm not going to cover up; you just quit looking at me!" I went back to sleep, and was next awakened and ordered to put the stripes back on without telling me the reason why. I was taken to meet with my attorney. I felt so disoriented. I remember that I asked him what time it was and he told me, but now I don't recall the time. He said he had to find a judge, but he fully expected to get us out that same night. I told him we had not been fed any dinner and he told the guard to feed me. I told him that I was naked in solitary confinement under suicide watch, and he instructed the guard to take me back to see the nurse so I could answer the medical questions and get out of solitary, but that did not happen. When I was returned to my cell and again stripped of the stripes, there was a paper bag with a carton of milk I was too cold to drink, an apple my hands were too filthy to eat, and a single individually wrapped graham cracker. When I opened the cracker, I realized too late that it had already broken as half of it fell to the floor. I greedily ate the remaining half and went back to sleep.

The next time I was awakened to put on the stripes, again I was not told where I was being taken. I was taken back to the dressing room to put on my own clothes, and then to a desk where I was told to sign a document indicating that my belongings had been returned to me. I said that I would be lying if I signed that. The officer pulled all of my belongings out of a bag so I could see them, and I signed. A woman who had been incarcerated for three days (not with us) was released at the same time. She was eager to see her small child, who was with the woman's mother. I inquired whether she had been issued a toothbrush, because I hated missing even the one night of flossing and brushing my teeth, and when she replied that she had not, I was appalled. We were instructed to make our way through a series of metal doors; as one slammed behind us, the next one opened. The guards had to keep prodding us, because even after our short periods of incarceration, it was not our nature to proceed through a door if not specifically instructed to do so. After two or three sets of doors, I was approached by our legal logistician with a big hug. I was disoriented due to hunger, thirst, poor vision, and incarceration. The group of revolutionaries previously released all hugged me. It was 1:15 am. Our legal logistician had bottles of water and a variety of sandwiches for us. The release area was desolate, and I realized that the other woman released with me would have been out there alone at night if not for us. Eventually a cab came for her. The release area has a vertical black granite wall inscribed with the names of Travis County police officers who have died in the line of duty. Men had peed on it, so the finish was destroyed right down the center of all the names. What a way to honor their dead, placing the memorial where it would be desecrated like that! We waited for the remaining sisters to be released, but they closed the release area for cleaning by inmates, so six of us returned to San Antonio. The rest of the revolutionaries, including the other two held in solitary confinement, were released sometime after 4:00 am.

The next day, we went to a hospital emergency room to get our injuries documented and treated. As I write this six days later, my left thumb is still numb from my wrist to the nail. The treating physician, whose jaw dropped when I told him it was an injury from having been handcuffed, said that the nerve is bruised and gave me a splint to immobilize it, another type of splint to which to switch in two days (but it's in my lost luggage, and how can a person get along with only one opposeable thumb, anyway?), and instructions to elevate and ice it. He said that I can expect full recovery within two weeks. Other revolutionaries had wrists wrapped and one was given a sling for a torn shoulder ligament. The sister with the worst bruising and pain wasn't assigned to as good a physician and nothing was done for her. 

The experience was one of the many highlights of my life. I had been wanting to be arrested for something important to me for a long time.

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