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How the FBI Manipulates Grand Juries to Intimidate Political Dissidents and Radicals

Grand juries have seen a resurgence as the FBI cracks down on radical communities.

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After questioning the Bureau of Prisons, their lawyers learned that the two were in solitary as a “protective measure.” A protest had taken place outside of the prison in support of Duran and Olejnik and in response the prison went on lockdown for six hours. Supposedly prison administrators worried that other inmates would blame the resisters for the lockdown and would retaliate against them.

That, says Olejnik, is unlikely. “Everyone in my unit was super down with the protests happening. They were super excited that someone in their community was getting that type of support from the outside.”

Once in solitary, they were completely cut off from human contact. Duran's cell had a shower, which he would leave running to heat the 40-degree cell. Olejnik says her health failed miserably while in solitary. She lost consciousness twice and stopped menstruating altogether.

“When you're in solitary confinement there's a panic button in your cell,” she explains. “But even if you can hit it, it takes about 15 minutes for someone to come open the door. So people can die, and do die there. They don't run fire drills for anyone who's in solitary confinement. You get to this place, mentally, where it's like, if there is an emergency, if there is an earthquake or a fire, you are going to die in your cell. Basically being resigned to your death, it's horrible. It's torture.”

On top of the physical isolation, other forms of communication were extremely limited. Their 300 phone minutes were reduced to one 15-minute call per month, and even that was considered a privilege that could be revoked. They were allowed to write with pens made out of a special rubbery material, but the prison often ran out of them.

Despite limited communication with their lawyers, they formed a plan. Kaplan and Duran's lawyer decided to make a case to the judge that as a coercive measure, incarceration was not working. If their clients continued to be incarcerated, it was punitive, which is unconstitutional in a case of civil contempt.

Duran and Olejnik wrote lengthy declarations describing their political beliefs and their determination not to cooperate. Their parents, friends, and employers wrote declarations as well, stating that not only was prison failing to induce them to cooperate, it was strengthening their resolution not to.

On February 28, a district court judge issued a ruling acknowledging that, “Their physical health has deteriorated sharply and their mental health has also suffered from the effects of solitary confinement,” and, “Whatever the merits of their choices not to testify, their demeanor has never given the court reason to doubt their sincerity or the strength of their convictions.”

He ordered their release no later than the following day. On February 28 of this year, after more than two months in isolation, Olejnik and Duran went home. A short time later, Jerry Koch would find himself facing the same nightmare they had just escaped.

Staying Silent, Staying Strong

Not as much is known about Koch's experience over the nearly four months he's been in prison. It took two months for Amanda Clarke to get visitation rights so she's only seen him a few times. She recently received a phone call very early in the morning. It was Koch, letting her know he was okay. The prison had been on lockdown for several days so calls in and out were not allowed.

Clarke, 23, is working full-time as a paralegal and struggling to keep enough money in Koch's commissary account and pay rent for the apartment they moved into two weeks before he was taken away.

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