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"We Want Your Retina?" My 37 Hours in Police Custody for Protesting Were an Eye Opener

Why it's important for occupiers to see the inside of the prison-industrial complex.

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Getting to know Diablo

A man whom I’ll refer to as Diablo – a pseudonym based on a pseudonym – was with us most of the time we were there. He was being held on drug charges, but he claimed to be the victim of a setup. Diablo is a 28-year-old man from the neighborhood around the 7th Precinct, grew up in the projects near the Williamsburg Bridge, and had been involved in various petty crime operations since he was a teenager. According to him he had many, many priors, but none of them had resulted in felony charges.

As the 11 of us sat there, he told us that he was trying to get a gig as a security guard and work his way up to a position at an independent armored car firm, like Dunbar. If he got a felony charge, though, that would essentially end that potential career path. He said that we was a really talented basketball player when he was younger – his position was shooting guard – until he got wrapped up in the drug game, as he said. He also likes doing yoga and said he would love to be a personal trainer someday. So we sat there and talked about him, and about Occupy Wall Street, and then a cop came in and handed him a few sheets of paper that said he was going to be charged with a felony.

He was upset, clearly, but his initial reaction was something closer to resignation than anger. He said that he had “had a good run,” and if he had to do a city beat – which refers to spending time in Rikers, as opposed to being sent upstate – that wouldn’t be so bad. He needed a vacation, needed to get sober, stop smoking weed, exercise more. At one point he said, “I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t see this coming. What I was doing was illegal.” He jokingly asked if OWS could send a working group up to visit him at Rikers. Some of the organizers I was with said yeah, we’ll do jail visits.

One of the highlights of the whole thing for me was when the OWS women in the next cell started singing “Lean on Me,” and after a few bars the men joined in. When we finished Diablo said, “Man, this is some straight up movie shit right here.” An occupier named Guy looked at Diablo – who was facing six months in real prison and was surrounded by 17 protesters – and said, “This must be pretty weird.” Diablo responded, “No, definitely, this is real weird.”

Around 3 a.m. the cops were finally ready to move us to Central Booking. We lined up outside our cell standing in five sets of pairs, all facing the same direction. The cops then shackled us together like you would a chain gain, except instead of the full hands and feet we were only bound with one hand. So if you were in the front pair standing on the right, your left hand was attached to your partner’s, and vice versa, and each pair was linked together by maybe two feet of chain. We were marched through the precinct’s lobby – where Elizabeth the livestreamer slept in a chair, waiting for us – and into a new paddy wagon. We marched up the stair and into the holding area in complete darkness. When we were all inside an outwardly confident though obviously deeply insecure officer named Pete Volaric shut the doors behind us, leaving us in complete darkness.

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