Occupy Safely: Jail

The Occupy Movement has spread now to over 100 countries, and the total number jailed has now surpassed 3500. There are a few safety tips I guess we should discuss. One thing we all have to remember is this: Some of us are going to get hurt. It is tragic, but it is true. However, there are ways we can reduce the risks. I’ll be dividing this into four main sections: Jail, Police Brutality, Weather Exposure, and Tear Gas. Today let’s talk about jail.

For those of you who have never been to jail: It sucks. You will be cold. You will sit on “benches” made of concrete or cinder block or metal – for hours. You may sit in a police transport vehicle for hours before being booked into a jail. You will be bored, uncomfortable, and quite possibly scared. It may be more than 12 hours between your arrest and your next opportunity to have food, water, or a visit to the bathroom, much less your phone call. (So eat before the raid.)

“Food” will also be the most cost-effective substandard fare your area’s for-profit prison system can legally get away with serving. Your dietary restrictions – including legitimate fatal food allergies – may very well be ignored. There is no vegan alternative, so don’t expect it.

You will almost certainly not have access to your prescription medications, no matter how vital it is you take them at a certain time. This is incredibly important. If you need medication to maintain healthy body functioning, jail may be a potentially fatal risk for you.

You may be vaccinated against your will. In Florida, for example, all inmates are required to receive a Tuberculosis vaccine. Exemptions for health conditions that result in lowered immunity are not provided. If you refuse the vaccination, you will be placed in solitary confinement until you are released from jail. So again, if you have lowered immunity or cannot receive a jail-administered vaccination for other health reasons (like you’re on the organ transplant waiting list) try not to get arrested.

If you are female, you will likely be subjected to a urine test (possibly while someone watches you pee: more on this later) to determine if you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, you may be moved to another jail or to another section within the jail. The urine test may also be used to determine if you are guilty of “internal possession” (having evidence of prior drug use in your urine) which is a crime in some states like Hawaii.  Please be aware many perfectly legal substances such as poppy seed muffins and Ibuprofin can result in false positives for drug use (heroin and marijuana, respectively) so check to see if there are internal possession laws in your state. If you are falsely accused of a drug possession charge, get an attorney not a public defender.

Back to people watching you pee though: It’s going to happen. There is no such thing as “privacy” in jail. Your body will be examined and touched by strangers (guards) and there are no guarantees your cell mate or mates will be fellow protesters. If you’re there long enough, eventually you’ll need to defecate and for that as well you will not have privacy. If this is something you don’t think you’ll be able to handle for any reason, you may want to also consider avoiding arrest.

If you’ve decided you can be arrested in defense of your encampment (or for “failing to disperse” or whatever charge they come up with) plan ahead.

  • Eat and use the bathroom before an expected raid or camp eviction.
  • Leave your cell phone with a trusted fellow Occupier or someone who won’t be present when the police arrive. Alternatively, make sure you put a passcode on your phone so the police can’t delete videos and photos of arrests or police brutality. (It happens.)
  • Write the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild office in your city on your arm in permanent marker.
  • Whenever possible, have a non-arrested Occupy member get a list of the names and birthdates of each arrested person, and keep your Facebook and Twitter pages updated with their status. (For this using simply numbers is fine like “12 arrested last night, 7 released already, 4 getting out on bail later today, but one being held on possession.”)
  • Leave non-emergency prescription medications at home or with a fellow Occupier and for everyone’s sake please keep illegal drugs out of the encampments.

All of these points are made to encourage you to Occupy Safely, not to discourage you from Occupying. Our first amendment rights to freedom of the press, of speech, of assembly and the right to bring grievances to our government are all clearly under attack and we will not ensure by failing to fight for them.