Thoughts on being alone in a cage

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I’ve been lucky. Every time I’ve been in a cage by myself, I’ve known that people are watching out for me, people on the outside and on the inside. I also know that my time in solitary  won’t last very long.

Parchman Prison’s maximum security unit, Parchman Mississippi – 1962. Joan spent five weeks in first cell on right 54 years ago. (AP Photo)

Now, I need to convince my AUTONOMIC nervous system of that–you know, the part of the brain over which you have little control, the one responsible for fear, anxiety, and terror. The one where the best you can say to yourself is, “Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t start screaming or rattling the cage.”  On July 23 in 2014, Martha, Claire, Erica, Felton and I were arrested at Hancock AFB protesting the manning of drones from that base.  We were placed  in a general pop cell with other prisoners. It was filthy and uncomfortable, but there were some pretty cool women to socialize with. Much of our time that first day was spent “in the circle,” an area in front of the officers’ desk with a television and a phone. Such luxury! One  by one, we went off to see the nurse. One of the routine questions asked by the nurse was whether we would agree to a tine (TB) test. I told her there wasn’t much point in that, I would test positive, the same as I’d been doing for the past 40 years. That was that. The nurse’s eyes filled with tears and I was escorted to a filthy cell with a one inch mattress and no sheet by a not nice man. I would be there until they could x-ray me. There were no other people within hearing distance. My pulse was racing. My body resisted. I asked for a magazine. Hah! I was gonna have to survive being incommunicado all by myself. The toilet was in the front of the cell and across the cell block I could see a male trustee standing there staring at me. He was there all night. I later decided his job was to keep an eye on me. Although he probably couldn’t see me peeing, he could see me wiping myself (assuming he wanted to, of course). My trustee’s voice was the only voice I would hear for the next 18 hours. He brought me my meals and always said a few words. The next day Bill Cutty from Jail Ministries came to see me. He knew I was incommunicado and scared. He asked if I wanted to be bailed out. I told him I would try it for another day, even though I was convinced that if I had a heart attack, I’d be a goner. What a gutsy girl I am! I thought often of Chelsea Manning and Jose Padilla and how they survived years of this. All this happened on Wednesday/Thursday. I guess Wednesday was the night they chose to pick up young men on old bench warrants. One beautiful young man after another was brought into the holding area way across the cellblock from me. They were dressed in tank tops and shorts, not suitable for an overly air-conditioned jail cell. Some were as panicky as I was. I remember one grinding his feet into the cement outside the cell and begging three aggressive officers not to push him into the cage. They did. Then he screamed and screamed and pounded on the glass. Maybe these officers are so mean because they too are in jail. I don’t think anybody should be in a cage, not even Bush and Cheney.

– Joan Pleune
for the Granny Peace Brigade

PS. This year when I was put in solitary, I was much better at it. Maybe I learned that they don’t forget about you.

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