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Adora's Story: 19 Year-Old Protester Arrested for First Time at IMF/World Bank Demonstrations; Does 5 Days in Jail
by John Tarleton
Table of Contents
Jane Doe#889-294WASHINGTONThe first flush of excitement that comes with being arrested for something you believe in had long since worn off when Adora arrived at the Washington, D.C. City Jail. She had been tear-gassed and arrested 19 hours earlier for "parading without a permit" during protests against the IMF and the World Bank. Now, she was shackled at the wrists and the ankles. And she moved with a slow, shuffling gait - "like a subdued person", she would later say - as one steel door after another slammed shut behind her.
After being packed in a holding cell for a couple of hours, Adora was strip-searched, issued a light blue jail uniform plus other personal articles and placed in Cell #44 next to her friend Beverly Thompson. Earlier in the day, Adora could have given her name, posted a $50 bond and been released on personal recognizance. Instead, she and 154 other protesters had chosen to pursue an unorthodox legal strategy known as "jail solidarity". As far as the government was concerned, she was now simply Jane Doe #889-294.
Climbing into her metal bunk bed, Adora rolled over on her thin, plastic mattress and pulled her single wool blanket close to her. Then, she burst into tears. She was still in the first 24 hours of a five-day odyssey that would call forth every conceivable emotion - fear, anger, joy, hope, dejection, submission and euphoria among others. And, she was going to learn some powerful lessons along the way.
Adora, who lives in Washington, D.C., is a tall, vivacious 19 year-old with long, straight blonde hair and a quirky sense of humor. She works as a cam girl and designs web pages. She was drawn to the protests by a mixture of idealism and curiosity. It was cool and it was fun. And, she wanted to lend her voice to a good cause.
"I've grown up around activists and these are people who work harder and more selflessly than anyone for little changes that are going to mean a lot in the end," she said. "I know that sometimes you need numbers. You need people to put their hearts in it and join the ranks and make bigger numbers."
Adora had been marching on the sidewalk near M Street and Connecticut Avenue with a couple hundred mostly young protesters on the morning of Monday April 17 when the police scooped many of them up and hauled them off to jail. She managed to smoke her last four cigarettes while sitting on the brick sidewalk, waiting in the light April drizzle before plastic cuffs were slipped on her wrists. Then, after being photographed with a Polaroid camera and shoved onto a school bus, it was off to the precinct station.
There were over 1,300 arrests made during the week of protests against the World Bank and the IMF, almost all of them on misdemeanor charges such as "crossing a police line", "incommoding" and "parading without a permit". The local jails were overflowing. And, the courts were eager to have people cite out by paying a $50 fine.
However, hundreds of people arrested during the protests exercised their 5th Amendment right to remain silent, including the right not to give one's name. Coordinating with the Midnight Special Law Collective, they chose to risk additional time in jail in order to be able to collectively bargain the terms of their release. Their demands were that all charges be dropped to a traffic infraction (which does not appear on a person's criminal record) and that all protesters be released with time served and that there be no fines, probation or additional court appearances.
The jail solidarity strategy paralyzed the local judicial system. The majority of the 700 John and Jane Does arrested on April 17 (including this reporter) were "no-papered" at their arraignment hearings and released with all charges dropped. However, in a seemingly random process, some of the detainees were in fact charged.
"Let's Do It."
At one point before she was arraigned and sent onto the city jail, Adora found herself with over 20 other women in one of the large holding cells beneath the D.C. District Courthouse. Gathering in a circle, the women passed a business card in lieu of a feather and discussed their feelings about doing jail solidarity.
An occasional whiff of patchouli freshened the otherwise stagnant jail house air. Many of the women, including Adora, were wavering. The court-appointed public defenders were going around saying that most protesters had cited out. And along with glazed doughnuts and baloney sandwiches, the guards had been feeding the prisoners a steady stream of veiled threats about the menacing conditions at the city jail, especially about how the local (mostly African-American) prisoners would prey on young white protesters.
"It seemed like I was getting sucked down the rabbit hole," Adora said. "It was like, 'what magic flower did I eat? How did I get involved in this?' "
Beverly, who works as a research intern for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, is a small, petite 22 year-old with jet black hair and a steely resolve. She was gung-ho for solidarity and spoke her heart.
"Look at us," she said. "We're so beautiful here together. Obviously, the police are terrified of us or else they wouldn't be putting so much effort and force against us. We're scaring them. We really need to stay together now because a lot of us could cite out but a few of us are going to be stuck here and the shit is really going to hit the fan for them. And the question is, are we going to allow that to happen or are we going to stick together?"
Just then, Adora's group heard another group of prisoners moving through the underground corridors. They stopped their deliberations and on the count of three cried out "Solidarity!" at the top of their lungs. From far away, they heard a response. Soon the magic word was echoing from all directions beneath the D.C. Courthouse.
"It totally washed away all doubt about not enough people doing solidarity," Adora said. "And we all looked at each other and said, 'let's do it'. That took away all my fears and all my doubts."
Dreams of Freedom
Adora's dreams became vivid but elusive as she settled into the unreal reality that is jail. She remembered her father's advice to think of her cell as a womb. The jarring, all-night sound of mechanical steel doors clanging shut slowly receded. And she dreamt that she was in a round room looking out at all the stars in the Universe. Katya Komisaruk, who coordinates the Midnight Special Law Collective, was there also. She was holding a black velvet bag and passing out diamonds to prisoners. Adora's diamond was spiral-shaped. But, she admired it no less for its strange form.
Adora was one of about 80 protesters who were stored together at the city jail. Their day began at 4 a.m. when a guard walked between their cells yelling, "Chow time, ladies! Chow time!"
Breakfast was served shortly thereafter. After this strange, nocturnal feeding, the prisoners dozed off again until they were awoken at 10 a.m. for lunch. Many of the women were vegans. Those who weren't shared their fruit with them as food was moved around to whomever could eat whatever. Warden Jackson, a solid, thickset woman who looked to be in her late 30s, told the vegans they could apply for a special diet but the forms wouldn't be processed for three weeks.
Rec time, one of the highlights of the day, was from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.. The prisoners were then returned to their cells for afternoon count. They were kept segregated in their own cell block and only caught fleeting glimpses of general population prisoners. Dinner was at 7 p.m. and bedtime at was at 11 p.m. It was an orderly, predictable existance. As time passed, Adora was frightened to find she was becoming accustomed to her situation, that she was content to savor small pleasures - a piece of wheat bread with butter on it, a fresh pair of socks, sharing a smoke with a friend. "I could get used to this!" she would worry out loud.
Besides a bunk bed, Adora's 5'x8' cell had a metal writing table with a stool attached that folded under it and a combination sink/toilet in the corner. A single, clouded-over window with what appeared to be a bullet hole in it allowed in enough light to distinguish day from night but not enough to know where then sun was. Adora was suffering from a cold and a fever like many of the other protesters who were arrested in the rain. She did her best to sound brave when she phoned her parents.
The ceiling ventilation grate had been meticulously stuffed with toilet paper by a former prisoner, thus blocking most though not all of the cold, Arctic air that was trying to enter her cell. As hopes of being released rose and fell each day, the cinder block walls, the floors, the lunch tables and the pervasive sense of control came to exude something familiar. For Adora, it was like being back in high school or a hospital.
"I realized these are all institutions," she said. "When you are making a web page, you don't just make the same page every time. You make a template. And then you make all these web pages off the template. So they have a template called "the institution". And then they just make prison, school, jail, hospital, etc. There's the employees, the design, the function, the way the paperwork works and all the processing and bureaucracy mixed with action."
Undeterred neither by threats of abuse nor by the austere conditions of the city jail, members of the DC 155 continued refusing to divulge their names. Playing against a stacked deck, it was their one trump card.
Many of the women (like the 75 male prisoners who were also doing jail solidarity) had taken training sessions at the Convergence Center on Florida St. during the week leading up to the April 16-17 non-violent mass actions against the IMF and the World Bank. Guided by veteran activists, they spent hours sitting on a floor rehearsing and role-playing all sorts of jail house scenarios. In a situation designed to render them powerless, the protesters were prepared to take back some of the power. For jail officials, it was a baffling and unexpected experience.
"They could not fathom that we were willing to stay in jail," Adora said. "Have they ever seen that before? They were like, 'you can just give your name and leave'."
The women were in constant communication via phone (202-THC-HIPY) with the Midnight Special legal team, seeking to garner any scrap of information they could. Likewise, they held daily meetings when rec time began at 11 a.m. Someone from the legal team was present each day and the women plied her with questions.
Meanwhile, the male political prisoners wrote a manifesto. Sixty of them also joined in a hunger strike.
"We were thinking about them over there all miserable and starving," Adora said. "And we were braiding toilet paper, having fashion shows and playing Spin the Douche Bottle. We were using all the little crap around us to create things."
The women's meetings were long and in the open. The guards listened along as the women reviewed their situation and tried to make contingency plans for every conceivable scenario. Many of the women wanted to speak. Adora considered raising her hand several times to chime in but decided it was unnecessary. The participants were often phrasing the same questions in different words.
Adora gradually became disenchanted with the meetings. She felt that people were exhausting themselves by talking round and round about things beyond their control and that they should put more trust in the legal team. She drifted away from the meetings and found other ways to pass time.
"I'd turn to Adora and say, 'let's have a sanity break'," Beverly said. "And we'd go somewhere away from the group and have a normal conversation because being in jail is about waiting."
Goats and Cranes
Adora was, among other things, the hyper-imaginative class clown who kept people laughing. She had goats and Japanese origami figures on her mind.
"She was a total freak," Beverly said. "She kept my sense of humor up."
Adora has a deep and abiding fascination with goats and goat noises. She was joined by another woman who had a shaved head with two little spikes of hair in front. When they weren't imitating goats ("blaaaah-blaaaah-blaaaah"), they would imitate other animals like monkeys and dogs; pretending as if they were eating the lice off of each other's head, or growling and yapping and sniffing each other's butts as they walked around in circles wagging their tails in the air.
"Anything to make people laugh," Adora said. "It became a running joke."
Adora was one of a group of about eight girls who had tired of the long meetings and would go off by themselves. Adora sometimes over-performed while meetings were still in session and drew sour looks from older, more serious anarchists. She was unrepentant.
"You could go through three hours of meetings and end up back in your cell all depressed," she said. "Or you could party and play and pass the time."
Adora also kept herself busy by using pieces of paper she snuck out of the Tuesday night Passover ceremony that all the protesters were allowed to attend. She began making fortune telling koody catchers divided into 8 sections. A prisoner's fate - "3 days in jail but you get cookies and cigarettes", "You win. Released on the street with $2.50 in your pocket" or "Life sucks for you. You're in solitary." - varied depending on which section she opened.
Then, remembering a Japanese myth, Adora began folding paper cranes. It made the sadness and the boredom go away and according to the myth if she made a thousand cranes, she would be granted a wish. She began to give her creations away to other prisoners. She would see them later and to her surprise some of them would tell her "I still have it!" and pull carefully-pressed paper cranes out of their pockets.
Red Emma, who became Adora's cell mate on the second day, joined in on making the paper cranes which were lined up on the desk in perfect rows. Adora christened her folded-up pieces of paper the Paper Crane Liberation Army. She and Red Emma blessed the cranes with good energy by holding a ritual in which they called to the four directions though they had no way of knowing which way was which. The two of them made enough cranes before they were done to give one to each of their female comrades plus members of the legal team. To anyone who cared to listen, Adora explained that the cranes, "fly out at night while we're sleeping and then go into the prosecutors' ears and whisper to them to do good things."
As the jails filled up, the City of Washington, D.C. had to relieve the overcrowding or face heavy fines. Releasing more serious criminals was undesireable. Shipping them off to other states would be cumbersome and expensive. So, D.C. Corporation Counsel and the Midnight Special legal team commenced negotiations.
Katya Komisaruk talked briefly with vigilers who had built a makeshift encampment on a grassy median across from the jail. Komisaruk is a former Ploughshares activist who graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1993 after spending a little over two years in federal prison for damaging one of the guidance systems that gives US nuclear missiles their first strike capability.
"Their position is intransigent," she reported. Then she added with a twinkle in her eye, "But, that's their opening position."
Thursday was the decisive day. D.C. Chief District Judge Eugene Hamilton had instructed court-appointed lawyers to prepare special bond wave forms that would enable the court to kick prisoners out of jail without dropping any of the charges. Back at the jail, Warden Jackson told the women that she was going to take some of them away for "lactose tolerance" tests to determine if they were eligible for vegan-only food.
The women were instantly suspicious. They had temporarily lost contact with the legal office. Uncertain of what was really happening, they quickly reviewed different solidarity tactics: hunger strike, thirst strike, flushing all the toilets at the same time, flushing all their wrist bands down the toilet or stripping their clothes off. They decided on the latter.
"That suited us, a bunch of girls in for a good time," Adora said. "...It was shocking. It let them know we were serious. It sent out tremors." >
When the guards came to start hauling away prisoners, the special code word - "Noodle!" - echoed throughout the cell block. The womens' jail cells were instantly littered with clunky, jail-issue undergarments and blue or bright orange uniforms. Some women tied themselves to their beds. Finally, five women were pulled out of their cells and dragged naked across the floor by their handcuffs. One of the women became jammed up in a mechanical steel door.
"We weren't looking forward to the point where they came for us," Adora said. "But, we were totally braced for it."
The five women returned to the city jail a few hours later to raucous cheers. The guards had managed to redress them and they were hauled to court in shackles. When they, along with eight male prisoners, went before Judge Hamilton, they summarily fired their court-appointed lawyers and demanded to be represented by lawyers from Midnight Special. Judge Hamilton had no choice but to send them back to jail.
Rallies in support of the DC 155 were held in places as far away as Boston, South Florida and the US Consulate in Toronto. With the help of an Internet phone tree set up by the legal team, the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams was besieged by hundreds of phone calls. By 10 a.m. Friday, the city had 22 hours to resolve the problem. Negotiations began in earnest. At 3 p.m., the legal team announced they had struck a deal.
The protesters would plead guilty to a jaywalking infraction and be released with time served and a $5 fine. They were also required to give a name. However, there would be no criminal record, no probation and no future court dates. 600-700 protesters who had posted bond after being arrested between April 10-17 also became eligible for the same deal.
"It's just a token of them being able to get something," Adora said of the $5 fines, all 155 of which were covered by an anonymous donor. "They don't want to transmit the message that this works, that people can win against the system."
Adora was moved from holding cell to holding cell during the final hours of her stay. Everybody's fingerprints were being taken again. Paperwork had to processed. Warden Jackson bustled about, cheerfully moving her charges along.
"C'mon ladies," she called out. "We're going out of here."
At one point, Adora found herself in a holding cell with some regular prisoners who were also on their way out. They asked Adora if it was true that the protesters had received bottled water and food from the outside. She assured them it was not. They were also curious about the protesters' tactics. Word of the "noodle party" had traveled swiftly.
"We heard y'all got naked!" They laughed.
When one of the regular prisoners complained that the protesters smelled funny, Adora explained that many of them had adopted not bathing as a "solidarity tactic".
"Man, when there's one of you, it's alright," someone shot back. "But there's a whole group of you, it's like shit!"
"It Makes Your Heart Get Big"
The mood outside the jail grew increasingly festive late Friday night as 75-100 supporters waited along the east side of the facility for their friends to be released. They had camped out for three days.
It was a cool, damp night and the sounds of drumming and singing ("Turrrrning. Turrrning. The tide is turning. Si se puede! Si se puede! Si se puede!...") warmed the air. The Midnight Special van was parked nearby where information would be gathered from released protesters. The Seeds of Peace kitchen kept on kicking out hot food. Black-silhouetted inmates stood waving at their windows high above. And the crowd waved back.
The prisoners' supporters lined both sides of the sidewalk that had been covered with colorful chalk graffiti. Adora was in the first group to be released. She and Beverly were already making plans for being in the streets of Philadelphia during the Republican National Convention from July 31-August 3. Before Adora passed through the door, a large cop in riot gear warned her not to stop and mill around with the crowd outside. It was one last attempt to control through instilling fear.
"You keep walking until you get to the van," she was told. "Or, we're going to haul you back in here."
A huge roar went up in the air when the crowd caught a first glimpse of the freed prisoners. Adora and her friends managed to slice through the throng of well-wishers. Then, Adora saw her mother standing near the back of the crowd, beaming and holding a single red rose. Adora stopped and they embraced right where they were.
"I don't think she's ever been so happy to see her parents," her mother said.
The prisoners continued trickling out in groups of four and five. First all 80 women and then the 75 men. The light inside the watch tower clicked on and off at regular intervals and the riot police remained frozen in front of the doorway. Just as the singing and the hypnotic dancing and drumming was dying down, a new batch of releasees emerged to join in. It was a portentous moment. Propelled by a drum circle consciousness, this strange, unlikely tribe whooped and howled and celebrated until dawn, when the last of their friends were released. On a night like this, a rigid system of control seemed no match for the ecstasy of the human spirit.
"Everybody was like, 'we fuckin' love you! You're here for us'!" Adora said. "Having that crowd there to grab us and hug us and feed us, that was the best. It makes your heart get big."
Note: Adora is a pseudonym. Because of her work on the Internet as a cam girl, the subject asked not to be identified by her real name.
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