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Protesters Endure Holmesburg Blues
by John Tarleton
PHILADELPHIAGoose is a dark-haired 20-year-old with a passion for justice. He and 30 other people were thrown into Philadelphia's notorious Holmesburg Prison for protesting against the US criminal justice system. He emerged from jail on Thursday, one of the first of the Holmesburg 31 to see freedom.
Holmesburg Prison is a century-old dungeon on the northeast side of Philadelphia. It has four-foot thick stone walls, bizarre acoustics, layers and layers of flaking lead paint and bitter-tasting faucet water that fizzles like hydrogen peroxide. Under these daunting circumstances, 18 men and 13 women practiced jail solidarity.
"That place is crazed. It's insane," Goose said while being debriefed at the R2K Legal Office. His yellow canvass sneakers were still missing their laces. "Human ingenuity under oppression is an amazing thing. You can do things you would never imagine."
The male prisoners fashioned chess pieces out of bits of chipped lead paint and made a deck of cards out of their police citations. They were fed erratically at first and then decided to go on hunger strike. When the guards shoved the food threw their cell doors they threw it back. The female prisoners were singing and chanting in an adjacent wing.
"The girls were amazing," Goose said. "They were incessant. They were rad. It's the most innate sense of purity you can feel."
The guards responded with howling "horror-movie" laughter that bounced in all directions off of Holmesburg's high-vaulted ceilings. They would walk by the dehydrated prisoners slowly drinking cold water asking them if they would give their names.
Goose became a committed activist in April when he was tear-gassed during the IMF/World Bank protests. "A16 changed my life," he said.
A couple of the prisoners unexpectedly found themselves behind bars. One of the arrestees is an employee of Century 21 Real Estate, who happened to be wearing black trousers and a black shirt with a gold company logo, when the police swept him away outside his office building. He was quickly released when a relative on the police force vouched for him.
Another prisoner was arrested on Tuesday while returning to his idled car with a two-gallon gasoline container. "He didn't know anything about activism before," Goose said. "But he got quite an education."
This article originally appeared in the August 4, 2000 edition of the Unconvention
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