The Tombs

The Tombs

We arrived at 100 Centre Street and once again had to pull in and back out several times before the driver could get it right. This time a bunch of us were flung around in the bus as he made short stops. I was beginning to think they really didn't care a whole lot about us.

They made us go up a bunch of stairs, telling us it was six flights but it seemed like much less. I became disoriented almost as soon as I got inside. We were ushered into a small cell with about forty people in it. Someone handed me a kid-sized box of Frosted Flakes. This cell was apparently a temporary one as the people in front of the circle we formed were continually being let out one by one and taken someplace else. I noticed there was a red phone receiver in the front corner that was being controlled by a cop on the outside. People were allowed to make a phone call but only if it was within New York City. Not very helpful for all of the people from out of town. The guy in charge of this was particularly nasty and would cut people off without warning. I noticed a distinct change in tone here. The cops at Pier 57 were somewhat nice while these guys were being real bastards. I wasn't sure if that was an essential part of their jobs or if they just enjoyed being total pricks. One of the cops apparently didn't like something one of my cellmates said upon being let in so he promised retribution for his having a "smart mouth." A few minutes later after someone was let out, this cop stepped in and told him to get to the very back of the line because of his earlier remark. The trouble was he didn't even pick the right guy, just someone else who had a similar hair style. The original guy apologized to the one taking the rap. "Hell, I don't care," the other guy said with a smile. There was something about that exchange that underlined the strength these detainees still had.

It got to be my turn to leave. "You're out," the cop who couldn't tell us apart said to me. (Yeah, if only.) I was brought to a desk and told to empty my pockets and searched from head to toe. Then I had to walk through a metal detector and was led to a new cell down the hall. This one actually had a payphone that took coins. I called a friend from here and was comforted by the sound of a familiar voice.

This cell was a little bigger than the last one but, except for the payphone, pretty much the same. Instead of having portable bathrooms here, there was a toilet in a corner with no doors, walls, or anything. Next to that was a water fountain. Unlike at the Pier we had benches although there was never enough room for everyone to sit down at once. We took turns standing in the front with our hands grasping the bars, looking mournfully outside like they do in every Western ever made. If only we could have gotten pictures.

From here you would have to wait for your name to be called. When mine was, I was once again brought outside. This time, though, I was chained to four other people and led down long corridors, and eventually to a stairwell where a window was opened a crack. And it was through that window that we heard the most beautiful sound in the world. People outside were singing, chanting, and beating on drums. They must have been there because of us. I don't think there was anyone present who wasn't deeply moved by this. Except of course for the cop leading us who tried in vain to shut the window.

We went down the stairs and into some part of this vast structure where there was, yes, another cell! This one had three separate sections: two narrow parts on the side with one long bench and a thicker one in the middle that had benches on either side. It can be a real challenge to get five people seated on a bench when they're all chained together and facing the wrong way. We eventually figured it out and waited some more.

A cop with the mentality of a drill sergeant came along and told everyone to listen because he was only going to say this once and if anyone screwed up they'd go all the way back to the end. He then shared the instructions with the people in the middle so none of us on the side were able to hear what he was telling them. They were led out somewhere and we were soon led into the middle section. (We never did hear what those vital instructions were.) A few minutes later, some female detainees were brought into the vacated side section. We had been segregated since the Pier so it was a small reunion of sorts. Unknown to us, it was also the last time we would be integrated. One of the female detainees was crying out for a pain killer and the rest of us tried to get the guard sitting in the front to pay attention. He kept reading his paper as if we didn't even exist. In retrospect, we probably should have refused to move until he began to treat us like human beings but I think we all just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.

It was very hard at this point to tell who was a guard and who was a cop. It seemed to be about half and half, based on uniforms. But they all seemed to have the same mentality. We were scum and not to be treated with any degree of respect. I would even hear them referring to us as they transported us from one cell to another. We weren't called people, individuals, or even detainees, perps, or suspects. They referred to us as "bodies" like we were the walking dead. "I've got five bodies down the hall to move into a cell," they would say. Perhaps that dehumanized the detainees to them but it made us feel more human than ever. At least it did at that point.

From here we were eventually led (still in chains) to two big state-of-the-art fingerprinting machines. After being unchained, I was told to not resist whatever they did to my fingers. They stuck all four fingers of my right hand onto a big screen. The machine said it was too light. The guy moved it around. Too dark. The cop started to cuss and moved my hand around to a new position. It worked, thank God. Then he put my thumb up there and it worked on the first attempt. Next, I had to stick each individual finger onto a smaller window and roll them from left to right - or actually, let the cop roll them. I have never seen anything become such a production. The machine had so many different kinds of errors, rolling too fast, too slow, not a clear image, multiple fingers detected (a nice trick since my other fingers weren't even on the screen), partial finger detected, and a bunch more I can't recall. For whatever reason, the pinky finger took about 25 tries before it worked. I was being entertained by the whole thing but the cop doing it was getting angrier by the second and his anger was being let out on me. I was doing everything I was told and not resisting in any way. I'm sure all the grime on my hand wasn't helping but I could hardly be blamed for that, could I? From what I could see around me, nobody knew how to work these machines and it was a real pain in the ass for all concerned. And after finally getting all of my fingers registered, we had to do it all again for my left hand. Later I would find out that many of these fingerprint records weren't submitted properly and would have to be done all over again, moving the affected people all the way back to the end of the line whenever that happened.

The next stop on our tour of the Tombs was a cell in a section called the "Male Search" area. Someone had written in "anal" between those two words and, since everyone going through there was either chained or cuffed, it obviously was an example of police humor coupled with a veiled threat. Our new cell was across the hall from a desk of corrections people who were loudly complaining about their jobs and not really hearing anyone's pleas for aspirin. It was now mid afternoon on September 1. I called WBAI from the cell's payphone to file a followup report. I couldn't tell it at the time but when I later listened to the two reports I had filed, it was obvious that the spirit was being drained right out of me. If it weren't for the company and strength of others, I might have really lost it.

This cell was also where we had our best meal: two kid-sized boxes of bran flakes and a carton of milk to pour onto them. I was amazed at how much abuse I had been able to withstand so far. It was nearly 24 hours of no real food, no decent facilities, and no sleep (actually far more than 24 hours on that one since I had already had a full day when this all started).

We became aware that there were also "real" prisoners here. They were in an adjoining cell and they just stared at us like we were from another planet. Some people tried to be friendly but got no response. It was unsettling, especially with the occasional hints from some of the cops that we would eventually be put in with dangerous inmates. I wondered if these scary looking people had been placed there to emphasize that point.

More hours passed. Slowly we were taken, chained in fives, down the hall. When I finally got to go, the cops in charge got into an argument with each other over who should be where and they wound up taking us back into another cell. (The one we had left was already occupied with a solitary inmate.) We waited in there for a while and then got lined up in the hallway one more time. We stood there for what seemed like ages. Occasionally other detainees would pass us going in the other direction. They were all in a good mood since they were in the home stretch. But they said we still had a few hours to go to get to where they were. It was tough dealing with what seemed like more bad news. As we took that in, we heard the voices of female prisoners coming from someplace, one in particular shouting that she wanted to talk to a lawyer.

We were in the hallway for such a long time that people needed to go to the bathroom or get pain killers for the headaches a number of them were experiencing. They were all ignored. One of my chainmates was screaming that he couldn't hold it in any longer. We all took up his cause and got a guard to notice us. "He's going to have to wait," the guard told us. "He can't," we protested, "It's an emergency." The guard got up close to the guy and said slowly, "You're going to have to wait." "OK," the guy said meekly. His spirit was broken and he remained in pain for the next half hour.

We got to the front of the line and were taken one by one to a room where a bored looking man sat behind a desk with a TV on in the background. This was the person in charge of taking mug shots. I always imagined if I ever had a mug shot taken that I would try to look fairly pleasant, maybe even flashing a toothy grin. But after enduring the many hours of cells and lines and lack of food and sleep, I wound up looking about as bad and as mean as anyone could expect to look in a mug shot. We were all being shaped quite nicely into their little system. Someone even told me they had Bush/Cheney stickers in the line of sight of where you were facing, ostensibly to make you look even more angry. I didn't see them as my eyes were glazing over at this point.

We all wondered what else they could possibly have in store for us. It made no sense that we had to go through what we had endured so far. Even if we were actually going to be charged with a crime, this whole business of being paraded through the entire system was completely unwarranted and unnecessary. In the past, this kind of a thing would be dealt with by issuing a ticket and making a court date. Imagine if everyone who got a traffic ticket was put through this sort of thing. That's pretty much what was happening here. And of course the system got backed up with the lousy equipment and lack of coordination. But anyone could have known that would happen if more than 1000 people were injected into it at one time. It seemed obvious to us all that the inefficiency of their system was being used as an excuse to keep us locked away for as long as they wanted. If only Kafka had been around to appreciate this.

There were two trains of thought circulating on what this was really all about that I was able to pick up on. One was that they wanted to keep everyone locked up until Bush left town, as if these people could pose any threat to him safely tucked away in the depths of Madison Square Garden. The other was that this was a way for the police to track down anyone who may have had unanswered warrants from the past and who tended to show up at demonstrations. It's a nifty concept - I'll bet if they arrested the entire city, they'd find enough wanted criminals to get some people to actually support the idea.

Our next adventure was to be "really" searched. They warned us not to leave anything inside our pockets or we would pay the price. The whole thing turned out to not be all that different from the other searches, except they yelled a lot more and took a bit longer. They threw out any gum or candy they found which only served to torture us that much more. They also went through everyone's shoes and wallets and examined everything in them. That's how they came to discover a small amount of marijuana in the wallet of the person next to me. They were obviously thrilled at this. "Well, what have we here?" they chortled in true redneck sheriff style. "Looks like you're not gonna be going home for a real long time." The poor guy was mortified and didn't even remember that he had this on him. "I want to know what kind of idiot plans on getting arrested and carries drugs on him?" The admonitions continued for a while. Of course, the obvious answer which no one dared speak was that most of us hadn't planned on getting arrested. That seemed to be a common misconception among the cops - that we all wanted to be there. Could they really not have known how the whole thing had actually played out?

The guy with the pot asked if he could contact his son who had also been arrested to let him know he wouldn't be going home with him. The cops didn't answer. The rest of us didn't know what to say to him except for things like, "Wow, that really sucks." I confess thinking what a moron this guy must have been for carrying this on him but I quickly caught myself. He could easily have just been walking across the street or exiting a restaurant like so many others had been. And I'm not about to call an otherwise law abiding citizen a moron just because they had a little pot on them. That's probably what I'm supposed to do but I'm simply not going to buy into that nonsense.

We had to move quickly down the hall and weren't given enough time to put our stuff back in order. They hustled us past the cells in the "Male Search" area and through one of those doors that only opened when it was buzzing. If we weren't in a secure zone before, we certainly were now.

There were (surprise) a bunch of cells here along with two people behind desks who looked like receptionists. We were ushered into a small cell where we waited for our names to be called out one by one. The receptionist types then asked us questions about our health, allergies, essential medications, etc. They were curious if any of us had tuberculosis. More than 24 hours now and they finally wanted to know if any of us were sick! Several people tried to get aspirin here. Not a chance.

We were then herded into another cell across the hall and then about five minutes later into the cell next to it for reasons unknown. This cell was unusual in that it had two phones, one on either end. I discovered that one of the phones cost 25 cents for a local call and the other one was 50 cents. If we weren't all such pacifists, I'm sure we could have established a class system inside the cell where the privileged few got the cheaper rate and the rest were screwed. If I'm ever locked up with a different crowd, perhaps I'll suggest it.

After getting quite attached to this place, we were once again uprooted and forced to transplant ourselves way down the hall to a bigger cell. This one also had two payphones and the standard toilet in the corner next to the water fountain. This would be our home for many hours to come. But it was also said to be the last stop on the journey, a rumor that kept giving us hope, despite the fact that we had almost never been told anything resembling the truth. Occasionally, cops would talk to us through the bars and say how this was standard procedure and that 72 hours was the normal period of time to be held. Another actually said they could hold us as long as they wanted. Maybe he thought we were "enemy combatants."

Names were being called out very, very slowly. The people who were selected got to go through another buzzing door (there was a woman there whose sole job was to push the button that made the door buzz) and presumably on to a judge. From the beginning, we were told that seeing a judge was the last part of the process. And we also heard all kinds of variations on how many judges there were - twenty, five, or none at all after a certain time. Names were called at the rate of three or four an hour for the entire hall of cells while in that same period we were getting more than that amount of newcomers in our cell alone. It now became apparent that we weren't going to be getting out on Wednesday night either.

As midnight approached, a rumor spread about a writ that the National Lawyers Guild was filing to force the release of anyone held for over 24 hours. Someone said it was set to take effect at 1 am. Someone else said it had been turned down. Nobody really knew anything. It got so bad that people started to ask the police for legal advice. We had been through this entire system and not one of us had been given the opportunity to see a lawyer. Now people were making decisions on how they would plead and if they would accept an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal) based on what they were being told by the people who had locked them up in the first place! I'm no legal expert but I do know there's something seriously wrong with that scenario.

We then were visited by a couple of "oversight" people who wanted to know if we were satisfied with the way we had been treated and other such inane queries. Needless to say we had plenty to say to them. They basically smiled and nodded a lot, occasionally jotting a word or two down. We all knew we were being bullshitted. And a little later we were given apples again. Only this time they were nearly all rotten to the core and soft to the touch. It spoke volumes that we just put them in the trash can instead of flinging them down the hallway. But our anger and frustration were growing perceptibly.

Then a most disturbing thing happened. People who had left hours ago started to come back in and rejoin us! One said he was kept waiting for a couple of hours on the 13th floor while another said he had to go get his fingerprints done from scratch after making it all the way to court. I felt like screaming. In fact, some people actually were screaming.. Occasionally you would hear someone down the hall just lose it and start yelling at all the cops to stop this torture. I came pretty close to this point myself when they opened the door and told us we were "free to go." Only they meant we were free to go back down the hall and take another of the same soggy sandwiches that had been following us through the system since Pier 57. I took the walk without any intention of going near that garbage (in fact, many people were refusing to eat anything at this point). But there was one particularly hostile cop behind a desk who was shouting at all of us (what, if anything, had provoked him, I didn't know), "I don't give a fuck about any of you!" over and over. Without really thinking, I said in a voice loud enough for him and a few others to hear that there were a whole more of us who didn't give a fuck about him. "What?!" he exclaimed in that "you dare to speak to an officer of the law like that" tone of voice. I walked away fully expecting to be clubbed in the head. At least I had gotten some satisfaction out of that little journey down the hall. But what I said wasn't even true. In actuality, the people I was locked up with were constantly trying to establish a common ground with the cops, telling them that they weren't being treated fairly either and that it really sucked that they didn't have a contract. But none of the cops really seemed to want to make a connection with these people. It was bitterly ironic at one point overhearing them discuss having an unauthorized demonstration outside City Hall to "shut down the system" that was unfair to them.

Next we got visited by people who asked us very specific and personal questions. Things like the full names of everyone you lived with, exactly how much money you made every week, who exactly paid you and whether or not it was off the books, all of your phone numbers, etc. No one knew if these questions were legal but who wanted to risk being stuck in the system for even longer because they refused to answer them? Nobody, from what I could see.

I tried to go to sleep but the noise, the light, and the hardness of the floor made that impossible. But when I tried to stay alert, I felt like I was about to pass out. My system was horribly confused. I was starting to forget whether it was day or night and even what day it was in the first place. We were all still sticking together and taking care of each other as best we could. But the strain was definitely starting to show and I was really worried about what was going to happen.

And then I heard it. My name! I sprang to my feet, never more eager to be cuffed and led away. As was the case with everyone called, I got a nice round of cheering from my fellow inmates. I only hoped I would see them again on the outside. Soon.

I went through the buzzing door with several others and was told to stand still. A friendly cop told us we would all be free in twenty minutes. Nobody believed that but it was still the most encouraging thing we had heard in a while. He told us we would be getting a DAT which was a Desk Appearance Ticket. He advised us to take it so we could leave. Even though I realized I was taking legal advice from a cop, I agreed to do it since it meant I would have my day in court... somewhere down the line.

Other people had been offered an ACD which basically meant the charges would be dropped if they stayed out of trouble for six months. If they were arrested again, the case would be reopened. I knew this was something I couldn't accept, not because I couldn't stay out of trouble but because it seemed to be an admission of some type of wrongdoing. And the one thing that had remained in my head throughout the now 33-plus hours of this insanity was that I didn't do a damn thing wrong. Even if it meant going back inside, I wasn't going to concede this point in any way.

The other thing that getting a DAT told us was that there wasn't a judge on duty, since one wasn't needed for those. They were needed for the ACDs, however. I certainly wasn't surprised to find out that we had been lied to on that as well. And it sure explained why everything was moving at a dying snail's pace.

We emerged from behind the secure door next to the cells in the "Male Search" area that we had been in so long ago. Then we walked down the hallway in the footsteps of the people who had once told us we still had a few hours to go... half a day earlier.

As we moved down that hallway, I heard the hoarse voice of a female detainee from behind the wall crying out for a lawyer. I was sickened when I realized that it was the same voice I had heard there twelve hours before. They hadn't made any progress at all.

They led us to a courtroom where we sat on a bench still handcuffed. Two cops in the front of the room were muttering loudly about what idiots and hypocrites all the demonstrators were. "They go and sit on sidewalks, then they complain about dirty floors." "These people think they can just break the law and not pay the price." We all wanted to say something but we held our tongues. Freedom was so close.

For the next hour or so we stayed in there while they tried to find our records. You would think after all of this they might have figured out how to keep track of them but the inefficiency just kept smacking us in the face. While we waited, I noticed that the guy who had been caught with the pot was also in the courtroom. I asked him what had happened and he said the cops decided to throw the stuff out and give him a break. An honest act of mercy! I was really happy to hear this.

One by one our names were called. When it got to be my turn, my hands were uncuffed and I was told to sign a paper. I was handed a copy and led to the door. The door that led outside.

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