Adventure to Obama’s White House, Part 3


I don’t remember much about stop #2 except that we get nothing to eat or drink other than the “faucet” on the back of our holding cell’s stainless steel toilet/sink combo. We are “patted down” once again and placed in a holding area with not enough concrete seats or benches so some must sit on the concrete floor, maybe with a cinder block wall to lean on if the room is not too full. Men are called in and out, occasionally reporting to us what time it is if an officer tells them or they see a clock.

What does stick in my mind is the stories you hear from the others as they are caged with us. The Latino man born in El Salvador who is locked up for driving with an expired license — even though in court last week he was told it had been reinstated after paying his speeding violation. I guess the paperwork hadn’t filtered down to the cop who stopped him for a tail light violation. Normally you can just pay a fine — but not for him, even though his residency papers are in order. He was born two years after Romero’s assassination but doesn’t know much about him. We suggest he rent the movie about his life.

Two other African-American men tell us they got arrested by “bicycle cops” for drinking in public. They were sitting on the lawn in front of a friend’s apartment when the officers rode by. They spotted a plastic cup of beer and asked whose it was. One man said it was his. The other had an empty cup in his pocket but both were arrested! They tell us such an offense is usually a $30 fine and they have the money to pay it but are hauled to jail instead. A rare white man comes in and tells us he got busted for selling prescription drugs through the mail. People come and go and we just guess at the time. Still no food. The clock on the wall reads 11:30 PM as we are cuffed again for our next destination.

We are told we are going to “C block” to be properly booked. Into the van again and this time the wait seems forever after we arrive at jail #3. We are jammed into this van; some are about to panic from claustrophobia, others need to pee, all of us need to stretch. The officer transporting us keeps the cage inside the open back door locked so we are cold and uncomfortable. But he “can’t do nothin'” when we ask if we can get out. “Not until they are ready for you inside, you can’t.” It is the typical Nuremberg defense: “I’m only following orders.” The seeming level of incompetence appears stunning. In an age of telephones and computers one would think these transfers could be coordinated better so there is not so much waiting in our sardine-can transport. But maybe it is not an accident but rather part of the pre-conviction punishment.

There is nothing remotely humane about the way most of the guards treat us. But at least up to this point they haven’t appeared to be verbally or physically abusive (at least in our presence). That will change at stop #4.

I am fortunate to be one of the first of two from our van to get out and begin processing. I don’t know how long the others remain in the van, as I don’t see them for a while. Two of us are photographed and fingerprinted and receive a second blue wristband, this time with our name, birth date, and color mug-shot photograph. On the way to my cell, an officer asks if I want a drink and a sandwich. The clock where I was fingerprinted read 1:30 AM so it had been 18 hours since I’d eaten and the two “sandwiches” and the Styrofoam cup of red “fruit drink” were gratefully received. I couldn’t take the cup to my cell but could carry the sandwiches after I removed them from the zip-locked baggie.

As I walk down the cell-block, I hear someone say, “Hey, Steve. Good to see you!” The guard keeps me walking, pointing to the door to cell #17 which he unlocks. Low and behold, the cell door opens and Ward Brennan is lying on the bunk! Even though he is 77, he graciously offers me the lower bunk and tries to get into the upper one. He manages with some effort. (Later a guard helpfully tells him to stand on the stainless toilet then the sink part to complete this maneuver.) Joe Palen and Father Bill are in the cell next to ours. We don’t know where Ceylon is because he is able to fall asleep in any of the places we visited and doesn’t hear us calling his name. No one knows the whereabouts of John Braun, as he was not transported with us. We are all concerned about him and I say a quiet prayer for him and his well-being. I’m not sure I want to be caged up like this when I’m 81!

I ask Ward if he got any sandwiches or drink. He had not so I offered him one of mine. He told me he can’t eat cheese so I offered the one that had two thin slices of bologna between two pieces of white “sponge” bread. We laugh about the claims that it is “enriched”! My remaining cheese sandwich is one slice of processed cheese food. I tell Ward that he probably could eat it- I doubt if there is any “real” cheese in it. After a short while, the officer comes to take Ward to the processing area and he tells me it is 2:20 AM when he returns. He got his drink of the “red fruit juice” and tells me it was “good” to have even though “the closest that drink got to fruit was if someone drove it past some on the way to the market.”

Ward has a great sense of humor which if often on display when he is part of our AlliantACTION Circle vigil on Wednesday mornings back in the Twin Cities. We are both exhausted trying to sleep on a stainless bunk with no mattress -but with a 1 1/2 inch raised edge on the 3 sides away from the wall that adds to the discomfort whether one is sitting or trying to lay down. There are no pillows but at least we can try to use our jackets as a modified cushion. Ward has to use the sleeve of his jacket to block the light that is constantly on at the end of his upper bunk. He was wise enough to grab a couple paper towel/napkins when he got his sandwiches. I wasn’t offered any but he shares his with me because none of the toilets we’ve seen so far have any toilet paper. He gives me his “cheese” sandwich and eats the bologna one so we’ve each had two. The white sponge “bread” feels like a lump in my stomach — but it is at least a semblance of food.

The tiny 5′ x 7′ stainless-walled cell is hot. The water coming from the inadequate faucet first spits out a short stream about 2 feet to get your face or the toilet wet and then quickly turns to a lukewarm trickle. At least it is wet and I’m able to stay hydrated. I take off my shirt to alleviate the heat and try to lay on my side with my jacket as a “pillow.” Every time I turn over because my back is aching, the stainless slab makes a loud buckling noise that is heard up and down the cell-block. It startles me the first few times before I get used to it. I’m sure it keeps Ward awake — that, and the fact that every 15-20 minutes another inmate is yelling for the “CO”, a corrections officer or guard that patrols the two cell blocks in our section.

Other inmates told us this jail is underground so there is no chance of seeing any daylight to give us an idea of the time. We both sleep fitfully for maybe 10-20 minute stretches and then sit up and chat. Ward jokes that this “hotel” doesn’t have good accommodations but is “well-lit” and has “firm beds.” I remarked that the sign outside probably read “Vagrancy,” not “Vacancy”! Then I remind him that he had already paid for his bed and breakfast for this night so “they better hold the breakfast for him after he is released.” Little do we know that it won’t be for another 8-12 hours.