Don't Vote

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Valley Street Experience

If you knew me in my past you would know I was no saint. Eventually I pulled my head out of my ass but it took a couple of trips to jail to do it. When I got to New Hampshire I kept hearing all these stories about Valley Street, the Hillsborough County jail, being the worse jail in New England. When I think of how bad a jail is I look at it from the chance I have of getting shanked in the neck for being white. I never considered a jail being the worse jail for any other reason.

After landing on my elbows at the Manchester police station I worried that if I let the police drag me one more time they might do permanent damage or further aggravate a minor shoulder injury that occurred a week prior. When the paddy wagon arrived at the jail I stood up and decided to walk on my own.

Even though I cooperated enough to prevent the jail staff from having to carry me around, I still refused to process completely. I provided my fingerprints and let them take another mugshot but refused to answer any other questions or comply with the medical screening which included a test for tuberculosis.

I remained in the booking area bullpen for the first night. It was cold and the jail staff would not provide me with a blanket until I cooperated. On Sunday afternoon I was removed from the bullpen to a private cell and earlier that evening was given a mat to sleep on and a blanket. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I was taken to the medical unit of the jail and placed in a cell by myself under quarantine status for refusing to take the TB test.

Having seen and participated in some of the reaction to what happens when a fellow liberty activist gets arrested I anticipated my friends making an ordeal over my arrest, both toward the Manchester police and the jail staff. Here's what happened one afternoon:

When Rich tells the jail captain I am being held incommunicado and he is concerned for my well being I was actually fine. The problem was mostly jail policy. When I was first placed in a cell in the medical unit a guard told me that because I refused to take the TB test and in quarantine I would not be allowed access to a phone to make collect calls. This was not a true statement and I found out after a week that I was in fact able to make calls. The problem was the one hour a day I was let out of my cell to shower or use the phone was typically after midnight and, well, who do you call when it's 3am?

Another problem I ran into was the delivery of mail. Many liberty activists know about the Mail to Jail service that allows people to type a message online and have it printed on a postcard or letter and mailed for you. However it is the jail policy to not permit delivery of mail from a third party to an inmate. So it wasn't for almost a week that I even received any mail because so many people were using that service rather than mailing out a letter themselves. I think this issue has been resolved now but I'll save that for a later post.

As far as sending out mail, that too was pretty difficult. I thought most of my friends knew that if I went to jail to not deposit any money into my commissary account. My reason for that is because I want to do everything I possibly can to minimize the profit the jail makes from my being there and commissary and collect calls are likely huge moneymakers. But my message didn't get out like I thought and within days friends and fellow activists had deposited over $100 into my account and, even though I didn't want that I am still very grateful to have friends who would do such a thing.

If an inmate hasn't had any money in his or her account for 10 days, they are considered indigent and allowed up to 3 stamps per week to use for personal correspondence, including paper and envelopes. When I planned to mail out two motions for court to my room mate I put them in an envelope without stamps (per jail policy) but had them returned three days later with a note stating that I wasn't considered an indigent inmate. This was on a Wednesday. Commissary orders are made on Sundays and delivered to inmates on Wednesdays which meant I would have to wait another week just to receive stamps to mail out a letter so that I could be released.

Bureaucratic snafus aside, and with the exception of two comments I received from jail guards most of the staff treated me very fair. A couple of them actually went above and beyond to assist me. When I first got there I overheard one guy say something to the effect of "Free Stater? You're no damn patriot." I ignore things like that, but when I got placed in the medical unit a guard approached my cell door and his comments worried me.

"What's your problem, Doe? Why aren't you going along with the program? You think we can't break you? We can break you. We'll put your ass in max and we'll fucking break you!" I looked at this kid who couldn't have been more than 25 years old and asked him if he really wanted to "break me" and would he feel better about his life if he was able to? When I say break I am referring to my spirit. I don't believe he wanted to physically become violent with me. But just the thought that some kid could look at a total stranger, have no idea why he's in jail or what type of person he is and treat him like he's's disturbing. Unfortunately, it's all too common.

I'll have some more things to say about Valley Street in a future post when I talk about going back a second time. Yes, I did go again a few weeks ago and, sadly, it probably won't be the last time.

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