On January 28, 2012, I decided to celebrate my birthday with some of my dearest friends at Occupy Oakland. It was a gorgeous day, blue skies, unseasonably warm for January. A glorious weekend action was planned, we were going to take over an empty, public-owned building and transform it into a community center and safe place for our homeless brothers and sisters. We were going to re-open the OO kitchen and medical center to get back to doing what we love best: feeding and healing folks in our community outside the constraints of a capitalist system intent on monetizing every human interaction. The plan was to take the building Saturday morning then spend the whole weekend celebrating with our community.

Long story short, riot cops crashed our party immediately. They repeatedly gassed and shot projectiles with abandon into a peaceful crowd with families, small children and the elderly in a residential neighborhood (my neighborhood, actually) in broad daylight. When mothers and caregivers attempted to remove their children from the situation to a safe distance many blocks away, they were followed and menaced by cops who screamed threats of “child endangerment.” Dozens of protestors were injured either by projectiles or brutal beatings by police in full riot gear. And if anyone being beaten dared to defend themselves by covering their head or trying to escape? Welcome to felony land. By the end of the day, 409 people were arrested, the second largest mass arrest in California history. I was arrested for my birthday, charged along with most everyone else with “Misdemeanor Failure to Disperse.”

I was among the very first people arrested during the evening march. My wrists were zip-tied so tightly, I lost all feeling up to my elbows and had various states of numbness for a week after. We were packed into holding cells at twice to four-times capacity, every holding cell in Santa Rita squeezed full of Occupiers. In some cells, people had to take turns sitting on the toilet, because they were packed in too tightly to sit anywhere else. There was either too little air, or they froze us. There was either no food or packages of room temperature bologna-juice-laden “food” that gave food poisoning to those who risked nibbling. We were denied our medications. The injured were denied medical care, even those with internal bleeding from being beaten or with pre-existing conditions like cancer and epilepsy.

At least 3 HIV-Positive Occupiers were denied their anti-retrovirals long enough to risk their lives. We were all covered with tear gas and pepperball residue, which continually reactivated with our moisture and body heat. None of us were ever decontaminated. Male inmates, sheriffs and janitorial staff could easily watch the women in my cell use the toilet. I could continue for many paragraphs on the treatment we received in Santa Rita, but I imagine you get the picture. My group was lucky; we were out after only a day. Many others were there for 3 days or more, without records for their loved ones and lawyers to find them, disappeared without charge or recourse for days.

I refused to eat in jail, both as an act of self-preservation and an act of defiance. I knew any exposure to bologna-contaminated bread or cheese would have me extremely sick, monopolizing the toilet, and after a certain amount of time without my stomach meds, they could have placed a five-star vegan meal in front of me and I still couldn’t eat it. At hour 20 of no food and minimal water, things began to get more difficult. I refrained from the various conversations and activities happening around me to beat the boredom and madness (dance teach-ins, yoga, charades, bologna art, etc), saving my strength. By hour 24 of no food, moderate dehydration and a few hours past time to take my medicine, I sat on the bench immersed in my discomfort, desperately wanting pen and paper. By hour 28 without food (30hrs without sleep, 20hrs in custody), dizzy from hunger, sinuses swollen shut, head throbbing from dehydration, body wracked with pain from denial of my daily meds, my only thought was, “This will end. This has to end.” I began to cry uncontrollably. Three of my sisters encircled me in their arms and we cried together.

I didn’t know where my husband was (he was also arrested). I didn’t know when I would get my medication or how long I would be in pain. I didn’t know when my cellmate and friend would see her kid again. I didn’t know when my cats would run out of food and water at home. I didn’t know if anyone outside knew where I was or was searching for me. I didn’t know how long I would be trapped in a box without food, sleep, medicine or information. That not knowing, that panic, that confusion, that being at the absolute whim of some faceless, sadistic bureaucrat with a badge, that’s jail.

By the end, my priorities had shifted dramatically. I no longer wanted a shower or food or bathroom privacy or even handsoap. The only things in the world I truly wanted were for my pain to stop and to know where my husband was. I would have stayed indefinitely as long as I had my medicine and that information. I felt, and still feel, a coward for that, broken within 24hrs with moderated hunger, sleeplessness and denial of medication and information. That moment of broken confusion and pain made an impression, though. I had been living in a bubble of privilege where I imagined being arrested while protesting in America (as opposed to the experiences of “real criminals”) would mean at the very least access to my meds. It was foolish, privileged, internally hierarchical, racist and classist to have fostered that assumption. There are no “real criminals,” only human beings reacting to a colossal system of hierarchy and injustice, of haves and have nots. Our treatment on J28 is not somehow more unjust because we were protestors instead of drug dealers or sex workers. All prisoners are political prisoners.


this is re published here with permission from the author grace breedlove, the solar-powered yogi, who is an activist working with occupy oakland to better the world in which we live.  it first appeared on her blog at http://solarpoweredyogi.com/2012/02/28/in-which-i-get-arrested-with-occupy/#comment-52

grace has a knack for beautiful description, but also deep convictions that stem from a childhood rife with struggle.  for those of us who have experienced pain and suffering, fear and lack of hope at times, it seems natural to step up to the plate to work for others near and far.  grace has a particular interest in the people of cambodia, and she has a passion for ‘tackling the Global Toilet Crisis.’  you can read more about her life and work in her other entries at her site.  i just wanted to introduce her here with this story, to give readers here yet another opportunity to realize the diversity of those who populate this movement for equity and justice for all.