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Occupation Diary: The Horse, Keith Sweat And Cell 72


I'd had a long, productive Saturday by 10 p.m. when I parked my bike in front of the Congress Hotel. I was conscious of the dirt on my hands and clothes from working in the garden my neighbors carved out behind our house, but didn't expect any of the occupants to protest my filthy condition. The Occupation has leaned heavily on signs and symbols, both to define itself and to communicate, and the question of whether occupants should convey the appearance of our Sunday Best, Business Casual, "businessman's armor" (usually with Guy Fawkes mask) or just wear clothes we wear every other day was a point of debate. I headed for the contested Horse as I was.

A strategy police use to maintain the Horse as their turf is preventing people from establishing necessities: the usual trio, food-water-shelter, plus the socially obligatory necessity of the shitter. The Horse remains without shelter, as police clear tents when we bring them. Substantial amounts of food and water haven't been brought for fear that they'll be confiscated, and so not available at for all the hungry occupants. Finally, there are no bathrooms. I asked a cop where I might take a leak; he suggested the barroom of the Congress, from whence I came, kitty corner from the Horse, back across both the Loop's busiest street and the city's only grade-level expressway.

That meant I'd have to cross a well-defined no-man's land is patrolled by cops between those refusing to leave, in the center, and those who do not want to be arrested but are there to support those inside. A well-meaning delivery person carrying pizza caused a substantial ruckus when he found that his destination was across the police line. At first, the police refused to let our pizza go. Recognizing the plight of the hapless pizza person, the central mass rushed the line, dozens springing up at the sight of food, overwhelming and confusing the police sufficiently, allowing the pizza to travel over their heads. I hope payment and an adequate tip were equally able to travel back in the other direction. The boxes were spirited away in the direction of the medical tent, nearly empty before hitting the ground.

Serving up a mean dish of intimidation and protecting their general sense of dissatisfaction from our exhortations (appeals to the common interests of Police and Occupation such as rhythmically arranged messages like "Were Doing This For You!" and "You're Making Overtime!"), the po circle slowly, in groups, like sharks waiting for permission to swallow their prey.

Now after 11 p.m., then after midnight, fully expecting action soon. When they begin making moves on the periphery, distributing zip ties and positioning police wagons*, we sat down around our central landmark, the National Nurses United tent, interlocking arms.

I knew the woman to my right because we both attended meetings of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization and she introduced me to some of our neighbors. To my left a man introduced himself** and made it clear that he planned not to resist the police when they came for us.

We were now continually chanting expressions of our right to peacefully assemble in public ("ONE, we are the people; TWO, we are united; THREE, the occupation is not leaving!" and "WHO'S plaza? OUR plaza!"), shaming the police when they were visibly hostile (literally "SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!") and proclaiming solidarity (" . . . forever, the union makes us strong . . . ").

I don't notice that the police were upon us, whisking us off***, until they've taken away the man three people to my right.

CPD policy seems to dictate that arresting officers arrest arrestees**** according to gender*****. What seems to have happened was that - having no female arresting officers immediately on hand - a male cop walked past the woman to my right, grabbed me on the shoulder and shouted over the chants, "YOU GOTTA GO NOW! OR YOU'RE COMING TO JAIL. YOU GONNA GO?"


* I've not referred to the ubiquitous police people-moving vehicle as a "paddy wagon" because of one helmeted union organizer, coincidentally named Paddy, who sat beside me en route to jail. Last week he'd grabbed the mic to scold those saying things like "the paddy wagons are here" on account of "paddy" being a racist term that we should certainly not use in our discourse.

** Though I forgot his name, I remember him as the man who later vexed my sleep-deprived mind by shouting to all of us who remained on his release from jail, "LOVE YOU GUYS NO HOMO WOOOOT"

*** For a good time, consider the coexistence of . . .

1) "extraordinary rendition (also "irregular rendition"): the abduction and transfer of a person from one nation to another"


2) The precedent that it is illegal to photograph or otherwise record on-duty police officers

**** Is this a word? Police and Occupation literature both use this language.

***** While I was arrested by a male officer and my guess is that he was probably confident of my maleness, I imagine this convention must have been problematic for several protesters.


Though the precise order of what followed was unclear, several things definitely happened quickly. I told the cop, "NO. NOT LEAVING." The cop struggled to begin lifting me. People to both of my sides let go of my arms. Zip ties restrained my wrists behind my back with none of the play afforded by metal handcuffs before I was fully on my feet. One cop pushed my back in the direction of another cop, who walked me at a leisurely pace toward a police wagon parked on Michigan Avenue.

At the curb another cop appeared in front of me and leveled a digital camera. I could not imagine for what the fuck purpose he wanted to photograph me - mug shots happen against the flat blank walls of police stations, not in the crazy confusion of crime scenes - so I stuck out my tongue to keep myself from thinking that I should spit on him******. But the camera's flash took longer than I expected and by the time it finally went off my tongue had recoiled and my hate poured exclusively from my eyes and brows.

Several people from behind the barriers made efforts to document the taking of people into the wagons. I'm was lifted up into the wagon and placed next to Paddy. An "officer of the law" stepped up to the fully loaded cargo bay, where we "criminals" sat on benches, to inform us we should not expect to receive the easy treatment given to the Occupy Chicago people the previous week, meaning a night at the District 1 jail at 18th and State. Repeat offenders would go to County at 26th and Cal this time. Several people in the wagon fell into the latter category, it turned out. The cop closed the door and we lurched north up Michigan Avenue.

Though we spoke loudly in the hold, the lack of windows forced us to rely on our tactile sense of acceleration to judge distance and balance to guess direction. There was chanting and discussion. Someone sang "The Wheels On The Bus." Somebody escaped his zip ties, but put them back on for fear of additional punishment.

At the end of the ride we felt the wagon stop and then back up slowly before coming to a stop. The door opened; we were inside a large garage. Between the truck and the entrance to the building was a serpentine path of a waiting area*******. We filed into the queue, carrying whatever we'd been able to hold behind our backs. One by one, young women in unmarked black coats cut off our zip ties and waited for each of us to remove our shoelaces, empty our pockets, uncuff our sleeves and pants, and remove our socks and turn them inside out.

We were then given a thorough patdown by male guards wearing rubber gloves while other guards sealed our belongings in airtight plastic bags. Finally we were brought into a holding cell - where everyone was glad to see a toilet.

This was the first time numbers were written on our forearms. Unprompted except by my facial expression, the cop numbering my arms with a Sharpie snickered and said, "Don't you get it? Here you're cattle to us."

One major difference between jail cells in Westerns and jail cells at CPD District 1 is that the cinematic jails have bars through which pass air, conversation and food. I imagine too that gripping the bars would feel empowering. We had no such luck. As we populated the reinforced glass-and-concrete cell, the temperature and odor rose. We successfully petitioned a guard to keep the door open for the sake of fresh air and, though I appreciated the alleviation from the hot stink, the notion of being kept in a jail cell with the door wide open was unsettling.

The cell quickly filled to standing room only density, the raucous elbow-to-elbow with the exhausted, the nervous and the outraged. Conversation fractured into unrelated directions and frequently these subplots wove back into one common dialogue: What just happened? How will we respond? We have to go back to the Horse tomorrow! Will we be out tomorrow? Have we been charged? With what? Has any of us been read their rights?

Dialogue began with a nearby cell but was made impossible when guards noticed and closed the door. Questions that we all had common interest in considering were ordered into a stack and the National Lawyers Guild phone number was disseminated and committed to memory.

I fell asleep leaning against the glass.

"VISKELLAYKUS . . . WILLIAM . . . " was the next thing I heard, waking me from my sleep only half-sure that it was my name being attempted.

"WILLIAM . . . VAYSKILLOKUST?" the guard tried again.

"What do you want?" I said trying to open my eyes, looking up at a kevlar-vested officer in maybe his thirties wearing a disgusted expression.

What the fuck is his problem? I think. Why's he staring at me? Did he expect me to jump to attention and ask "Yes, sir?" or declare myself "Present!"?

"Oh, nothing," he said. "I guess we won't process you now. You can lie on that floor and be an asshole as long as you want."

I looked around to see that the crowd had thinned. Apparently others who had communicated in a more polite fashion had been "processed"******** and moved along - hopefully released.

After a few more hours of sleep another cop along to "process" me. I did not understand why the cop operating the camera was so thoroughly frustrated that I looked angry.

"Stop buggin outcho eyes! What the hell your eyebrows DOIN?"

I tried to make my body totally malleable and that didn't work either.

"Don't let your face hang all slack!"

I still don't know what ideal mug shot he aspired to take. Luckily the fingerprint scanning machine was less subjective.

"So are we done here now, or what?" I asked the fingerprinting cop. He ignored me. I asked again and he ordered me to go stand with another cop. I asked the next cop the same question and he told me "We don't want to release anyone with a warrant and running fingerprints normally takes a couple hours." I still have no idea whether this is true.


****** For whatever reason, this is a train of thought that occurs to me with some frequency; that I might lose control of my supposed respect for a professor (or boss, or any authority figure) and spit in their face point blank and laugh so hard I fall asleep.

******* Not unlike the waiting line at Union Station or the DMV, except constructed weirdly with traffic cones instead of poles and freakily celebratory plastic pennants instead of the reassuringly seat-belt like queue dividers used by slightly more customer-friendly public servants

******** Photographed and fingerprinted.


Five a.m. was the last I saw of a clock. I'm led down a long hallway intersecting rows and rows of smaller cells. My heart sank when I saw that nobody had yet been released, but had actually just been relocated and separated, one or two in each room.

From each cell I passed other occupants looked curiously from behind small glass windows set into sliding steel doors.

The cop stopped, turned to me at the number scrawled on my left wrist and said, "SEVENTY TWO, HMM . . . SEVENTY TWO . . . "

We took a right and I was installed into Cell 72 at the very end of the hall. Many hours later I kept thinking: If only I'd known how long I'd be locked in Cell 72 I would never have entered it willingly. My crime was sitting in a park. How long can this bureaucratic bullshit take? I thought of my plans for Sunday afternoon (I'd bought tickets to the Third Coast International Radio Festival's Filmless Fest) and wondered if I'd get enough sleep to enjoy the show.

Like the rest of the jail, Cell 72 was a weapon of a room. The floor was sharp, coarse material that I imagined would probably do serious abrasive damage to knees, elbows and faces.

Along two walls a concrete slab jutted out from the wall; on the third wall was the metallic amalgamation of a sink, toilet and fountain; on the fourth wall was a door.

All the concrete was covered in thick glossy gray paint that seemed wet in the constant fluorescent light.The ceiling was reinforced metal sheeting pocked with holes.

At first there were only the small noises of the other cell doors locking. I laid down on the slab and stared at the fluorescent light through my eyelids.

From this point one, I cannot reliably recall the sequence of events. There were no clocks to be seen, and no cops or guards or anyone at all walking around, and the only other apparent living things in all the world were separately confined individuals yelling threats and demands and occasional voices of reason.

Of course, everyone was overtired now that it was morning********* but sleep was hard to come by in the cold rock-hard cells. I gathered that most other occupants had been put in cells together, and I counted having a cell to myself as something of a relief and a threat. I was glad I could relieve a sense of animal rage that was swelling in my arms in proportion to my inability to sleep by kicking the door and banging on the window without bothering a cellie. But I also wished I had company if only to be reminded of my waking, conscious humanity, because it was at this time that the hallucinations began.

Little happened all day Sunday. People screamed constantly; some vocal cords gave out. The most popular themes included "WE NEED MEDICINE IN CELL 38!" "PHONE CALL!" and "WHERE'S MY LAWYER?!" The human microphone called a mic check every so often, to decreasing effect, and usually appeals were made to be more and less vulgar to the guards.

At one high point of noisemaking I discovered that I could kick open a mailbox size slot in the center of the door. Panting in exhaustion, I bent down to look out of the slot, breathe the air outside the cell and listen to the racket as it sounded in the hall.

I alerted my neighbors that they could just kick the thing open. In the cell across from mine, two men had been locked in with a stack of vinyl records********** that helped pass the time***********.

Eventually my voice hurt to speak. I could not sleep and I began to speculate against my better judgement.

1) Are we being disappeared? Isn't this a thing that happens? The CPD has a record of violating human rights. Is this the opening salvo of a Rahm Emanuel-led fascist military coup?

2) There is some small chance that any given person may die at any time, and also a smaller, but definite, chance that every person will die at the same time. Perhaps everyone else is dead and soon we will die too.

3) Perhaps we have already died and Hell is simply jail.

4) This is the shittiest dream I've had in weeks.

Though this was the longest period of my entire dealings with the police last weekend, it's difficult to convey the extent to which it was mentally painful because it was about as eventful as a sensory deprivation tank.


********* Or so we guessed, judging by a reflection in a window that someone could reportedly see.

********** A confusing omen on its own right, aside from the confusing preponderance of Keith Sweat's Make It Last Forever.

*********** By what I imagine was midday, sliding each other the vinyl discs beneath the cell doors had developed into a full-blown pasttime. It was easy to slide them between facing cells, but I'm proud to say that I seemed to be uniquely skilled at curving the path of the discs towards cells adjacent to those facing me, putting my hours of knock-hockey play to good use. Unfortunately, I was not always successful, and nobody else was ever successful, at the more difficult shots, and so an amount of records accumulated in the hall. All of us crouched to look through the slots of our doors as one was almost retrieved with the use of a shoe, duct tape (from the shoe) and an evidence receipt.


Finally, after many hours, a guard materialized to berate us for mistreating his record collection. Everyone yelled at him about how he was evil for doing what he was doing and that he should join us and so on. His replies ("I'm old enough to be your father!"; "Don't you know I ride on the back of the bus?") seemed to confirm that this was Hell, nothing made sense here and reason was nowhere to be found.

Slowly, over the course of the afternoon, more and more of us were released. By Sunday night my perception of time and I were out of my mind. A man named Tom and I seemed the last to leave that night, or anyway, we seemed to hear everyone leave first. It had only been by a system (even if it was only in my mind) of whistle and reply, that I was sure someone else was still there with me.

My dad was waiting outside at 8 or 9 when I was finally released, and I realized when I saw him that I hardly felt human. I'd been so hungry in the cell that I found myself literally drooling at the thought of food, so we stopped at Lawrence's on the way home.

I noticed it was frightening that my roommates didn't notice that I was missing, but it didn't really bother me.


* Occupy Chicago. Occupy The Nation.

* The Week in Occupy Chicago

* Occupy America

* We've Got The Guillotine!

* Occupying The Hyatt; Trashing Bank Of America

* Why No One Believes The Banks

* Occupy CNN

* RT's Superior Cable News Coverage Continues With Its 'Occupy Wall Street' Reportage

* The Weekend in Occupy Chicago (October 17, 2011)

* Just How Much Can the State Restrict Peaceful Protest

* Blue Ribbon Glee Club Joins The Occupation

* The Week in Occupy Chicago (Oct. 21, 2011)

* The Weekend in Occupy Chicago (Oct. 24, 2011)

* Jimmy Fallon (& Friends) For The 1%

* Today In Occupy Chicago (Oct. 26, 2011)


Comments welcome.


Posted on October 27, 2011

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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