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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tim Paynter arrested, Sheriff Joe Arpaio visits him in jail, Phoenix carcel a chamber of horrors


There are two ways to do civil disobedience…the “right way” and then “everything else”.  The “right way” is with cooperation of local police and media.  It is controlled, the cops are on their best behavior because higher-ups are working with the political power in the community.  Everything is staged. 


In my case, “everything else” meant to present myself on the street with my brothers and sisters and let higher powers take it from there!  We had no permits, there was no tacit agreement with law enforcement, this was a mass act of civil disobedience which caught the police off guard.  Little did I know, Arpaio would get even!


Fortunately for me, Phoenix Police have jurisdiction on one side of the fourth street jail.  Maricopa County Sheriff’s have jurisdiction on the other.  I had stepped onto the Phoenix side of the jail, although, at the end of the day, we would all end up under Maricopa Sheriff’s jurisdiction if arrested.



I had stepped into an an explosive situation which could go South at any minute.  You can see the worry on the faces of my friends. Phoenix Police looked worried, too.  I don’t know why.  They had all of the weapons and gear!


Things did go South on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s side of the building later that day.  A photographer got caught in the action.  He said he was not part of the protest.  Witnesses heard him screaming as he lay on the cement, sheriff’s officers surrounding him.


“I am not resisting!  I am not resisting!”


When he came in for processing behind us he was pretty bruised up and had a nasty cut on his head!


After my arrest I was placed in a police paddy wagon.  We were transported to Phoenix PD for processing, since the Maricopa Sheriff’s doors were blocked by protesters.  The Phoenix Police Department treated us with golden gloves and helped me retrieve meds for my heart which was going ballistic!  I brought my pharmacy of medications with me and with perscriptions for each med.  I have some serious medical problems.  Some of the medications put me into withdrawal when doses are missed.


Soon, we were put on a prison bus for transport to Maricopa 4th street jail.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.  There was nothing I could do to hide the river. 


“Why are you crying?” Eric Gardner, a fellow protester, asked.


“Imagine how thousands of undocumented workers must have felt taking this same ride, knowing they would soon have a date with ICE and a broken family!”  I replied.  I was letting go of a sea of pent up feelings.


Processing at Arpaio’s 4th Street jail took an eternity.  We waited for hours on a hard bench and in cells while they interviewed us one by one and handed out citations.  Mine was a 3rd degree misdemeanor for blocking a public road. 


I told the medic about my heart problem.  The irregular beat refused to yield to my meds.  I told him I would go into withdrawal from another medication if they did not let me take it.  They shipped my meds off to lock-up anyway. 


Welcome to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s system of disorientation, sleep deprivation and subjection to extreme elements.  Arpaio says he runs the toughest jail in the country.  He does not tell people about the psychological terrorism he rains down upon inmates.  The techniques used by Arpaio are subtle, but effective, and violate the dignity and human rights we claim are sacred in our country.


After processing we were taken in chains to holding cells in the jail.  The transformation from citizen to prisoner was sinking in.  We were in the hands of Sheriff’s officers now.  Phoenix Police could not protect us.  I was scum creating a problem for society to the Sheriff’s detail and they treated us that way.  There was an immediate attack on my self esteem and my dignity.


The holding cells are designed to prevent sleep or comfort.  While the walls are lined with benches, the benches have hand cuff rails every 30 inches.  You can’t recline on the benches even if there is room.  That leaves the floor, if you are desperate enough to accept the humiliation.  With little sleep, I resigned myself to flopping onto the floor.  It didn’t last long, the floor was slightly warmer than a refrigerator cold plate!  Sleep was impossible!


There are no clocks and no windows in Arpaio land, so time fades into oblivion.  When officers were asked what time it was, the answer was always, “I am not sure.”


Frequently, the cell door clanged open, a large man stood at the door, names were called.  Those chosen were required to step up to the line, be chained once again, then moved to another cell.  The constant shuffling accomplishes two Arpaio goals:  First, it prevents prisoners from developing any peer support as they are constantly divided from others.  Second, there is no chance to rest with the eternal shuffling.  I was moved at least four times.


The shuffling allows the guards to play games with unpopular inmates.  It does not take much effort to “shuffle” an inmate past the food line.  Relocation to a new cell may mean the servers have already come by.  They only make one pass.


The cold eats into your soul.  With time lost in a blur, the cold attacks your resolve to endure.  Will this ever end? 


Suddenly, someone called out, “Hey, Arpaio is in the hallway!”


Sure enough, there was Sheriff “Little Joe” Arpaio watching us through the window.  I call him “Little Joe” because he is a bully with a badge.  I figured he was touring his prison and would move on.  We were in for a surprise!


The door clanged open one more time.  A very tall, fully muscled, African American wearing a $1,500 suit entered the cell.  Arpaio came in after him, though it was almost impossible to see him through his body guard.  The fully muscled body guard isolated the “regular” inmates from the good sheriff, and Arpaio stepped in front of him to address us.  At the door stood a plain clothes detective, his hand placed nonchalantly on a pistol holstered on his side. 


“How do you like being put in jail?” Arpaio asked us. 


“We volunteered” one man responded.  Arpaio seemed surprised. 


I suggested the Sheriff could get us out of jail if he wanted to.


“Oh no, you put yourselves here!”


He was right.


“Where are you all from?”  The sheriff asked.  He wanted to know why someone would come from Florida, California and Colorado to protest with Arizona Latinos. 


“You think this is suddenly the most popular thing so you all come to Arizona?”


My new friend from Florida corrected the assumption. 


“I have been working on immigration reform for several years!” he told the Sheriff. 


I noticed the slightest twinge of discomfort in Arpaio’s face.  He was not facing someone who came to Phoenix for an exciting weekend.  He was facing dedicated immigration activists who were not “of color”.  In front of a little man with a hurricane of ego stood his peers did not approve of the sheriff’s racist tactics.  In time, Arpaio knows, disapproval by mainstream America will present problems.


Then there was a discussion about tent city. 


“Why should a prison inmate have it better than our troops in Iraq?” he asked us.  “My tents get up to 140 degrees!”  He was gloating!


The sound bite seems to make sense until you think about it.  Our troops are given every resource available to feel comfortable and to maintain mental health.  They are also volunteers.  Arpaio prisoners are treated like dirt and every effort is made to insure their discomfort.  Add 140 degrees of heat into the equation and you have a recipe for massive human rights violations.


Around 11 that night about 18 of us were chained one more time, six to a squad, with three squads.  We were taken to a shower room, required to strip naked, and told not to use the toilet or the showers.  Our clothes were placed into bags and traded for prison stripes.  We were required to wear pink underwear and pink socks. 


By this time the cold had eaten into me.  I was going into withdrawal from lack of medication.  My heart continued marching to an errant drummer as it missed beats.  Lack of sleep was taking a toll.


We were paraded into a pod, ordered into cells, two men to a cell.  In my cell, cold air was piped onto us as if blown from an over-sized fan.  There was no blanket.  I huddled in my bunk, my arms tucked under my body, as I tried to fend off the cold.  There would be no sleep for me.  No meds, no sleep!


Every hour I heard the guard clanking down the upper tier stairs.  I had fallen into an abyss.  My rational self was slipping away.  Irrational thoughts flooded my brain.


“I am never getting out!”  “I can’t live like this.”  “These fucking assholes, how can they treat me like this for a traffic violation!”


Early in the morning I was roused from my cell, wide awake of course, to take my “meds”.  When I stepped out of my cell my initial thought was, “It must have snowed last night, the two story pod was freezing cold!” 


Then I remembered it was 90 degrees outside.  The City of Phoenix was spending a mint on super cooling our pod just to add to our discomfort. 


I did not recognize the substitute heart medication they brought for me.  It was for high blood pressure which is not a problem for me.  I refused it. 


I noticed the inmates treated the guards with great respect.  I imagined what forces were in play.  One of the inmates had extreme trauma to his face.  He was the most gracious to the guards of all of the inmates.  Who knows if his beating was at the hands of Maricopa County, or by someone else.  It gave me grounds to reflect about my attitude.  I still had not made the transition. 


Around 9:00 a.m. we were herded out of our cells, again chained together, and marched to court.  The district attorney wanted a $500 bond, or a guilty plea, $500 in cash, and 40 hours of community service.  I didn’t have the money for bond and was panicked.  I was losing touch with reality.  I was in full withdrawal from my meds.  I was desperate and lost.


Fortunately, a volunteer defense attorney came to my aid.  The frustrated D.A. made the same argument in my case he had made in 25 cases before me.


“Mr. Paynter came all the way from Colorado to protest our laws.  Certainly, he can afford a bond!” 


The judge reflected one more time.


“Release with personal signature.  Court date August 20th.”  Most D.A.’s learn to modify their requests to the judge after being over-ruled on the same issue 5 or ten times.  Not this cat.  He was pissed.  I got to go free!


As a final indignity, 30 of us were thrown into a small cell.  The bags with our clothes were tossed into the cell.  Each of us tried to find a wee corner to strip one more time, toss the pink undies away, and dawn our street clothes. 


They kept us in the cell for a lifetime.  In front of the window were our files, laid out, ready to hand to us.  Yet they would not open the door to freedom.


Finally, release came.  We were forced to sign documents acknowledging receipt of our things, without the benefit of checking to see that all the items were there. 


“Don’t open your bag of possessions until you are out the door” we were told.  My bag ended up short medications and $100.00.  When I went to the City of Phoenix to retrieve other possessions, they had no record of them.  Fortunately, a rational friend intervened.  The items had been filed under a misspelled name.


The nightmare is not over.  I am facing additional court proceedings.  I can only hope this is resolved without another visit to the Arpaio chamber of horrors.   


Dios te bendiga. 

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