In March of 2015, after attempting to intevene and confront a violent domestic abuser, I ended up getting in a physical confrontation with him at his initiation. After I got the best of our physical engagement and began walking away, the abuser made a serious attempt to run me over with his car. Had I not dived out of the way, I would have been seriously injured at best and killed at worst. Still, true to the nature of this vicious and backward capitalist system, this European (white) abuser called the police on me and I was later arrested. Although there was video of the encounter, and the only thing clear in the video was that he definitely tried to kill me, he was never arrested (the incident took place in a supermarket parking lot). The police charged me with felony assault and menacing. Subsequently, I learned that in Oregon, and most places, you cannot be charged with a felony if no weapon was utilized. The abuser claimed I hit him with a hammer several times during our scuffle. No hammer was used, only my fists, but because I refused to talk to the police, I was arrested and booked into jail.
I tell you with absolutely no bravado that I was so angry that the question of fear, which honestly had to be present, was so overshadowed that I didn't think of it once. Instead, I went through the bureacratic processes, treating the jail staff with the same level of respect that I felt they exhibited towards me. When the medical person demanded I share my medical history with them and that I sign a release giving them authority to request my medical records (I'm diabetic) from my healthcare provider, I refused. This person than took my blood suger reading, refused to show me or tell me the results, but then insisted my readings were high. He mentioned something about an insulin shot to which I told him they would have to knock me unconscious to do that. My day to day routine does a good job keeping my blood sugar under control, and I don't use insulin to do it so there was no way I was going to let these gestapos inject me with anything. I did sign the form indicating that I wasn't going to cooperate with the medical guy and I was promptly booked in by a sheriffs deputy. He explained to me that my standard bail would be $10,000.00 and that I would need to come up with $1,000.00 of that in order to be released. He told me that if I didn't come up with the grand, I would stay locked up "until you do." Remember that statement.
By this time it was about 3am. I was placed in a cell with seven or eight other men. The snoring was so loud and my brain was working so hard that I knew there was no way I was going to go to sleep so I lay there on the hard mat covering the concrete slab and I contemplated getting someone on the outside to access my finances so they could get me out of there as quickly as possible. At 5:30am, they turned the lights on and ordered everyone up through an amplified announcement. Everyone was ordered to come out in the day room. I separated myself from everyone else and proceeded to do dozens of push ups and burpies to get my blood flowing. Once I completed my exercises, I noticed a 30 something African who was sitting there staring at me. He motioned me over and two or three other Africans came and sat with us. We made introductions and I sat and listened to them talk for about an hour about their fantasies of how they would get out of jail. What I learned is that all of them were there for various real and imagined violations; firing a weapon into the air in an apartment complex, drug possession, petty burglary, more drug possessions. One African who was also there for an assault charge explained to me the differences between assault 1, 2, 3, and 4. They told me where not to go to run into the neo-nazis. What was most dominant in listening to them is that none of them had any money, any chance of raising the $1,000.00 bail, and no hope that anyone else would raise it for them. Consequently, many of them had been in there for months, without hearing anything from anyone. In other words, they have no hope of getting out, regardless of how insignificant their alleged crimes were. After several hours of this we were served the most disgusting pile of unedible carbs that you could ever see. I only ate two or three bites of pancakes that were so dry they would have worked better as paper towels. All during this time, I observed the sheriff on duty barking out instructions and admonitions to several people, many of whom he knew by name. He constantly made sarcastic remarks about how they were there because of their inability to perform basic functions in life. After "breakfast" as I sat again with the brothers. After more listening on my part, I decided this was as good a time as any for me to do what I do, inject as much political analysis into the situation as I could. My message to them, more than one of two who were there for gang related charges, was that since I was the oldest African there, they should consider listening to me when I told them not to let the police and/or anyone in that institution convince them that they belonged there. That they were not worthy of being anywhere else. That they were destined to be in jail or prison for the rest of their life. I told them that despite whatever obstacles they had financially, they should spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to get out of there and they can't let anything or anyone distract them from that focus. I told them that they needed to find some way to put legs under their dreams to get bailed out of there. Other non-African men heard my comments and they also began to sit down around me. Very soon, our group had about 10 people. The on duty officer came over to listen and I never flinched, nor did I even look at him when I declared openly that they should do everything in their power to avoid letting the people upholding the system win the propaganda battle. I told them to never accept that there was anything wrong with them and that despite whatever reason they were there, this was happening to them because of this backward system. I told them that the officers judging them every second were most likely alcoholics who beat their wives and engaged in extremely backward behaviors. The officer on duty scoffed during this time and walked away. I still never looked at him because I wanted these young men to experience the sensation of establishing their own environment under their terms. I wanted them to gain confidence to do that. I knew I had no intention of staying in there so my time to interact with them was going to be extremely limited. So, I spent much of that morning talking to them, especially the very young brother who limped profusely because of a gunshot wound he suffered on the streets of N.E. Portland. By mid morning, he started to ask me questions and I ended up sitting and talking to him for the rest of my very brief stay there.
After being bailed out, I was scheduled for an arraignment three days later. This is critical because at the moment I was bailed out, I was scheduled to go to arraignment an hour or two after being released. My goal was to get out before this happened because I didn't want to go into court in the orange jail jumpsuit. I didn't want to be hand and leg cuffed because I don't care how open minded and progressive you think you are, seeing someone that way strongly suggests they are guilty because why would they be shackled like that if they hadn't done anything? And since so many of them are forced to have thier court proceedings that way, they are doomed at rates of dozens everyday in that same courtroom to be judged that way immediately, thus making any chance for a fair experience null and void. On the contrary, by the time my arraignment came days later, I showed up in a professional suit and tie with the private lawyer I was able to hire.
After several turtle pace hearings, my lawyer was able to get the charges reduced to misdameanor assault and menacing. I decided to take that plea deal because my other option was to go to trial in front of an almost assured white jury in Oregon. No thanks. I was convicted of misdemeanor assault and menacing and given 18 months of probation. I also had to attend anger management classes. If this wasn't such a sad scenario, it would actually be hilarious because the class instructor had overwhelming anger management issues. He used his position in the class to belittle people who mistanly sat in his chair, although all the chairs were exactly the same. If anyone challenged him - even on legitimate points - he threatened to call their probation, or in the case of some of them, parole officers, "and you will go back to jail or prison." When I started my first class, he announced that the course was for people convicted of domestic violence. I then noticed the book I was given was completely about domestic violence issues. I quietly told him I wasn't there for domestic violence to which he responded in front of everyone "well, you were sent here so you must have been convicted of domestic violence." During the class introductions, we were instructed to state specifcally our reason for having to take the classes. I ended up being the only person who wasn't there for domestic violence and when my turn came I said I was there for beating up a domestic abuser. The room was completely silent and this so-called instructor called me out into the hallway. Once there, he told me if I continued to be disruptive, he would call my probation officer to which I replied that I wished that he would so he could finally accept what I was telling him. We said nothing more and I sat through the most useless and condescending lesson in psychological tearing down that you could imagine. And, did I mention that the classes cost $40.00 a week? If you didn't have it, you could go to one class without paying, but you had to pay both classes the next class or you couldn't attend any further. And remember, if you couldn't attend, you would go back to jail or prison. Fortunately, I have a good job, but more than a few men dropped off and I'm unfortunately sure that a number of them ended up back inside because of their financial inability to keep pace. The classes were so easy and useless to me that I day dreamed during them. I thought about how that entire anger/domestic abuse class situation was an industry. This guy was getting paid, the rent of the facility, etc. So, that explained to me why he had no interest and incentive to lift people up because people being stuck in their dysfunction meant the chances they would return to jail and thus his classes, were much higher. This is the process that kept his lights on. Four weeks into it, he calls me aside and tells me he got my file and that I wasn't convicted for domestic violence. He told me this as if he was informing me of something I didn't know. I just scoffed at him and went back into the class. By then, I was clear that my objective was simply to get out of there as quickly as possible and I had 20 weeks total (if you are counting, that's $800.00 + the $200.00 initiation fee and the $100.00 exit fee - consisted of a five minute discussion - for a total of $1,100.00 for the most worthless experience of my life). One requirement was that you write three different letters in order to complete the program. One was what you did wrong. The others were to the victims and how you would change your behavior towards the victim in different circumstances. I had a minor victory by forcing the instructor to waive my last letter since I didn't have any type of relationship with my so-called victim. I couldn't even recognize him if he walked right up to me and slapped me. That last letter was for those who had acted out violently with persons they were in relationships with. I had absolutely no trouble writing the other two letters. They were approved immediately, but many of the men had serious difficulties with their letters. Some of that was due to writing difficiencies, but many of them also had issues coming to terms with their abusive behaviors. As a result, they wrote the letters passing blame to the survivors and they were directed to think that part through and correct it. This to me was the only worthwhile part of that entire program. Still, I wonder if some of them ever figured out how to fulfill that requirement.
While I struggled to get through those classes, the other element of probation was having to check in with your probation officer, or PO. This required an orientation. During this meeting I was given a folder with a single sheet of paper in it that explained the things you cannot do while on probation. I noticed everyone else in the room had a thick folder. I learned the difference is I had no conditions on my probation other than completing it without problems. The others? They had drug and/or alcohol issues. They had restraining orders against them. They had requirements to see their children again. All of this means they had to check in four or five times oer week. They had to pee in cups, etc. I had to check in once every three months. My first meeting I prepared for. I went with copies of my books I've written, news clippings of my political work, anything I could think of to demonstrate that I have a life, a wide ranging and productive life, and I therefore have no inate desire to go back to jail. What was made clear to me immediately was that none of the different POs I met each time I went had any interest in any of that. One of them leveled with me and told me he had 477 cases and mine was squarely situated on the bottem in terms of priorities. When I asked him why I needed to be on probation then, his response, without looking up from paperwork he was completing that had nothing to do with me, was "its the fees dude!" I forgot to tell you that I had to pay supervision fees every month. In other words, I paid to visit someone who asked me nothing for two minutes each time I went. I literary spent five times as much time in the waiting room than I did talking to POs.
Finally, as I was nearing the end of my probation (about 90 days to go), I was feeling that I had weathered everything. Those classes were long over and I had been approved to travel everywhere I wanted, including to Africa last December. So, when I researched the process, I learned of this thing called "Bench Probation" where I could be upgraded to no longer have to check in. When I inquired about that, I was then floored to learn I had to pay $3,500.00 for damages to the abuser's car. It was then that I remembered that I had picked up a landscaping brick and thrown it at the car after he tried to run me over. I was told in that meeting that if I couldnt pay the entire amount in 90 days, my probation would be extended. This was unacceptable. I spent a few days trying to figure out how to raise the money when I happened to mention my predicament to a friend in town. She asked me if she could help me and I told her I was open to all suggestions, but I forgot about our conversation after that. To make a long story short, this angel set up a gofundme page, posted words about what happened and my perceived impact on the community and that post was shared hundreds of times. Dozens of people donated and no more than four days after that, I had the entire $3,500.00 to promptly pay off my fine thus making me eligible for Bench probation. There were so many people interested in donating that I actually had to turn down about 10 people who inquired with me after the money was raised. I'm still humbled and eternally grateful to my friend and everyone who donated, thought to donate, and wished they could donate.
I think the takeaways from all of this are that locking people up is a 30,000 mile high industry that racks in billions. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who depend upon this industry to earn a living. Bail bonds people. The phone company providers who charge outragous fees by the minute in order for you to talk to the people inside. The entire probation and parole industries and the accompanied drug and alcohol counseling and other related supporting agencies like the anger management course I had to take. The biggest scam is that most of those people who are incarcerated are there for nonviolent crimes. Their stays are extended because they can't raise bail and the counties get funds for them being there so there is no incentive to release them. Also, the sentencing process is a complete joke. The so-called district attorney who was calling for me to be sentenced started out reading the wrong case. Fortunately, I had a great lawyer, but I wonder about those who don't. I could have been up for conviction for the wrong case if my lawyer and I hadn't been paying close attention. I could go on and on, but if the point was for me to leave that entire process last week when my probation ended feeling like I'm in a better place, I do, but not because of anything I experienced. I'm in a better place because I made it through that wicked process. I think about all the people who aren't able to get beyond it as I have and in doing so I've been ingrained with an even stronger desire and determination to fight against every aspect of this backward and criminally insane system.