Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I'll be taking an 'unpaid leave of absence' from my job at the Global Network from December 15-March 15, 2020 in order to help my friend Lisa Savage on her campaign for the US Senate in Maine. She's running as a Maine Green Independent Party member and needs to gather 2,000 petition signatures of registered Greens during that period. I'll be back to GN after March 15.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

They finally got me.....


This financial business (above) in Orlando, Florida put the sign up in the early 1990's.  The interesting thing about it was that the building was right on the downtown entrance to the interstate highway (I-4) that was flooded with cars at the end of each workday.

A friend saw it and took the photo.  That particular message stayed up there for some time.  They were complaining about all my organizing in the Orlando-area and also the protests I was then regularly organizing at the Kennedy Space Center around the Star Wars program.

I've spent a few days in jail here and there over the years.  Once after a Cape Canaveral protest I did five nights in the lock up.  But I've never been too eager to spend time in jail.  I'm an organizer and figure my place is out on the street stirring the pot.

The owner of this business would be happy though to hear about my couple of days in jail over the past weekend. I wanted write a bit about the experience - one that I can say was quite remarkable.

But first a qualifier.  The jailers and police in Maine are generally a bit different from other places where I have been 'apprehended' while doing protests across this land.  They tend to be much less anxious in Maine to bust heads and inside the jail they were more at ease.

With that said, all things were not Shangri-la at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, Maine. The jail was the project of Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties and holds minimum, medium and maximum-security inmates.  I am told it is a privatized jail but could not find any information on the Internet about who owns it.  The terrible food served there is produced by the Aramark Corporation.

Here are some general observations about the jail:

  • Inmates report that they have barely edible oatmeal virtually every morning.  We also had cardboard-like potatoes and watered down apple juice during our time there in addition to the oatmeal.  
  • In an advert online for jobs at Two Bridges jail one person wrote:  "Pros - free lunch, always off 2 or 3 days off in a row every other weekend off. Cons - understaffed, high turnover rate, staff morale low due to nature of the job." [Might be wise to add under the Cons - the food.]
  • If you want extras like coffee, tea, salt, pepper, mayo, shampoo and the like you have to purchase it from the jail 'commissary' - one more way to turn a profit for the private corporation that owns the joint.  Many inmates purchase packages of Ramen noodles to eat in their cells since they are always hungry.  Our group of five men protesters gave some of our food away to other inmates which they gladly accepted.
  • We repeatedly heard that it costs the two counties 'utilizing' the jail $150 a day to house the prisoners.  We also heard that .22 cents a day is spent feeding the inmates.  Could have been a rumor but the same information came from both men and women pods.  The whole private prison industry needs to be investigated.  The taxpayers and the inmates are being ripped off.  Sadly few media do investigative journalism any more.
  • At one point I had a splitting headache and asked the jail guard for two aspirin.  He blew me off.  An inmate heard me and went into his cell and returned with a small packet containing two aspirin which he had purchased.  I gave him my apple and told him 'good trade'.
  • Our men's cell block had an upstairs and a downstairs.  Each cell had two steel bunk beds, one toilet, one sink, one chair, and one tiny table.  The light was always on.  When the downstairs cell mates were allowed out to eat, shoot hoops, watch TV, play games or walk around the 'pod', the cells upstairs were locked down.  Then they switched and the upstairs inmates were sent downstairs and the lower cells were locked down.
  • Everyone was issued a plastic cup and a plastic 'spork'.  Food was served on ugly brown thick plastic trays.
  • We all were also given blue jail clothes, two thin sheets, a blanket, extra underpants, pants, towels, socks - many of which were tattered.
  • It was so cold in the lock up that I was shivering at times and came home with a severe sore throat.
  • The blue plastic mattress was about two inches thick which made sleeping very hard to do on top of the steel frame bed.  It didn't help that on Sunday night they ran a very loud floor cleaning machine downstairs until 12:30 am.
  • We had one rectangular window in our cell (my cell mate was fellow protester Ken Jones from North Carolina).  We could see a wild patch of yellow buttercups and robins bounding around but were not allowed to go outside.
  • The official jail handbook was 41 pages long and it was all we had to read for our first 24 hours until we learned about a well hidden drawer downstairs where a few books were available.  Each day one copy of the Portland Press Herald newspaper was available for the 70-some inmates.  Most of them checked it out when they could find it. 
  • The handbook has a lengthy dress code for those who visit inmates.
  • Our cell was 12 ft by 7 ft.
  • When we arrived at the jail we learned that word had already spread about our protest and our arrests.  Many of the inmates thanked us for our protest at BIW and urged us to 'keep it up' when we left.  That included one very intimidating inmate with ripplin muscles who told one of our guys that he has family that works at the shipyard.

It was no fun to be in jail but I'm glad we refused to pay the $60 bail commissioner fee which landed us in the joint.  Other inmates couldn't believe we refused to pay such a small fee - one guy we met has a $15,000 bail and has been in jail for quite some time because he couldn't pay it. (This particular guy was the most welcoming to us and helped us navigate our way during our time.) Many have to stay locked up for months until their trails are held.  The entire bail system is unjust and should be ended.  The bail commissioners make big money off the system.

One of my best moments was while I was walking in circles around the lower pod to get some exercise.  A young black man locked inside his cell tapped on the window and held up the newspaper story about our arrests.  He fist bumped me on the small cell window.

The four women protesters inside the jail told similar stories about their experiences and they made some deep connections with other women inmates.

In the end these inmates are predominately working class who are mostly good people who have made some mistakes.  The American 'corrections' system is not about helping people become better citizens - in fact it is a profit driven clamp down program directed at poor and working class people who have become superfluous populations.  Due to mechanization, robotics, computerization and off-shoring of jobs tens of millions of people in this country are no longer 'needed' by the capitalist system.  So instead of educating them, these unwanted people are locked into cold steel dungeons and little to no effort is made to 'rehabilitate' them.

Other countries, Norway comes to mind, have a very humane way of handling people who have broken the law.  But America isn't into being human - it's all about making money and punishing the men and women of our society who have no place in this dog-eat-dog culture.

I befriended one young man during my time in Two Bridges jail.  He has cerebral palsy, walks with a limp, and has had problems with depression and alcohol.  He's in jail for a month.  A sweeter guy you'd never find anywhere.  We are going to get together once he gets out.  I want to help him in any way I can.  Meeting him was worth my two nights in a lousy bed - with little sleep and an aching back.

Bruce

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Bruce for your work and sacrifice. It is very appreciated!

6/27/19, 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Herbert J. Hoffman said...

This is an extraordinary expose of the punishment system many of the Courts support masquerading as Justice.

Thanks, Bruce,

Peace,
Herb

6/27/19, 9:35 AM  
Anonymous David Larsen said...

Thanks Bruce. Keep up the good work. And thanks for giving us another inside look at the US prison-industrial complex. Our nation has sold its soul to corporations and oligarchs.

6/27/19, 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Jon Olsen said...

Glad you called them dungeons. Language matters and it is useful to use that word consistently.

6/27/19, 10:40 AM  
Blogger Elaine said...

Thank you Bruce for your ongoing courageous witness to peace and justice on all fronts!

6/27/19, 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Jan Collins, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition said...

Thank-you so much for your activism for peace and for publishing the details of your incarceration at Two Bridges. All the county jails in Maine are run by the counties themselves with combined state and local money. There are no private prisons/jails in Maine. That said, services within prisons and jails may be privatized, phones, video visits, food service, commissary, health care etc. exploiting those least able to pay for profit and convenience.

6/27/19, 6:52 PM  
Blogger Diane Dicranian said...

Thanks Bruce

6/30/19, 6:50 AM  

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