New Yorker Writers Rattled by Jail Visit

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Keith Gessen was one of the more notable arrests at the Nov. 17 Occupy Wall Street protest, and he detailed his time in custody in a Monday New Yorker blog post that will make you think twice about voluntarily getting arrested. Though the N+1 editor and New Yorker contributor says the police were polite to him, his description of the food and toilet facilities alone in his Manhattan holding cell may be enough to rattle even a committed activist:

In fact (here’s my statistic), in the thirty-two hours I spent in that holding cell, with an average of twenty people, eating five meals, so let’s say six hundred and forty man-hours, or, more to the point, a hundred meals, there was not a single bowel movement. A hundred meals and zero shits.

It wasn’t actually, as you might think, the lack of privacy—the toilet was separated from the rest of the cell by a waist-high metal partition. And I don’t think it was the fear of stinking the place up—there was enough body odor, and socks that hadn’t been washed, and just plain urine from the toilet as it was, that no one could have objected to another element. Or maybe it was that, too. But my own reason, and I suspect everyone else’s to some extent, was just the filth: the toilet was covered in piss, and debris, and there was a remnant plastic covering on half of it, from, perhaps, the last time someone had decided to go ahead.

The overall narrative gives a pretty straightforward rundown on what the jail experience was like for those arrested in the big protests. Mostly, it seems, it was cold and boring. Field Maloney, a former New Yorker staff writer, also got taken in, and Gessen reports the frustration of waiting for arraignment got to him: "Field, one of the gentlest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, began yelling at every officer who passed by our cell, 'You’re making a big mistake!' " Gessen wrote that curiosity, in part, drove him to get arrested. Sounds like he learned more than he wanted to: "To be on the other side of the law-and-order machine in this country is awful. It is dehumanizing, and degrading, and deforming. It fills you with a helpless rage: because, once there, you can only make things worse for yourself by speaking up."

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