Friday, December 17, 2010

My Arrest in Millen, GA Protesting the Corrections Corporation of America Prison

The first video shows my arrest. I had not wanted to be arrested, and I certainly did not begin to plan the event with the idea of being arrested. Having recently returned from the 2010 SOAW rally in Columbus, GA, where the Muskogee County Police made arbitrary and unjustifiable arrests (and here and here), I did realize this was a possibility.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), according to The Millen News of December 1, 2010 (see paid advertisement) (archived web page) (archived ad), invited the public to the event. By e-mail and phone, interested activists discussed how to take advantage of this invitation to present our views on the issue. We decided that we would not be disruptive and that we would simply have our signs for people to know our views on the expansion of prisons and the involvement of corporations like CCA.

David Matos and I arrived first. A public safety officer asked to see our IDs. We provided our driver's licenses and shortly they were returned to us. The Chief of Police instructed us to remain behind a line if we planned to carry signs. Later, three Jenkins County residents arrived and joined us with signs in the designated area. This designated area was some 70+ yards from the hospitality tent. I did not believe this was right, and I thought it limited the effectiveness of our action, but we five complied.

However, even in that location, people who arrived later had to park behind us and walk past us to reach the pavilion. I imagine that at this point the CCA people sought to expel us entirely from the campus.

Later, and this is not on the video recording of the events leading to my arrest, a man whom I assumed was a public safety officer asked us to move past the edge of the parking area. I told him that the Sheriff told us we could stay behind the line. Note that I had mistakenly assumed the Chief of Police was the Sheriff. This public safety officer walked away.

When the governor arrived, the Sheriff approached and told us to leave. At this point, my cup of compliance with CCA just ran out and I refused.

I was arrested and my hands were tied (not painfully like the Russia Today reporter in Columbus) behind my back, and an officer escorted me to a car and asked me to get in the back seat. I'm only 5'5", but the passenger seat was pushed so far back that I had little leg room. But I've certainly traveled in more difficult conditions.

In the City of Millen police office, irons were placed around my ankle. Again, this was not painful, and the officer who did it was not singling me out, as there was a sign on the wall indicating that all detainees must have leg irons while in the office.

My processing included fingerprinting and questions about my citizenship status. The officer asked me where I was from, and when I said, "Egypt," he asked me if I was a citizen and I told him I was naturalized. He took my Social Security Number and entered some data into a computer.

My charge was originally "failure to disperse." Later it was changed to criminal trespass (O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21).

A man came in asking about the details of a specific case. He received the case file concerning an arson charge. He did not find the police report as detailed as he wanted. He approached me saying that he was an investigator for the public defender's circuit. He interviewed me and asked me to fill out a form describing my income. Based on the statement I gave him and the financial information I provided, the public defender may decide to defend me when my case comes to trial.

Apparently only the Sheriff could set the bond. (This makes some sense, since one could hardly expect judges and public defendants to be available for bond hearings in every jurisdiction in Georgia). When it became clear that the Sheriff would not return immediately, the officer told me I need to go into the jail. (Later I found out that the Sheriff dispersed some who opposed the prison when they were talking on a sidewalk outside of the restaurant where they had just eaten lunch.)

I had to strip to my underwear and crouch and cough to confirm I had no weapon. I then wore the orange jumpsuit. The officer gave me some advice about what to do in the holding cell for my safety. What I'm calling the holding cell is actually just a type of foyer to the rest of the prison. A door opened from the cell to the remaining cells (and I assume the yard, which was visible from inside the police office where I was processed). I only entered the door to go to the bathroom, and I did not explore the remainder of the facility.

The holding cell was not lit. The only light came from the lit hallway. There were benches along three walls, upon which two men were sleeping or lying down. A third was sitting on the third wall, and I joined him there.

And I sat watching TV. I watched my first episode of Everybody Hates Chris, The Jamie Foxx Show and two episodes of House of Payne.

Some time into this, the deputy called me to the door and asked me to speak to some people. I stepped out of the holding cell into the lighted hallway and found a man and a women in suits. The man began to ask me questions about my affiliations. I asked them to identify themselves. They identified themselves as investigators with the Georgia Department of Corrections, although they did not show me any ID. They asked me my name, my affiliation (Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition) and whether I knew about the prisoner strike (yes, they have 10 demands, they're not working until they get them). They asked me if I or GPJC had anything to do with the strike. I told them that the prisoners themselves took the initiative and I and GPJC had nothing to do with it and the timing of our action in Millen was fortuitous. They asked me if I knew Elaine Brown, and I said that I'd seen her on TV. After that, the two agents looked at each other and thanked me and left.

We were about 40 minutes into Idlewild when the Sheriff came to to the door and turned on the lights inside the holding cell. I was not looking in that direction, but I heard him say, "Ahmad" several times. Now I took that as an insult, because up until then everybody had called me "Mr. Fadel." I believe "Mister" was also used for the other prisoners who had had some dealing from outside of the holding cell. So I called to him, "My name is Ayman." He called back, "Ok, Ayman." So I approached the door. He asked me if how long I'd lived in Augusta. I told him, "What difference does that make?" He then told me to sit down again.

Looking back, I regret not answering his question. My guess is that he was trying to estimate my bond based on my ties to my community. However, based on the questioning about my citizenship, his not calling me by my name and instead using what I interpreted to be a generic Muslim name, like some people call all black men Jerome or all Latino men José, and my general experience with white people who discount my beliefs because I'm a "foreigner," I did not feel like being compliant.

As a side note, the other detainees in the holding cell took advantage of the Sheriff's presence to make various requests, among them inquiring about whether their bail money had arrived and requests for additional supplies for the prisoners. When he left, he turned the lights out. One of the prisoners advised me to be more obedient because the Sheriff could simply decline to set bail for me for a few days or even weeks.

In any event, not too much time elapsed until an officer (not the Sheriff, whom I never saw again) told me that my bail bond ($500 cash paid by Wayne Salter of Jenkins County) had been posted and that I was free to leave.

My only complaint about the condition of the holding cell was that it was not a smoke-free zone. In the adjoining police office, an officer smoked, and in the holding cell prisoners smoked.

The lack of natural light was also disorienting.

I wrote this blog entry as requested, but I want the reader to understand the following:
  1. The real story is the tremendous expansion of prisons in Georgia and the accompanying waste and suffering and the prisoners' resistance, not my brief inconvenience.
  2. I don't know what the outcome of my case will be. I'm not sure of the law. I just flat out wanted my voice to be heard, and I just did not think it was right for us to be denied the meager space we occupied.
  3. We must work to strengthen our organizations, in particular organizations which provide services to the issue-advocating organizations. In particular, I mean the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
  4. We have to recognized that local opponents of the prison deserve much more praise because they are going directly against the views of some of their neighbors and relatives.
  5. We must recognize the economic pain of people in Jenkins County. I don't know what can be done to alleviate it, but it's real and it's understandable that some there might not like people from other parts of Georgia telling them that something they think will help them is not a good thing.
A couple things I'd seen in the news recently were somewhat on my mind. I don't want to say they inspired me, because I don't have the ambition to achieve what these folks have achieved. Even though I read the biography of Roy Bourgeois two years ago, I had thought recently about all the suffering he has endured to serve the poor and oppressed. Then I saw an item on CNN about a man in India devoted to helping the poor. Finally, I read about the Swords to Plowshares action in Washington state. These things may have notched up my commitment level just enough to shake a little bit of compliance out of me ...

p.s. I don't remember the entire sequence of events in the police station. So that may be wrong. Also, I'm not certain of the first charge.

Submitted by Ayman Fadel


    1. Ayman:
      I appreciate your humbleness in this instance and in all you do. That being said, don't sell yourself short. You struck a blow, one that will be felt. While I personally am big on private property rights, I'm also a big advocate of individual rights. In my opinion, those who violate individual rights perhaps annul their private property rights.

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