During that time, our cell held an average of twenty men.
And we had, I think, over the course of that time, five meals.
They even let me chat briefly with a television reporter from ABC.***Here is another statistic: Over the course of the thirty-two hours we were held at the Tombs, about twenty-five non-protesters cycled through our cell. Is it really possible that non-whites commit ninety-six per cent of all crimes in Manhattan? Perhaps, outside of Wall Street, whites are just very law-abiding. The part of One Police Plaza that we’d been in was essentially a police precinct: a reception area, a lot of police hanging around, a room for fingerprinting.
It would have been more than that, but at a certain point there were so many protesters inside that new inmates were put in other cells. And most of the crimes appeared to be drug-related—perhaps white people don’t do drugs. We were on the first floor and though we didn’t have any windows, it was pretty clear where the exit was. program, twenty-four; Henry, a white kid from the Bronx who wasn’t in jail for the first time; and Paul, an anarchist and employee of the French Connection, in So Ho, twenty-six.
We continued to talk quietly among ourselves about the protest. The fact that you have no debt means you’re rich.”“Man,” said R. 3, the magical Humming Trio.” Everyone in both cells cracked up. In the cell across from ours, a protester named Gene, from Staten Island, began doing what amounted to a standup routine. We’ll make a million bucks.” At four in the morning, they woke us up for breakfast.
After a while, a young guy sitting in the corner nearest us finally asked what we’d been protesting about. One of the conceptual artists spoke at length about capitalism and the rise of student debt; Paul the anarchist spoke about the revolutions that had spread through the Arab world, and how, after the Arab Spring, it was time for an American Autumn. He had five thousand Facebook friends and made his living, he said, in the drug trade. Now Thomas, who is working on a conceptual-art project dramatizing the crushing burden that student debt has become for a lot of American young people, asked how much debt R. said that he had no debt, and thirty-five hundred dollars in the bank.“That makes you richer than most Americans,” said Paul, the anarchist, stretching the point a little.“Did you hear me? “I said thirty-five hundred dollars.”“That’s right. “I’m learning a lot in this jail cell.”From then on, we felt a lot better. left, though not before exchanging e-mail addresses with Henry and promising to visit us in Zuccotti Park. ” Across from us, a group of three protesters, including Jesse Myerson, a journalist with Truthout, began a kind of rhythmic humming, and one of their cellmates, a rotund black guy in a baseball cap, came up to the bars of their cell and started pretending he was their d.j. I was falling asleep at this point, but Field told me about it later. Gene picked up the milk carton—one per cent skim milk—and cried, “Hey! We thought it was a rich guy, but it turns out to be this carton of milk!
Stephen was not attached to his milk, and quickly gave it up; the man took it and sat back down.
I was in a holding cell at Central Booking, in the basement of the Tombs prison, for about thirty-two hours.I could sense we were losing our audience, but couldn’t myself think of a better way to formulate our grievances. As people were called out of the cell and upstairs to their arraignments, we took seats on the benches. As night came on, it was almost exclusively protesters, plus the white guy who’d been busted for drunk driving. Austin was with us again, and led the crew in singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” again, in addition to making numerous phone calls—there was a regular brown phone in our cell, with a cord, that would make unlimited free phone calls to any number with a New York area code—to friends: “Hey man, what’re you doing? ”***I slept on the floor: it was more comfortable, ultimately, than the metal bench, which was slippery.A series of laws, passed at the urging of the richest Americans, had over the years gutted the New Deal social contract, destroying job security, affordable health care, and quality public education, while a small segment of the population earned more money than anyone could know what to do with. The overall protest group was more varied now, and younger—there was a small knot of twenty-year-old anarchists, most of whom (unlike the people in my group), had been sleeping in the park. I had dressed warmly, and was able to make a nice pillow out of my shoes and my knit wool hat (six dollars at H. Field had dressed less warmly and was very cold by morning. Around seven or eight—there were no windows in the cell, and the fluorescent lights above us never dimmed—we woke up, stretched out, and prepared to be called up for our arraignments.In any case, out of those twenty-five inmates on their way to hearings, just one was white. Among the arrests there was some dealing; some use; some possession. It didn’t seem entirely polite to ask what everyone was in for. At Central Booking, we were taken into a narrow courtyard in between the two huge towers that make up the Tombs complex, then led through a tiny armored booth, and then along such a maze of concrete and poorly lit corridors that by the time we arrived at our holding cell I had no sense at all of where we were. We were: Field, a writer, apple grower, and former longtime staffer, thirty-eight; Thomas Gokey, a conceptual artist from Minneapolis who teaches at Syracuse, thirty-two; Stephen Dewyer, another conceptual artist, a recent graduate of a Yale M. While we waited in one of the hallways, the two conceptual artists began a conversation about Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the American and Italian anarchist authors, respectively, of the best-selling “Empire” and “The Multitude.”Finally, we arrived at our cell.At one point, a muscular man in his forties told a story, apropos of exactly what it wasn’t clear, of how two women had stolen his new 4G smartphone. He had never stolen a thing in his life.“If I need to make money,” he said, “I sell drugs. One man who came in knew another who was in our cell. It was a large room, about twenty feet long, fifteen feet wide. Nearly all of them were black; all were sitting in silence; none of them, I think, even bothered to look up when we came in, though to be honest I didn’t exactly scan the room looking into their faces.