Archive for June, 2008

Harris County Jail: Revisited

June 26, 2008

The security cops have confiscated my computer. Said they had to check for threats, bugs, secret messages.  That type of thing. I’m arrested. In handcuffs.  The handcuffs THAT acting consulate general said wouldn’t happen.  Oh, no no. We don’t do handcuffs, he said.  But here I am.  Sitting in the Security office for the Three towers at Post Oak Boulevard in Hot Houston. In handcuffs.   

   I was arrested unexpected like.  I was sitting in a folding chair outside the Reception Room of the General Consulate of India.  I had brought the folding chair from the house I was staying in and I had my  poster with Day 15 of a hunger strike posted and leaning against the wall.  An armful of flyiers was in my lap and I had already passed out about forty.  Very interesting reception that I was getting.  Almost every Indian I talked with acted totally surprised that the situation in Bhopal still existed.  Yes, it does, I said.  30 Bhopalis are dying a month from that release in l984.  Over 25,000 dealths.  Over 8 times the amount of  Americans that were killed during 9-11.  And the USA invaded two countries over that one!

   They express astonishment and some want to know EXACTLY what they can do.

     About this time, here come 3 men  sashaying out of the elevator.  They are dark suited, under-cover cops wearing badges.  They come directly to my chair.

 I’m astonished.  “Are ya’ll coming for me?”  I’m totally flabbergasted.  My jaw has dropped.  “Why that consulate general said I could sit here. “   

   No no, they say. You don’t have permission.

    Why,yes yes, I do have permission.  The acting consulate on Friday said I could stay here.  Just a bit away from that fancy consulate sign is all.”

   The three security cops exchange puzzled looks.  Consulate General?  Really?  Then they shift gears.  No no, you don’t have permission.

   Well, I refuse to leave because I know I DO have permission, but they’re not bothering to even check.  So I’m getting arrested.  The security cop says, C’mon, Momma.  C’mon with us.”  (Later and in confidence, the security cop says maybe that consulate knew what he was doing when he got you to move away from that sign.  Are you sayin he set me up? I say.  Could be, he says.)

   Pretty fast I’m delivered to that wicked ole Harris County jail. It’s wicked alright. It averages 22 deaths a year.  Just recently, in April, a prisoner that was brought in for a hot check died because of some sort of choke hold administered by some sort of guard.  So the Feds are coming in to investigate the string of deaths and wondering what else is being violated.  What will they find in Harris County Jail. 

    What I find is  36  hours of  a processing nightmare. No sleep unless you like sleeping on a cement floor where a stream of women have come and gone for days.  Plus its  crowded, plus its  cold.  One woman got a roll of toilet paper and wrapped her legs.  Another woman pulled the plastic garbage liner out of the trash can, ripped a hole for her head, and pulled it over her.  I get double time in that cold holding cell because a guard took a real dislike to me and put my processing papers back for the next shift.  They tell us over and over again.  “We can turn out the lights and nobody will know you’re even there.”  It’s not a veiled threat. It’s a real threat.  

  

 

 

    Around six oclock of the next evening Im ordered into a medical unit with fifty women.  Every seat on the bench is taken.  At least twenty women are sprawled on the floor.  I’m one of them on the floor and confused out of my mind. I get dizzy lifting my head.  I haven’t had water in two days but liquids are one thing these guards are not big on.  My breath is beginning to stink but I don’t worry. Everybody in this cell is stinking.  For once it is not cold.  This time it is hot– and fifty female bodies make it worse.  The medical unit is a little strange.  Not something that I remember from the last time I was in Harris County Jail. Then– way back when– dying on the floor wouldn’t get you into the medical unit.  Having a heart seizure wouldn’t do it neither.  You could bleed to death and it would be alright. 

    One of the girls explained the crowed room.  The feds are coming in next week, she said.  Checking who is and who ain’t getting medical attention if they want it.  Seeing who died too, and what were the circumstances.

   So apparently EVERYBODY coming in now goes straight to medical after 30 hours of a processing torture.  Some are sick (staph infection that is a potential killer), some are mentally ill (one girl has gone off three times into a hysterical frenzy about being a model and a college graduate and having 4 boyfriends and the only reason she’s in jail is because SOMEBODY stole her air conditoner.)  One young black girl, 21 years old, is eight months pregnant.  She said she knows three women who lost their babies in jail. Even though her water is leaking and she is bleeding, she thinks she will do alright, though.  She will be ok. 

One woman inmate said “Do not dare talk to those investigators coming here.  You will end up dead dead.    Her own daddy died in the same jail.  Ruled a suicide, but the girl said, Tell me how he could’ve killed himself.  There wasn’t no way he could’ve  where he was found.”  Another woman inmate is trying to convince her to talk.  She said she saw a woman die.  Right there, she says and points to a low cement bench in the unit we’re in.  Margarita was her name and before she died that woman said to me, “Lookey here at these sores. Lookey here”.  Margarita had two huge cankerous sores: one on her chest and another on her arm.   Well, Margarita died right there.  She had diabetes.  Plus stapth infection.  Anyhow, she died.

    Looks like we’re gonna be in medical a long long time. Guess I’m right because a guard comes in and says, Y’all gonna be here a long long time.  Might even have to pull y’all out in the morning for court, then throw y’all back in.   Eventually the girl with the air conditioner goes crazy and some of the inmates start howling to be let out of the room.  One girl says. Don’t matter. It’s crowded upstairs, too.  Wherever you go, its crowded.

     Next is the strip down.  Total strip down.  Worse than having a baby.  Im getting a little sick with the whole thing and try to imagine myself in a room all by myself.  But nope. Twenty women in the middle of a strip down.  Worse than having two babies.  Finally I get issued my orange jail outfit and ten minutes later I find I’ve been bonded out but I’m totally paranoid that I really won’t be allowed to leave.  I’ll be stuck in a cell with the lights out.  Nobody will know I was even there. 

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Not thrown out yet

June 20, 2008

  Today there is a security guard downstairs at Tower #3.  Protecting Tower #3, I guess.  I don’t remember him being there when I was there last time so I’m very leery of MR. Security Guard.  But he is harmless and just wears his badge for show and directs me to an open elevator.  I’m starting to get a bit paranoid and I’m not even up on the 6th floor yet.

  Paranoia is for a good reason, I suppose. A healthy quality if you’re alone and decided the plan of action is to do a Sit In.  A ‘sit in’ is basically just sitting down somewhere (General Consulate’s office, for example) and not getting up until you’re thrown out or until you run out of material on your issue.  My issue is Bhopal and that lowlife, Union Carbide. 

      So I sit on the floor underneath that lovely brassy General Consulate sign again and make myself comfortable.  My poster board sign announcing the sit in and Day 11 of the hunger fast is up against the wall,   Ive got 40 copies of a Bhopal fact sheet at my fingertips, and my lap top computer on my lap , but alas! fat lot that will do me.  No free internet.  Lots of folks wandering in; coming and going and I realize real fast that I don’t have enough sheets and here I am, sitting on the fast track to the Consule’s office.  Must be lots of folks visiting him.  I’m  wondering how fast the news that I’m sitting outside his door will trickle in.  That’s why I place my cell phone within easy reach: in case that security guard hauls up to the sixth floor and hauls me off. 

  I’ve brought a bottle of fresh water with me, but not much that’s gonna do me.  All the bathroom doors are locked.  ONLY EMPLOYEES.  I can see I won’t be drinking much water.  An Indian gentleman comes by twice.  He smiles broadly.  Very friendly fella.  He goes to the door of the consulate’s reception room but turns and looks at me again.  Then he reads the sign I have propped up.  He looks at me again and asks if I’m from India.  No. I’m from Texas.  Land of the big long horned cows.  Then he smiles again and says his hometown is Bhopal.  He thinks I look like I’m from India.  Well, thank you very much.  That’s quite a compliment. But nope, I’m from Texas.

   Actually there was not a single person that was unfriendly or hostile.  Not one that did not take my flier. Many said it was a shame . A shame.  And they went away shaking their heads.  Finally a tall gray haired man comes out of the Reception Room.  No no, he says.  You mustn’t do this.  No no!  He flutters his hand like I’m to get up and GO!.  No no, he says. This is not possible.  I kinda shrug, Oh, well, bring on the handcuffs.

   Two seconds later the gray haired gentleman leaves and returns with a very nicely dressed man. VERY NICE. Black suit, tie, white shirt i can barely see.  Black shiny shoes.  This man is OBVIOUSLY very important.  The gray haired man throws his hand out towards me as if to say, “SEE, look at her!”  The nice suited man says just like the first, Oh no, you can’t stay here and I said, Yes i Know but I’m staying here so he says, Well, come in then.  Come in.

   I’m thinking: Really?? I can do the sit in INSIDE? Inside the RECEPTION ROOM.  Really?  Well, this was looking good!  So  I take all my posters and fliers and my non-functioning computer and drag it into the RECEPTION ROOM where the nicely suited man sits me down at a pink and tan couch.  The nicely suited man seems very sad.  Yes, what is it? he says.  What is it you want? 

   I give him the fliers and start talking about Bhopal and he says they at the consul general’s office have always, have always, he emphasized,  supported the cause.  They had spoke with Bhopal activists several times in the last three years and I say yes, I was here yesterday. 

   Well, what are the demands? he says and I say, Ashish, the Indian student, brought them by yesterday evening.  Then I proceed to tell him that there is an international hungerstrike going on and he wanted to know what international meant and I said many countries around the world have joined the hungerfast.  I said I had joined the hunger fast.  He says, Are you an Indian?  Or an American citizen.  I said I’m four generations of fishermen from Texas.  He says, An American citizen?  Not from India?

   Now this is getting peculiar.  There seems to be a suspicion that I’m from India. 

  No, thank you I say.  I’m Native American.  Beeen here a mightly long time.

   Then  he says again that I must not sit out there under that sign. Not respectful.  Oh, it is so sad. And I say i am so sorry but I am going to sit out there.  And he say, Oh you cannot and I say, Well, bring up the cops.  Bring in the handcuffs. Haul me off. I don’t mind going to jail.

   He smiles.  Oh, we don’t do handcuffs he says.  Just move a little. Take it down the hall a little. By the elevator door.

  Okay, I say. I could move a bit. 

   So we shake hands and he smiles– very different from the first time he smiled.  Almost conspiratorial. You know, he says, we support the cause.  We have ALWAYS supported the cause.

     Would I write my name down? he asks and I say, Sure, will you write your name down?

His name was  MR.Pillai.  The acting consulate general when the real consulate general is out.

  

Bhopal Hunger Strike

June 19, 2008

Thought I was in Delhi.  Nope.  It was hot Houston.  Downtown Houston with a lot of tall, black marble towers.  There were five of us out in the park.  This park wasn’t for regular folks.  The parking signs said ONE HOUR PARKING ONLY.  There were signs posted near the jubilant water fountain: PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO SOLICITING. 

   I guess that meant us.  We were soliciting justice. 

 One guy had a camera.  Two students from India (they had been in the United States for two years) were carrying posterboard  that they had drawn messages. Another guy was a savvy activist. Organizer.  He had worked with Caesar Chavez in Mexico with the farm workers.  Now he was working on ol’ bad ol’ environmental justice around the Houston Ship Channel, which was the armpit of the industrial world.  Then there was me.  Day 6 of a hunger strike.  I think.  Day 5 and Day 6 were messing with each other.

    We had a target.  Indian Consulate’s office.  Sixth Floor.  Now if this was any USA federal agency we were visiting we would first be going through a metal detector.  Then our bags might be checked.  Today it was just a regular semi-harmless building.  We went straight to an elevator, hit the 6th floor button and sailed away to the consulate’s office.  Our camera man was now filming and taking down every little word we said.

    The consulate’s office was down the hall and there on the white wall was a dark brassy sign: Consul General of India.  Lovely sign. We took half a dozen pictures in front of it.  Then our next impromptu move was to go inside and disrupt as much as possible while we tried to get a meeting with the consulate.  Well, that was the wrong room for that, but we did carry the posters around to everybody sitting there (there were about 10 Indian citizens/passport carriers/immigrants).  I handed out some wonderful fliers about the Bhopal tragedy.  They were simple and very clear on the message:   The Atrocity still continues!  Everybody that was sitting there took a flier.  A few asked questions.  Almost all had heard about the incident and that lowlife, Union Carbide. 

   Juan, the organizer extraordinaire, out we needed to have a number before we could talk withthe lady at the window.  (There were people lined up to talk with the lady at the window and we DEFINITELY did not want to shove them over to talk with her ourselves!).  Anyhow, Juan went and drew #8 and he said too bad it wasn’t #7.  Lucky number 7.  Anyhow, the lady at the window decided to jump a few people because we were decidedly annoying her andshe told us to go to the RECEPTION ROOM down the hall where we could talk with another woman at a window.  So we bid everybody an ‘adios’ and hauled off to the next lady at the window.

    The lady at the next window was lots more serious.  What were our names?  What was our business?  She looked over her glasses at us pinned into the tiny little room where people talk with her. (The little room was the size of a jail cell i was in once).  Anyhow, after letting her know that we were gonna stay around until we heard from the consulate ndher saying, ‘yes yes, I know.  yes yes, I know,” we were finally given a piece of paper with the consulate’s secretary’s, Mr. Heyn (or something like that), phone number.  We should call MR. Heyn and MR. Heynwould tell us if we could talk with the consulate or not.  It was beginning to look like OR NOT.  There is nothing like giving somebody a half dozen instructions to wear them down.  But we weren’t wore down.  Heck no, we were just starting to pursue our MR. Consulate General.

   The only one of us with a cell phone that had a loud speaker (yes yes, there are phones like that!) was Juan, the organizer, so he called MR. H and told him that we were all sitting outside their office wanting and waiting to talk with the Consulate.  Well, Mr. H had to consulate the consul.  MR. H would get back to us.  Well, when?  Today?  Surely, today!  Well, soon, he said. So to get our message across that we weren’t that easy to get rid of, we went out into the hallway leading up to the lst room andsprawled out.  I sat on the floor with one banner.  The two Indian guys held two more signs andwe talked with everybody that came down that hall.  Many folks visiting the consulate for India.  Some students approached us andwanted information.  They said they had studied the Bhopal tragedy in school so seeing us there brought the tragedy to real life.  And ain’t nothing like real life as apposed to something like a blurb in a textbook.  Anyhow we were doubting that Mr.H.  He was just fooling around with us.  That was our thinking.  So we sent the camera man (Juan’s son) into the little tiny room with the lady at the window.  We figured that the lady in the window wouldn’t recognize him since he had had the camera up to his face the whole time.  We wanted our camera man to pretend he needed to see the consulate and see how fast HE got a meeting.  Well, the lady at the window recognized him and sent him back out.  Soon, she said.  Soon. 

   Well, surprise surprise.  MR. H called and said indeedy we could talk with the consulate general, Mr. Gavai.  We had five minutes!  So we were hustled in and told NO! we could not film the meeting because we did NOT ask for a meeting prior to coming and maybe if we had, then we might have been allowed the filming.  That’s what we got for being so RUDE.

    Anyhow, we all traipsed into the consulate’s office and MR. H. offered us little couches to sit on.  Mr. Gavai sit down and shook hands all around.  Nice nice man. Very polite. VERY TALL.  Yes, what did we want.  Ashish, our Indian student, explained the Bhopal situation.  Yes yes, Mr. G said.  Terrible tragedy.  Everybody agreed it was a terrible tragedy.  The Indian Goverment agreed it was a terrible tragedy.  Then why, we asked, weren’t things that were promised being done?  Constraints, he said.  Well, I pounced on that one.  Constraints!  Constraints!  What constraints?   Well, then Mr. G got very vague and said he was no expert.  he could only pass down the information that we gave him to the Prime Minister.  That was his job.  To just pass the information down.

    Well, i could’ve gone into a little tirade on what those constraints were.  Everybody knew the constraints.  The whole world knew.  its like a big fat elephant in a small room and nobody wants to talk about the elephant.  Goes something like this (this is my thinking, here)  the corporate world and the US government does not care to have corporate killings and environmental mayhem took to task in another country.  They’re thinking, Hey we brought our company down here.  Now give us a free license to do what we will.  That way all involved will make a profit. Oh well, not the poor and not the disfranchised.  No!  The important people!  Besides if Union Carbide and Dow are brought to task for this horrendous crime, doesn’t that mean that other foreign corporations that create a mess will be brought to task?? Well, that wouldn’t do!  That would set a precedent! 

   Anyhow, that was my thinking on what those ‘constraints’ were.  But the nice MR. G. said to write down.  Write down. BE explicit.  What are the demands?  Well, i said i believe those demands are already out there!  Well, didn’t matter. Mr. G said Write the demands what you want down on paper.

    So that was the end of that and we left with handshakes all around.  Very good. very good. We got our five minutes. 

    Then we went down the elevator and out under the great covering of the number 3 tower and plotted for tomorrow.

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June 15, 2008

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