There’s a thought that keeps screaming back into your head – it’s as if you’ve left this thought to run away on its own, but it’s attached by a bungee cord and at some point you’re smacked in the face by this thought again: “I shouldn’t be here. I haven’t done anything wrong. No one thinks I’ve done anything wrong.”
We’ve named our set of jail cells “correctional facilities” despite the fact that they are not intended to correct and are barely facilities. It’s like some morbid stand up comedy routine. There are 8 of us in 4 cells. 3 men to my left, 1 man to my right, two men in the cell with me, and two women in a cell within yelling distance. We’ve all been arrested for various degrees of being a tourist. One man can’t stop ranting about how all he did was pat a cop on the back and say “good job” sarcastically. From their our crimes become more and more confusing. One was trying to put away a sign he was legally allowed to carry, but didn’t do it quick enough. Another didn’t want to put away a sign. Another put away his sign and started to walk away in order to follow police instructions. Me and another were standing near the guy who tried to walk away. One accidentally backed up into a police blow-horn. Another was accidentally backed up into by a police officer.
None of us wanted to get arrested that day, but the feeling doesn’t change when you intend to get arrested. You still feel like getting arrested is not a proper response to a mild disagreement about where to stand.
Honors British American Literature was the first class I had with Lucas Michelson. I knew him vaguely as the rich kid. I’m sure he knew me vaguely as the tiny vegetarian. We quickly came to not particularly care for each other. It wasn’t hatred. It wasn’t even true dislike, but it was a disagreement about how to handle life that we weren’t quite mature enough to handle in discussion. One day Lucas went to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. He had been sitting in the comfy chair. I had been sitting in it at the beginning of class, but I had gotten up to get a drink and go to the bathroom. Now the chair was free and I was free to take it back. He had set the rules that a free chair was a free chair, and though I disagreed with his ruling, the rules were now turned in my favor. I retook the chair and our classmates applauded my decision. It wasn’t that Lucas was disliked. He was. But so was I. It was that we had all witnessed his original seat stealing antics and had decided against trying to reason with the spoiled kid with the well known temper problem. When he re-entered the classroom, Mrs. Lyons’ large wooden hall pass dangling from his wrist, his eyes lite up with fury. The primordial screams of “GET OUT OF MY CHAIR!” seemed to echo in my ears as he grabbed me by the throat and picked me up – feet dangling above where my books and homework assignments had fallen. Mrs. Lyons was a measly 3 feet away and yelled with the same force “LUCAS!” Her scream was surrounded by a cloud of confusion and disappointment. Though I never scream at the cops, I feel that same cloud of confusion and disappointment surrounding the words I do say to them.
When I was slammed down on the ground, I asked if I was under arrest. “Am I under arrest?” It wasn’t a snarky response to a police officer to claim a higher understanding of my rights. It was a question asked out of genuine confusion as it seemed as though I had just been collateral damage as the cop tackled a crowd of people trying to leave a crowded area. It was a question I was realizing the answer to as I asked it and it filled me with disappointment. Disappointment in this police officer, disappointment in the country, disappointed that we lived in a society that would immediately interrogate me and my motives first.
We all spent 11 hours in those tiny cells without getting a drop of food before we were shipped off to another jail cell. I tried to sleep, but I kept getting woken up by this thought. This thought that I shouldn’t be here, I didn’t do anything wrong, nobody thinks I did anything wrong.
The cops don’t even want to look you in the eye because they know they’ve screwed up. Your “arresting officer” is never the one who tossed you to the pavement, but they know you have no reason to be there. They feel guilt and shame but it doesn’t change their actions because they’ve been told a job is more important that morality. They’ve been told that you do what the rules say not what you believe – and this becomes an increasingly difficult tightrope to walk as the rules keep getting changed.
The system is broken because it pits the guilty against the confused in an effort to distract from the evil. The system is broken and needs to be corrected, but in its last act of self-preservation the system got rid of the correctional facilities. Let’s create our own correctional facilities. Let’s start correcting the facilities that be without fear of laws because laws do not translate to morality – that connection is becoming thinner and thinner every day. If we have morality on our side then we will eventually tear down the laws that bind us to immorality. At least, we have to believe that. At least, I have to believe that. For me. And Mrs. Lyons.