Last week, a pipeline fighter was sentenced to three months in jail for stopping construction on a Mountain Valley Pipeline drill site as part of a mass action in October. A Montgomery County judge imposed this sentence after the land defender took their case to trial rather than pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charges. During their first week in jail, they released this statement:
“In considering the prosecution’s plea offer, I felt how much the state threatens you by fear- fear of loss, fear of the unknown, attachment interrupted. The threat isn’t necessarily in the months or convictions, it’s. in the assurance that they could do it even worse. Jail is made to make people fearful, yet people endure it all the time. In recent weeks, I’ve experienced how people come to know their own strengths and how they
handle their fear.
For ‘brave people’, fear still comes up. It’s a feeling that comes and goes like all other feelings. Fear is mixed in with feelings of freedom, empowerment, aliveness. These feelings can all exist in the same cell, considering the same plea offer, anticipating the same unknown futures. But a lot can change in how we relate to the feelings.
Nothing is guaranteed in the jail/legal system, etc. There are “rights” granted to defendants/prisoners, and then there is reality. Jail seeks to objectify us and detach us from ourselves, from our strength. By way of overt abuses to simple ignoring, COs and all their kin (*REDACTED*) aim to disappoint, to assert that they are in charge of this building/reality, and to claim they are in charge of us. By way of fear, we learn to manage our behaviors to do what they want, even if we don’t want to.
We have some say in how much we lose track of ourselves. Following their procedures to play the game is different than believing it’ll work. The game is set up to pit you against yourself, use your expectations and attachments against you, turning them into losses, again reinforcing fear of the unknown.
Of course we have human vulnerabilities, mental health shit, trauma shit, all of which is exacerbated in jail. But we need to be careful to not overstate our vulnerabilities and limitations. I’ve lived through many hells and I know shit can get dark. I’m also not an expert on these kinds of moments for myself in a jail context. Inside, it’s acute activation.
It’s times of living in the abusive relationship, not the times of healing from it.
It’s also the times of endurance, compassion, commitment, caring for each other, and dignity in a place that’s actively trying to break all that.
I feel very lucky. While my problems are personal and difficult to me, they are relatively minimal. I’m surrounded by people who have shown tons of kindness and support, in this pod and outside these walls. People are making sure I’m sufficiently fed, caffeinated, entertained, and avoiding petty fuck ups. The vibe is caring for each other and keeping spirits high, or at least calm. The environment I came from into jail is full of wild, cackling laughter. Laughter of strength and freedom and defiance. I feel lucky to experience the same here. In both places it interrupts my sleep, and in both it makes me smile.
I hope my time in jail inspires others to be a little more brave in whatever ways make sense for them. Kill the cop in your head, let’s be stronger together. End all settler colonialism and extractive industries. Doom to the pipeline. Defend the forest everywhere.”