Today is Independence Day in America, and as I sit in my hotel room in SeaTac (outside of Seattle, Washington), listening to non-stop explosions and firecrackers going off outside in celebration of “independence” and “freedom”, I am saddened to think that one out of every 100 Americans are imprisoned and my Canadian husband Marc Emery is among them.
I got to visit Marc this morning, which was wonderful as always. Visiting days are only Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday; processing starts at 2pm on Friday and Monday, and 7:30am on Saturday and Sunday. Prisoners’ numbers determine whether the visits are on even or odd-numbered days, so because Marc’s prisoner number is #40252-086, I got to see him on Friday July 2nd and today, Sunday July 4th. However, everyone can visit today regardless of the odd-even rule, since it’s a holiday, so it was very busy!
The process goes like this: I get to the prison an hour early just to be first (or one of the first) in line, because it can get crowded very fast. I bring a book along to read – with all the time to spend waiting, I already finished “The Armageddon Factor” and have started “The Fountainhead”, which was extremely influential in Marc’s life just like “Atlas Shrugged” was, too. Today was my fifth visit so far, though one was by video/phone because Marc was in solitary confinement then. With each visit I get more comfortable in the prison lobby, and as we visitors recognize each other, we begin talking more often. There’s one woman who has been there every time, she’s light-hearted and very friendly, and had heard about Marc before meeting me. A girl my age and I were talking about Marc and the DEA press release that said he was the publisher of a “propagandist magazine”, and she asked which one; when I said Cannabis Culture, she exclaimed, “Oh my, everyone knows about Cannabis Culture! My husband got his lawyer from an ad in CC!” Sure enough, he was one of our regular advertisers. We do have a presence in America!
When you show up for visits, you have to fill out a form with your name and address, and the inmate name and prisoner number. There’s a list of prohibited items that you have to check off “no” to each one; interestingly, “marijuana” is separate from “narcotics”. At least that’s true, as marijuana is certainly not a narcotic! After filling out the form you wait on the benches against the wall in the order you came in, though some new visitors don’t realize they’re butting in line and have to be told how it works.
As soon as 7:30am or 2:00pm (Sat/Sun, and Fri/Mon, respectively) rolls around, you get in line formation in front of the “Check-In” booth. It’s a panel of reflective glass with a little hole to speak and hand things through. As you’re called up to the hole one by one, you hand them your form and ID, and receive a key for a locker to put everything away. All you can bring into the visiting room is the key and your person. Some guards take a very long time doing whatever else they can busy themselves with while dozens of people wait anxiously in line, but others are more human and do it fairly quickly and efficiently.
After the first five people are processed, the guard calls out the names of the inmates, “Emery! Martinez! Simon! Jones! Agassiz!” or whomever is being visited (none of those names but Marc’s are specific people; just an example). Those five visitors go up to the big metal door next to the window and wait for the loud “click-clunk” sound of it being unlocked, then line up inside the processing/guard room, then the other visitors outside wait to be processed.
In the guard room, you get a fluorescent yellow stamp on your left hand, then sign into the visitor book, and then start removing everything metal – jewelry, belts, shoes – and put them in a tray to go through the x-ray machine, just like in airports. Next, you walk through the metal detector, then put everything back on and go line up at the next door (if you beep, they do the wand scan). Once all five visitors are ready – and often-times there are many children; they don’t count in the five-person rule – another guard, the escort, waits for the heavy “click-clunk” sound of the door being unlocked. Then we all file into the next section. It’s a small hallway with another big steel door, and yet another “click-clunk” unlocking, and you’re led into yet another hallway-room. There you can see through a window into the visitor’s area; sometimes the inmates are already there waiting, sometimes they are brought in after our arrival. That final door is opened (yet again, that loud metal unlocking noise – it’s definitely part of the prison soundtrack) and you go into the visiting room. (For a more thorough description of the big room, read my blog about my first visit with Marc.)
Today Marc was already waiting for me. I went up to him excitedly for our big “hello” hug and kiss – you can only hug and kiss hello and goodbye – and we enjoyed every second of it, not caring that we were kissing passionately in front of everyone; the people who are madly in love all do it; how could you not? I hugged him tightly and ran my hands through his hair and kissed his neck and inhaled deeply… boy, that sure is satisfying and quite a rush. It’s hard to explain how intensely comforting it is to breathe in your loved one when you’ve been torn apart…
He looked at my new blue dress that I got just for the photos we were going to take. He bought five photo “tickets” for $1 each so we can have pictures together, as all inmates can do. He held me and said I looked beautiful. Even though he has to wear a solid drab grey-green-beige prisoner outfit, he still looked incredibly handsome to me, and I said so. He was a little tired, having not had a shower because showers open at 8am, and he wanted a shower before seeing me, but I explained that I wouldn’t get in if I had waited until later, and as the room quickly filled with visitors, he realized I was right.
A day or two earlier he had written to me saying that his Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) had given him his hearing paperwork from when he got out of solitary confinement, and he wanted me to ask him in person what it was about. So sitting there together, I brought it up and found out why he couldn’t tell me through the CorrLinks “email” message: apparently, the DHO told him that he cannot use the word “demonstration” in his emails, letters, or phone calls, and he cannot communicate with members of the BC Marijuana Party, even though he’s the Leader of the BCMP! Wow – if there was any doubt that he is being punished for political reasons, those doubts should be laid to rest!
So not only was he originally arrested for political reasons as admitted by the DEA, and then sent to solitary confinement for having me record a “prison podcast” for his supporters (which was not and can’t be broadcast), but he can no longer mention “demonstrations” on his behalf and can’t act as the Leader of the BC Marijuana Party.
Let me just say this loud and clear: MARC EMERY IS A POLITICAL PRISONER!
Marc was perplexed by the DHO’s comments, but of course he agreed to comply as he does not want to break ANY rules; he’s always gracious, polite, and very well-behaved. Then he told me about something else; one of the inmates he had written to me about, whom I had mentioned in a blog post, received his legal “discovery” paperwork (in American law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in which each party can request documents and other information), and part of it was the blog post I had done under Marc’s blog account mentioning him. So not only are “they” – the US Federal Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons – reading everything I post online, but they’re using information in other inmates’ cases… that’s bizarre! Nothing bad was said in the blog, but it makes me wonder what they found of interest.
I’m beginning to question what Marc is allowed to share with me, and how it could be used against him or others. Nothing is illegal, or improper, or condemning, but as Tommy Chong wrote to me and said: the BOP doesn’t “mess around” and doesn’t like any bad attention, so it’s best to stay silent. However, I know it is my duty to let people know what Marc is going through, and Marc wants people to know that he’s okay and doing his best to deal with the extraordinarily difficult conditions of imprisonment in a maximum-security prison (which all “pre-trial” prisons are) and that he is pleased to know people are getting involved in political activism – and there’s nothing wrong with that, Mr. DEA/Justice Department/BOP guys, whomever is reading this!
During our visit, as we leaned forward over the little table, only allowed to hold hands as we talked, my black scarf/shawl fell from my shoulders down around my elbows, which exposed the skin on my upper arms, but nothing else (it’s a very high-neckline dress). One of the two guards who monitor the visiting room shouted “Emery!” and came over to us. He stood next to me but looked only at Marc – because, after all, he has no authority over me, just the inmates – and said “This is your second warning. Your visitor has to cover up.”
(On our Friday visit I had worn a dress – my dresses go down to my knees and have high necklines, because there are rules about attire and I don’t want to be refused – and a black sweater-like shawl on top, but when I took it off that day during our visit, this guard called Marc up to the guard booth and told him to tell me to put it back on because “your visitors have to wear exactly what they came in wearing”, so that was the “first warning”.)
However, during this visit, the woman next to me was wearing a tank-top and shorts, so I timidly asked the guard after he gave his stern “second warning”, “Excuse me, but that woman is showing her shoulders” (thinking that was the issue; I was still technically wearing the scarf) but he said “You have to wear exactly what you came in here wearing. She came in like that.” So case closed. I’m not going to argue! And Marc had to say “Yes, sir,” which made me resent the “I control you” power-tripping that takes place in prison. It sure makes you nervous to be told that you’re getting a “second warning” though, because everyone knows the saying “three strikes and you’re out”… and we do not want to lose visitation privileges, so we were very careful after that!
That particular guard always has a mean scowl on his face and walks around monitoring visitors, while the other guard is a younger and friendlier African-American guy who was nice to me on my very first visit when I was totally wide-eyed and scared. I guess you need to have the harsh guards to remind you who the kind, human guards are… but that can also cause trouble, as Marc explained to me that sometimes the more decent guards let you relax a bit, but then the hard-line ones terrify you with threats of punishment and lost privileges for things the other guards didn’t mind. It’s like walking on eggshells. You never know what they might do.
For example, somewhat recently, one of the guards came to Marc’s cell and said in an angry tone, “Emery, do I look like your mailman? Do I? Tell all your people they can only send you letters on Saturdays,” (because he had to make four trips with all the envelopes and magazines). Marc said, “Yes, sir”. There was a long pause, then the guard said, “Emery, I’m messin’ with ya’!” Not very comforting, but Marc definitely breathed a sigh of relief. He does NOT want to end up in solitary confinement again for any reason and getting a guard pissed off – even unintentionally – can lead to that kind of retaliation. The SHU (solitary confinement) was hellish, total isolation and deprivation, conditions that are just under the threshold of the official definition of torture… though there are some lawsuits and civil liberties cases and concerns that solitary confinement IS actually torture.
Partway through our visit, the guards called Marc’s name for photos. The photographer was an older female inmate (there are a few in a separate part of the building, not many though). I had seen other inmates and visitors get their photos done and they were taken against the backdrop of three colourful painted walls: a night scene of the Seattle Space Needle (the iconic tower tourist sight), a very vibrant depiction of the Seattle Public Market Centre (also an iconic tourist location), or a purple-hued mountain scene. I wanted a plain background, like the off-white concrete walls, and asked “Can we have our photos over there, against that white wall?” and the mean guard said, “There are no white walls.” I hesitated, pointed and said “But right there –” and he said “No, you do your photos there, there, or there” so we decided to do the space needle. (I’ll just edit the photo by cropping it later!)
We went to the wall, and I was still wearing my scarf but it covered my entire upper body, so after the first photo of Marc holding me in a hug from behind, I took it off and threw it aside; the guards didn’t say anything, thankfully. We took one more of him hugging me from behind, then one or two of us standing side-by-side holding arms/hands, and then one of us kissing, like I had seen others do. Again, the guards said nothing – I guess photos are an exception to the visiting room rules. Other women visiting have jokingly said, “it’s my man’s only chance to cop a feel”, but Marc was a gentleman, of course, and we didn’t want to get in trouble! It sure was nice to be in each others’ arms, though, and getting to see each photo after it was taken. Marc will get copies in 3 weeks, then mail them to me, so in about a month I’ll be able to share them online. (Everything takes longer than you think it ought to in prison!)
We sat down again and enjoyed the rest of our visit, bathing in the powerful love we have for one another. That sounds cheesy, but it’s so true. Marc and I are extraordinarily close, and this ordeal is just making us even closer and more determined to undo the evil of the drug war and prison industry. I’m so grateful we’re an unbreakable team. I will never stop fighting for him to come home, and for all prisoners of the drug war to be sent home too… this experience has certainly taught me a lot about the US Drug War and Imprisonment Industry so far, and the lesson has only just begun (sadly). I hope to help dismantle this horrific human rights atrocity with the help of everyone else who wants cannabis to be legal and peaceful prisoners to be freed! Let Marc’s incarceration motivate you to action – if you’ve always been concerned but haven’t taken a stand, now is the time to do it.
Here is a message I’m sharing online as my Facebook status (posted in two parts), and hope you will share too:
Are you upset about Marc Emery being a political prisoner in the USA, imprisoned for 5 years for selling seeds and funding the movement? Make a sign and spend an hour standing in an intersection to really prove that you’re willing to TAKE A STAND! Or make a banner to hang on an overpass (a cheap sheet or tablecloth with dark paint works great, and reaches a huge audience of traffic driving by). You must get out into the real world to raise awareness, to prove that you are not just sympathetic to Marc, but you’re actually willing to take the time to be active. When people look up Marc Emery, they will discover the injustice of the US drug war and demand that ALL peaceful prisoners of the drug war be set free. Spread the word: “FREE MARC EMERY” – “AMERICA MUST FREE MARC EMERY” – “GOOGLE MARC EMERY” – “MARC EMERY IS A POLITICAL PRISONER”
Go to http://www.CannabisCulture.com/FreeMarc and http://www.FreeMarc.ca to help FREE MARC EMERY!