Carrie has first-hand experience being arrested and jailed for participating in activism in Colorado Springs, CO.
What Usually Happens
As you well know, a permit is technically required for most kinds of protests in Colorado Springs. For example, permits are required to "amplify noise," even if you are only "amplifying" with a bullhorn. Closing the streets requires an additional permit, and having a full-blown event like the Women's March requires even more preparation, like taking out high-dollar insurance policies to cover any unforeseen circumstances.
Things You Can Do Without a Permit
- Peacefully gather
- Protest on any sidewalk as long as you are moving
- Protest in public spaces, such as Acacia Park or in front of City Hall.
The police have to tell you to stop what you're doing—and give you a chance to stop—before they can lawfully arrest you.
Police generally ignore peaceful protests. However, the city has singled out and come down hard on smaller groups, like the Colorado Springs Socialists. The "Socialist Six" were arrested on March 26, 2017, and are being threatened with jail time for allegedly blocking a city street.
Blocking or walking in the middle of a street may get you arrested and cited, although a precedent to the contrary has already been set; the Women's March did not have a permit to block the streets, and yet, no one was arrested. Again, police must order you to disperse and give you an opportunity to disperse, before they can arrest you.
Trespassing is a more serious charge; police don't necessarily have to ask you to leave before they arrest and cite you.
I spoke with a Colorado Springs Police officer at a recent protest, and he said that, generally, when people are arrested at a protest, they might be handcuffed, a citation might be issued, and they will usually be released immediately. He said that CSPD might take protestors over to city court and cite them there if they are being "uncooperative" (probably as an intimidation tactic). Citations, however, are an effective tactic, since any arrest can quickly shut down a protest.
If you are "uncooperative" during your arrest (e.g., you refuse to give officers your name) you will likely be in custody longer, but they still won't take you down to the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC), aka "real jail."
What Happens if You Commit a "Serious Offense"
Now, if you commit a serious offense while protesting, you will be arrested and treated like a "real" criminal. And that's what I want to prepare you for.
In this article, when I say "serious offense," I mean things like:
- Destruction of property
- Resisting arrest
When You're Arrested
Again, don't resist. Resisting can turn a relatively minor charge into a misdemeanor or worse (which is exactly what they want). And remember: Going limp is technically resisting arrest, so after they handcuff you, just comply with whatever they tell you to do. As much as it may piss you off, comply—it just makes things easier.
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By the way, the handcuffs are crazy uncomfortable. Just suck up the discomfort because you don't have to wear them very long. And keep your mouth shut! You should only say two things to them (beyond your personal information): That you want an attorney and that you won't answer any questions without that attorney.
For the love of all things holy, don't brag about what you did to other inmates. In fact, don't talk to anyone while they are transporting you. Above all, Assume that everything you say and do is being recorded.
You also need to prepare yourself for the genuinely scary people in the CJC. There are real rapists and murderers in there; violent fights can and do happen, but rarely. However, the vast majority of inmates are relatively harmless folks who committed minor drug offenses. Keep to yourself, and you shouldn't have any problems.
Your Phone Call
If you're planning on getting arrested, decide in advance who you can call for bail (bond) money. If you think you might forget their number, write it on your arm in permanent marker. A landline is better because it can receive collect calls. You have to set up a pre-paid phone account with Global Tel Link to call cell phones. It's confusing and a pain. The person you are calling has to set up the account; you cannot set up an account from jail. Their number is 1-800-483-8314. It may seem expensive and, well . . . it is. There is no cheap way to talk on the phone while in jail.
You could always set up a GTL account on a friend's phone before your arrest. Because the account is tied to the phone number and not the inmate, other activists could use the account, too. I would not recommend putting more than $10 on the account at first, however, because it might be hard to get your money back if you don't use it.
Don't set up an account for your own cell phone; you need your cell phone and charger on you when you are arrested, so you can call somebody when you're released—even if that "somebody" is Uber. The walk from the jail to, well . . . anywhere is miserable and usually long.
Most people don't know how bail works, so here goes. Each crime has a set bond amount. They tell you the amount while you're being booked. You could theoretically bond out of jail before your first court appearance if you are able to pay the bond, which would be great if, for example, if you get arrested on the Friday before Labor Day.
Say the court sets a $5,000 bond. If you pay the court (jail) directly, you have to give them $5,000 in cash, but you can't miss any hearings—not even one. If you do, they will take every red cent of that $5,000. And they don't accept credit cards or checks—cash only.
Unfortunately, most people don't have that kind of cash lying around, which is why most people use bail bondsmen. You give the bondsman about 10–20% of the total bond amount. You don't get that money back. Then you put up collateral for the rest. If you have a high bond, it can be a challenge to come up with the money. You must own, in full, anything you put up as collateral on the remaining balance. Yeah, you can put up your house as collateral, but only if you own it outright with no mortgage. You can read more about posting bail here.
If your crime isn't a serious felony and you don't mind toughing it out, you can wait for your arraignment (first court appearance). If your charge isn't a serious felony and you don't have a record, there is a chance a judge will let you out on a PR (personal recognizance) bond. Which is basically a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, only there is a fee to get out of jail free: About $80.
Booking and Holding
When you first enter the CJC, they will have you remove your shoes and put on a pair of orange Croc-like sandals. They make you take off any "extra" clothing, like coats or sweaters; you will have to remove all your jewelry, including all piercings. Then they take your photo for your ID bracelet, which is like a green hospital bracelet. If you are wearing pants, they let you wear them while you are waiting in holding; if you are wearing a skirt, they make you change into their pants.
Tip: If you think you might get arrested and the weather is on the cool side, wear a long-sleeved t-shirt. You'll need it while you're waiting in holding.
And you will wait.
Holding is a lot like an ER waiting room, and about as slow. I was in holding for nine hours before they put me in a cell. You're not in handcuffs. There's a TV, and you can talk quietly to other inmates (but if you're a guy, you can't talk to the women, and vice versa). You can use the phones as much as you want. You can get up and use the bathroom as many times as you want. They might also give you a sack lunch.
When they changed shifts, they put us in holding cells; long, narrow, cinder block rooms with a toilet, sink, and "bed." Although the toilet is behind a small half wall, everyone can see and hear you. I think there were ... nine of us in the holding cell for two hours. When the shift change was over, they put us back out in the open area.
Eventually, they do a quick medical intake, and take your fingerprints. Be sure to tell the nurse about any medical issues, even ones that are not officially diagnosed by a doctor (like a bad back). And then ... eventually ... they call your name to go in the back and change into your jail scrubs. Different colors mean different crimes: orange means felony, dark blue means misdemeanor, sky blue means super crazy person (the Planned Parenthood shooter wore this color), green means trusties (as in: they trust them, not that they're trustees), yellow-green means psychiatric.
Misdemeanor inmates are referred to as "blueberries;" you'll probably be a blueberry.
Yes, you will have to change in front of a guard and possibly in front of other inmates. Yes, they make you get naked. They make women trade out their undies and bra for jail undies and a sports bra. The undies don't get passed on, but the bras are previously worn.
Once you're all changed, they give you extra undies, socks, a brown plastic mug, a spoon, toothpaste, toothbrush, and soap. They also give you bedding (no pillow) and a towel. They also give you this felt-tip marker thing. Not the whole marker, just the inside part.
Tip: Keep track of everything they give you. Things like the toothpaste don't have to be returned, but if you lose a towel or a cup, they will charge you for those items! And be absolutely sure not to lose your ID bracelet. They won't let you leave without turning it in!
Your Cell (And I Don't Mean Your Phone)
Going back to your cell that first time is pretty intimidating. It's a long walk down a dark hallway. Kind of like the employee hallway at the mall, only less comforting.
They will most likely put you in a two-person cell the first night, so they can see how you hold up. You might have a roommate, you might not. The cells have doors, not bars, which creates an atmosphere that can be torture for claustrophobics. You definitely learn the meaning of "the walls were closing in on me" in those cells.
They put us in the psych ward the first night, where we were on lockdown for 21 hours. And it was most definitely the psych ward; those ladies were allowed to scream, bang and be major pains in the butt all day. Thankfully, they were not out of their cells at the same time we were. I could have sworn that one of them was crazier version of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.
As I said before, the cells are small; about 5 paces long and very narrow. There are fluorescent lights in each cell, which they never turn off. Not even at night. In our cells, there were frosted windows that barely let in any light, and you couldn't see out. I have heard, though, that other cells have normal windows with decent views.
The toilet and sink are right out in the open, and believe me, the toilet flushes at such a velocity that it will wake you up from a deep sleep. And also: Stainless steel is really, really cold.
There is a kind of bunk bed thing on one wall, with plastic covered, one-inch "mattresses" on it. Your sheets don't really cover them. There is a desk at one end of the cell for both cell mates ("cellies") to use.
Tip: If you have any physical issues with climbing, tell the guards during your medical intake, because getting on the top bunk can be a challenge for anyone with physical limitations.
On the second afternoon, they came and got some of us and moved us to "E" block, which has an open floor plan. They love to move you around; God forbid you get comfortable. If I remember correctly, there are 8 "pods" in each block; 4 on top and 4 on the bottom. Each pod has 8 beds. There is a large, open bathroom area in the middle, both upstairs and downstairs.
You will not believe the noise generated by those stupid toilets. Flushing. All. Day. AND ALL NIGHT. It even made one of the girls in my pod cry.
This probably won't be a problem for men, but women need to be aware that there are male guards in the women's blocks, and they can see you using the toilet or showering. Yes, it is humiliating. I'm not sure how they get away with it, but .... whatever.
There are tables in the common area in all blocks. There are also phones, with the same rules as above, but you have to set up an account on an electronic kiosk to use them. Another inmate offered to help me set up my account. You can order some OTC medications through the kiosk, and sign up for a limited number of meetings/classes. Most of them are Christian-based, but, if nothing else, they break up the crushing monotony.
There are books available in the common area, but of course all the good ones are snatched up quick. The leftovers are terrible Christian books. (I could have read good Christian books - even the Bible - but the only ones left were the duds.) If you see any books you think you might like, grab them! It's hard to get your mind off being in jail, but reading can help. You will probably end up sleeping most of the time, though, because no matter how tough you are, being in jail is stressful.
I never imagined jail food could be so bad. But jail food is bad. There is a trick you can use, but you have to remember to do it it when you first get to the CJC.
Most meals include a slab of baloney. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. And you're probably thinking, "Hey! I could do baloney sandwiches for a few days!" Only ... it's not really baloney. The slice is like three times the size of a regular slice of baloney, and it's a really unnatural color. It's like blood-ish pink, with a perfectly ungodly smell and taste. And the bread! Who messes up bread?? But they do, because they don't add yeast to it. Because inmates might make alcoholic somethings or others with it. So the bread is also ungodly.
So when you first get to the CJC and they ask about your food preferences and religion, tell them that you are:
- Jewish, and therefore
- kosher, or
- Muslim, or
- vegan, or
If that means lying, THEN LIE. If you tell them that, then they don't give you the terrible slab of crap, and instead give you less disgusting options like beans and rice or peanut butter. And if you're thinking, "Oh! I love beans and rice!" then ... STOP IT!! This is jail beans and rice. Edible but not palatable.
There are guards who are less bad, and then there are guards who you will make you wish you had burning laser beam vision. Most of the guards I talked to were sympathetic to my cause; I was, after all, only in there on a contempt charge.
But a few things really pissed me off. First: They had some kind of training drill in the adjoining block, so they brought all those women over to our common area and put us all on lockdown. It was annoying to have to be on lockdown for most of the day, but I got to sit on my bunk. What made me really mad was that they made those women sit at those dumb tables on those dumb seats all day. They were miserable.
Oh yeah, and that they yelled at us all day to be quiet, when we barely spoke above whispers.
Then, there was literally an explosion that came from the adjoining block, followed by vicious snarling dogs right on the other side of the closed door. Even the guards didn't know it was coming, and were clearly startled by the noise. It really scared some of the women in the block (some of those women aren't doing so well), and the guards were wholly unsympathetic to their legitimate anxiety.
The worst though ... that I just couldn't believe ... was when they finally rounded up all the pregnant women in the block to take them to a doctor (one had arrived around the same time I did and had been asking for a doctor the whole time, almost two full days), a female guard made this statement in front of the whole block: "Maybe this will teach you to keep your legs together!" Followed by a hideous, shrill laugh.
My point? Sit down and keep your mouth shut. Keep notes, and tell people what you witnessed when you get out, but don't do one damn thing about it when you are in the CJC.
Visitation, Mail, and Commissary
Hopefully, you won't be in jail long enough to take advantage of things like visitation, mail, or commissary. If there is a chance you will be in jail for more than a couple days, I suggest browsing through the El Paso County Sheriff's web site. It has everything you need to know about things like sending mail and putting money on inmate accounts.
The only thing not mentioned on their site is that you can only order commissary once per week, and only if you have money on your books. The ID bracelet costs money, and that amount is taken off the inmate's books immediately. I think that amount is in the $30 range.
I wrote this piece about visitation; again, it might be wise to glance through it before you're arrested, especially if you have kids.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.