Day of the Dead in O.P.P
Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2005 at 12:27 PM
Report from the inside of Orleans Parish Prison since its opening post Hurricane
This is a first hand report of my night spent in OPP. I am a resident of New Orleans, a woman of color, health care provider, and anti-authoritarian organizer who has spent time in more than a few jail cells; but never have I feared a cell more than the one I shared with nine other women for a night and day. I will tell this as a simple observation because I am still in shock and can’t start to process or analyze what I saw.
I was walking home from Halloween shenanigans with two friends of mine, when pieces of my costume began falling onto the street and an NOPD car stopped and yelled at me to pick it up. Not being completely sober and thinking he was joking, I told him to ask me nicely and I would. Both officers got out of the car and came at us yelling obscenities and reaching to grab me. Trying to reason was pointless and after some shoving and screaming from the officers I was handcuffed and in the patrol car, my first charge: Littering, followed by drunk in public and resisting arrest. While I was in the back of the patrol car the officers continued to verbally abuse me suggesting they would find my “dyke bitch” friend and arrest her later and making terrifying insinuations that they had arrested me because they wanted a girl in a skirt “to themselves”. Also when I said that I had lived in the ninth ward prior to the hurricane and that some of my neighbors where missing and I feared dead they told me “you should have taught them to swim.”
I reached OPP and entered the processing area. The first thing I noticed was the powerful musky smell of mold. I looked at the walls and could see a faint water line about six feet up the wall and there was thick black crust in the corners of the room. The holding cells had no toilets and we were not given water. It was obvious that they had set everything up in haste because I was not finger-printed, photographed or searched. I was processed, my clothes taken and on my way to a cell within an hour, lightning speed compared to my other jail experiences. I was with four other women who were in on drunk in public and drug charges. As we were walked through the hallways I saw into rooms that had not been cleaned, there was sludge and debris on the floors and on the lower parts of the walls.
When we reached our cell area, which I believe was on the seventh floor, I was almost over powered by the smell of bleach and shit. When I was placed into a large cell with five bunk beds and nine other women I saw the source of the smell. The two toilets where full and over flowing with human waste. I asked one women who had been there for five days what had happened, she said that the plumbing hadn’t worked since she had been there. Plumbing in cells is all in one unit, meaning that there is a toilet, sink, water fountain combo system. Where the tank on a regular toilet would be is a sink with a drinking fountain in it. Since the plumbing hadn’t been working neither had the water fountain and my cell mates said they had not been supplied with water the entire time. The way they had been drinking was by catching the slight dribble that came out of the sink with there hands and drinking that. Now, I know that drinking Nola tap water is a dangerous thing, but coupled with that fact that we had to drink out of our very unwashed hands in a unit overflowing with fecal matter I can only imagine how the risk increases. I never saw clean water being given to any prisoners. I was on a floor with three group cells just like this and apparently we were the only female population in OPP as of last night. These cells had the same crusty black stuff in the corners and along the walls as the first floor. My lungs burned from the combo of the bleach and mold. I spoke with a woman who had been there a week and said that the phones had not been working her entire imprisonment and she had been refused when she demanded to call someone to go care for her children. A large number of the women in my cell could be bonded out as soon as they got access to a phone, but were still denied. Most of my cell mates told stories of losing everything, including family members, in the storm and then being arrested on bullshit charges by cops on power trips and not even being able to let their families know where they were. Everyone in there seemed past the edge and more terrified and injured then I’ve ever seen a group of people. That night it was hard to sleep because of the sobbing and screaming of the women on my floor. The air hung heavy with suffering and I could feel the terror and desperation of all the people who had been left in the cells during and after the hurricane.
I was escorted to court early in the morning and told “if you plead guilty you leave today, you plead not guilty and you’ll be here ‘till February.” At that point my lungs burned so badly and I was dizzy with dehydration, I would have taken almost any chance to get out. I plead guilty and was released with a $300 fine. It took until later that day to be released and I left with a long list of names and numbers to call for my cell mates that where left in there with no phone.
While I was there I heard a sheriff say there were only 200 inmates and that the capacity for OPP was 1,500 to 2,000, she also said that within two days they were going to be bringing back hundreds of prisoners that had been taken out after the hurricane. Within days a prison without clean water, plumbing, and full of flood sludge and mold will be filled with even more prisoners. I can not stress enough that OPP IS NOT inhabitable and being there even for a short time will make you sick. My lungs are still burning and I now have a massive infection in my leg from my 18 hour stay. Basic human rights are being violated at every step, OPP must be shut down.
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