Saturday, March 05, 2011

Octavia Edwards under arrest

My sister Octavia Edwards was picked up by the Oakland Police and charged with harassment, from what I understand, a couple of days ago (Thursday afternoon). When I opened an email from a good friend of hers, it was to tell me that Octavia was in the hospital suffering from chest pains. Octavia has a history of angina, so the police took her to Summit Hospital where she spent the night and after tests were completed, she was released late afternoon the following day, Friday.

Now I don't know where she is. Octavia told me on the phone from the hospital she would be taken to Santa Rita for booking, but I haven't heard anything definitive.

When I called the hospital early morning Friday Octavia was asleep. I'd just returned from Berkeley Rep where I'd seen Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Ruined--a meditation on rape and war and memory and value--the value society places on women's lives.

The parallel here is the value of certain lives over others. The use of rape in war is a juxtaposition of shame and hurt. When a woman is raped it brings shame on her community, starting with her family, so to hurt a woman is to effectively wipe a people off the planet. Rape is often more effective than murder--

Ruined women are in a space where they have no home--pariahs, they are in limbo like souls floating between heaven and hell. In the play, Mama Nadi (actress Tonye Patano) carves out a space for ruined women, a place where they are safe and independent and have a camaraderie not found in their former homes, homes they are ostracized from.

My two brothers went to the hospital separately and neither could visit Octavia. There was a police guard in front of the curtained off doorway. Ronnie said Octavia had been taken to the lab for tests when he arrived. I think Rahim saw her in the room. She didn't see him.

I guess phone calls to her were stopped, because, Octavia's elder sister called and couldn't get through.

I must have been lucky.

The plan is to find her, I am getting nervous. I am taking kava kava and eating oatmeal, in lieu of oatmeal drops for my nerves which are jumpy. How does the prison system keep an angina patient alive when the very idea of prisons is stressful, especially when the ones who have locked you up killed your son and have the other one under lock and key as well?

Now the entire family is behind bars. Octavia visited her younger son on Saturdays. Who is going to let him know what's wrong?

How could Octavia harass the police? What could she do to them that would warrant her arrest?

Stay tuned.

Okay, day two, later on.

I speak to my brother-in-law, Rahim who finds out where Octavia is and what the charge is. Sounds like the SF 8 case. She is being held without bond on a charge that was dismissed. Someone stole her ID and committed a crime in 2008 or 9.

Day 3

I made an appointment yesterday to see Octavia this afternoon. I've never been to Santa Rita before. I used to work in Pleasanton and remember the old army barrack-type facility that used to house county prisoners. The new prison is not far from the old, you just can't see it from 1-580, but my GPS got me there exactly half an hour before my appointment. I was so nervous.

She told me later that she didn't know who was visiting or that she had a visitor prior to my arrival.

I wore all black and when I arrived almost everyone there waiting outside had on blue jeans. I was shocked. All the state prisons prohibit jeans. When my daughter asked me later what her Aunt Octavia was wearing, I couldn't remember. I just know it wasn't orange or red or anything bright.

People took in ink pens to jot down notes and it wasn't a contact visit. I spoke to Octavia through this circular ventilation-type metal covered hole in the Plexiglas. We couldn't sit on the stools, not if we wanted to hear. We leaned on the counter with our ears plastered to the hole alternating speaking and listening.

When I asked the guard as we left what happened to phones. He replied, I only work here. I am paying his salary and my tax dollars were used to build this facility--so I should have a say in its efficiency--not that I am advocating for better prisons, but what is the point of a visit if one cannot communicate effectively.

The remedy isn't high tech. Put in phones. There was no privacy, but none of us had time to listen or pay attention to anyone else, we were too busy shouting through the circular metal opening.

I didn't know what to expect, so I took one dollar bills for snacks and thought I could stay until 5 PM. Nope. I had half an hour. I arrived at 11:30 AM and I was back in my car in the parking lot at 1 PM. I even had time to use the bathroom twice and put money on Octavia's books--the money I couldn't spend on her in the visit.

The killer (I use this word loosely and intentionally) was she won't get the money until Tuesday. I hope she doesn't have an emergency. Crazy. Deposit the money Sunday and the person doesn't get it for two days.

Personal Dilemma
Should I cancel classes and go to the hearing? I can't find anyone to proctor an exam which my students and I agreed to postpone from last week to Monday. I wish I could cancel. I have never been to anyone's preliminary hearing before except the one for the brothers in the SF8 case, which Francisco Torres is still being prosecuted on. Imagine, Tuesday, March 8, is the 100 Anniversary of International Women's Day and my sister is behind bars.

I digress. Easy when one is waiting and waiting and has no control over anything. But the wait is the least of my worries. Traveling to Africa and being in Africa has made me extremely patient. It could be a lot worse. In Africa a lot of time, after a long wait, one might be told to return the next day to an even longer wait. Bureaucracy is an international phenomena and when people are in charge of one's life or one's loved one's life, they push those on the outside sometimes just becasue they can.

Back at Santa Rita
As I waited for the guard to get our names and the names of the person we wanted to visit, I looked down the long hall and thought about how narrow the hall was and again my thoughts returned to Hollywood and the films about long walks and heaven and hell and limbo. Hades must be like this--a long walk with stops along the way just as bad as the destination too far away to see clearly. I wondered what was behind the doors: 21, 22, 23, 24. There was no number for 25, but we were at the opposite end of the plank and there was no where else to go.

Octavia looked well, despite the fact that the prison wasn't following the physician's at Summitt hospitals instructions correctly. When we parted she said she was going to get her blood pressure taken and make an appointment to see a nurse.

I remember Octavia telling stories of times in the past when she slept on cell floors--cold cell floors. I don't know what facility, but I hope it wasn't this one. Now she is a full-time college student, doing well, about to graduate. Just moved out of transitional housing and found a two bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood, and then this happens.

It reminds me of an old practice in New Orleans, where police would conduct sweeps. They would arrest black men without proof of employment or other necessary identification and hold them without charges just long enough for them to lose their jobs and be guilty of vagrancy. The police would also use this unlikely and reluctant pool to fish for suspects in unsolved crimes. Many men ended up behind bars indefinitely serving time for crimes they did not commit.

I met a young man who was visiting his girl friend this afternoon; he'd arrived for his appointment at 8 AM. He'd never been inside a prison before and said he didn't like the experience. He girl is getting out in two months and he told her he couldn't get used to this. I found it uncanny that his father was behind bars too, had been his entire life. He had been raised by an aunt who didn't share his father's letters with him as a child or take him to visit his father. As an adult he has written his father and seen photos, but never visited him.

He must love his girlfriend.

Octavia has a court hearing Monday morning at 9 AM, Department 111 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington Street at Seventh Street in Oakland.

I don't see why the judge doesn't throw out the case. She was found innocent. Stay tuned.


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