We went to visit Mark last Thursday July 12th at Riker’s. The wait
and procedure was upsetting, but I am grateful to have friends and
loved ones with me for support.
Once I finally saw Mark after the 3 hour wait, I was shocked by how
thin and exhausted he looked. His eyes are still sparkling though and
he was warm and forthcoming with us. He’s been able to find some
sympathetic and politically engaged inmates and staff in jail. He said
he’s shocked by how much mail he’s received and sends his love to his
Occupy family around the world. He’s particularly enjoying an
autobiography by Emma Goldman, called ‘ My Life’ that someone
generously sent him.
A guard at Riker’s joked that he gets as much mail as Lil’ Wayne when
he was imprisoned. Since he’s gotten so many beautiful packages and
books, he’s placed the over flow in the community room and has started
a kind of library in the prison. He’s very excited to be released this
Monday July 16th and says he can’t wait to see everyone. He’s grateful
and surprised that people are sleeping outside of Trinity and is happy
that we’ve kept up our protest against Rector Cooper and the church.
Mark mentioned being very interested in getting back into Facilitation
and more calming, less arrestable actions once he’s out. He’s craving
lots of protein: cheese pizza, fries and even a big mac! He’s lost
considerable weight, 14 lbs so far since his hunger strike, but it
seems to be helping him keep his focus and remember that he’s a
The most upsetting thing I heard is that he’s kept in a cage for 8
hours where he doesn’t have space to sit down or stand up before his
release and while he’s waiting to be transferred outside. I would love
to do work with prison activists as this seems completely traumatic
and a clear human rights violation.
He’s hoping to maybe rest upstate for a while, but can’t wait to see
Zuccotti and friends from the community. He will be carrying precious books with him and returning some to their owners as requested. It was heartbreaking but wonderful seeing him. I can’ wait for him to be
Much to our collective joy, Mark Adams will be restored to our community very early Monday!
We know that there will be an abundance of relief and care and love on all sides of this equation, and we (the Otter Solidarity Group Team) support efforts to hold whatever kind of welcome home party/zombie prom/potluck in Mark’s honor. We have consulted with Mark about his physical state and emotional desires, and, as a result, we would like to offer up the following suggestions, which Mark has approved, for greeting and celebrating our beloved Otter upon his release.
We do suggest that any large celebration be postponed until next weekend, to give Mark some time to come off hunger strike and regain his physical fortitude, and also to readjust. We also have absolutely no doubt that Mark will be overjoyed to hear from you via Twitter, email, and facebook, but we counsel patience if you don’t hear back from him immediately, because we anticipate that the volume of affection may be pretty overwhelming.
Mark has expressed his eagerness to hear from and see everyone, but also his desire to move forward, and not to dwell on the last 30 days. We encourage you, therefore, to share your love and regards and experiences, but to exercise some gentleness about what kinds of things you ask him to share.
We are proud of Mark, who has so publicly sustained the courage of his convictions! And we are also proud of you, his friends, who have organized, and helped us to organize in a way that not only supported Mark, but honored our shared vision of radical care.
the Otter Solidarity Network Team
(Amelia, Austin, Brett, Chepe, Christina, Christine, Daniele, Dicey, Easton, Gaetano, Jen, Meg, Moira, Miriam, Nathan, Shawn, Rose Regina, Tess, Tom)
Others have described the dull depressing dehumanization of Rikers Island process, so I’ll skip that part. We had probably less than the standard amount of hassle, since on Sunday morning there aren’t that many visitors and even the whole routine couldn’t take that long with fewer people. We also lucked into a relatively cool day.
Hugs and as much physical contact as we could get away with.
Mark was very interested in what is happening with Summer Disobedience School and Negesti’s and Richie’s account of the National Gathering. He particularly liked that the Philly Quakers gave occupiers a safe haven in which to camp, free of police harassment. He wondered whether something like that could happen in New York, if there is a sympathetic church that could provide space for a communal, mutual aid experience.
We passed on regards from a number of people, including Nathan, Beau, Billy, Jack and Monica. I brought some books. (If this comes up for our community again—no hardcovers are allowed in, and no more than 4 per visit.) Mark talked about the free library he’s got going in the common room, that books do go to other prisoners. He said he’s been drawing strength from autobiographies of Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin. He’s also looking at the examples of jail time they and other Anarchist icons did at the time.
Mark still looks very well, although he told us the doctors noted he’s losing muscle mass at this point. He was very excited about the prospect of being out in just over a week. He speculated that the doctors want him out of there before anything goes seriously awry physically. Mark thinks they will send him out very early—like 2 or 3 in the morning. He also thinks he’ll be put on the bus to Queens Plaza. All this needs to be confirmed so there can be a proper welcome!
Mark talked about how hungry he is now, and his desire to eat “everything vegan” as soon as he gets out. (Let’s confab about what would be the best way to support him back into eating and helping him build his strength back up!). He also described the routine with not only the doctor and RN (daily checks, pinprick to test blood sugar) but also with the prison psychologists, even though he has repeatedly refused. We wondered if that was even right and legal. They are liberals, Mark notes, and seem quite interested and supportive of Occupy, but somewhat clueless (for instance, “why did you stop occupying, wish you-all were still doing this!”). Mark affirmed once again the meaningfulness of his hunger strike in the face of the powers that be controlling virtually every other aspect of his life while in jail, that he is still resisting, still making a statement.
“Gotti” is still being moved from cell to cell with Mark, and he’s still not comfortable with “Gotti”’s questions and overtures of outside friendship. Mark also described the pattern of fighting and instigation to fighting, and how counter-productive it is, forcing people to do even more jail time.
Mark shared a self-realization that he doesn’t do well in a jail setting, compared to what he’s heard from others and read about. He’s looking at a goal of “no more open cases” in the Occupy year.
As with all these visits, the end came too soon and way too abruptly. It’s encouraging to know that if all goes as anticipated, we’ll all be seeing Mark in less than a week.
At 6:30 in the morning on Saturday, we met at the Queens Q100 bus stop moments before the heat struck. The bus comes frequently about every 20 minutes, but usually earlier than the scheduled time. We piled on with a group of predominantly female-presenting people carrying coffee, newspapers, and magazines with some children tagging along. It was an easy 20-minute drive out through Queens. We took the time to check in with one another, preparing mentally and emotionally for what we expected to be terribly oppressive conditions, and also to learn a song with which we serenaded Mark.
The theme park-style signs surprised us with retro lettering inviting us to “Enjoy your visit to Rikers!” which is situated just a few meters from LaGuardia Airport. The idea of people flying freely around the world right over the heads of 14,000 trapped individuals seemed like torture. Another sign read: “Bullying or intimidation of any kind by anyone of any age will not be tolerated. Period.”
The atmosphere going in was unexpectedly positive, complete with some smiling corrections officers; the first locker room was an open atrium, sunshine pouring in. We needed quarters to deposit our things in the locker and surprisingly we got them back at the end. We went through the first security check like standard airport scans, removing shoes, nothing metal permitted. Unfortunately, the harmonica we brought was not allowed in as a gift.
There are several boarding gates for the various housing centers of the prison complex, each with roughly 35 seats and 1 TV. The one to go to Mark is EMTC, and Fox News was on. We must have our photos taken and fingerprints scanned for our passport for the day before boarding a shuttle bus, so we tracked down a check-in desk with attending corrections officers, since the one in our gate was unattended. They asked each of us our relationship to Mark. We told them definitively, “Friend.” We went back to our gate, and waited for not even 10 minutes, boarded the bus to the Eric M. Taylor Center, the second stop.
We noted the spools of barbed wire atop the relatively flimsy chain-link fence lining all the grey buildings. All the female-presenting visitors, predominantly of color, were very chatty and upbeat, laughing with the officers, making bunny ears on the bus driver. Children played with the security trays on their heads. A few sitting nearby in the same waiting room asked us if it was our first time and made jokes about the different officers who check the inmate packages. They were going to visit partners, sons, husbands, and were very familiar with the system. It all felt oddly normalized. They said, “Saturday morning is the best time to visit, you just breeze right through.”
We went through another security check and then individual checks in a private room, asked to pull our socks down, unzip and lower our pants, run our fingers along our underwear and pull our pockets inside-out. Female-assigned visitors should know that it is a requirement to wear a bra, though underwire will set off the metal detectors. One visitor told us a story of one time forgetting to wear theirs when visiting their son and consequently forced to meet in a room separated by glass.
We waited in another room, this time similar to a hospital waiting room, for about 20 minutes facing a large TV blaring pop news about Tom Cruise. Those who had visited many times told us, “No matter how early you get here, they never bring them out until 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays.”
Soon enough we were all called and led into a colorful basketball gym with rows of plastic chairs in every Crayola color. There was a caged children’s corner with an impressive mural of characters like Dora the Explorer and Big Bird, of Super Grover holding up an NYPD badge in the sky. Next to the officer surveillance booth which sits behind a tinted window, was a mural of the Manhattan skyline with the Twin Towers still intact.
A CO (corrections officer) shouted, “Go home everyone! It’s too hot!” to the laughter and mock defiance of some visitors and indifference of others.
Then, solemn men in grey DOC jumpsuits began to file in and there was our Mark, not looking up to see us until about 20 feet away and then the beard slowly revealed a smile. We pulled him into massive loving hugs but were quickly told we had to sit down. We grasped his hands across the tiny round table for the entire visit. At first Mark seemed very small, he kept his head down and tears streamed from his eyes while he expressed his sense of loss to us. He said he doesn’t like who he is in here – that he feels he lost something the day he was taken to prison. He said he has not discovered anything good about himself from being here, that “Nothing good should live in here.” He wants to leave this feeling behind when he comes out. It was very hard to see his obvious pain but we were encouraged by Mark’s awareness of his emotions and his openness to share with us, both the dark and the light. We discussed what skills he has developed to survive and get through this time and we assured him that he will find the old Mark again, and that he won’t have to bear the weight by himself, that he will have all his friends to hug any last bit of sadness out of him when he is free. We promised all the support, rehabilitation and love he may need when he rejoins us.
We sensed that he really wanted to talk so we mainly listened and chimed in when it felt right. He quickly perked up and started to make eye contact again, his face still holding a healthy glow and the twinkle in his eyes has not faded. He talked a lot about being hungry and looking forward to eating again but he is dedicated to his hunger strike, sharing his food with other inmates at mealtimes. The doctors are attentive and concerned so he has two visits with them a day and is being well looked-after. He has the support of one doctor in particular who sympathizes with the symbolic meaning of the strike and tells Mark it will help him get rid of toxins. He has lost some weight, about 8-10 lbs but said he gains some of it back in water weight quickly. He mostly keeps to himself, stays inside reading and sleeping. He avoids going out to the yard for exercise because of some dangerous fights after which he has witnessed people come back bloodied with injuries. Although, we were very happy to hear he has a bunch of people looking out for him through individual OWS members’ connections with gang members and skinheads. There is a team of unlikely guardians watching his back.
Mark did describe concerns with his cellmate who has been transferred with him several times, even though inmates are usually transferred individually. He described him as being very inquisitive, asking for Mark’s phone number and email so they can be in touch when they get out. He asks lots of questions about Mark’s activities and politics. Mark chooses to remain quiet and keep to himself.
He is getting a reputation for the amount of letters he receives from all around the country – Texas and Alabama and Oklahoma – and even books from Vancouver, Canada. One CO cheered him on once he found out he was from Occupy Wall Street. Mark loves getting letters and he even received a lock of hair from Diego and relished its softness but he discourages others from sending hair. Rather, he encourages everyone to grow their hair out as he hopes to grow his beard out to reach his navel like in its glory days when he lived in Virginia.
He has received so many books that his small plastic bin is now full, but is very thankful for what everyone has given although he had hoped for more Anarchist theory rather than Communist. He is currently reading a book about the Spanish Civil War and made jokes about how the anarchists are criticized by the author for sitting in circles and talking too much rather than fighting the war. Mark is disappointed at the lack of a library at Rikers. He was hoping he could leave his books there when finished, and when he leaves. He noted that books left around are thrown away by COs and staff rather than shared with inmates.
He is starting to write back, primarily to strangers from across the country who are writing him. He would like to get more envelopes but hopes no one will be disappointed if they don’t hear back from him. We assured him that no one expects anything in return.
He was very curious to hear about what’s going on with OWS, and loved to hear about the protests at Trinity and the sleep-ins. We told him how everyone’s Facebook profile photos and Twitter avatars are now mostly either his face or red squares. He was delighted and surprised to hear his Facebook page is still active and that it’s filled with messages of love and solidarity. Keep posting on there so he can read through them all when he gets out!
He hates to be away from OWS and plans to jump right back into actions with his “family” although he hopes he can contribute without getting arrested. He is very worried about his open court cases where he will face the same DA and judge who sentenced him. He has gone to court for 1 case already while in prison and he described it as a painful 13-hour long process that he does not want to endure again.
Overall, Mark was extremely optimistic about getting out, and brightly announced he’s already done 15 days, already talking about the party he wants to have – full of food (though we reminded him he should probably carefully ease back into eating,) his friends, and Care Bears. He misses his bicycle but was relieved to hear that it was rescued by TimesUp! and looks forward to riding again. He spoke fondly of his going-away party at the Living Theatre and joked how the theater people there were confused by an anarchist party where people dance to Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. He is so thankful for this night and thinks back on it with much joy. He loved that there is an Otter Solidarity Group coordinating support efforts and laughed after hearing about the detailed forms people had to fill out to be able to visit him.
There will be little way of knowing when or where he will be released – which, if all goes well, will be on the 15th of July. From what Mark has heard, releases usually happen after the 5pm dinner, sometime in the middle of the night, after having to sit in an extremely cramped transfer cell for several hours. Meg, his lawyer, has promised to be on-call 24/7 to track his whereabouts so we can all be present to shower him with love.
There are no clocks in the room and we were not allowed watches unless it was for an inmate so we couldn’t discern how much time we had with Mark. We went in shortly after 9:00 and had our watches back on by 10:15. It seemed to go by so quickly.
We sang Mark this song (to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelejuah”):
They say Mark Adams ain’t free
but that just doesn’t ring true to me
’cause everywhere I go I see Mark Adams
They locked him up and it wasn’t fair
but he kept his spirit and he kept his beard hair
and everywhere the people rise for Mark Adams!
We love Mark Adams
We love Mark Adams
We love Mark Adams
We love Mark Adams
(repeat as long as needed)
Mark was clearly moved and said no one had ever written him a song before. He smiled from ear to ear and thanked us.
Like the thoughtful, caring being he is, Mark summoned the energy to be a gracious host. He thanked us for going through the process to visit him and took the time to ask us each how we were doing and wanted to hear about our lives as well. He remembered that each of has been out of town recently and wanted to hear about our trips.
Before we knew it, we were asked to finish up. We asked if there is anything he wants us to do, to bring. He does need some envelopes for writing letters because he’s only allowed one trip a week to the commissary and can only buy so many. Also, he could use white underwear (boxer-briefs) because all inmates wear underwear in the shower. White is the only color accepted by the DOC. He looks forward to the surprise of his guests each time and trusts his solidarity network with decision-making.
We embraced him once more telling him we loved him and that we’ll see him soon when he is free! He walked through the gym without looking back. His face began to cloud over again as he stepped further and further away. By the end of our visit, it felt so familiar with us all laughing and talking about the future, it seemed like he would just walk out with us and head straight to a protest.
Saying goodbye left a sharp pain. We got our things from the locker in silence and then hugged each other. One friendly visitor from before asked how our friend was and they shared that their son was fine but the brightness of their earlier mood was now darkened. The bus ride back was much quieter as we all gazed at those grey impassive walls barring us from our loved ones. We took time afterwards to meet and process our visit, what we noticed about Mark, what we remembered, our own feelings and thoughts about freedom. We schemed designs for Mark Adams t-shirts and how we could construct a Care Bear-covered vehicle to collect him in and deliver him to the love and freedom that await him.
Keep the letters and the love coming! He feels it and sends it back with every fiber in his body.
With solidarity and rage,
Part Two: Our Visit with Mark!
We were led to an old gymnasium, decorated with an odd juxtaposition of colorful murals of the NYC skyline – including a tragically ironic depiction of the Statue of Liberty – and plastic chairs arranged in neat rows, which were sorted by the number of seats for visitors. We were pointed to a set of three chairs across a round plastic table facing a lone seat – a setup designed to ensure our being physically separate from Mark. We were allowed to hold his hands (and did so – the entire time) but couldn’t move closer to him or sit on the floor near him.
We waited in anticipation for a few moments, and then, suddenly, there was the lovely, bearded man walking slowly across the room towards us, a wide smile breaking his somber face as he saw us. The three of us engulfed him in an amazing group hug (a corrections officer chuckled that we were going to suffocate him), and then long, lovely individual hugs before sitting down. His hugs are still super wonderful and feel as they always have – teddybearish, heartfelt, and huge. He looked a bit thinner (by, he later told us, about 8lbs), but bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and ostensibly healthy overall.
We started out conveying individual greetings and messages from a plethora of supporters who had asked us to give their regards. We told him about the solidarity actions outside Rector Coopers’ house and which are ongoing outside of Trinity Wall Street. We related the story of a comrade who had been turned away by corrections officers on a previous visit due to insufficient ID, and how a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles had left him so frustrated that he had three-quarters of the DMV pumping their fists in the air shouting “[expletive] the system!” And we talked about the amazing community meeting that empowered the Otter Solidarity Team to set up his visits, and all the collaborative organizing throughout the community that has gone into supporting him while he’s gone. He was especially moved by this: “That might make this all worthwhile, in some way,” he said.
And Mark shared quite a bit with us – in fact, he spoke about as much as the three of us did, combined. We’d gone in somewhat concerned that he would be withdrawn, but found him to be extremely present and coherent. What he told us, though, was at times difficult to hear. He described feeling that he had left part of himself behind when he was taken to jail, and explained that “in here, this isn’t the real Mark Adams.” He expressed some anxiety about being able to rejoin his full self upon release, but it felt to us like the stories we brought from the outside had already relit – at least, momentarily – Mark’s internal Roman-candle-in-waiting. He grinned when we assured him that the Mark we know and love is very much outside the barbed-wire fences, in our hearts and conversations and on our signs, and will be waiting for him along with the rest of us when he gets out.
He said that he knew our visit would leave him happy for the next few hours but then he would go back to how he usually is. He spends most of his time in his bunk, reading, doesn’t go outside and tries to keep to himself.
He’s received quite a bit of written correspondence – so much, in fact, that the corrections officers remarked to him that he was getting mail “like Lil Wayne did when he was in Rikers!” Some of the letters came from quite a distance, and Mark said he was particularly tickled by some childrens’ drawings of the D17 courtroom – a big round judge, and Mark sitting on a bench with a big beard. He again reiterated that he doesn’t often feel up to writing back, and we assured him that every time this statement from him has been passed along, everyone’s all “pssh” and that he shouldn’t feel any sense of obligation.
An interesting and useful bit that came up: he loves all of the books he has been receiving but he doesn’t know who any of them are from because the packages are opened and discarded before he receives the books. In the future, if you are sending him a book and want him to know it’s from you, write a note inside the cover for him. He also voiced some amused bafflement at the amount of communist literature he had received: “whoever keeps sending those books – I get it!” he told us grinningly. He stores the books in a large tupperware under his bed- it is completely full and he is trying to figure out what to do with the surplus books. There is no library at Rikers and if they get left around, books often wander off with the corrections officers.
Mark brought up his hunger strike, and how it has helped him bring his protest to Rikers. “I came to Occupy Wall Street to march and hold signs, and I can’t do that in here,” he explained. His hunger strike has brought him the power to fight back against the trauma and disempowerment of his sudden abduction, and to politicize his time in jail. The heightened medical attention he has received has brought him many people – doctors, counselors – with whom to discuss his politics and Occupy Wall Street. We shared some of the community’s concerns about his hunger strike – related to his well-being, the outside-jail politics of it, and the impact it may have on the OWS community – and he welcomed the “honest” feedback and promised to consider the concerns. “I’m not one of those comrades who won’t listen,” he promised, and we assured him that we already knew that about him.
Mark described his perception that officers at Rikers were somewhat taken by surprise by his adamant refusal to agree to any normal medical treatments given to inmates upon admittance (many of us already know of Mark’s avowed dislike of allopathy) and even more by his decision to pursue a hunger strike during his incarceration. One of the results is he sees a doctor twice a day, a different doctor each visit, which gives him many people to talk to about his statement. He is on some semblance of a juice fast, but the only juice available comes from powder – so, it’s basically flavored sugar water. The healthiest thing he has access to is three bottles of Powerade he’s allowed from the commissary each week. His sugar levels are being monitored by doctors to keep his glucose at healthy-ish levels. He told us of the awful food available to inmates, and even if he wasn’t on a hunger strike there wouldn’t be much for him to eat. All meals involve mostly meat dishes. There are two options- regular, and kosher/halal, but no vegetarian or vegan choices, and what few vegetables accompany the meal would not constitute appropriate nutrition on their own.
We tried to run the visiting schedule by him, but Mark has enjoyed the surprise of not knowing who is coming, and trusts our judgment. “I mean, you guys know who my friends are, right?” he said with a big old Mark Adams grin on his face. And he knows who his friends are, too, and feels very loved.
We were given no warnings as to how much time had passed during the course of our visit, and seemingly out of the blue, the C.O. who had led us in handed us back our boarding passes. We looked at him quizzically, not ready to understand what that signified. “Time to go,” he explained. And that was it. We took our time for another minute of loving squeezes, and watched Mark shuffle back to the door through which he came (we caught him making a goofy face at a C.O. on his way out), as we were escorted back out the door we had entered, out past security and onto the bus. For all the hours of waiting and negotiating the Rikers bureaucracy to see Mark for that one bittersweet hour, the exit was rapid and painless. By around 5:30 we were back on the city bus and headed off of the island.
The contrast was stark, and tragic: we returned to our lives of freedom and companionship; he to his of confinement and isolation. We decompress, together, in a comfortable living room, while Mark – along with 14,000 other Rikers inmates, and another 7 million across the country – are left alone to process the injustice and dehumanization perpetuated by mass incarceration.