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I Went From Grad School to Prison


I didn't cry my first night in jail.

By the time I got through the 12 hours of intake ? the lines, the fingerprints, the strip search ? it was 4 a.m. In a dorm with 50 women, I lay on a cot smaller than a twin bed, with a mattress so thin, I could feel the cold metal beneath my back.

I didn't feel much of anything emotionally, except a vague sense of resolution. At least I knew my fate now. I was a convicted felon.

I had spent two years awaiting a trial, accused of assaulting a policeman at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City in March 2012. As I remember it, the officer surprised me from behind, grabbing my right breast so forcefully, he lifted me off the ground. In that moment, my elbow met his face.

At the time, I was a graduate student at The New School for Social Research and volunteering as a union organizer, in fact helping police negotiate contracts. I was studying nonviolent movements and had been inspired by pacifists like Bayard Rustin, the activist who helped Martin Luther King Jr. My arrest was the opposite of everything I stood for.

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