What it’s like to be autistic in jail

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We are now accustomed to seeing people of color suffering at the hands of ill-applied policing techniques on the nightly news. A lot of us are still trying to process incidents like these and others are actively defensive on behalf of the blue lives in our communities. However, we seem unable to see police mistakes and misconduct through any lens other than race in America at the moment, and that’s leaving out entire vulnerable populations who might not be people of color or people of color who are targeted for reasons other than (and including) race.

[PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT saying that we should stop looking at policing through the lens of race, but we do need to add other at-risk types of people to the conversation who keep suffering at the hands of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. I am also NOT anti-cop or unaware of the horrific shit police deal with on a grueling daily basis. I believe poor training and funding are to blame, as well as a criminal lack of mental health and disability services.]

For instance, being black in America instantly, visually places you in a marginalized underclass regardless of actual economic status or intent, but there are other ways to enter a targeted group other than having a different skin color. Being disabled or mentally affected in any way also puts a person at a greater risk of being victimized by a series of interconnected and deeply broken institutions. The other main groups affected by police misconduct are school children and very poor or indigent people of any color. God help you if you are some combination of the above.

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Yes. School children.

While I have discussed the prevalence of police misconduct involving disabled people before, I’ve never talked about what the consequence frequently is when it’s not death: jail. Not being taken to a mental hospital or even a regular hospital. Not being connected with helpful services or a concerned case worker. Jail. The place where our society sends the people it doesn’t want to see anymore.

Sometimes I think there’s just two types of people in the world – those who’ve been held captive by a hostile force and those who haven’t. Either jail is something that makes your favorite shows more interesting to watch or it’s something that changes the course of your life forever. And makes all those shows look dumb as hell afterwards.

I’ve been to jail a few times. OK, more than a few. I’m not going to go back over why I ended up there, so let me tell you what there is like. People with autism have traits that cause serious problems in a captive situation:

  1. Sensory sensitivities
  2. The need to be in control of what is happening to us and our environment
  3. Difficulty understanding and immediately responding to questions or commands
  4. The need for medications to be administered in a timely manner
  5. Physical disabilities
  6. Not understanding unspoken rules
  7. Meltdowns

Jail is a sensory nightmare even for completely normal people who can mentally block some sensory input and regulate their emotional response to it. To me it was bright, loud, hard, and so very cold. All the time. Day and night it was buzzing artificial lights, slamming metal doors, clanking chains, people screaming and vomiting and weeping and laughing, COs shouting stuff I might need to hear. The smells and tastes ranged from pitiful to foul. The lights were never off and everyone had to put tube socks (called eye-socks) over their eyes to block out the light to sleep. I didn’t sleep.

This input alone caused my blood pressure to go into dangerous territory during all my stays. It was never treated although they were aware of it and concerned.

In jail you (and your concerned family) are never told what’s going on, what’s about to happen, where you will be taken, or who can be of help. The jails are not running a customer service model, in other words. Your concerns about what’s happening to you are purposely ignored, even exacerbated. This utter confusion and lack of control is horrible for anyone to endure (in fact, used by the Nazis as torture), but imagine you are someone who depends on a strict schedule and/or familiar surroundings to keep from having a serious meltdown.

Trust me, don’t ever have an autistic meltdown in jail.

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They’ll drag out this puppy for you.

In jails around the country, any person exhibiting recalcitrant, repetitive, or any unusual or simply annoying behavior can be put in four or five- point restraint chairs and tased to within an inch of their lives. I still have my scars. I was in no way a danger to myself or others at the time, I simply, very politely asked for some time to calm down before they started sticking needles in me. They didn’t grant me that wish. I’d already told them I was having a “mental health crisis” which was the best way to describe it at the time.

In law enforcement lingo, this is called a “pain compliance technique.” Nice.

Strapping someone down for any reason and tasing them is still apparently legal even though the UN Council on Human Rights and Amnesty International have roundly condemned this practice in the USA.

Y’know. Because it’s torture. That’s right, America. We don’t just torture in Guantanamo Bay and other “black sites”; it happens in every city and county in America right in the middle of your community to the most vulnerable people you can imagine – the mentally ill and disabled. Because we can rarely fight back literally or legally. (No one believes what we tell them, if we can tell them, anyway.) So they get away with stuff like this and a million other malicious slights and dangerous inefficiencies.

Like denying vital medications even when breathless family members rush them to the jail with instructions about administering them in a timely fashion. This also happened to me with an anti-convulsant and several psych meds that one should absolutely not be suddenly taken off of. Or in many cases humiliating the physically disabled by not providing the most basic medical supplies they need.

The point of jail is not to keep you away from society to keep society safe: it’s to insert you into an economic system that profits from you being there, as long as you are someone who lacks credibility and agency. As long as you are a warm body that can be kept barely alive (if not entirely sane), you are treated like a product to be processed as efficiently as possible by understandably depressed and scandalously under-paid, under-trained staff.

Right now in my town which I love so much, a young autistic man is being held in jail after an altercation (domestic assault) with his aunt who couldn’t calm him down. This young man is underserved and now sitting in an environment that will traumatize him for years to come, without his family, surrounded by a bunch of tough customers who will not know how to deal with his differences. (Did I mention that jail is also a socially brutal place?) He is being denied needed medications and the jail is keeping his mother in the dark about his condition.

I’m very concerned that the above story will be the last we hear about this boy. When, O when, will we stop and take a look at the larger, more frightening portrait of American criminal justice and realize that absolutely anyone who is powerless or misunderstood is unsafe? Jailing is an industry and, as such, needs to both grow and find new sources of “raw material.” When you are sick or disabled, and therefore can’t either produce or consume enough for the economy, you become the commodity itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jump Outs: The WTF police tactic you’ve never heard of

It’s already happening in a town near you.

I recently recalled an incident that happened at least 15 years ago on New Year’s Eve when I experienced a seldom-discussed insane policing tactic. I had only begun my evening when I left one bar – on foot – to see what was going on at another one. I carried a clear plastic cup filled with plain water, no ice, wasn’t intoxicated yet, but planning on it and trying to keep hydrated.

Out of the ether, a nice SUV screeched to a halt beside me and a preppy-looking dude with a short haircut jumped out and accosted me in a loud commanding voice.

“What’ve you got in that cup there?!! You got booze?!!” Without giving me time to process what was happening or identifying himself he barged into my personal space, which is precious to me, and grabbed at the cup in my hands. I was confused and frightened. My night just went from zero to WTF in 2.5 seconds.

I thought I was being aggressively harassed and reacted defensively like any woman alone on a sidewalk at night would who is suddenly swooped down upon by a SUV-load of psycho dude-bros . I got upset is what I’m sayin.’

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What is this shit? Ride ‘n’ Rape?

I shoved my cup at him and yelled, “It’s water, asshole!” He sniffed it like he was the Official Street Beverage Inspector-General, angrily threw it down on the ground, and just as quickly vanished back into the vehicle and roared away.

Without another word.  Like fart fairies in a fucking wind tunnel.

FartFairies

Although the SUV was completely unmarked, all the guys in it were dressed like 2017 Nazis, and he never identified himself or why they pulled over to harass me, I got the distinct, no, certain sense that they were plainclothes cops. I had encountered police and military types before and they can take the cop out of the uniform, but not the uniform out of the cop. However, this type of police behavior was so beyond the pale of what I thought was constitutional that I was never for sure.

But in the past few years I’ve read a lot of books about policing, and I came across a few descriptions of this wild and typically discriminatory police tactic. Usually only black men in urban areas experience anything like this. It’s an aggressive, unconstitutional form of “stop and frisk.” Cops will see a group of black youth hanging out in a “crime prone” area, and will jump out of unmarked vehicles sometimes in plainclothes and sometimes pointing weapons at the group. They are lined up against a wall and frisked.

However, in this excellent article on ThinkProgress a 16-year-old black girl explains that although these happen all the time in Washington DC, “They check the boys. They don’t check the girls.” This article from three years ago states, “Girls have yet to be targeted by these actions.”

Well, I’m a girl and a white one too. And this was years ago.

I’ve combed the Internet and found absolutely no example of this tactic being used as a New Years Eve vice squad operation to hassle people who are possibly drunk in public. So far I’m the only white woman on record who has ever encountered this method.

Guess I’m just extra special.

Of course, the DC police chief Cathy Lanier vehemently denies that this is a method still used on a daily basis. (As do all police chiefs who have to address this practice in their departments.) Even Norm Stamper in his seminal book Breaking Rank makes no mention of this particular method.

ICE is currently using plainclothes agents to aggressively approach possible illegal immigrants outside of courthouses. And getting it wrong like in the video below.

The greatest danger of this is that people who are undocumented will avoid going to the police or courts to report crimes committed against them. The other danger as Ana Kasparian points out in the above clip, is that when you are approached like this you have no idea you are dealing with state or government officials. Who may or may not be armed and ready to shoot.

What if I’d actually hit that cop who jumped out at me in defense? What might you do if some randos who rolled up on you began to speak and act in an aggressive, frightening manner?

This is just another way that police actions are putting citizens at greater risk rather than reducing it.

Interesting sidenote: There’s actually a reality TV show called Jump Outs that “pits contestants against elite police Jump Out Teams. Contestants must plan and move a [fucking] amulet across a wasteland all while being tracked and chased by police.” I guess the entertainment industry is more willing than police officials to admit that this is common practice.

 

 

 

 

 

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