July 17, 2017
The first time I walked into general population, I was befriended by a young girl called “Snook.” She was back in jail on a probation violation. She said to me that she would never take probation again, “Just put me in prison for a year and let me get it over with.” This made no sense to me. Why would anyone choose to be locked up if they could go home on probation? The simple truth is that most activists have no experience with the criminal system of injustice. We’re not criminals. Many of us enter the system with the misconception that we’re innocent until proven guilty. Once those handcuffs go on, an activist must understand that s/he is presumed guilty and will be treated accordingly.
NO ONE TALKS, EVERYONE WALKS
How many of us have heard this cliche? In theory, if no one talks, the state will have no evidence with which to proceed. When activists find themselves in an interrogation room, by all means, say absolutely nothing. What we may think is obvious, “animals are being murdered and it’s my duty to defend them” or “if I don’t call attention to the injustice, who will?”, will, in no uncertain terms, be used to lock you away for as long as they possibly can. However, when I advise an activist to remain silent, I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this as meaning everyone will walk. They won’t.
Please step back and take a hard look at your friends and associates. While many activists genuinely care about the animals, for many, our community provides little more than a social network; a place where their moral stand earns them likes on Facebook. When there are actual consequences, you will likely find yourself the only one standing as your friends team up with the state. The first time I was released from felony probation was in January of 2014. For several years, I had invested every ounce of my energy and every penny of my money into a comprehensive campaign to isolate and shut down the monkey labs inside the University of Florida. And in 2014, according to their own protocols, the monkeys inside UF were all scheduled to finish current experiments and be released or re-assigned by October of 2016. I remain confident those labs were almost history. I would never have imagined that those activists who ran when legal issues first arose would become the next and greatest obstacle with which I had to contend — fighting off my former friends who were now even more virulent than the vivisectors ever were. My former associates were successful in momentarily silencing me using similar methods to those employed by the vivisectors; I only won back my first amendment rights weeks ago on June 29. I am now back online. But those monkeys are all enduring new, even more grotesque tortures. The animals paid the ultimate price for my naivete. Sadly, I’m not unique. We can run down the list of our prisoners, many put there by brothers, uncles, and friends. It is my sincere hope that I can extinguish a little naivete and help you understand what to expect. If we don’t adequately protect ourselves, our activism suffers.
So expect nothing from anyone. You’re on your own. But if you know what to expect, you can come out stronger. Never snitch, even if everyone around you is running to the state. The object is to come through this experience with your integrity and your ability to resume your advocacy intact. If only one person is going to be standing at the end of the day, it needs to be you.
TAKING A PLEA
Obviously, you need to retain counsel and take his or her advice. But, like most activists, if you’re at the mercy of a public defender, again, you’re essentially on your own. When you consider your options, please keep the following facts in mind. They’re the things no one is going to tell you until it’s too late.
When you’re first charged with some crime of conscience, the goal is to scare the holy hell out of you. You’re charged with a felony — stalking is a popular offense for activists who protest or refuse to shut up — and you’re facing 5 or 10 years in prison. Please know that they’re hitting you with the maximum you could possibly get so they have some room to maneuver. You’re highly unlikely to ever do the maximum. They want you to take a deal. In fact, if every criminal defendant refused to take a plea and demanded a jury trial, the system would shut down. They don’t want the time and expense of a trial. They want a quick conviction, a win, so they can move on to the next defendant.
The first deal I was offered in 2012 was to plead guilty to everything and do the whole 10 years. Well, thanks for your generosity! The second plea was to do six months and be on probation for 3 years. That sounded pretty good to me. I’m not a criminal; probation didn’t seem problematic. So they dropped my stalking charge for an act of civil disobedience. I pleaded guilty to posting a message, a felony incurred for allowing a colleague to publish a graphic post about a vivisector on my site. I had no clue that after I did my six months, my constitutional rights would be suspended while I was on probation. I learned that probationary terms can be altered after the fact. Mine were amended to stipulate that if I even mentioned the University of Florida, if I jaywalked, if I did anything to violate my probation, I would be thrown in prison for no less than 5 years. A few months in, I was barred from activism entirely; if I handed out a “Go Vegan” leaflet, they could now lock me up. I would never have agreed to any terms that would have interfered with my work for the monkeys and they knew it. But once you take a plea, they have you.
In fact, after I thought I had done my time, UF did everything in their power to try send me to prison and shut down my campaign for good. Unsatisfied with the already-Draconian restrictions, my probation was finally amended to ban me from the Internet entirely. Mission accomplished. Fortunately, I had a very sympathetic probation officer who terminated my probation 2 years early.
While you are on probation, a privilege for which you get to pay, your probation will be violated if you miss a payment. You are drug tested regularly; if you smoke a joint, you’re going back to jail. If you have any interaction with law enforcement, you’re going back to jail. Your probation officer may show up at your door any hour of the day or night to search your house, open your drawers or look under your bed. If you agreed to pay restitution and fail to make a payment, you may be re-arrested. Depending upon how intent they are on eliminating your activism, probation can be brutal. I doubt I would ever take probation again. I would simply do my time in the first place and get it over with.
ONCE YOU’RE A FELON
You never stop being a felon. It will follow you for life. A lot of road blocks are put in the path of people caught in the justice system to ensure that they will re-offend. This is because recidivism is an asset on a balance sheet. A person’s continued incarceration ensures profits for the prison-industrial complex. The degree to which this will affect an activist will depend upon his or her unique situation. But I think the one thing that resonates for activists is that once you plead to any given offense, that label can be used against you repeatedly in future proceedings to demonstrate a pattern. While the sum total of my interaction with law enforcement was solely for my activism against vivisectors, my activism is now used against me regularly. Unscrupulous traitorous activists relabeled “vivisectors” as “college professors,” filing petition after petition citing my acts of civil disobedience and other forms of activism, arguing that I have demonstrated a pattern of “harassing college professors.”
Do what you know is right; the animals need every single one of us to give everything we have to secure them relief. And jail is really not a big deal if you know what to expect. But also know the individuals with whom you work; simply because you are an actor of conscience does not mean your colleagues share your dedication. Understand that a decision that looks good at the moment may have long-standing repercussions that could affect your ability to function effectively as an activist. The objective is to come through this experience with as little damage as possible. This is by no means meant to be a complete guide to navigating any circumstance. Others may have experiences to add that can help a colleague navigate an arrest and/or prosecution.