I’m Heather Jarvis, and this is “People Not Pest.”
At 22, I was arrested and admitted into the masses of incarcerated in our country. I found my so-called [inaudible] bathroom with a burly female officer staring at my naked body, showed a five o’clock shadow, and a look that screamed, “Don’t fuck with me.”
I was addicted, young, and scared, but back then, I still had an attitude that loved to challenge authority. So I shot back my best “Don’t fuck with me either” look I could muster while standing completely bare. She nodded knowingly. Her intentions were to break me. “Hands up, shake out your hair, and lift one breast at a time,” she said slowly.
She got off on her dominance over me. I had no choice. She had the power. “Turn around and place your legs wide apart, bend over, touch your ankle.” There was no compassion, no sympathetic gesture for me to cling to. She seemed to be an unfeeling cruel woman. Every defense I had was on high alert.
My knees bent a little during my effort. I wasn’t flexible. “You can do better than that. Let me see the pink,” she belted. The statement took my breath. Following her instructions, I went through a series of squats and [inaudible]. It felt like a morbid game of leapfrog. My inhibitions were screaming. She produced a canister with a hose. She looked like a Ghostbuster.
I looked back at her, I’m sure white as a ghost, wondering what she was planning? She aimed it at me and then, without warning, an icy liquid blasted out, hitting my genitals and armpits. That is what incarcerated individuals are seen as in my country: pests that buzz around the system. I’m not a pest, I’m a person.
My country’s justice system is designed to disrupt your sanity and annihilate your dignity from the very beginning. No matter how strong I pretended to be, and no matter how much attitude I shot back, I was still broken. I was terrified. I couldn’t hold it up the roof anymore. I was too expose. I broke. My lip quivered in tears, leaked down my cheek. The liquid saturated my hair, ran down my forehead, burnt my eyes, and it smelled like chemicals.
Later, inmates told me the process is called being “quailed.” “Quailed” means to grow feeble, recoil, and [inaudible]. I’ve learned America’s justice system relies on this tactic. They are bullies. They want to belittle the accused, scare us into plea bargains, and sometimes admit things we didn’t do.
For a while, I did recoil. For a while. I did let them win. For a while, I had no idea how afraid I should be of my country, but most importantly, for awhile, I just thought that was the name of the pesticide. Now I know, and so do you.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.