I shut down when I was arrested. I closed my eyes and tried to find some part of me inside which felt stable, while I was carried by officers through Parliament Square. I could feel my jeans slipping. The officers put handcuffs on me because I wasn’t cooperating. At one point they put me down and told me to pull up my jeans, something I struggled to do while disorientated and with my hands cuffed in front of me. Someone yelled out ‘throw them in the bath, they are all dirty’, and the police officers (who very much were fed up with carrying me) kindly told me to ignore it. I was numbly aware that it was possible one of my civil service colleagues might see me ignobly dragged through Whitehall.
I was asked to be searched, which I agreed to. The officers found a note I’d written asking for someone to call my partner if I was arrested. A legal observer following me asked if I gave permission for them to take the note. I was so grateful to connect with someone who was on my side. He took the note, and followed me. By this time I’d agreed to walk, but still mostly had my eyes closed. I can usually navigate my mild autism quite well but I felt it keenly during this period. We eventually arrived at a police van down by the Foreign Office where I saw Kaspa and Satya. I was in too much shock to have a conversation, but their gentle chatter between themselves and with the officers helped to slowly calm me down. Orientate myself.
We waited for a long time before setting off in the van. I was still handcuffed and can remember feeling quite sick, through a combination of nausea, dehydration and shock. Kaspa and Satya were offered water, I was not, and didn’t quite know how to ask for it, or how I would open the bottles while I was in handcuffs. So I watched the businesses go by and tried to note their names as a way of keeping my mind occupied. I could hear Kaspa and Satya chattering about family visits in the background and tried to leach some of their purported nonchalance.
We arrived at Lewisham police station. We sat on benches outside the custody suite, they were the sort of benches I used to bunny hop over in school gyms. I was cold, and eventually managed to ask for my hoodie after I’d seen other people asking for things from their bags, which led to them finally unhandcuffing me. That helped unlock some of the mental paralysis I’d been feeling. I sat next to Satya and overly conscious of not having any XR related chat grilled her on Pureland Buddhism which she gamely fielded.
I was taken inside for processing. I was very thirsty by that point, I hadn’t managed to ask for any water. Asking for things made me feel vulnerable. Being processed was an odd mixture of deep concern (was I okay? Did I have any injuries to report? Did I have any mental illnesses? Had my rights been explained to me? Would I like to take this booklet away to read more about my rights? Of course they could get me some water!) and being treated like an object – particularly when it came to being searched and having my fingerprints and DNA taken. The custody officer had obviously been on some training as when I told him my title was Mx and explained it was a gender-neutral honourific he asked if I wanted to be searched by a male or female officer (presumably no non-binary officers were around…)
Eventually, and sort of blissfully, I was taken to my ‘cell’. I can remember doing my NVDA training in Islington ages ago and discovering that in the UK you got your own cell when arrested rather than the more American style ‘drunk tank’ experience. I think that was the first time I thought that maybe I could get arrested. Eventually, a vegan meal and orange squash appeared as well in the cell. I was mostly preoccupied by the fact that there wasn’t any toilet paper. Why wasn’t there any toilet paper?! Was this on purpose? Did we not get any? It took me hours to convince myself that they must want you to ask for it, and that would be an okay thing to do. Eventually, they took me to make a call to my solicitor and at that point I tried to ask for it as casually as possible and it turned up in my cell five minutes later.
I couldn’t sleep in the cell. The blue waterproof mattress wasn’t very conducive to comfort. Someone was banging on their door. There was a stencil on the ceiling saying ‘protected by Smart Water’. What did that mean? It conjured images of Jennifer Aniston protecting my cell. I meditated a little. I read aloud from the Thich Nhat Hanh book.
At some point in the early hours, I was told I would be released. It’s very dangerous in Lewisham at this time of night, I was told by the officers. You can stay in the police reception if you want. I still felt adrenalised and a little numb. Eventually Kaspa and I with another rebel managed to get a taxi back into central London and I was able to jump out when the taxi met the Thames. We were told Satya wouldn’t be released for hours. This turned out to not be true.
It was an odd experience walking back along the Thames to my accommodation. There was a full moon. It was a stretch of the river I knew well. I had many happy times at the National Theatre, at the BFI. I could see the Houses of Parliament across the river. I could see my first workplace when I started in the civil service. Below that big moon it felt like my life had come to a turning point.
This whole process has been a difficult one for me. And yet I’m also grateful for many things. That I could take part in actions without expecting to be treated badly by the police, that I didn’t (in the end) lose my job because of my activism, that I’ve had legal support from XR, and that Kaspa and Satya were there with me. Being in a situation that is more likely to lead to arrest is not possible for everyone.
The following morning I saw photos of my arrest. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body, I hated being photographed and yet I shared those images with everyone I knew. I was proud.
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