( I will be editing this later, adding more to this. )
"Our love transcends 20-Foot high walls of cement, the memories we share outweigh 10,000 slamming metal doors, And I am not afraid" - Connor Stevens
When I first got to Occupy Cleveland, I had never been around any sort of Activism. I had never seen it. I sat by for a few hours toting a Guy Fawkes mask, hardly even knowing what it represented. I had the vaguest of ideas. I watched what I had come to learn to be a GA. I learned the lingo, the hand signs. *Twinkle Fingers!* I came out of my shell and stopped being afraid to speak. I had found my voice. A home. Something I loved doing. I fell in love.
At first I had a small tent and shared it with friends. We were evicted in less than a month. Then I spent months living in an 8'x10' tent in public square, living off of semi-frozen cans of beats and donated food from local restaurants. I don't think I'll ever eat Auntie Annes again. We warmed up food on a steam grate while also using it to keep away frost bite.
For a while we had an office space. It didn't last long, but it was a place to calm down and brush my hair without being in a mall bathroom. A few months later, we got a warehouse. We built small rooms in it. We made a kitchen. We made it our own little "Anarchist Commune", which was more of a big cement room filled with people who had never lived on their own. It was our home. Many of the Occupy Cleveland members who covered most of the tent shifts lived there. We split up shifts at the tent and the warehouse was where we would rest and find our sanity. Some of the shifts felt like we were stranded on an island, forgotten. We counted the minutes until Kathy brought breakfast or waiting for the next occupier to arrive and relieve us. Our shifts were eight hours but they often ended up being longer. We were fighting for something though, right? Surely it had to affect something. We wanted to change the world.
I fell in love around this time. I had finally decided to date for the first time in a year. Brandon was one of the most amazing people I had ever met. He was sweet and the kindest boy I knew. We did tent shifts together, took care of one another, and traveled together. He kept me safe from getting arrested in St. Louis. He kept me away from danger so I could live stream. We would stay up all night hanging with everyone back at the warehouse. Among them was Connor, Skelly, and Tony. Doug came over sometimes, too, but he had a job. He had met Shaq. It wasn't long before Shaq had conned the other boys to work for him as well. They were so excited. Doug once told me that he had finally found a father figure and he had never been so happy in his life. He spoke of how cool this guy was. I was so happy for all of them. They had found jobs when none of us could.
For a while Brandon found another job. He ended up not being able to make quota, though, so he went back to working for Shaq, coming home with fiber glass, paint and splinters all over. I imagine gutting houses wasn't the best of jobs, but they were proud.
Their boss had even given them a house, rent free, as long as they fixed it up. They were still at the warehouse a lot, though. Soon, we were trying to plan for Heart fest. We had a vision of this awesome Occupy event to bring the community together. The city didn't exactly make it easy for us, but we tried our best. There would not be a huge turn out. The last day of the Heart Fest would be May 1st. We planned to have a huge rally at General Electric. I was going to live stream the event. We spent night after night painting and sewing banners. I went to bed early the night before to get rest before the rally. Everyone was paranoid that there was going to be cops and that they were going to raid the warehouse! I thought it was funny. Why would they worry about a bunch of punk kids sitting on the sidewalk holding signs? I figured they hardly knew that we existed. Anyone that thought someone was an undercover, I deemed paranoid. I didn't know how wrong I was.
I remember that night so well. I remember not being able to reach Brandon. I had some "rearrange the warehouse" brilliant idea. I was gone all day, so I didn't get to see him. I got home around 11pm. It was quiet and emptier than was usual. I figured everyone ran off for a party. I sat up for an hour or so trying to get hold of Brandon through Josh and Connor. Neither answered. I found Brandon's tobacco, cigarettes, and his phone at the warehouse. I got a little worried. It was weird, but I hoped he wasn't too far.
At 9am my phone started ringing over and over. I forced myself out of bed and answered, thinking I had over slept. It seemed no one else was awake yet. The warehouse was silent.
"Juss. Are you awake? Are you ok? Did you hear?"
I'm not exactly a happy person in the morning. "I'm awake NOW. Whats up? Hear what?" What could be worth robbing me of five more minutes of sleep? I had a long day ahead of me.
"Uhm.. Sit down. Light a smoke or something. This isn't good. Shit has hit the fan."
"Uhhh... Yeah just.. Give me a sec." I propped myself up in bed and fumbled through my pack for my smokes. I thanked the universe for having rolled them the night before.
"The boys got arrested. Brandon, Josh, Tony, Connor, and Doug. They're in jail."
"Haha. Oh shit. What did they do? Get caught spray painting? Public intox? Fuck!"
"Juss.. It's some huge shit. I wouldn't be surprised if the cops show up at the warehouse. There was an article put out a few hours ago. They tried to blow up a bridge"
All I could muster was a few vulgar phrases. I got off the phone and screamed. I screamed and screamed and then did all I could do. I sobbed. I curled up in my bed and sobbed. They had stolen my boys. They were gone. Kidnapped.
That was the first we heard. They had been arrested for hours and no one called to check in on us or let us know. Then, we cleaned the warehouse a bit, terrified someone had maybe left a joint out or something. We did anything we could to prepare for the raid we figured would be coming.
My phone started ringing from reporters. It had slipped out that I knew them; that I was dating Brandon. I ignored every call. What could I say? It didn't seem real. There was absolutely no way they would blow anything up. They wouldn't hurt anyone. It was like a nightmare that I couldn't wake from.
People started filtering in and out of the warehouse. Someone dropped off Subway. I couldn't eat. I felt like my insides were made of sludge. Sick to my stomach, I didn't want anything but nicotine. Someone else showed up and handed me a lawyers number. I wrote it on my leg in case something happened and I couldn't access my phone. A reporter showed up but didn't stay long. Hardly anyone was there and no one felt like talking to them.
We would be raided soon, right? How do you deem a group of people "terrorists" and not search their home? They never showed up. The raid never came. I was dating Brandon. Surely, they would want to talk to me. I had to call my family to explain it all. To tell them that, if, for some reason, I got arrested, I would be ok. I didn't do anything, I didn't even know. I didn't think it was real. I was afraid to go home. I didn't want the police showing up and traumatizing my little brothers.
I still waited for the police. They would want to talk to Brandon's girlfriend if they thought he was a terrorist, right? No, they knew how made up it was. They knew there wasn't anything suspect at the warehouse because the terrorists didn't exist.
I stayed at my friends the first night. I couldn't sleep. I kept trying to text the boys over and over, hoping on some off chance that it was all just a nightmare and they would reply "Hey! We'll be home soon!" It never happened.
Someone dropped a cup and I almost jumped out of my skin.
The next day I read the affidavit. It was like a bad movie plot. It was obvious that it was entrapment. The feds had conned the boys into their terrorist plot. They were the culprits here. They caused this. They paid someone to do it. A convicted felon. He targeted innocent kids for their plot. He gave them everything he could to keep them around. Most of these boys had a history of mental health issues. Brandon met Shaq days after a visit to the psychiatric hospital for a suicide attempt. They were chosen because they were easy targets. They are not experienced activists. They are not crazy radicals. They are my boys.
I remember the first day they had court. "All Rise." As we stood, I heard their chains rattling. It was the most eerie noise I ever heard. It took everything in me to not fall apart. My heart broke more and more as they walked further in.
I later found out they worked Tony over into testifying against the other boys. I'm sure they knew he would be the easiest to turn. He had a long criminal history and he had children. I was sobbing when he testified in court. He stopped for a moment, "I can't do this." The federal prosecutors reminded him that there would be repercussions if he didn't continue. After all they did to him already, they had pulled him in even further. They conned him into "snitching". He didn't say much in court, but we found out he had been corroborating with the feds for months leading up to the trial. He belonged to them.
They will always be my boys. I will do everything I can for them. It's hard to handle being afraid every month that we wont have anything to send for their commissary. Will they get letters? Will anyone visit them? Most of them can't get visits very often, but I will do what I can for as long as I can. I'll be there the moment they are "free". I can't wait to see their smiling faces.
( I will be editing this later, adding more to this. )