It sucks to be in jail. Trust me on this.
I’ve never been in a state prison, but I’ve done my time — in small stretches — in county, mostly for political protests, and while it all seemed so noble ahead of time and may sound noble in retrospect, when I was there it wasn’t anything except really shitty.
I was a white guy locked up for nonviolent crimes that even the authorities didn’t take too seriously and never had to stay for more than 10 days. I was never in a high-security unit or stuck with really hardcore criminals. In fact, the time I was in Santa Rita, as a guest of Alameda County, I’d been arrested with Cecil Williams, who was almost a minor deity to many of the inmates, so nobody even thought of treating us white protesters with anything but respect.
Still: it sucked.
You get up every morning and look out the heavily fortified windows to see a world from which you are utterly separated. You have no control over your life — you eat, sleep, work when you’re told. You walk where the guards tell you to walk. There is no privacy. You’re being watched all the time. A lot of the rules are totally random and are often enforced the same way; you can’t get any answers to anything, including what you may have done wrong.
By about my fifth day at Santa Rita, I had lost all sense of the righteousness of my cause. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. My only source of comfort was that I knew when my time would end.
Josh Wolf doesn’t even have that. He’s stuck in a federal pen because he won’t turn over to the authorities videotapes of a demonstration. It’s not like a 10-day or six-month sentence either: he has to stay until either he turns over the material or the grand jury that subpoenaed it dissolves. The jury’s term ends in July, but the US attorney can simply empanel a new one, renew the subpoena — and put Wolf back in jail again.
It’s a terrifying situation for a 24-year-old who never set out to be anyone’s hero or standard-bearer. I can’t imagine what it must be like. The temptation to just give up and turn the stuff over must be overwhelming. I give the guy immense credit for sticking it out and standing up for an important journalistic principle.
Wolf clearly isn’t going to get any help right now from the judicial branch. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just rejected his final motion and announced that it won’t accept any more filings in the case.
The Society of Professional Journalists did its part by naming Wolf one of its journalists of the year. Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly pushed a resolution supporting him. There might be another angle for the supes, though: this entire case exists because the San Francisco Police Department brought in the feds to investigate an anarchist rally at which a cop was hit in the head. Could the board direct the SFPD to officially revoke its request and inform the US Attorney’s Office that it no longer wants the video? Can the city officially close its investigation and tell the feds to close theirs too? At the very least, the supes should look into it. SFBG