Prison Society: An account of the 2016 New Year’s Noise Demonstration Mass Arrest at Schiphol-Oost Detention Centre by Xander

Detention centerYesterday I was held hostage, formally arrested and then held in a migrant detention center by military police in the Netherlands. I was processed at the military police headquarters and dragged from holding cell to holding cell, eventually arriving to a long-term prison cell that to my surprise was nicer than most university dorm rooms I had ever visited and lived in. Standing in the cell and looking out the window, an airport draped the background of stylistically impressed fortified walls that enclosed an orderly grass square, ATM and a playground surrounded by surveillance cameras and barbwire. This place was just a gated community or a housing estate with more fortification, guards and a life explicitly regimented to totalitarian control. These niceties do not change the fact that it is a prison, but the order and architecture of the prison saturates everything, everywhere in(modern) society—transforming and homogenizing the environments that people inhabit.

Now might be a time to start from the beginning. After just moving to the Netherlands, by chance I ran into someone who I met a year ago. That night they told me about a New Year’s Eve noise demonstration at a migrant detention center outside Schiphol airport—the Schiphol-Oost Detention Centre—that can theoretically hold migrants indefinitely with people talking about sentences of up to a year and a half for not having state approved paper work. After the noise demonstration, there would supposedly be an after party at an industrial plant turned into a squat that has existed for seventeen years. This sounded fun and less boring than the normal New Year’s Eve party routine by bringing a little bit of party to the captive refugees.

Sure enough, as the story goes, I went to the meet up point, here a well-prepared legal support collective handed out information, phone number for a lawyer, and collected contract information in case something happened. This surprised me as there is always the possibility of arrest at a noise demo, but I thought it was overkill and that they were indirectly preaching the gospel of law, but I was wrong because it would prove to come in handy. Eventually three buses and an assortment of cars headed to the detention center. We arrived in a suburban layout designed for spatial legibility and control; socially engineered to be inhospitable to life, with entry and exit choke-points for authorities to easily control the area.  Nevertheless people remained undeterred to humbly show their care. Around 150 people arrive with a portable stereo, drinks, fireworks and a general disdain for prisons. From Discharge’s State Violence, State Control to Keny Arkana’s La Rage among others blaring, people began shooting fireworks, chanting and waving to people in the prison, who would yell back flicking their lights on and off.  With a military police vehicle arriving and keeping its distance, we marched around the prison screaming—‘No borders, no nations, no deportations’—we came to the parking lot where dancing, drinking, and speeches to the prisoners ensued. After standing in the parking lot for 30 minutes or so, it was not long before people started writing messages on cars and getting more aggressive towards the enormous concrete gated community style walls, complete with a wavy cut crescent edge. Eventually we go back to the bus slowly around 12:40, concerned about the safety of the undocumented migrants at the demonstration. Then right as one bus pulled out to leave more police cars arrived to block the exiting buses.

The police received reports of graffiti on cars and wanted the culprits. People kept their distance, instead of confronting the police, while a negotiating standoff in the cold took place for an hour in half,. The police deployed devise tactics trying to separate the group by ‘only wanting the people who wrote on the cars’—attempting to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ protesters. This stressed people out because of the presence of undocumented migrants. People debated about the next steps to be taken, soon many would volunteer to turn themselves in as the culprits to help the undocumented people, but then the police declined, saying they will not believe them and that they wanted to ID everyone on all the buses. The police lesion told them that it was pointless and a waste of resources as many people have already left by car, among other points.  Eventually, the police headed straight for the bus in the middle of the road that had been leaving when they blocked the road, it was separate from the other buses, which made it more vulnerable.  However, more important was that the people without documents requested that the others do not intervene or escalated the situation with the police if they come on the bus. The police did, beginning to chip away at our group—this was extremely uncomfortable to watch.  Here they took everyone off the bus identified and took pictures of them. Then several people were arrested for not having identification and questionable legal status. The other mass of angry protesters sat and watched, because did not want them to escalate the situation with the police. Again, this was frustrating and uncomfortable and affects the moral of some people.
This left people irate, some at the people who wrote on cars, but everyone at the police. The standoff continued for some hours more, until people got cold and tired of waiting, eventually trying to walk and/or run home. This turned into a game of cat and mouse with the 20-30 police and their vehicles running around and trying to grab people stuck in this suburban mouse trap. This was great as people got to move around, warm up and watch the military police fumble over trying to chase them. There was a timeless attempt by the police to grab someone where they the slipped and fell into the mud, which created some fun, laughter and comic relief. This game continued for another 40 minutes before people really started running for it. People began getting arrested as they tried to dart down long roads. However, rumor has it some people got away. Then numbers began to slowly dwindle as the military police picked people off. Meanwhile the cold was setting in, someone tried to build a fire out of a pallet, and then a cop came over with a fire extinguisher and put it out. They were ndirectly using the cold to assault us as food, water and alcohol was running out because people only expected to be at the prison for an hour in a half—then party time!

Unfortunately for us, party time came in the form of three riot police vans, three K9 units and military police with MP-5 sub-machine guns. Feelings hurt from having to run a couple blocks and slipping in the mud, they now had an overwhelming show of force to squash the noise demonstration. By around three in the morning, they had devised their plan and started to get into position. They moved the riot vans to face the side of the buses and shined their flood lights blinding us. They formed a circle around us, while we jumped up and down blinded by flood lights trying to stay warm, German shepherds barked as police prepared to attack. I found myself in a horrible situation, one that resembled a firing squad scene I had only scene in movies, except instead of rifles pointed at us it was riot cops and police dogs. Backs up against the buses, blinded by lights and in this suburban dead, I was shocked by what I was seeing.  Europe’s fascism has become more intelligent and politically acceptable over the years, so instead of a firing squad it was riot cops.

They began playing some dispersal recording in Dutch and immediately people in the crowed turned into a dance party because of the rhythm in the order, which made me laugh, but people snapped out of it as they moved in swinging their batons trying to shove and grab people. Then some people ran on the bus, while other got kettled. My new friend and I jump onto the bus to escape being rustled like cattle as a cop tries to hit us into the kettle.  On the bus, we sat and watched as the others got pushed in between two riot vans and surrounded by riot cops. We watched this dystopic scene continue, from this firing squad situation to the transportation of human cattle, this scene was one like I had only seen in movies about nightmares of the past and future. Against the backdrop of a prison in a socially engineered Dutch suburbia, the 40 or so people were forced between two riot vans and enclosed by police with flood lights shining on, giving it a death camp feeling,  as they were force marched to the prison. People later told me in jail how at every step taken the bumper of the van was millimeters from hitting them.  Watching this scene my heart dropped as I felt a deep disgust, living the sci-fi future I feared. The ambiance of the Schiphol industrial area, the prison walls and the flood lights beaming off them as they are surrounded by riot police pushing and jabbing them with shields and batons, combined with the military police in beret uniforms with MP-5 submachines guns and police scattered around the van with dogs confirmed the reality of the world that everyone wants to pretend does not exist. I find myself incapable to convey this haunting scene that was nearly taken straight out of Children of Men.

I was told it worsened as they were pushed into the prison. Stuck in between these vans and escorted through prison gates by riot police, they resisted their confinement and abuse every step of the way. Where they were forced into outdoor cages where they would take their jackets and the police beat and manhandled them out of the cadge one-by-one into prison cells, then photographed and finger printed—which some continued to resist. Meanwhile in the bus, we sat and waited, unsure of what will happen, internally I held to a fleeting hope they will realize how fucked up they are and how much resources they waste and will just let us go. It seems I will believe and hold onto anything if placed in a bad enough situations—‘they abused us enough, they made their point, now they will let us go? Right? Why wouldn’t they? This is stupid, they are fascistic assholes.’ Horrible situations makes you grasp to the crumbs they give you, you do not know what will happen, it is new, so naturally you pray start praying for bureaucratic miracles, or magic wand tricks from lawyers. Kind of pathetic, but investigating and unraveling these feelings within you might prove important to understanding ourselves, our weaknesses and could provide paths to building strength— but who knows. So while I know it is helpless, I find myself clinging to the hope that they will let us go. Instead the third and then second riot van returns so they can shine their flood lights on the bus, while military personal surrounded us watching us pee, drinking coffee and reminiscing about their barrack drama or whatever,  we sat there trying to sleep and make the best out of being in a hostage situation.

We sat like this watching their coffee breaks and drive around in self-important circles until about noon January 1st. At ten o’clock, they told us some lies about how they will let us go after they see our identification and take a picture of us, but first we  had to drive to the military police headquarters across the street—(ahhhh driving ourselves to jail!). Worn down, people were pissed and had many concerns about their lives—kids, dogs, work— since no one knew when this was going to end. Nevertheless, held captive by the military in a pullout, we had little choice to either comply or wait until they come into the bus and beat us out—something that many did not want. Remember, we just went to make some noise and say hello to detained migrants—people were not prepared for a hostage situation. So eventually, we complied. Entering their headquarters around noon, the two buses got processed and they gave us some bag lunches at 12:30. We sat, we sat. I needed to take a shit for eight hours and they still would not let me shit until I went in to get processed—they used everything humanly possible to violate us and place people without proper IDs in cells.

By 3:00 they had taken my stuff, my ID and put me into a small holding cell with someone else from the bus were we sat and waited in a tight little white box, with florescent lights and a camera. My cell mate was released , then sometime later the prosecutor  gave me a paper full of lies about how I resisted arrest, and they interrogated me about how they just needed to confirm my identity before they release me at nine that evening. So I sat there until I was moved to another prison, sat in another holding cell and then finally was brought to my prison cell, which to my surprise was like a university dorm room with its own bathroom. Stressed and exhausted from not sleeping all night, I found the mattress to be better than most in budget hostels or expensive universities. I had a nice green IKEA desk with shelves and a green locker.  While the bathroom light did not work, it was a nice title bathroom with a toilet and hot water shower. I found myself disorientated and confused. I looked out the window and saw a little complex with grass, designated social spaces, a playground and some type of bank logo, and there was an ATM in the center of the yard. The only way I could describe it is as a gated community with its worse features exaggerated, but features it seems people desire, want, or are taught to want in society. I was surprised to see my prison cell so closely resembling a university dorm room or cheap European apartment. Despite this surprise, I was still in prison, confined and I had no idea what these crazy people were going to do to me. In some ways I cannot believe the environment and culture of this detention center. Whoever creates, operates and accepts the presence of prisons is a hate-filled psycho—spreading an infrastructure coded some seriously unresolved issues.  Inevitably anyone who works in these places will become damaged, and anyone they place there they are trying to torture with some plausible deniability. These environments are a hazard to everyone, but I am a broken record.

Eventually I feel asleep finally for an hour in a half. Then I got taken out of the cell to another holding room, so they could take me to another room to take finger prints. Then back to my cell again were I waited to see if they would really release me at nine, which they did not. But they started releasing me and five other people around 10:45. I was so happy, because the institutional culture of the prison is beyond fucked up—capturing people in their maze of rooms, procedures and orders. I eventually got dropped off at the airport and a kind person waited for us and arranged a ride back to our lives. The state expelled tons of resources to abuse us, because messages were written on a couple cars at the prison, and later the media would describe the demonstration as violent—which is laughable.  However, more surprising is the deep relationship and affinity I felt and saw between the prison and out-side the prison. The way the prison is just a more intense totalitarian replica of what already happens outside it—the same economic, political and social functions are taking place with the same architecture and relationships. These urban, suburban architectures and the science of population control have become increasingly more intelligent over time and embody the progress demanded by politicians.  This progress appears more than ever to perfect the model of the prison to the entirety of society, to perfect a productive order and managed at the expense of the prisoners, who embrace these structures. This show of state force has reminded me the importance of noise demonstrations and graffiti—the backbones of any peaceful demonstrations—the things I take for granted. Caring for others with small symbolic actions, like partying, writing messages, and waving to prisoners are meaningful and can trigger a hostage taking situation where you risk bleeding and shitting on yourself. Uncomfortable, but how does one confront nightmares the state creates? These institutions are justified with notions of safety, order and so on, but they systematically threaten everyone, making anyone a prisoner who exercises even a small attempt at freedom. This is nothing new.  People abide and give power to an order that is deranged that seeks to tamper with and consume all life on the planet, but as long as it does not directly harm them in an unexpected way, or if scientists have not confirmed the measurements of these damages, then the train keeps moving unquestioned.


by Xander

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