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Steingraber writes: "So, here I am, ringing the alarm bell from my isolation cell on Earth Day."

Sandra Steingraber was arrested for blockading a gas compression rig last month. (photo: Shutterstock)
Sandra Steingraber was arrested for blockading a gas compression rig last month. (photo: Shutterstock)


From Jail on Earth Day

By Sandra Steingraber, Common Dreams

22 April 13

 

The following was letter was written from the Chemung County Jail in Elmira, New York where Steingraber is serving a fifteen day sentence for blockading a gas compression rig last month owned by the Inergy gas company near her home in the Finger Lakes region of the state:

his morning - I have no idea what time this morning, as there are no clocks in jail, and the florescent lights are on all night long - I heard the familiar chirping of English sparrows and the liquid notes of a cardinal. And there seemed to be another bird too - one who sang a burbling tune. Not a robin-wren? The buzzing, banging, clanking of jail and the growled announcements of guards on their two-way radios - which also go on all night - drowned it out. But the world, I knew, was out there somewhere.

The best way to deal with jail is to exude patience, and wrap it around a core of resolve and surrender. According to New York state law, all inmates upon arrival are isolated from the general population until they are tested for tuberculosis and that test comes back negative. Typically, that takes three days. Isolation means you are locked inside your cell with no access to the phone (the phone for cell block D happens to be located, tantalizingly, four feet from my bars - just out of reach); no access to books (the two books I have in my cell, lent to me by an empathetic inmate, are the Bible and Nora Roberts' Carolina Moon, which is a 470-page paperback whose opening sentence is, "She woke in the body of a dead friend."); and, of course, no access to wi fi, cell phones, e-mail or the internet.

I am writing with a borrowed pencil on the back of the "Chemung County Inmate Request Form," which is a half sheet of paper. I am writing small and revising in my head. (Forgive the paragraphing - I'm trying to save space.)

Yesterday, I was told that no medical personnel were available to administer my TB test. When I was called down to the nurse this morning, she asked why I didn't have my TB test yesterday. Of course, she was available yesterday. The resulting delay means that I will join the prison population and be released from 24 hour lock-down on Monday, rather than Sunday.

Frustration will be counter-productive and place me closer to despair. Let-it-go surrender, ironically, keeps me in touch with my resolve.

So, Monday, which is Earth Day, I will emerge from my cell and join the ecosystem of the Chemung County Jail, where the women's voices are loud and defiant. Stingray (not her actual nickname), broke a tooth yesterday. When she showed it to officer Murphy's Law (that's his actual nickname) and said, "the other half is in my cell," Murphy's Law replied, "So, you think the tooth fairy's going to come?" And then he left.

But she stood at the iron door and called for pain meds, over and over in a voice that I use for rally speeches. Full oration. Projecting to the rafters. Stingray is six months pregnant.

She got her pain meds.

Stingray is my inspiration. How can I use my time here - separated from the whole human race by the layers of steel and concrete - to speak loudly and defiantly about the business plans of a company called Inergy that seeks to turn my Finger Lakes home into a transportation and storage hub for fossil fuel gases? It is wrong to compress and bury explosive gases in salt caverns beside and beneath a lake - Seneca - that serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. It is wrong to construct a flare stack on the banks of this lake, which will contribute hazardous air pollutants, including death-dealing ozone, into the air. It is wrong for DEC and EPA and FERC to turn a blind eye to a company that has, for the last 12 quarters, exceeded its permitted discharge of chemicals into this lake. It is wrong for a company to claim that basic geological knowledge about the bedrock itself, is a proprietary trade secret and hide it from the public and from the scientific community. It is wrong to deepen our dependency on fossil fuels in a time of climate emergency.

I could express these ideas more eloquently if there were coffee in jail. There is not.

I was led to cell #1 in block D of the Chemung County jail by three things. One is the decision of Inergy to industrialize the Finger Lakes region where I live and, in so doing, aid and abet the fracking industry by erecting a massive storage depot near the birthplace of my son. I consider this an act of desecration. That's what biologists call the proximate cause of my decision to commit an act of trespass by blockading the Inergy's compressor station driveway.

The ultimate cause is a commentary published last fall in the journal that all biologists read - Nature - by Jeremy Grantham, who is not a scientist, but an economist. He noted that all the projections for climate change - even the worst case scenarios - were being overtaken by real-life data. In other words, our climate situation is worse than we thought - even when we assumed the worst. Mr. Grantham then exhorted scientists who have this knowledge to be bold - noting that no one is paying attention to this data: "Be persuasive, be bold, be arrested (if necessary)."

So, here I am, ringing the alarm bell from my isolation cell on Earth Day. May my voice be as un-ignorable as Stingray's.

The third reason is this one: seven years ago, when my son was four years old, he asked to be a polar bear for Halloween, and so I went to work sewing him a costume from a chenille bedspread. It was with the knowledge that the costume would almost certainly outlast the species. Out on the street that night - holding a plastic pumpkin will with KitKat bars - I saw many species heading towards extinction; children dressed as frogs, bees, monarch butterflies, and the icon of Halloween itself - the little brown bat.

The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.

My children need a world with pollinators and plankton stocks and a stable climate. They need lake shores that do not have explosive hydrocarbon gases buried underneath.

The fossil fuel party must come to an end. I am shouting at an iron door. Can you hear me now?


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Comments   

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+6 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-04-22 21:57
THANK YOU for your clear insight.
 
 
+8 # barryg 2013-04-22 22:48
Thank you
 
 
+9 # Lgfoot 2013-04-22 23:01
God bless this lady for having the courage to sacrifice her freedom to fight the plutocrats and polluters.
 
 
+9 # unitedwestand 2013-04-23 00:19
I'm in awe of this kind of activist. It probably will take millions of us to do the same as Ms. Steingraber has, but all I can do is to thank her.

Maybe these actions are like collecting drops of rain, eventually they will add up to real substance and desired results.
 
 
+7 # Helen 2013-04-23 00:38
I saw Sandra Steingraber interviewed on Bill Moyers' most recent program, and I highly recommend watching it. She is clearly a heroine for all of us who care about the toxic exposures that these companies are foisting upon us and our children. This is a very serious matter.
 
 
+3 # charlemaign 2013-04-23 01:03
Nope, cant hear you.
(holds hands over ears singing la la la la)
Just give it up, nobody cares.
I tried, read my article on ending global warming and starvation forever.
This earth day was horrible, people do not care about which solution is best but rather work on their project which wont work, concentrating on getting cash donations and feel good about buying a new electric car with it.
You want the fossil fuel party to come to an end?

I want most of the 1.5 million organizations that are asking for funding who buy new cars and eat at lavish restaurants shut down, publicly chastised with their leaders jailed.

Guess i'm pissed at just about everyone including the oil industry, nuclear industry, health care, NRA, republican party, democratic party, green party, NOAA, NASA, Fox news, UN, ..... but never thought i'd be so pissed off at the environmental movement for its corruption, miss information and most of all a lack of effectiveness.
 
 
+4 # cafetomo 2013-04-23 05:04
More and more, jailed for less and less, as the state enables the increasingly common corporate pursuit of avoiding embarrassment. The more horrific the reality, the more important the pretense.

Poisoning the environment and all who depend on it has become commonly accepted as part of a lucrative business model.

Even slavery has some hope of an end, if only in death. This death they hide beneath our feet. For us, our children and their children, for generations to come.

Those poisoned in the womb should be so lucky, to be never born.

History reveals the baldest idiocy by callous monsters from simple greed. We will appear the same, in both making and letting this happen. Cursed as well, for having fouled the bed future generations will have no choice but to sleep in.

If society had any shame, now would be time to show it.
 
 
+1 # Joe Bob 2013-04-24 11:30
Hey, anybody see any bankers jailed lately ?
 
 
+4 # intheEPZ 2013-04-23 05:49
Yes. I hear you. Thank you for your courage, and your voice. You brought me to my knees.
 
 
+4 # Carol R 2013-04-23 06:17
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says, “The EPA has imposed stringent regulations of carbon dioxide emissions that could restrict economic growth without producing any real environmental gains … an ill-considered, unlawful EPA rule.”

Science shows rising atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is causing global fluctuations in temperatures and storms. The USDA declared over a thousand counties in 26 states to be a natural disaster area. Thailand and Beijing had heavy flooding.

According to The Economist, the Greenland ice sheet is retreating. “The permafrost is shrinking: Alien plants, birds, fish and animals are creeping north: Atlantic mackerel, haddock and cod are coming up in Arctic nets…The Arctic is warming roughly twice as fast as the rest of the planet … If the warming continues, it could eventually disintegrate, raising the sea level by seven meters. Many of the worlds biggest cities would be inundated long before that happened.”

How high is the cost of inaction?
 
 
+8 # mikeandnettie 2013-04-23 07:39
True womanly courage. Enough of that could save the world.
 
 
-2 # MidwestTom 2013-04-23 09:24
The well respected publication The Economist, a UK based magazine with worldwide readership, that has been a 100% believer in Global Warming, published a three page article wherein they started to express major doubts about climate change. Their premise is that CO2 has increased 25% since 2005, yet the earths surface temperature is unchanged.

One forgets that on the original Earth Day the Scientists were warning us of the coming Ice Age, and the looming food shortages that would by the year 2000 result in million of starvation victims. Somehow our planet has adjusted.
 
 
-2 # MidwestTom 2013-04-23 09:28
One interesting facet of the shale boom is the spreading of energy production to areas that have never seen it. About half of our country is used to dealing with coal mines, and oil and gas wells to supply the other half. Now that Shale has been found almost everywhere, the newly effected people think that they somehow should not have energy production in their backyards. There is little sympathy for them from those of us who have dealt with it all of our lives.
 
 
0 # gd_radical 2013-04-23 17:40
# MidwestTom 2013-04-23 07:24
The well respected publication The Economist, a UK based magazine with worldwide readership, that has been a 100% believer in Global Warming, published a three page article wherein they started to express major doubts about climate change. Their premise is that CO2 has increased 25% since 2005, yet the earths surface temperature is unchanged.

One forgets that on the original Earth Day the Scientists were warning us of the coming Ice Age, and the looming food shortages that would by the year 2000 result in million of starvation victims. Somehow our planet has adjusted.


"MidwestTom" One interesting facet of the shale boom is the spreading of energy production to areas that have never seen it. About half of our country is used to dealing with coal mines, and oil and gas wells to supply the other half. Now that Shale has been found almost everywhere, the newly effected people think that they somehow should not have energy production in their backyards. There is little sympathy for them from those of us who have dealt with it all of our lives.

No offense intended but, you must be using satire of course, right? I mean, what are you doing here at RSN and commenting on everything even though it seems, the rest of us seem to think you are incorrect all the time(ok, only 99% us here)?

Thanks RSN and to the author who is courageous enough to willingly stand up for her beliefs and pay the price. Please donate folks!
 
 
+1 # John_Fisher 2013-04-23 09:54
Thank you for your personal sacrifice and your courage-inspiri ng voice. Keep projecting. Some of us do hear you.
 

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