- by Laurie W. Porter
It was only a few hours ago that I followed the small group of cars through the drizzling rain. We had left the District Court, necessary papers in hand, and drove down residential streets of the small Pennsylvania town. It could have been mistaken for a funeral procession – we were solemn – but I felt nervous and excited, like on the first day of school. I didn’t know what awaited us – humiliation? physical danger? an adventure?
We stopped at a pre-arranged point at the edge of town where another volunteer waited. She showed us the rest of the way past woods and old farm houses to the harsh institution that didn’t seem to belong among the gentle Pennsylvania hills.
We parked our cars in a muddy makeshift lot. Seven others were with me: two retired couples, a single man, and two middle-aged fathers. We were expected. The guard glanced at our papers through the window and the locks on the heavy doors clicked open – just long enough for us to enter. The doors slammed and locked behind us, the deep thud resounding through reinforced metal and cement walls.
I rarely violate laws, except for an occasional speed limit, and have been considered a good girl for most of my 27 years. After graduating with honors from a Big 10 university, I worked for an international relief organization and a national women’s education group on Capitol Hill. I attend church, vote regularly, and call my mother every few weeks. I never dreamed I’d do anything that would send me to jail.
We were checked into Westchester County prison with unending paperwork, finger printing (three times: for the state, county, and FBI) and mug shots (I smiled for mine – if I’m going to have a record, I reasoned, it might as well be a nice looking one). They locked me in a cell on the women’s floor, but not before I was strip searched, sprayed with a de-licing chemical and given the worn drab-green uniform of inmates of cell-block C.
Now I’m alone in my cell, accompanied by the sound of barred doors sliding shut, guards’ footsteps echoing down the hall, and an inmate’s radio on a rock and roll station. I’m sitting down at a metal slab table protruding from the wall. Behind me is a stainless steel commode with no seat, to my side, a matching slab bunk bed with foam mattress, ripped sheets and stained flat pillow, no case.
My thoughts go back to the event that brought me here, the crime I committed over seven months ago last summer. I joined 591 others on Independence Day weekend to block the doorways of an abortion clinic outside Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love.”
As we were arrested and read our rights, we let our bodies go limp. The officers carried most of us away on stretchers. I remember a Catholic monk being picked up under his arms as he knelt in prayer. They loaded us on buses – Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, from teenagers to retirees – and took us to be booked and released an hour later.
We were found guilty of trespassing and fined $65. Yet I did not believe the judgment was justified. I had broken a lesser law to protect lives. Although jumping into a neighbor’s pool may be violating private property, it is forgivable if rescuing a drowning child. It would be a crime not to try.
So instead of paying the fine, I opted for the prison sentence – one 24 hour period. Because there were so many of us, we were imprisoned a few at a time, over a period of several months.
Now I am in this cinder block and stainless steel room with the only personal belongings the guards allowed: my toothbrush, and extra pair of underwear, and a pocket New Testament. I borrowed a pen from another inmate before I was locked in, and I’m writing my thoughts on the only paper available – the toilet roll.
I even have a window – through the reinforced steel panes I see walls topped with huge loops of barbed wire that remind me of broken slinkies. The walls and guard towers hide the woods I drove through only a few hours ago. I’ve only been here a few hours, but I wish I could see those wooded hills.
I let my thoughts drift – over the hidden hills, across the state, 300 miles away, where my 6-year-old nephew is finishing his lunch and getting ready for a nap. His grandmother will tuck him in and give him a kiss. Stuffed animals will surround him – a giraffe, teddy bears, a hippo.
Some of his favorite games we play together when I visit are about superheros. Lindsay loves the type of superhero toy that turns from a rock into a robot man, conquers the enemy and turns back into a rock. He likes the kind with big muscles and sharp swords, the kind that are invincible – no matter what you do to them, they never die, but come back fighting.
I remember sitting for hours in the sun on the asphalt outside the abortion clinic. A man with a bullhorn led a prayer asking God to forgive us and our nation for allowing over 4,000 pre-born babies to be killed every day since Roe vs. Wade. I couldn’t even comprehend those figures. All I could think of was Lindsay.
I cried at the idea of Lindsay’s little body being cut up with a scalpel, sucked out with a vacuum. I cried when I thought I almost never had the chance to wrap him in my arms, to read him bedtime stories, to play superhero games with him, or to promise him I’d wait for him to grow up so we could get married.
Lindsay says he wants to be a superhero when he grows up.
He almost didn’t get the chance – the territory of his mother’s womb was almost trespassed into and his life almost arrested – he nearly paid the penalty for his parents’ pre-marital passion. Before they decided to marry, some of his relatives suggested they just take care of “the problem” in the simplest way. A standard medical procedure would relieve the pressure and they could still get married at leisure if they wanted.
Instead, Lindsay became the first grandchild on both sides of the family and the apple of all his relatives’ eyes. After the initial embarrassment and attempts to cover up his too early birth, it was clear he would not suffer for lack of love or attention. Every birthday, holiday, and for no occasion at all, those who thrive on seeing him happy give him toys, books, clothes, and stuffed animals.
He’s my little hero. He made it, a survivor in a way he knows nothing about. He escaped joining the casualties, those who might have been future classmates – nameless bloody body parts in plastic bags, tossed in anonymous dumpsters behind anonymous clinics. Not everyone is invincible.
I hope Lindsay becomes a superman, like the baby superman tucked in a rocket by his parents and blasted away into space just before his planet totally disintegrated. Landing on earth, not knowing fully his roots but sensing his destiny, he grew up to help the earth’s inhabitants, humans who needed superhuman assistance.
I am not a superwoman. I am human, and conscious of my need for superhuman assistance. I was afraid to block the abortion chamber door – afraid of having a criminal record, being denied future employment, concerned about what my family would think. I was afraid of being hurt, as I knew others had been, my arm yanked and twisted behind me or pressure points pinched until they bled to get me to move when I let my body go limp. I was afraid I would not be courageous, maybe cry out in pain. I was nervous about jail – spending time with hardened criminals – dare I sleep at night?
But with all these human fears, I am more afraid for the superheros who may never make it out of the krypton worlds of their mother’s wombs before they are ripped apart, before they can be propelled out to a new world where others unknowingly need them.
You see, I’m not very heroic – I don’t pretend to be – but I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something to try and save some lives, if only a few of the millions. I’m more afraid of when my grandchildren learn with horror of the holocaust of babies. They will look up at me with inquisitive eyes, an old woman with my stockings wrinkled around by ankles and poor eyesight, and ask, “Grammy, what did you do when they were killing the babies?”
My petty fears of family shame, police brutality, reputation, and risking job security will seem like nothing and I would have been left to rock away the rest of my days in regret that I did not act when I had the chance.
Tomorrow I’ll be outside these walls, I’ll drive back home to Washington, D.C., my friends and my work, and my own bed with three pillows, with cases. I’ll tell people it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Most of the guards and inmates were even friendly, and the food wasn’t much worse than that of my high school cafeteria.
Tomorrow I’ll celebrate – but soberly – that I’m out of jail, that lives were saved when I helped block the clinic doors, and that I’m a proud aunt to a future superman. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate a time when humans became superheros.