A Day in Jail for a Photojournalist

Saturday afternoon I'm standing in McPherson Square taking photos of the cops in full riot gear as they prepare to evict OccupyDC. Despite a verbal promise from the National Park Police that only tents containing bedding material would be removed, almost every tent was targeted for the dumpster.

There was so much activity going on, it was difficult to find something to focus on. Cops in full riot gear, waste handlers in yellow "hazmat" suits, protestors shouting, mounted police roaming through the park -- just action everywhere I looked.

I was standing alone watching the activity when about five park police surrounded me and told me they wanted to speak with me. When I asked what this was about one of them took the cigarette from my mouth while another slipped the plasti-cuffs over my wrists and pulled them so tight I could feel the skin tear beneath them.

Surrounded by more cops in riot gear I was led to a white processing tent that had set up in the square earlier that morning. The cops emptied my pockets, removed my belt and shoelaces and went through my [camera] gear bag.

About six cops in riot gear were in the tent with me and one was busy writing. He looked at another officer and asked him, "What are we going to charge him with?" The second officer thought a second and said, "Assault. Let's get him on assault."

Once they finished patting me down thoroughly, they led me to a paddy wagon that had already been pulled up. Opening the door, they pushed me inside.

Keep in mind, not one officer had yet told me what was going on, what I was being charged with and no indication of where I was being taken.

At the end of that ride, I found myself in the processing unit of the National Park Police substation. I was fingerprinted, had my height and weight measured and my mug shot taken. Put into a holding cell with my hands still cuffed behind my back, I couldn't tell what time it was or whether it was night or day outside.

After an interminable length of time, the cell door was unlocked and a cop motioned for me to step into the hallway. Again I was frisked and searched and put into another paddy wagon for a bumpy ride to who knows where.

Finally the truck stopped and the back door was opened. I was inside a sally port somewhere, but didn't find out until later that it was the basement of the Courthouse. The time? 4:30 a.m. From then until 4:30 (12 hours later) I sat in another holding cell still shackled and handcuffed. No food, no water. Nowhere to stretch out. Just set and wait... and wait... and wait.

About 4:30 p.m., my name was called and I was taken through three doors and let into the courtroom. I was placed on a bench surrounded by bulletproof glass with my face to the wall and my back to the courtroom. Despite it all, I was relieved. I thought I was finally going to find out what this was all about and what was happening to me.

About five minutes after I was led into the prisoner docket, a U.S. marshall opened the door through which I had just walked. He motioned to me to follow him. He led me back through the three doors, unlocked and removed my shackles and handcuffs. Pointing to a door at the end of the hallway he said, "The front lobby is through that door."

I walked and never looked back. When I got to the lobby there were two good friends, Anne and Tom waiting on me. After a few hugs and slaps on the back I stepped out of the front door of the courthouse a free man.

I was detained for 48 hours. I was never formally charged with a crime. I never signed any paperwork telling me what the charges were. I was not allowed to make a phone call and I was never read my rights and I was not allowed to see a judge.

My head is still spinning from one of the most bizarre experiences I've had in my life... and I've had a few.

Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist and adventure photographer. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content and he is a regular contributor to Huffington Post as well as OpEdNews. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. Nelson currently is in Washington D.C. pointing his camera at OccupyDC and freelancing for The Washington Times the second largest paper in the nation's capital.

CLICK HERE to see more of Nelson's work or to hire him for a shoot.