What We’re Reading: “Coffee in Jail”
Posted by on November 24, 2014

A protest last month against underground natural gas storage in old salt caves near Seneca Lake led to arrests, and ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber, who organized the opposition, is serving her second stint in jail. Her arrest brings a contested environmental issue—fracking (or more specifically in this case, storing fracked natural gas)—to the forefront.

In this post, we take a look at Steingraber’s 2013 essay detailing her first arrest that led to 10 days in the Chemung County Jail. In the September/October 2013 issue of Orion, the ecologist, at times comically, reflects on her time in jail and what led to her civil disobedience when she failed to listen to the deputy who told her for a third time to step away from the path of the gas company truck “with the massive drill head strapped to its flatbed…” She soon learns they no longer serve coffee in the Chemung County Jail. She reflects on her decision that landed her there.

“And even though you’ve testified and written letters and submitted expert comments, the company might go on violating environmental laws, polluting the lake, blithely paying fines, and planning expansions.”

So Steingraber acted for her community. For her son. Her voice turned to civil disobedience.

“And so, because you believe strongly in the sanctity of water and loons and the beauty of the boy who plays percussion in the pep band (because he broke his jaw in a bicycle accident, he had to give up the trumpet), here you are in cellblock 5D, far removed from lakes and loons and pep bands. The new skill you have acquired for Earth Day is how to safely descend a set of stairs in ankle manacles and handcuffs.”

The essay is certainly worth a read, especially as Steingraber serves her second jail sentence.

Posted by Roger Drouin and Rachel Gomez

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  • Photo by Tyler Malone