Getting Arrested

It was early, about six thirty, on a cold, foggy Scottish morning, and there were eight of us jammed into the old van. We had arrived at Faslane, a short drive from the Glasgow Youth Hostel where we had spent the night, after travelling up from London the previous day. None of us qualified as a genuine youth, but the hostel had taken us all in anyway, issued us with clean personal bedding.

There had been time for a general meeting to talk about guidelines for the next day's protest action. Non-violent, of course. That hardly needed saying - I was an invitee, the lone non-Quaker in the company of around 200 Quakers. The Quakers had claimed one day of the proposed year-long anti-nuclear protest at the Faslane submarine base.

At supper our group discussed a plan for the morning. It was decided to block the south entrance to the base, as there would be plenty of action at the main gate. I found myself in a tough crowd, who thought nothing of getting arrested. When one said, 'I will be on the path – I can't get arrested,' it was at once understood that this was on account of multiple previous arrests, and an inconveniently long prison term for re-offenders. I would have someone on the path with me, at least.

Well, the morning had come at last, after many long hours listening to a variety of snoring in our dormitory, and after a breakfast in the dark, here we were at Faslane. The dawn began to light up a cold foggy morning. The car was quickly parked, and we made our way to the south gate. A little way from the gate we were stopped by police. The chief officer addressed us and warned that we could protest as long as we liked on the pavement, but if we went on the road to block the entrance, we would be arrested. Quakers don't like having leaders – they are a very independent lot – but for the occasion we did have a spokesperson, a calm, mature lady who smiled sweetly at the officer and explained, 'We have come up all the way from London, to be arrested.' The policeman nodded, smiled, and let us past.

Our group at once occupied the centre of the road in front of the gate. Our observer was on the path as promised, and one of the group looked at me and indicated the path. But I decided to stay on the road, for the time. It was a good feeling, to be blocking access to Britain's nuclear deterrent. Cars began piling up behind us, and they were being redirected away. The police allowed us to block the gate for a good half-hour, as if they owed us something for having come all the way from London. But then, the last straw, we began the Hokey Kokey. We got as far as putting our right leg in and shaking it all about, when the police arrested us and took us to the side.

We were held on the path pending the arrival of the vans to take us away. It was police, protester, police, protester alternately all along the line. The policeman holding me apologised. He was 'holding' me by lightly pinching my sleeve. Apparently the normal procedure would be to grip my wrist to prevent my escape, but as we had sought arrest, this was hardly necessary. Our lady spokesperson was near me, and she surprised the officer in charge by singing to him, 'I love you!' Though this was understood as being a Quaker statement of general love of humanity, the officer responded gallantly, 'I'm too old for you, dear.'

It took most of the day to get to Glasgow prison. For some reason we were taken about half way, held for a time, changed vans, and though we had been arrested in the morning, it was nearly dark when we arrived for processing at the prison. The police were exceptionally friendly. During the day we learned all about conditions in the police force, the pension upon retirement and so on.

It was supper time when we were put in our allotted cells. It was a relief to be allotted an individual cell – I had feared a brawny homosexual cellmate. Our belts were taken away, in case we hanged ourselves in our cell. But I was far from hanging myself – I felt wonderful.

The cell was sparse. It was small, a small barred window, a concrete bed (it felt like concrete, but may have been something else). No pillow, two thin blankets. Toilet near the door – you had to call the guard to flush it – possibly there was some way to check if you were disposing of drugs that way.

I was looking forward to supper. We had eaten nothing since breakfast. I had been advised to say I was vegetarian. Prison food did not cater to vegetarians, so for vegetarians the meal had to be brought in from a nearby restaurant, and was reputedly delicious. But I thought the food could not be all that bad. I was wrong. Practically inedible. A small sausage made of cardboard, cold congealed baked beans, and a bit of mashed potato. I pass on this information for future protesters.

One by one we were taken from our cell, so that our fingerprints could be recorded, and to be photographed. I mentioned the possibility of the new technique of iris recognition, but was told that was years away yet. I was asked if I wanted a morning shower, and said yes. Back to the cell, and an attempt to sleep. It had been an exciting day, and I was tired. Sleep, however, was difficult. For one thing, there was no pillow. I decided that it was worth rolling up one of the blankets for a pillow, but that meant being fairly cold with one thin blanket. (Blanket is a generous description for the cloth provided.) And then, on the hour, every hour though the night, the cell door was rattled, and a guard yelled, 'All well?' He would not go away until a reply was received. I later mentioned this inconvenience, and was told, with a grin, that 'We had to make sure you were all right.'

Through the night there was the occasional angry incoherent shout of some incarcerated drunk, and then, once, a powerful Quaker baritone loudly singing, 'I love you!'

The morning came at last. I was invited for the morning shower, in the company of one of our Quakers. We were taken in a lift downstairs, accompanied by two stalwart policemen. I asked whether the showers had hot water, and was told, 'We arein the twenty-first century!' On the way back in the lift, there was only one guard, a huge black guy, and I asked him whether he thought it was risky, him guarding the two of us. 'I have insurance!' he replied, straight-faced. I was not sure whether he was referring to his powerful physique, or financial recompense.

We arrestees did not know whether we would be formally charged (ironically, we thought, the charge would be 'breach of the peace'), which meant going to court, then, or at some future time. However, the numbers of protestors proved too much for such a procedure, and, to my relief at least, we were told we would be discharged, with a warning not to do it again. This was explained to me by the officer in charge, and my belt was given back. I took the opportunity to thank him for the hospitality, and to mention that our treatment had been very careful and even friendly. I said that I thought this might have been partly because the Scottish people did not like having the Faslane base thrust upon them, as they were in general more anti-nuclear than their English neighbours.

We all met upon discharge, and compared experiences. Quakers are a very powerful lot. Most of our group were going straight to the main gate to encourage the next day's protestors. I shared a taxi to the station, and was soon on the train back to London. I felt great. The Quakers had helped me to do something I may not have been able to do alone.

Of course, I realised my protest had been miniscule, almost token. I had always known where I stood on the nuclear issue. I knew that there were many who had endured many arrests, many who had spent long terms in prison, in Britain and the United States. But I was enormously pleased to have joined the company of protestors. That year of protest at Faslane had been amazing. Groups from all over Britain had taken part, and there were even groups from the continent. That year, there were more than two thousand arrests.

Harry Davis