Dane Powell, J20 Prisoner: Interview

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Dane Powell, a J20 defendant, was sentenced in D.C. Superior Court this morning to serve 4 months of two 36 month sentences, with 2 years of supervised probation to follow. In late April he accepted a non-cooperating plea deal.

On January 20th, as Trump was being sworn into the office of the presidency, thousands of people gathered across downtown Washington D.C. for various types of protests, ranging from the blockading of the parade route entrances to marches through the city. During the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march, several hundred people were kettled by the D.C. police resulting in the arrest and charging of over 230 people. Since that day there have since been a handful of charges dismissed for legal observers and journalists, though some remain charged, as well as additional charges for the remaining 214. Those charges could add up to over 75 years in prison if convicted.

One of those J20 defendants, Dane Powell, chose to take a non-cooperating plea deal that was offered to him. Facing over 14 felony charges, Dane reviewed the evidence against him with his attorneys and felt it would be best to accept the plea offered. Bloc Party reached out to Dane early along in his plea process and offered to support him by providing a platform from which he could speak, share his story, and initiate the long-term support he is going to need.

We spoke with Dane about his charges, the process of his plea agreement and what support looked like through these last near six months.

Bloc Party: People came from all over the so-called U.S. to protest the inauguration of Trump. You clearly felt drawn to be there, what motivated you to resist on January 20th in D.C.?

Dane: I had just left Standing Rock. I knew that our work wasn’t done and that Trump wanted this pipeline pushed through regardless of who it hurts. That’s the thing with capitalism and Trump personifies that to me. We’ve always had those two shitty options, capitalism lite or fucking full throttle. I witnessed the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the movement at Standing Rock. The battle just moved from treaty land to their front fucking yard. Funny thing, my oldest daughter told me she was mad at me because I could have let other people do it. I let her know that we can’t live our lives hoping for someone else to come and fix things for us. When we, or anyone else, is faced with insurmountable oppression we must use our own two feet and hands to dismantle it. She now understands why I went.

Bloc Party: There were a lot of people present at Standing Rock who had come to D.C. and converged with others from all different fronts of struggle. It was definitely inspiring to see that on January 20th! A lot of your co-defendants have talked about what it felt like when they got out of jail, walking out to hundreds of people cheering and hugging them. You were arrested in a slightly different situation than your other co-defendants. So how was that experience for you? Did you feel supported from the beginning?

Dane: I knew support was there after I got out of jail but not really much while I was inside. I read how everyone else was singing songs of solidarity in their cells. I was arrested the same time as other comrades were getting out of jail on the 21st. It was nice having my partner there for me when I got out of jail, but that was about it. We spent two or three days in DC after that just trying to make it back to Florida. Those extra couple of days there weren’t so bad. The freedom was nice. My lawyers have been there for me 100% and have been amazing. When it came to support from the group in general it was slow to start off with. I don’t think people knew the seriousness of my situation in the beginning. From the day I left, I had a felony on me. That was bumped up to six and then again to 14 felonies. Support started ramping up a bit more before I took my plea, but I was depressed with everything so it was really difficult on me. Overall, I feel fully supported but the local support in DC and from other groups around the us.

Bloc Party: Being depressed and having a difficult time with those kind of charges makes sense. Many of our close friends and comrades that have faced down heavy charges with long prison bids attached have expressed that same feeling. In your situation the U.S attorney used some pretty dirty tactics against you in this plea deal, using something called a wired plea at one point. Can you talk about that part of the process? What did support look like through that?

Dane: This was about the time that support really started kicking ass. The wired plea really took a number on my mental health. My partner and I would have both had to take a plea. They would have plead to misdemeanor rioting and I would have got what my final plea is for, felony rioting and assault on a police officer. If I hadn’t taken this plea I would have been taken out of the box for the possibility of probation. We decided not to take (the wired plea) together and the day before my last status hearing my lawyers called and said that I could get that plea un-wired. The only catch was there needed to be an insulating statement so I couldn’t testify at my partners hearing. I ran this through both our attorneys and they were good with it and said it won’t help the state.

 

I was arrested for my involvement in the J20 protests in the capitol of the united snakes. I stood as a defendant with others. By the time the smoke cleared, I was looking at 140 years in prison for my actions on January 20th. I took a plea deal, pleading guilty to two of the 14 charges. After seeing the evidence the government had against me, I knew this was the best route to take while still sticking to the non-cooperation agreement between over 100 of the 214 defendants.

As far as support, I think at this point I was really shutting myself off to comrades, friends, and family so I wasn’t really seeking support like I should have been.

Bloc Party: Asking for support can be so difficult at the exact moments we need it most. It’s good that you felt you had attorneys on board that were working in your very best interest. Around the time you took this plea is when the support structure in D.C. and regionally really started to coalesce. How would you describe your experience of support since then?

Dane: Support has been great. They have been there since day one. I haven’t always wanted support but I knew they were there and had my back. That definitely made things a hell of a lot easier for me. This is the first time that I’ve been arrested for something this big and it really feels like everyone who is part of support is family.

Bloc Party: Having done a large amount of legal support in the last few years, there is something noteworthy about the J20 support structure that you hit on, that feeling of family. Maybe that is what it’s like to have support from your comrades versus people who just parachute in from elsewhere. It has felt very important to us to highlight to people that the very best legal support doesn’t come from people outside your movement, but the people within it. What things do you wish you’d know before J20 that you know now? 

Dane: I wish I would have known more about collective defense. Being thrown into something and having to learn it while your life is at stake is a hell of a lot harder than knowing it beforehand. Another hard part was knowing who to trust. If there’s peeps out there who want to help, please join a local support group and get to know who is going to be supporting you when you get into some shit and vice versa.

The hardest part of all this for me was having to explain to my crying daughters what was happening to their father. To my children: I love you with all my heart and these walls will only separate us for a short time, but walls of repression could separate all of us forever. Your father only wants those repressive walls torn down. If you have children, make sure they know why you fight before it is too late.

Bloc Party: Yes! We try and highlight this for people as well. The best time to prepare for repression is when you start resisting, because the repression will follow. If there isn’t a local legal support infrastructure in your town, find some homies and get that shit in place before you need it. It’s one of the reasons we love the Tilted Scales Collective, their book and the organizing they’ve taken on around this!

You’ll be sentenced in a few days. What do you want people to know about you, this process and your co-defendants?

Dane: I want comrades to know that I went to jail with a smile on my face. I want my comrades back in Florida to carry on doing the amazing things we have been doing. One thing I can’t stress enough is do not ever underestimate the state. Practice the tightest security culture you can implement personally and within your group. They will use everything against you, even if you think there’s no way in hell this could hurt you. Don’t post shit on Facebook! If you don’t want that post from 3 years ago being shown to a federal judge when some shit goes down, don’t post it.

I wish I would have been able to get to know my co-defendants better before my sentencing. I truly hope that after all this is done we can get to know each other a lot better. Hell, might even have a party every J20 on K and 12! I want my co-defendants to know that I support them in every way possible and I wish I could be in this fight with all of you all. Stay strong! Thank you again to support for everything that you all have been doing for us!

I’d like to give a huge shout out to all my comrades and all the J20 support that have been by my side since this whole process started. I give thanks to all of you. And just know that as I walked into jail on the 7th I had a smile on my face. I also want to give a thank you to IGD for allowing me to (say what) I wasn’t really allowed to in court.

Bloc Party: Thank you so much for talking with us! We know that this is a stressful time for you, your family and community. Everyone at It’s Going Down is sending you loads of loving solidarity! We’ll be sure to update everyone on how they can continue to support you and your co-defendants.

You can find a copy of Dane’s plea agreement here. We also highly recommend reading this article from Carlo Piantini, another J20 defendant. You can keep updated on support needs, calls for solidarity and J20 related news at Defend J20 Resistance. There is also a call for a week of solidarity over at CrimethInc. 


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About the Author:
Bloc Party
Bloc Party is an ongoing column that looks at State repression, counter-insurgency, prisons, political prisoners, as well as what people are doing to resist them.