The terrorists won.
They pushed my face into the dirt. Made me low crawl through those metal detectors. Violated me like no prison incarceration could ever have make me feel.
None of this actually happened. But that is the way the Philadelphia Veterans Adminstration Center made me feel this morning with its new security measure that left me with very little dignity upon entering the building.
The guards asked me if I had any “sharp objects” before I entered. They probably meant a knife, but I wondered if a key or even a pen could fit that description. I hesitated, but kept my mouth shut. Didn’t want to cause any trouble with uniformed guards who appeared to have loaded guns at their sides.
But then the female guard told me to take off my belt.
My belt, I thought, what the hell is that going to secure? My pants needed the belt to stay up. Why did I have to feel I was about to be ridiculed like that woman did to an Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib. I kept thinking an accident would occur while stripping in front of this woman.
And what the hell is a metal detector going to detect from an unattached belt, that a metal detector could not detect while the belt is safely holding up a pair of pants? You can see if the metal of a belt buckle is hiding something while the person is wearing a belt, can’t you? What is the purpose of going beltless?
Now, you have to know that I have never been subjected to this routine before, except at Graterford Prison, Pennsylvania’s biggest and baddest prison facility. Most attorneys I know dislike the procedure. But we overcome our distaste for this invasive practice for our criminal clients.
None of the Philadelphia prisons require such action. At least they haven’t during the 20 years I have practiced, and the several months serving as the “prison chief” while working at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
Also, I have visited this VA office more than a dozen times over the past four years. The first time I needed help (and was turned down, by the way) was shortly after returning from Vietnam and complained of a hearing loss I suffered while employed as a grunt in a combat infantry platoon. Never in all my trips to the VA have I been subjected to such mistrust. Stripping off my belt made me feel like a criminal, plain and simple.
(See VA indignity for Part 2)