After lunch, the prisoners are allowed outside for the first time in a week. Zeitoun tries to jog, but he feels light-headed, and instead swaps stories with other prisoners. One man was moving furniture in his house just after the storm hit. The police broke in and beat him up when he said he was innocent. A few days later he came to the station to complain, and was arrested there.
We see yet another anecdote of mind-boggling levels of institutional incompetence and unfairness, as the authorities seem to have lost the ability to judge between law-abiding and law-breaking citizens, and seem not to care about anyone who might get caught in the crossfire.
Another prisoner told the story of Merlene Maten, which he had just seen on TV. Maten was in her seventies and a deaconess at a Baptist church. She and her husband had checked into a hotel downtown before the storm, since it was on higher ground. After three days, Maten went downstairs to get food from the car, and was walking back to the hotel when the police yelled and accosted her. A deli had just been looted, and she was charged with stealing $63.50 worth of groceries. Her bail was set at $50,000, 100 times the usual amount for bail. She was brought to Greyhound and then to Hunt’s sister prison, and was only freed with the help of a private attorney, volunteer lawyers, and the AARP, who convinced a judge that a seventy-year-old staying at a hotel would not need to steal sausages—the deli didn’t even sell the sausages she was carrying.
This is a particularly egregious example of the breakdown of law and justice after Hurricane Katrina. The other stories that Zeitoun has heard have been appalling, but this one is almost absurd. The combined factors of Maten’s age, her obvious “upstanding” status, and the ridiculousness of the disconnect between the charges against her and the high bail, all show how desperate the situation is for many New Orleans residents. That Maten was only freed through a near-army of people defending her underlines how difficult it has become to get out from a legal bind such as Zeitoun’s.
Late that afternoon, Zeitoun hears a group of guards enter the cellblock and pound down each door. He doesn’t show any opposition, but the men, dressed like a SWAT team, still burst in, push him to the wall, and handcuff him. They bring him into the hallway for another full, naked-body search. Then they throw him back into the cell and move onto the next.
The guards entering the cells of Zeitoun and others seem prepared to deal with hardened criminals, and are expecting resistance and a fight—they don’t seem to care that Zeitoun obviously doesn’t fulfill that expectation.