Seattle -- When protestors smashed windows at a federal courthouse and vandalized property in Seattle last May Day, 23-year-old Ktee Olejnik and 24-year-old Matt Duran were not among them.
Olejnik, an Olympia waitress, and Duran, a former information technology specialist, were 60 miles away from the mayhem unleashed by anarchist protestors dressed in black. But two months later they got a surprise.
“It was really, really shocking. I was walking to work and an FBI agent popped out of a car and handed me paperwork, told me to show up to court,” Duran said.
"I didn't even know what it was about,” Olejnik said, “I was confused about what the government could want from me."
They’d been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.
"Wanting to know if I was at May Day and if I knew what had happened, but we very early on let them know that I had no idea, under the penalty of perjury,” Olejnik said.
“What it turned out they wanted to know was if people I may or may not be acquainted with, what their political beliefs were, who they lived with and who their friends were,” she said.
Olejnik and Duran said they did not know about the violence planned for Seattle, but they are both self-described activists and may have come to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s office because of their political orientation and their network of friends.
“I do identify as an anarchist,” Duran said.
“I have a lot of anarchist beliefs,” Olejnik said, “but semantically I don’t identify as an anarchist,” she said.
It was enough to first put them in the federal spotlight, and then, when they defied the grand jury, to land them in prison at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac last September, not charged with a crime, but for what’s called “civil contempt of court.”
"The idea is that you are being held in confinement in order to attempt to coerce you into doing what the court has asked,” said Seattle attorney, Kim Gordon, who represents Duran.
The two would spend five months in prison, and not just in general population--but in and out of isolation.
“There is not a feeling in the world as torturous as isolation,” Duran said.
Olejnik said her 69 days in the Special Housing Unit left her a physical and emotional wreck.
“Solitary confinement is horrible, it’s the most intense feeling of isolation & dread,” Olejnik said.
On the outside, her Seattle attorney Jenn Kaplan fought to learn why Olejnik, a model prisoner, would get the kind of treatment usually reserved for the worst troublemakers.
"Perhaps it was to tighten the screws on her and make her more likely to testify," Kaplan said.
But neither would crack and give up their friends or identify anyone.
If they didn’t know what was going on and weren't part of it, why not answer the questions?
“It's a matter of principle to me. I don't ever want to be used as a tool or instrument to further prosecute people or to put people in prison,” Duran said.
The two were facing prison for the entire term of the grand jury -- up to 18 months. But in February, after five months in the FDC, a federal judge decided their confinement had crossed over from being coercive to being punitive. And he set them free.
That still may not be the end of it. Olejnik and Duran can still be charged with a crime -- criminal contempt of court -- until the statute of limitations runs out in February 2017.
"It's always present even if I am walking down the street, I could be picked up by the FBI or U.S. Marshals and taken away,” Duran said.
Grand jury investigations are secret and federal prosecutors declined requests for interviews. But in a statement last September after Duran and Olejnik were ordered to prison for civil contempt of court, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said "no one is investigated for what they believe; investigations focus on actions that constitute a crime."