“Dear Cellmates,” (said the postcard) “I need to go back to jail but I don’t know what crime to commit. Could we get together and brainstorm? Marjorie”
Marjorie, Susan and I had been cellmates for ten days in 1967. Our crime was trespassing at a draft board during the Vietnam War. After college Susan and I had each moved to the city where we still get together regularly. But neither of us had seen Marjorie for almost forty years.
When she showed up at Susan’s house she was still brown-haired and straight-spined, but her hands quivered. It was a symptom of a disease that would soon make her an invalid, she explained, and the best care she could get was in prison.
“Oh Marge, you can stay with me–for a while.” Remembering my husband, I had to add the qualification. Susan offered shelter too. But Marjorie hadn’t turned to her old gang for nursing care.
“I need long-term professional help,” she said, “and there’s no way I can pay for it.” However, she explained–“and this is why I got you girls together”–thanks to the “war on drugs” and get-tough sentencing, the jails were full of aging third strikers. The particular prison Marjorie hoped to get into spent more than $70,000 a year per senior and had a better patient-to-staff ratio than any nursing home that would accept her Medicare.
“So I move the agenda,” Marjorie declared. “Let’s plan a caper that will get me sent away for life.”
“Sell pot,” Susan suggested. “Thirty years should be good enough.”
But Marjorie abhorred drugs. All three of us did, even in the 1960s.
“Burn the flag,” again from Susan.
“But I’m not anti-American.”
That was true too. In the old days we always moved our Bring Them Home banner far away from the doofus (or was he an FBI agent?) waving the Vietnamese flag. We weren’t about to cede the US flag to the creeps running the current war. Besides, flag-burning laws might be unconstitutional. The last thing Marjorie needed was years on the outside while her case made its way up to the Supreme Court.
“Come on,” Marjorie scolded. “We shut down that draft board for over six hours just trespassing. Now I’m willing to be sent away for life.”
But we couldn’t come up with anything. The meeting petered out. Susan and I promised to continue brainstorming and we did indeed keep meeting, but our focus shifted to getting Marjorie long-term care outside prison.