“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.
I called a doctor who used to volunteer at a Black Panther clinic. He explained that left-wing doctors could rarely afford their own malpractice insurance these days. He was covered through the county clinic where he worked. But he couldn’t choose his own patients, and he certainly couldn’t sneak an unauthorized old lady into a nursing home. He put us in touch with a geriatric social worker who showed us a couple of institutions for which Marjorie might be a “candidate,” if strings were pulled. They were so dismal that we went back to thinking of crimes.
We’d just about given up when we saw the headline:
Palsied Granny Pies Prez
You probably read, yourself, about the pie-toting old lady who parachuted onto the offshore oil rig from which George W. Bush delivered his latest “we’re winning” speech. That was Marjorie. Her quiver was apparently worsening, because she accidentally spattered Condoleezza Rice with some banana cream filling.
But from her point of view, the caper was a total success. True, the ACLU at first argued that pie-in-the-face isn’t terrorism. But she’d unquestionably violated the portable no-fly zone that hovers over the President wherever he goes. That guaranteed her a life sentence.
Two months later Susan and I visited Marjorie in the senior wing of a modern prison. The first thing we noticed was that there was no urine smell. There were no guns or locks either.
And the guards were reasonably pleasant because they felt they’d gotten the easy inmates.
But the thing Marjorie particularly appreciated was the frequent visits from younger prisoners with time on their hands. In prison she’d found the physical help she needed without the isolation of a nursing home.
Marjorie’s roommate was a 91-year-old who’d been arrested for selling half her prescribed OxyContin to addicts for $10 a pill. She’d been reputed to be a mean old woman, but she was good company now that she didn’t have to choose between heat and pain relief.
“Marge really did her research,” I said on the way out.
“But what about us in twenty years?” Susan asked.
“Or ten,” I sighed. “We didn’t do a very good job reforming this country, did we?”
“We were too busy fighting war and segregation,” Susan answered. “We thought the Democrats could handle healthcare.”
I’m not going to tell you the name of Marjorie’s prison; we wouldn’t want to ruin a good thing. But Susan and I have begun thinking of a crime we could commit in the same jurisdiction–something that makes a strong political statement but preferably nonviolent. Do you have any suggestions?