I really didn’t need this. I’d already had so much trouble with the police my friends had started calling me “Bustable Brian.” It started two years earlier when I’d hitchhiked to San Francisco, eager to join in the Summer of Love. Within twenty-four hours of arriving in the city and locating a crash pad, it was raided and I was hauled off to jail. I spent a half day in jail before they discovered I had nothing to do with the heroin dealers in the front apartment. Six months later in January ‘68 the Border Patrol picked me up while picking peyote down by the Rio Grande. I spent a pleasant week in a small town jail.
Only two months later I was busted for vagrancy and loitering at my 21st birthday party in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. Those charges were dropped when the ACLU agreed to take my case.
Two arrests in Texas in as many months finally convinced me to get out of the state. I went to New Jersey. I called home and my parents told me there was a warrant for my arrest in Ohio. It turned out that one of the other students back at Antioch College had been an undercover cop. A year after I dropped out, he turned in the names of eighty-six people, including me for the sale of mescaline. After a great deal of soul-searching, I went back and turned myself in. I was convicted and sentenced to a year in county jail, but the sentence was suspended provided that I a) not associate with drugs or anyone who used drugs; b) begin sessions with a therapist; and c) not leave the state. Since none of that was compatible with the life of a traveling hippie, I was determined to skip town as soon as I could afford it. Of course, there was some risk. If caught, I would have to serve my year for the mescaline, plus more time for jumping probation.
By then I had a new girlfriend Ann Lydenberg, a tall beautiful ash-blonde modern dancer I’d met at college after I’d already dropped out. We rented a house on the outskirts of Yellow Springs with some other hippies while she finished her fall quarter and I worked as a land surveyor to save up enough money to hit the road again. Then Ann took winter quarter off and we moved in with my parents in Beavercreek. We bought a red VW minibus and converted the back into a bed. Ann sewed paisley print curtains and I put stained glass contact paper in the upper windows. We named the bus Li’l Red. On February 8, 1969, we said goodbye to my parents and headed for California, happy and in love and excited about our big adventure. Twice before I had set off for California and each time got diverted and distracted. This time we were determined to get there and either start or join a commune where we could live on the land and be free.
It was winter and very cold and the bus had the most inadequate heater ever installed in a motor vehicle. We stopped in St Louis to drop acid and go up in the newly-opened Gateway Arch. I planned our route to pass through Fort Worth and visit my friends at the McCart Street Commune – just a brief layover before we headed to palmier climes.
For months I had been regaling Ann with my tales of the wonderful folks I’d met in Texas on my last aborted trip to San Francisco. I wanted her to meet all those characters, and I also wanted to show off Ann – to show those guys I’d gotten my shit together, at least woman-wise.
So we burrowed through snow flurries and a thousand miles of cold gray depressing little farm towns, that poor little overworked 40-hp engine barely dragging the bus up the hills. We hit Texas and the scenery didn’t improve. Mile after empty mile of featureless flat scrub country whizzed by. No doubt about it, east Texas is just butt-ugly, especially in winter. Finally we circled around Dallas to Fort Worth, its smaller, drabber cow-town neighbor thirty-five miles to the west.
We arrived at the McCart Street house late one afternoon after driving twenty hours straight. Jim and Bev, the owners of the house, were very glad to see me, and they welcomed Ann like a beloved daughter-in-law. The stoning party that had been roaring non-stop when I left the year before was still going on. Ann and I moved in with no definite date of departure.
It was great seeing everybody again. Some things had changed in the year I’d been gone. Joe and Big Martha were married now. And James and Muriel, who had been only fringe visitors before, were now regulars and a couple. Like Jim and Bev, James looked very straight and conservative – like Mormon missionaries, I always thought – but he was a stoner and tripper and we’d had some good talks. He was quick and bright and interested in science and cosmology and philosophy and many of the same things I was. I wasn’t surprised that he and Jim had gotten close, because that had been a bond between Jim and me as well. James’ girlfriend Muriel was very pretty but quiet. She smoked with us, but it seemed to me that she was watching everyone else more than participating. The gay couple Rick and Ron, the latter better known to all as Pussyface, came over in their Pussymobile – a customized MG roadster – and we smoked ourselves silly and talked and laughed and listened to music every night.
Everyone seemed to really like Ann. Joe had come to visit me in Ohio a few months before and had met Ann, and he had told everybody in Fort Worth how great she was, dubbing her Supergirl. It wasn’t long before Ann learned of her big build-up. Of course she was flattered until she learned that her fame was due less to her many talents and accomplishments than to her magnificent breasts, which all agreed were very fine.
I was happy to hang out and chill, but Ann didn’t know these people and wanted to get on with the trip. On Valentine’s Day she asked me when we were leaving. I said the family was talking about a big underground film festival in Dallas the following night. Everyone said how great it was going to be. We agreed that we would leave the day after the festival.
On Saturday, February 15th we all got dressed up in our concert rigs and dropped some orange wedge acid. Besides Ann and me, the party included our hosts Jim and Bev, Joe and Martha, and James and Muriel. Because there were so many of us going, we decided to take our minibus. Before we left I explained again about my probation problem. “If I get stopped even for a traffic ticket and they run my ID, I’ll have to go back and do that year in jail.” I asked everyone to not be holding while in my car – “We’re already tripping, for chrissake, can’t we go four hours without smoking dope?” They all agreed and emptied their pockets and purses. We got in the bus with Ann in shotgun and the six of them piled on the bed. At the last minute a guy I didn’t know named Eric also squeezed in. I got on the freeway and headed for Dallas.
As we drove into the big city I was feeling more than usually paranoid. Dallas didn’t have a good reputation with me, especially its police. They had a reputation like LA cops – brutal and uncontrolled. And it wasn’t like we were inconspicuous – a red VW bus with stained glass windows and paisley curtains and the VW logo changed to a peace sign, filled with far too many people and way too much hair.
Perhaps it was my addled state of mind, but with seven stoned people rolling around on the bed all trying to give me directions at once, I could have sworn we were driving in circles for hours. I started worrying again about being stopped. I shouted to everybody to shut up and asked them again to check if anyone was carrying anything. They checked their pockets again. Sure enough, Eric soon turned up a couple of joints and Muriel and Martha each found an amyl nitrate popper in their purses. We were too loaded to do them now and weren’t about to throw them out. So Ann found an empty baby food jar (don’t ask) and passed it into the back. When it came back there were three joints, the two poppers, and a red (Seconal, a powerful downer). She capped the jar and put it in the shelf under the dashboard, ready to toss into the bushes if we were stopped. I felt a little better after that.
We finally got to the festival. It was much bigger than I had imagined. I had been imagining a movie theater, but this was in a huge concert auditorium with a vast parking lot around it. It was quite a scene, with hordes of people wending through the packed parking lot and into this giant hall. It was challenging driving through the crowds of people to find a parking space, plus the acid was really starting to peak about then. The crowd was mostly stoned and very colorful, especially to our psychedelic eyes. There seemed to be dozens of stairs to climb before we finally emerged in the nosebleeds just under the roof. The place was immense – at least four or five thousand people making quite a bit of noise. The air was blue with smoke.
Then the lights dimmed and the films started – maybe twenty or thirty short films, and a bizarre collection they were. Each was stranger than the last, some animated, all bizarre, and the crowd loved it. Tripping as we were, it was a very strange experience to be taken to all these different places by such different artists and directors. It was like we were all sharing a series of psychedelic visions.
It ran many hours, and it was one in the morning before it was over. Though we were past the peak of our trip we were all still really ripped and we crept down all those flights of stairs about one step a minute in the dense crowd. We held hands to stay together in the press and traveled by a sort of Brownian motion to the exit. It felt great to be out in the clean air. It was very cold – cold enough to snow, but the sky was clear. Then we had to cross the parking lot again, but now all those thousands of cars were all moving, inching along through the press of walkers.
Just as we got back to the car, someone shouted, “Hey, Joe!” It was some friends of Joe’s that I didn’t know. They chatted a while, then Joe said he’d go back with them. Joe asked for a joint and I gave him one out of the baby food jar. Eric decided to go with them too to ease the crowding in the bus. We said goodbye and they disappeared into the crowd.
All the cars had their lights and engines on but nobody seemed to be moving. No one had a clue where the lanes were, and everyone just aimed at the exits and waited while pedestrians moved between them. This could take a long time. I decided I didn’t feel like doing that as stoned as I was, so we just chilled until the crowd thinned out. We talked about the show and the various films and how ripped we were on this great acid.
It was nearly two o’clock before the parking lot finally emptied out. We were one of the last cars in sight. I started the old bus, we wiped all the fog from the windows, and headed for home. When we reached the exit, I noticed a car parked in front of the auditorium with its bright lights on, blinding me. I could see nothing of the car, but my paranoia struck deep, and I was sure it was the heat. I rolled to a full and complete stop, put on my turn signal (thank God we’d gotten it fixed a few days before), and slowly and carefully turned right. The other car immediately pulled out and started to follow us. I told everyone about it and they all peered back into the glare.
“Jesus,” said Martha. “I see a light bar. It’s the cops, all right.”
I dug out the stash jar and gave it to Ann. “If they stop us, babe, you throw this sucker as far as you can into the bushes.” Seconds later he turned on his red lights and I pulled over to the curb. We hadn’t gotten a hundred yards.
“Lose the stash,” I hissed. Ann looked out the window but there was just a sidewalk and a building there. The jar would smash with a loud noise and drop to the concrete where they couldn’t miss it. Not good. Everybody was shouting advice, but I didn’t hear any good ideas.
“Somebody’s gotta eat it!” somebody called. Ann looked at me in desperation, but I couldn’t think of anything better. She opened it and gulped down the contents in a single swallow. Wow, I thought: two joints, a red, and two glass vials of amyl nitrate. Supergirl, indeed.
I got out my license and registration and waited. I kept peering nervously into my side mirror. What were they doing back there? Their lights were so bright we could see nothing beyond them. It seemed that we had been sitting there for a long time and they hadn’t gotten out yet. Were they just running the plates, or were they loading up to blow us all away?
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Why hadn’t they come up to my door? I wasn’t supposed to get out and go talk to them, was I? On the other hand, wasn’t it suspicious to just sit there in the blue-white spotlight and flashing lights and not do anything? Wouldn’t a normal citizen go back and ask why he had been stopped? Of course he would.
“I guess they’re waiting for me to come to them,” I said at last, and got out of the car. It was freezing outside, with a biting wind off the prairie whistling down the empty street. I put my hands in my pockets and pulled my old pea coat tight around me as I strolled casually back to see what was up. I was practicing my most innocent, “What seems to be the trouble, officer?” when both doors of the police car popped open. In a second two cops were kneeling behind their doors with their weapons clutched two-handed on the windowsills and pointed at my heart.
“Suck tarmac, motherfucker!” one of them shouted.
I froze. I was lost; I had no idea what that meant. I was still trying to get my tripping head around the idea that there were loaded guns pointed at me. Suck tarmac, motherfucker! A curious expression, I mused – I wonder what it means? Was it some Texan sexual act? The second part was clear enough at least, and was often associated with shots being fired. I did so want to understand what he was telling me. Tarmac – I’d heard that word somewhere. Wasn’t that a quaintly hick old-fashioned synonym for blacktop? Then “suck tarmac” must mean… oh. I pulled my hands from my pockets and threw myself face down on the pavement, waiting for the bullets to start. It seemed to have been a good guess, because the cops ran toward me and one kneeled on my spine while the other handcuffed me.
“Don’t ever walk up to a police car with your hands in your pockets, asshole,” one informed me.
“Hey, it’s cold and…”
“Shut the fuck up. Stand up. Get in the car.” I soon found myself folded and inserted into the back seat of the police car. Things didn’t seem to be going well, though I had avoided being shot – so far. They took my wallet and ran my license and the car registration. I waited glumly for them to say, “Hey look, Buford, this guy’s got an outstanding warrant from Ohio,” but nothing happened. The older one got in the back seat with me while the other turned around in the passenger seat to cover me.
They asked me all the usual yadda-yadda. I explained that I was a college student taking an early spring break and visiting my outstanding Texas Republican cowboy friends and was most certainly not a goddamned Yankee pinko hippie coming down here to stir up their good Christian children with my Godless hedonistic ways – or something to that effect. I considered telling them I was a law enforcement major, but thought better of it.
I finally got up the nerve to ask why they had stopped me. I certainly wasn’t speeding – I wasn’t even sure speeding was possible with seven people in a VW bus.
“Changing lanes without a signal,” the older one said.
“I didn’t change lanes. I had just pulled out into the right lane and stayed there.”
“Shut the fuck up,” he explained helpfully. “Hey, Billy Bob, go check out the others.” The younger one got out and went up to the bus, loosening his gun in its holster. I could see many worried faces peering out the back window. He went to the passenger door and knocked. Ann slid back the window. They talked for a second, and then she got out. I could see she was scared and I felt sorry for her. She’d never been busted before; she was with a bunch of people she didn’t know, and she was in a very strange state – more than one, actually. I wanted to protect her from all this, but I was helpless. They had the guns and the authority – Ann’s feelings and my wish to spare her were irrelevant. They could do anything they wanted, and I was powerless to stop them. It’s emasculating. How I hated those cops right then.
Then the young cop opened the side door and people started climbing out – lots of people. It looked like one of those clown cars in the circus. And they were all dressed to go out. James wore an old band uniform. Bev wore a chiffon ball gown and a rhinestone tiara. Martha wore coveralls. It had all been hip and funny when we left home, but the gear just looked sordid and depraved at two thirty on a cold empty winter street. My Texas friends were not living up to the good old boy build-up I’d been feeding the cop.
The cop with me rolled down his window and leaned out. “Hey, Leroy! Better search that vehicle; see what you can find.”
The young cop crawled into the back of the bus and started rooting through everything. There was a lot of crap back there. The bed was covered with blankets and sleeping bags and coats and dirty clothes. Beneath the bed was all the clothes and food and books and luggage Ann and I had brought, plus my army duffel bag full of recorders. So it took him quite a while to go through it all, while everybody stood around on the sidewalk, shivering and watching glumly. I kept trying to think of what I might have missed. After all that had happened in that bus, it was hard to imagine that it could ever be totally free of contraband.
But after a long time, the young cop came back and got in to warm up, blowing on his hands. “Nothing,” he told his partner, and I took my first breath in twenty minutes. “It’s a mess in there, but I couldn’t find any weapons or drugs.”
“Really?” asked the old one. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. They got nothing.”
“Shit.” He looked really disappointed. He had been just as sure as I was that there’d be something in the car.
“Listen, Eugene,” said the older one. “You must have missed something.” Then he said, very slowly and clearly: “Go back and look one more time.” Their eyes met. The young one looked back at me and I thought a caught a glimpse of humanity. But then he shrugged. “Okay, Horace.” He got something out of his glove compartment and slipped it into his pocket, then got out and walked back to the bus. He knelt in the side door and leaned into the car, and almost immediately stood up and walked back to us. He held out two half-smoked joints rolled in red, white, and blue papers.
“Yeah, guess I missed these the first time,” he said.
“Those are not mine!” I shouted. “I don’t use those American flag papers!” The old cop just gave me a mean smile. I knew I was toast. Busted for dope while violating probation on a drug charge. Lions and tigers and bears. God, I hated Texas. I sank back in the seat, defeated.
“And I never leave them half-smoked,” I added bitterly.
So they called a Black Maria and we were all loaded into it. As they locked us in and we rolled away, I looked back at Li’l Red. She looked small and empty and scared, like the rest of us. I remembered how happy Ann and I had been when we’d been decorating her for the trip. Our little love nest. What would happen to her? Would I ever see her again?
At least Ann and I were together. I sat next to her, but my handcuffs prevented me from putting my arm around her as I yearned to do.
“How you doing, babe?” I asked.
“I’ve had better nights,” she replied, then leaned close. “I believe I’m getting really, really high,” she whispered. Oh shit, that’s right. The weed and downer would just be starting to come on, on top of the acid trip. Plus she’d just swallowed two amyl nitrates whole, I suddenly remembered. The glass vials were covered in fabric. Would they break open in her stomach, or pass like ships in the night? She was in for a long interesting night.
After whipping around numerous corners at unsafe speeds with sirens blaring, the van suddenly turned and went down a long ramp. It led into a parking garage beneath a big building. It stopped and we were taken out and lined up in front of a row of big cardboard drums along a wall. I glanced into the drum behind me and saw it was two feet deep in joints, pipes, baggies, pills, and roach clips. Man, if they let all drug bustees stand here before they were searched, they must not convict many. On the other hand, they must collect an immense quantity of great shit. Maybe that was the whole point. I felt constipated not having anything I could contribute. I yearned to purge my soul into that drum and come out washed clean.
Then Jim whispered to me. “Hey, Brian, check it out.” He was pointing with his foot at a brass plaque set in the concrete floor. I leaned forward to read it: “On this spot, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby. November 24, 1963.” I was astonished. This was the parking garage I had seen so many times in that video of Oswald being shot. I remembered the surprised look on Oswald’s face, the big incompetent thug of a deputy just beginning to shout, the natty little fedora Ruby wore. So this was where it happened. What a vote of confidence for the Dallas police! I was surprised they had even put in a plaque. Leaving aside for the moment from their inconceivable security lapse in leading the most hated man in America through a crowd of angry citizens, there was also that little slip-up with the president in Dealey Plaza two days before that. It didn’t give me a great deal of faith in their competence. And these were the idiots who now had complete control of my life.
They finally came for us and we were separated by gender. The girls were led away – Bev tall and slim and tight-lipped, Big Martha swaggering bravely and waving to us, Muriel looking dazed and confused, and my Ann, beautiful as ever, but scared to death and looking like she was going to be sick. I prayed she wouldn’t throw up any evidence.
Jim, James, and I were taken to another room for booking. We were fingerprinted and photographed, then put into a holding tank with some drunks. Finally we could talk.
“What’s the story?” they asked me. “They didn’t tell us anything.”
“They said I changed lanes without signaling. They searched the car once and didn’t find anything. But then they searched again and claimed they found two roaches.”
“Bullshit! That car was clean!” said Jim.
“I know. The young cop took them out of his glove box when he went back the second time.”
“They can’t do that!” said James indignantly.
“Are you sure they weren’t some of ours?” he asked. “Maybe that guy Eric dropped them.”
“No, man,” I said. “I saw them. They were in American flag papers, and they were both about a quarter smoked.”
“I’ve never seen anybody use those stupid papers,” said Jim.
“I know. They don’t burn even and they always get runners.”
“To hell with that,” said James. “What can we do about it?”
“I can’t think of a thing. It’s our word against theirs, and we’re hippies and they’re cops. Who’s gonna believe us?” We stared at each other helplessly.
“Poor Ann,” I sighed. “She really took a bullet for us. She’s going to be really fucked up.”
“So are we all,” grumbled Jim, trying to make himself comfortable on a hard metal bench. We all tried to settle down, but I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about Ann. Was she in danger? If those poppers went off inside her, it might kill her. She must be terrified. And it was all my fault – she’d never have set foot in Texas if I hadn’t brought her here. Was she mad at me; did she blame me for all this?
She’d just had a terrible year – her mother had died a long slow lingering death of cancer, and Ann was fragile and vulnerable. Our road trip was supposed to have been a fun adventure. I’d show her the Grand Canyon and Death Valley and we’d see LA and go up to the Haight and maybe find one of those communes up in Mendocino. All those dreams were dead now. We’d been on the road just over a week, and already I was back in jail.
And likely to be there for a very long time, as I well knew. None of the others had a record. Mine was going platinum. This was my third bust in Texas alone. As soon as the cops learned of my checkered past, I would be doing hard time for sure. And when I finally got out as an old man, it would only be to do more time in Ohio. No doubt about it – I was toast. And on top of everything else, the damned acid trip seemed like it would never end, and for once I wanted it all to stop. I just wanted to cry.
After a short, sleepless, and uncomfortable night, we were put into a smaller cell, just the three of us. We talked about the bust and what our chances were and how it really sucked after such a nice trippy evening. None of us was quite sure of the penalties for possession of marijuana in Texas – none of them had ever been popped, and I had somehow missed that one so far. The guesses centered around eight to ten years. It was not a cheering prospect. Later we talked to an old homeless guy in another cell, and he straightened us out. “Ten years?” he laughed. “Nah, that’s for murder. For dope it’s twenty to thirty.” We all stared at him in horror, unable to speak. “Of course, that’s for first offense,” he added. “If you been busted before, you can kiss your ass goodbye. That’s mandatory life with no chance of parole.”
I had to go sit down. I had heard such rumors on the street before – how some poor schmuck – always a friend of a friend – had gotten life for having a seed in his pocket. I’d never known the details; never confirmed the story. But apparently it was true. So it wasn’t the year hanging over me in Ohio I should be worried about; it was that rinky-dink peyote charge from down at the border.
That bust had been a laugh – five days in a comfortable pokey with clean beds and lots of great home-cooked Mexican food. I’d thought I was in heaven. It had been a minor inconvenience – it just made a good story to tell. But that made this a second offense for possession in Texas. That little escapade was going to cause me to go to prison for the rest of my natural life. There wasn’t a chance they didn’t know all about it by now. No, I was quite certain – those two American flag roaches falsely planted on us were going to destroy my life.
It was difficult to contemplate; I couldn’t get my head around it. You mean I’ll never go outside again? Never hike; never sail; never travel; never see my friends; never go to a concert; never make love again? How could that be? And this was a product of what we call our justice system? I wanted to rattle the bars and scream, “You don’t understand. I’ve never harmed anyone. How can you just take away my life? Don’t you get it? Your absurd laws don’t apply to me. I renounce your whole system.”
But in spite of all this internal drama, the gears of the system slowly ground us through the machine. That Sunday morning we were let out one by one to make phone calls. I thought about calling my parents in Ohio. I imagined the phone ringing at their house. Dad would pick it up with his crisp businesslike, “Crawford talking.” And when he heard my voice he would cup his hand over the receiver and I would hear him shouting, “Ruth! Ruth! It’s Brian!” and I’d hear her glad cry in the background. I was terrible about keeping in touch, and when I was on the road sometimes months would go by without a word from me. Most of these conversations were something like, “So I met this guy and we’re going to try to find this commune thing out in Colorado. But we’re going to stop in Taos to see some friends, and they were talking about going to Mexico, or maybe Alaska, so who knows? Later.”
So they’d be very happy to hear my voice again. Mom would ask me where I was. And I’d have to tell them, “Well, I’m in jail again. Yes, unbelievably, in spite of your warnings and all common sense, I have been busted yet again, and this time it’s for life. But enough about me – how are you guys?”
I couldn’t do it. I was too depressed. I couldn’t bear to place the call that would turn their lives upside down. And besides, I rationalized, until my bail was set, they couldn’t even get me out. No point in worrying them before they can do anything. I deferred my call until after the bail hearing. I wondered if Ann had called anybody. Who could she call? Her mother was dead and her father was teaching at a university in France. Her only other relation was her brother Steven, a student at Cornell.
Jim and James called their friends or parents, and soon they were showing up, horror-stricken to see us all behind bars. There were a lot of grim faces and tearful scenes. But I was too despondent to take much interest – and too worried about Ann. The guards wouldn’t tell me anything about her. It was a very long depressing day.
Early in the afternoon Joe came to visit. He’d already been to see Martha and the other women. He said Ann seemed okay but was very scared and depressed. She’d called her brother Steven and he was flying down from Ithaca. Joe told us the other women’s families were already contacting attorneys, pressing for a quick bail hearing so they could bail them out. I wondered if they’d even offer me bail. Facing life in prison made me a flight risk. Maybe I’d be held until trial, and from there I’d go straight to the pen. I might never see the outside again. In the late afternoon Jim and James were bailed out, and I was alone.
I felt terrified and helpless. But hearing about what the other families were doing made me realize that there were things my parents could do. I realized too that I was not sparing them by delaying telling them – they would be more hurt to find out about it later and realize I hadn’t called them right away.
Finally I gathered my nerve and requested my phone call. But the guards were in no hurry. They have some time limit when they have to let you have your first call, but since I’d deferred, they had no interest in getting off their butts. I waited all day and still no one came to escort me to the phone room. Then they turned the lights out and we were locked down for the night. I was frustrated and furious. I needed some serious help and couldn’t even make a damn phone call.
Though I didn’t know it, much was already happening on the outside. Ann’s brother Steven had arrived in Dallas that same Sunday evening. On Monday morning he hired a law firm, Anderson, Scott, and Garner, to represent both of us. They learned that our bail had been set at fifteen hundred dollars each.
Monday night Joe called my parents in Ohio and told them the story. At 1:30 on Tuesday they wired the attorneys the bail money plus a five hundred dollar retainer. Ann’s bail had been received as well, so our new lawyer Mr. Anderson came down to the jail and paid our bail. At 3:30 Ann and I were both released. She looked ragged and worn, as I’m sure I did.
Mr. Anderson was a man around forty, tall and blond, wearing a gray suit. He introduced himself, then took us out to his car and drove straight to his office. He showed us into a conference room. Ann’s brother Steven was there, and he hugged Ann long and hard. He shook hands with me, but I felt no warmth from him. No doubt he saw me as the cause of his sister’s predicament, and who could blame him?
Soon the other two partners arrived for our preliminary meeting. Mr. Scott was in his fifties, dark haired and pot-bellied. He looked askance at my long greasy hair and disheveled appearance, but said nothing and took his seat at the polished mahogany conference table.
Mr. Garner was in his late sixties, tall and large-boned with a bald head and a prominent aquiline nose. He wore a cream-colored suit and looked like a Southern politician.
“Tell us exactly what happened,” he said in a deep Texas drawl.
We told them everything we could remember, leaving nothing out. They asked us about our backgrounds, where we lived and what we did, our majors in school. They asked us if we had been arrested before. I listed my prior convictions. They took notes and said little.
“Now we have to know the truth,” said Mr. Anderson when we had finished. “Where did the marijuana come from?”
“I swear,” I said, “that was not our grass. They planted it on us.” Ann nodded.
Mr. Garner just shook his head. “Y’all should just forget that,” he said. “It’s your word against theirs, and nobody’s going to believe you. Arguing that’s just a lost cause.”
“But we didn’t do anything!” I said. “We didn’t break the law.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Garner replied.
“How can it not matter?” Ann cried. “It doesn’t matter that we’re innocent?”
“Myron’s right,” said Mr. Anderson. “No jury will believe you, so there’s no point in even mentioning it. It will just prejudice them against you because they’ll think you’re lying.”
“But we’re not lying!”
“Doesn’t matter,” Garner repeated. “What does matter is the traffic violation. Under state law, your vehicle can be searched only if you were observed breaking the law. If you didn’t change lanes illegally, the evidence is inadmissible.”
“I didn’t change lanes at all,” I said. “I turned right out of the parking lot onto Maple Avenue and I was going to turn right at the next block, so I stayed in the right lane the whole time.”
“Again, that’s just your word against theirs,” said Mr. Scott. “But we have a better chance of beating that charge than the marijuana possession. If we can, the possession charge has to be thrown out.”
“I have a question,” said Steven. “If the charge does stick, who would be charged? All seven of them?”
“That’s possible,” said Mr. Garner. “On the other hand, since the vehicle belongs to you two, they might just charge the two of you. Or since Mr. Crawford is the only registered owner and he was the driver, they might just charge him.”
So any way this turned out, I thought, I was dead.
“But the joints were found in the back of the car,” I pointed out in desperation. “Isn’t it more likely they belonged to someone back there?”
“The other five defendants have hired separate counsel in Fort Worth,” said Mr. Anderson. “I’m sure they’ll take the approach we would recommend if they were our clients – to try to dissociate their clients from you two. They’re all local and have no prior arrest records. You’re Yankees and you do have a record, or Brian does. The farther they can distance themselves from you, the better off they’ll be. No doubt they’ll claim they barely know you. They can claim that they just got a ride with you and knew nothing of the drugs in the car.”
“Or they might say that the drugs were yours, Mr. Crawford,” said Mr. Scott. “If they testify to that, they’d be pretty sure to get off. You can bet that’s what their attorneys are pressuring them to do – and their parents.”
“Hey, we’re all friends,” I said. “They wouldn’t try to screw me.”
The attorneys looked at each other with knowing grins. “One thing you learn in this business, Mr. Crawford,” said Garner, “is that friendships and loyalty tend to disappear pretty quickly when you’re talking about doing time in Huntsville Penitentiary. It has a reputation. People will say or do just about anything to avoid that.”
“And you can be sure,” added Mr. Anderson, “that the other five are in their attorney’s office right now, and he’s urging them to do exactly that. They are also being told to stay as far as possible from you two. We concur in that. It is now two separate cases, and neither is likely to aid the other. In fact, they could ruin you. It is very important that you have no further contact with them. Anything you say to them could appear as evidence against you. Do not visit them; do not telephone them; do not write to them. Is that clear?”
That chilled me. I couldn’t believe Jim or Bev would betray me. Jim had once bailed me out of the Fort Worth jail when he’d just met me. But Martha wasn’t a close friend and I barely knew James and Muriel. How much loyalty would they feel to some out-of-town drifter – ten year’s worth? Twenty?
“It’s clear,” I replied.
“So what happens next?” Ann asked.
“All this will take some time to play out,” said Mr. Anderson. “We intend to ask for an examining trial to determine the facts of the case. Most likely the judge will grant us that, though he could just send it to the grand jury. If we get the examining trial, we will attempt to show that the search of the vehicle was not a legal search. If we can do that, the marijuana evidence will not be admissible, and you’ll be free. If not, the case will go to the grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to charge you. If they return an indictment, you will be arraigned and it will go to trial. It could be many months.”
“What do we do until then?” asked Ann. “Will we have to go back to jail?”
“No. Your families have paid for bail bonds so you could get out of jail. When you appear in court, the money will be returned to them, minus fees. If you do not appear, they will lose their money and nationwide bench warrants will be issued for your arrest. Also, the bail bondsman will hire private detectives – bounty hunters – to find you. We strongly caution against any thought of not appearing. When you are apprehended – and you will be – you will face additional charges. Also, you will have angered the judge and alienated any jury before the trial even starts. They will certainly consider it an admission of guilt. If the bail bondsmen’s thugs catch you first, your future would not be bright. So don’t even think about it.”
“Do we have to stay in Dallas all that time?” I asked.
“Not necessarily. You can leave the state and go home if you’d like. In fact, we’d recommend that. But you need to keep in touch with this firm so we can let you know when you have to come back. You will need to appear at the examining trial, assuming we can get one. We may ask you to attend the grand jury hearing as well, though your presence is not required by law. And of course the trial if it comes to that.”
“What should we do now? We’ve got nothing. Everything we own was in the car.”
“All that was confiscated as evidence. We can advance you some spending money. We’ve arranged for you to stay in a hotel near the courthouse. The first thing you should do is to get cleaned up. Brian, get a haircut and a shave. Both of you get some clean clothes – something conservative.”
“But this is how we look,” I complained. “It’s our statement that…”
“Nobody cares about that,” said Garner with a wave. “If a jury sees you like that the case will be over in ten seconds. Get yourselves cleaned up. Do whatever you can to look like fine upstanding young citizens. Nice college kids, maybe from Southern Methodist – that’s the look we need.”
I shrank at the thought. My hair was important to me. I’d been beaten up for it and thrown in jail for it and had many arguments with my parents about it. It signified my membership in the underground community. But clearly the lawyers were right. There was no such thing as a jury of my peers in Texas. I was going to be judged by a bunch of straight white Christian southerners, not by a jury of hippies. I’d always said I’d cut my hair when I had a good reason. I certainly had one now.
“I’ll do it as soon as we check in to the hotel,” I said to Ann.
“That’s another thing,” Garner went on. “You can’t stay together.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You’re not married.”
“We’re adults. We’re lovers,” I said. “We’ve been living together for months.”
“If you share a hotel room, you’ll be breaking the laws against cohabiting and fornication. It’s likely the police will be keeping an eye on you. They could arrest you again for immorality.”
I gave up the argument in disgust, but I had no intention of getting separate rooms. The nights we’d already been apart had been agony for me. We were both frightened and depressed. I needed Ann right then more than anything I could imagine. I guessed that she felt the same. I was sure we could get separate rooms, and then get together secretly.
“So what do you think will happen?” Steven asked. “In the trial, I mean. Do you think you can get them off?”
“I’ll be blunt,” said Garner. “We’ll certainly fight the traffic violation, but I don’t have much hope for that. I’ve tried it, and it seldom works, not for drugs. They have the marijuana cigarettes, so they’ve got you nailed and they’re not going to want to let you go on a technicality. I think it’s most likely you’ll both be indicted for possession.”
“But we’re innocent,” I exclaimed. “They planted it on us!”
He just shook his head. “As Mr. Garner said, we wouldn’t even stand up in court and say that. And with the evidence of the cigarettes, almost certainly you’ll be convicted on the narcotics charge as well. We would then appeal the conviction. If it goes as far as Federal court, Federal law takes a different view of search and seizure than Texas does. The police have to have reasonable cause to believe a felony is being committed before they can search the car, so we’d base our appeal on that. But since it was municipal police that arrested you, I think that argument’s unlikely to get very far.”
Ann’s voice was trembling as she spoke up for the first time. “And what would that mean? If we’re convicted, I mean.” It was the question I’d been afraid to ask.
“Ann, you and the others have no prior criminal offenses. The penalty for first-offense possession of marijuana in the state of Texas is a minimum of two years in the state penitentiary in Huntsville. If the judge doesn’t like you, he can make it ten, twenty, forty, even life. It’s happened.” Ann paled and I saw her lips tighten and tremble.
“In actual practice, many sentences are suspended. You may do a few months in prison and the rest on probation, especially if we can convince the judge you didn’t know about the drugs. But there’s a lot of strong public feeling against drugs these days. People are scared and angry and they want to see convictions and stiff penalties. It won’t be easy to get a full suspension. Most likely there’ll be some prison time, from six months to a year.”
I was trying to take in the full impact of that when he looked at me.
“On the other hand, Mr. Crawford here is the owner and driver of the car, so the judge will be less likely to believe he didn’t know about the drugs. Also, he has a criminal record, including priors for narcotics possession and sale. If they learn of the other narcotics conviction – and they will – they’ll know he’s already jumped probation once. He’s from out of state. He’s not in college. He has no job or visible means of support. Frankly, he is exactly the sort of person for whom these laws were written. In my professional opinion, if he goes to trial he will get life in prison with no chance of parole.”
Ann looked at me in stunned shock, then she looked down, unable to meet my eyes. Even though it was what I had suspected, it was a shock to hear it stated so baldly. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in one of those nightmares where terrors just keep piling up and you can’t move your legs to run away. But I wouldn’t wake up from this nightmare – ever.
“I just don’t understand it,” I moaned. “How can having two joints in my car deserve life in prison? I didn’t hurt anyone. It’s not like it was heroin or something. Why are the Texas laws so insane?”
Mr. Garner gave me a cold glare. “Listen, son. You don’t understand. Under the law, marijuana is the hardest drug there is. It’s classified as a schedule one narcotic, the same as heroin.”
“But that’s just plain wrong. They’re not alike at all. Pot is harmless.”
“Most Americans don’t think so. They don’t like people using these drugs, and they’ve passed laws to put a stop to it. He shuffled through his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of Xeroxed pages. He slipped on his reading glasses. “Here, listen to some of these state statutes for first offense possession. Alabama: not less than five years, up to forty years; no parole or suspension. Louisiana: not less than five years, up to fifteen years of hard labor; no parole. Rhode Island: mandatory ten years.” He looked at me over his glasses. “So Texas is not out of line with the rest of the country, Mr. Crawford. You are.”
“But who am I hurting? I’m not pushing dope to school kids or something.”
“Damned good thing they’re not charging you with possession for sale. If you sell it, it’s even more severe.” He read again. “Rhode Island: first offense, mandatory twenty years; up to forty years. Illinois: mandatory ten years for first offense; mandatory life for a second. Louisiana: sale to a minor, first offense, mandatory thirty years of hard labor, possible death sentence. In Georgia, sale to a minor is mandatory ten years, up to life; for a second offense, it’s the death penalty. Missouri: sale to a minor, first offense; death.”
I was shaken. I’d had no idea.
“People get executed for selling pot?” I stammered. “That’s crazy. Pot never hurt anybody.”
Mr. Anderson leaned toward me. “Make no mistake, Mr. Crawford. You are being charged with one of the most serious offenses in the statutory code. The penalties are considerably more severe than for rape, kidnapping, or second-degree murder.”
I looked at Ann. She seemed about to cry, and I felt the same. I was twenty-one years old, and my life was already over.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, my voice cracking. “Throw myself on the court’s mercy? Plead guilty to a lesser charge? Anything?”
All three shook their heads. “No,” said Mr. Garner. “We believe your only hope is to avoid trial altogether. If you walk into that court room, you’ll never walk out.”
Mr. Anderson drove us to the Hotel Adolphus, a very ritzy hotel. I complained about the cost, but he told us it was already paid for by our parents. We thanked him and he drove off. For the first time since the arrest, we were alone. We stood on the sidewalk and stared glumly at each other.
“Not a very encouraging meeting,” I said.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “It doesn’t seem real.”
I just shook my head. We looked up at the imposing hotel.
“Well, I guess we get a night in a fancy hotel out of it. Let’s ask for rooms close together, and I’ll come knock on your door later. All I want to do is to get into bed and cuddle up like a pair of kids.”
She looked at me in shock.
“Are you crazy?” she said angrily. “After all that’s happened? We are going to do exactly what they told us to do: get cleaned up and sleep in separate rooms.”
I was taken aback. This was the woman I loved. We were going through this terrible ordeal together. The least we could do was to comfort each other.
“Listen, I’m sure the cops have better things to do than to watch us to see where we sleep. Tonight of all nights, I really need you.”
“To hell with that,” she shouted. “Were you listening at all? Do you want immorality charges filed against us too?”
Suddenly it was more than I could bear. The whole world was arrayed against me, determined to lock me away forever. There was no escape; no way out. I had nowhere to go. We couldn’t go back to see our friends in Fort Worth; we weren’t even allowed to talk to them. The only person in the world who was there with me, the only person I wanted to be with, was Ann. I needed to feel that we were in this together, that I wasn’t alone in my misery.
“Don’t you understand?” I shouted back. “They’ve taken our car, they’ve taken away our hopes and plans, they’re taking away my hair, and they’re hoping to take away my freedom. It’s them, don’t you see, honey? It’s the straight people. They don’t understand hippies with our peace and love and thinking for ourselves. They want to stop us; they want to change us. Now they want to stop us from sleeping together.”
“It’s not about that!” she cried, tears running down her face. “Do you like being in jail, Brian? Well, I don’t! I hate it; it scared me to death, and I never want to go back. So if sleeping in separate rooms can avoid that, that’s what we’ll do!”
I completely lost control. I was crying too now. I started screaming at her. “But that’s letting them win! That’s exactly what they want! This isn’t about two stupid joints; it’s about them and us! They want to take away everything that’s good; everything that’s full of pleasure and joy and life! Don’t do it, Ann! Don’t let them win!”
But she shook her head, furious now. “No! We are going to do exactly what the lawyers told us. Our families paid for their advice, and god damn it, the least we can do is take it!”
I was raging now, my heart breaking. All I wanted was to be together with the woman I loved most in the world, and she wouldn’t let me.
“Yeah, well fuck you then,” I screamed at her. “Just fuck you!” People were staring at us with looks of horror or amusement, but I didn’t care.
“Not tonight,” she hissed, and turned on her heel and went into the hotel. I stood there crying like a baby. I had never screamed at anyone. It was so completely unlike me. I was shocked that I had yelled at her, the last person in the world I wanted to hurt. But it seemed like the final blow in a long series of brutal pummelings. Furious, hurt, and alone, I started to storm away, but then stopped. Where could I go? I paced the street until I had calmed down, and then walked into the sumptuous marble lobby. Ann was not in sight. I checked in while the clerk eyed me warily – a dirty longhaired kid with wild eyes and a tear-streaked face. I had no luggage or clothes. I asked the desk clerk about a barbershop. There was one in the lobby. I took one last look at myself in the mirror, and then marched to the barbershop. The barber was in the chair, reading a newspaper. When he saw me come in, he tossed the paper aside and stood up, looking me up and down like a lumberjack judging a tree to be felled.
“I need a haircut and shave,” I said, and his face lit up.
“Buddy,” he replied, “You just made my day.”
An hour later I was in my room, clean-shaven for the first time since I left high school. My hair was so short I looked almost bald, though it was long enough for a little part on one side. I hated everything about it, but it did look straight, which was the whole point after all. I still felt trapped in a nightmare.
Alone for the first time since the bust, I collapsed on the bed and tried to think what I could do. There didn’t seem to be anything. It was all up to the lawyers and judges and juries. I had no choice, no options whatsoever. My days of freedom, of traveling, of having control over my life, were over – probably forever.
Thinking back on the scene with Ann, I felt even guiltier. It wasn’t her fault. Of course she was scared. She didn’t need me screaming obscenities at her on a street corner. She was just being sensible. But I didn’t want sensible right then – I wanted a co-conspirator, someone who’d continue to be anti-establishment, who’d be beside me in this terrible time. Now I felt even more alone.
I decided it was time to call my parents. I placed a long distance collect call.
I listened to the phone ringing so far away, still with no idea how I would start the conversation. They both answered the phone, dad on the extension in the bedroom.
“Someone named Joe called us last night,” my mom said. “We’ve been wondering why you hadn’t called us.”
“Tell us exactly what happened,” my dad said.
They listened silently to my rambling account, though I heard my mother stifle a sob once or twice. “And so it’s life this time,” I finished.
There was a long shocked pause, then my father’s voice: “Do you mean life in prison?” He was just trying to clarify what he thought he’d heard.
“Yes. It’s a second offense, so there’s no chance of parole.”
“How can that be?” he asked. “Even murderers get paroled eventually. This is for pot? They just lock you away forever?”
“Yes. That’s what’s going to happen, I guess.”
“Not if we can help it,” he said, and I could hear that stubborn tone in his voice that I knew so well.
Mom came back on. “We’re going to make some discreet inquiries with your probation officer here, without telling him what’s happened or where you are. We just want to know what you might be facing here. Do you need us to come there?”
“No, I don’t think so. Ann’s brother Steven is here. The attorneys seem like good guys. I can’t think what you could do here and it would just cost you a lot more.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. I’m in the middle of the school year, and it would be hard for me to get away. But if you need us, none of that matters. We can be there tomorrow.”
“No, I don’t think that would help. I’m okay, if really down. This sure isn’t the way we saw this trip turning out. I’ll stay in touch and let you know as soon as something happens.”
“Goodbye, son,” my father said. “We love you.” I heard Mom crying.
“I love you guys so much,” I said, my voice breaking as I teared up. “Thanks for being there for me.”
After I hung up, I wondered what they were saying to each other right then. Mom would be crying, but not sobbing, not out of control, still efficient as she made plans and discussed options. Dad would be grim-lipped, his thoughts deep and slow as he went over it in his mind. They’d both be mad as hell, too, and what could I possibly say? Yes, I did remember that unpleasantness with the Ohio Probation Office just a few months ago. No, I hadn’t really thought about the consequences. That was obvious. If I’d known the draconian laws in this benighted state, I never would have soiled my feet with its dust. Yes, you would think that if I were flagrantly flaunting the law, I should at least be aware of the penalties. No, there was no possible excuse for not being more careful. Yes, I did realize how it would be for them when the news hit the papers that their son was in the penitentiary. They were pillars of the community, well-known and well-liked. Mom was the superintendent of schools, for God’s sake.
Yes, they were angry, frightened, and facing a long, embarrassing, difficult, and expensive ordeal. Their retirement savings were at risk. I had put them through a lot already with my various busts; but it was quickly becoming clear this was going to be The Big One. But they had not disowned me; had not berated me for my foolishness. And they were ready to help in any way they could. My love and gratitude welled up and nearly choked me.
I longed to go see Ann, to curl up in her arms and take comfort there – and give it as well. I wanted to do whatever I could to ease her fears, to be strong for her. I felt very protective of her. I was responsible for getting her into this mess and was determined to be strong for her. I called her room.
“Hello?” Her voice sounded very small and very young.
“It’s me. How are you doing?”
“I’m really tired. I got almost no sleep in jail, and it’s really hitting me now.”
“Do you want to talk? Are you still mad at me? I didn’t mean what I said.”
“No, I know you’re scared too. I just want to go to sleep.”
“Oh. Okay. Good night, honey.”
“Night.” She sounded so solemn, so sad. I felt like shit for hurting her again.
I had a terrible time falling asleep. I felt completely out of place in this luxury hotel. It was so strange after living in the bus and then in the jail to be lying in the pillowy softness of the bed. What was I doing here? I was like a tramp that had sneaked into a hotel room for a nap. I didn’t want to be here; the hotel probably didn’t want me here. Also, I kept thinking of how much money it was costing my parents. They had already spent two thousand dollars and there were sure to be a lot more bills before this was all settled. I resolved that we should move to a cheaper hotel in the morning.
As I thought over all that had happened, I kept catching myself reaching up to stroke my beard. It felt like touching someone else’s chin. I hadn’t realized what a mannerism I had developed. I ran my hands over my stubbly head, trying to get used to not having long hair. I better get used to it – I’d probably have a prison haircut for the rest of my life.
As I contemplated a life in prison and tried to imagine what that would be like, I realized that I could hardly breathe. My chest was tight and felt constricted, like somebody heavy was lying on top of me. Thinking back, I realized it had started in the paddy wagon as I began to realize how bad the situation was. Then it had grown much worse in the lawyers’ office as the full reality of what I was facing finally sank in. I remembered how my voice had sounded strange even to me, as if I couldn’t get enough air to speak. I still had it. It was the weight of that awful future pressing down on me. It probably wasn’t going to go away.
In all my previous misadventures with the law I had never experienced this oppressive weight. I had certainly been frightened and depressed, especially in the mescaline bust in Ohio, when for a while it had looked like I might be committed to a mental hospital. But even at my lowest times, I had felt sure that it would end in the foreseeable future. At the worst I would spend a year in the county jail or maybe some months in the mental ward before I could get myself released. But it had an end.
Now the future stretched out in front of me, an endless vista of gray walls and bars and concrete. I was going to be removed from society. I tried to think what that would mean. Apollo 8 had just gone around the moon. The United States was on the verge of landing a man on the moon. Would I even be allowed to watch it? That malevolent schemer Dick Nixon was newly elected president by only a half million votes and promised to stop the race riots and re-establish law and order – by which everyone knew he meant crushing the underground. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the only voices of reason and peace, were both murdered. Blacks were burning down the cities. What would happen to the country? I’d be no part of it. I wouldn’t even be allowed to vote. My wasted vote for Hubert Humphrey last year would be the only presidential ballot I’d ever cast.
My mind started ranging farther out. In seven years the country would celebrate its bicentennial – but not me. Thirty years from now we’d enter a new millennium – and I’d be 53 and still in prison. All the hopes and dreams my parents had for me would evaporate. I’d never have a career; never achieve or produce anything; never leave a mark on the world. I’d never marry; never have children. My father’s bloodline would die out. My parents would grow old and die and I’d still be in prison. In the past there had always been an end in sight, perhaps far away and a hard road to get there, but undeniably there. Now the only end in sight was dying of old age in prison.
Mercifully, my exhaustion finally overtook me and I slept.
The phone woke me. I flailed across the rumpled bed to pick it up. It was Ann.
“Are you awake?”
“Yeah, I think so. What time is it?”
“Nine. Steven’s here. Want to find some breakfast?”
“Yeah, I guess. How are you feeling?”
“Pretty low, but at least I got some sleep. How about you?”
“Okay. See you in the lobby in a half hour.”
I took a hot shower. It felt great to get clean of the stale sweat and the jail smell and the stink of fear. I combed my pathetic hair and parted it neatly on the side. I took one disgusted look at myself, then went down to the lobby. I found Steven pacing the floor nervously, waiting for me. He glanced at me, looked away, and then did a double take at my appearance.
Ann was slumped in a big leather chair, twirling a strand of hair thoughtfully, just staring sightlessly. When I stopped in front of her, her eyes focused on me. She sat up in surprise.
“Jesus!” she said. “Do you ever look different!”
“I feel like Mr. Clean.”
She studied me. “I’ve never seen your chin.”
“Like it?” I showed her my profile.
“At least you have one. C’mon, I’m starving.” She got to her feet. I stepped toward her to give her a hug, but she turned quickly away. I felt a pang, but said nothing. We went out onto the street. It was a cold gray winter day and Dallas looked bleak and uninviting, the last place we wanted to be. We walked along in silence for a few blocks, then found a coffee shop. We ordered, then sat in silence while we waited for the food. I couldn’t think of anything to say. The lawyers had said it all.
When the food came, Ann started talking without looking up.
“The way I see it, our only hope is if someone testifies that the joints were theirs.”
“Not much chance of that,” I mumbled through my toast.
“You don’t think any of your friends would do that?” Steven asked.
I thought about it. “I hardly know the others, but I know that Jim and Bev are very honest and moral people. If the dope was really theirs, I think they would admit to it. I don’t think they’d let me take the fall for something they did.”
“Do you think it could have been theirs?” Ann asked.
“No. We were so careful about it. Of course, if someone was holding and forgot about it until we got stopped, they might have just dropped it on the floor. I wondered about that guy Eric – I’d never met him before. But he went home in another car – would he have left his stash with us? And I’ve never seen those rolling papers anywhere around here. I don’t think it belonged to any of us. I’m pretty sure the cops planted it.”
“There’s no way we can prove that. If they did it, they sure as hell would never admit to it.”
“Yeah,” I said glumly. “And if it was planted by the cops, nobody in the car is going to confess that it was theirs. Why admit to something the police know you didn’t do? I think they’re all just as innocent as we are.”
She just shook her head. “We are so screwed.”
“I know. I can’t think of any way out.”
“What do you think we should do now?”
I looked out at the gray, dramatic skyline of Dallas. “I want to get out of fucking Texas as soon as we can.”
“I agree. We never should have come to this awful place.”
“But where can we go? With that suspended sentence in Ohio I don’t dare go back home or to Antioch.”
“That’s for sure. And if we have to keep coming back for trials, there’s no way I can go home to Provence.” She slammed her fork down. “I am so pissed that dad didn’t even offer to come over.”
“I called him right after you called me,” said Steven. “We talked about it. He’s in the middle of teaching a class, and you know he doesn’t have tenure yet. It would be very awkward for him.”
“Awkward!” she snapped. “His only daughter is facing life in prison! That’s pretty awkward as well. He could have at least offered.”
“I don’t think he understands how serious it is. In France it would be a fine and a slap on the wrist. He has no idea what it’s like here.”
“Did he bother to find out?”
“When I told him I was coming down straightaway, he seemed very relieved. I think he’s trusting me to represent the family in your interest. I’m sure if there was a good reason for him to fly over, he’d do it.”
Ann didn’t seem mollified, but she dropped the subject. We ate in silence. I felt uncomfortable in the midst of this emotional family tension. Clearly there was more history here I didn’t know about, probably left over from their mother’s terrible death just the year before. I thought it time to change the subject.
“So,” I said, “we’re back to the question of where we’re going to stay until the trial. Not here, not Ohio, not France. Where else?”
Steven picked at the remains of his breakfast. “Well, you could come to my place in Ithaca, I suppose, but it would be crowded. It’s a one-bedroom apartment and I share it with my girlfriend Robin.”
“Oh, Steven,” said Ann, putting her hand on his. “That’s so kind of you. But we can’t impose on you like that. We’d be on top of you.”
“Do you mean both of us?” I asked. Whatever happened, I needed to be with Ann.
“Of course both of you. Ann needs you.”
“That’s a very generous offer,” I said, “but Ann’s right. We couldn’t do that to you guys. Maybe we can find an apartment somewhere.”
“For how long?” he replied. “You don’t know when you’ll have to be back here. Nobody’s going to give you a lease like that. And it would cost you a fortune. No, I think Ann needs to be with family right now.”
“What would Robin say about that?” Ann asked.
“You’re my sister, Ann. It’s my decision. And it won’t be for very long. We’ll make it work. I insist.”
“Wow, man,” I said. “That is so good of you. What do you think, honey?”
She shook her head. “I can’t think at all right now,” she said. “But we need a place to stay and I can’t face the prospect of looking for a transient hotel or an apartment.” She looked at Steven. “And it would be nice to have at least one member of my family there with me.”
“Fine,” he said decisively. “That’s settled then. I’ll get tickets back to Ithaca for all three of us. I’ll call Robin as soon as we get back to the hotel.”
I wondered how that conversation was going to go and didn’t envy him telling his girlfriend that his sister and her jailbird boyfriend were descending on them for an indefinite stay. I hoped it was going to work out. But I felt better just knowing that we had a plan for the immediate future.
We moved out of the Adolphus to a more moderate hotel nearby, the Baker. We still had separate rooms, which continued to bother me greatly, though I didn’t bring the matter up again. We had enough things to worry about without another screaming argument. That had shocked me – the anger, the bitterness that had burst out of me. I realized that the sheer terror was affecting me more deeply than I was admitting to myself. I’d never before lost control like that, and I didn’t want to again. I was in a constant state of horror, and all I could think of was getting out of Texas – as if this insanity would disappear if I could only get somewhere else.
But we couldn’t leave immediately. Travel arrangements took time. Over the next two days we had two more meetings with Mr. Anderson, who was to represent us. We told him we were going to stay with Steven in New York, and he seemed to think that was a good idea. He questioned us some more. He seemed most interested in gleaning background information about us, trying to work up some argument for why a judge and jury might be merciful toward us. He told us he had formally requested an examining trial and thought that it would most likely be granted. As soon as it was scheduled, he would write to us in Ithaca to let us know when we had to appear. He had been in contact with a Mr. Musselwhite, the attorney in Fort Worth who was representing the other five defendants. He did not plan to have his clients attend the examining trial, but he wanted a copy of the transcript. Mr. Anderson had agreed and the other attorney would pay half the court recorder’s charge. I hadn’t realized defendants had to buy their own court transcripts.
Steven booked us tickets to Ithaca for Friday. We caught the red-eye to New York that night, transferred to a regional airline, and arrived in Ithaca Saturday morning, February 22nd, bleary and sleepless. Robin met us at the Syracuse airport. She seemed nice and was very sympathetic to our problems. We squeezed into their VW bug and headed for their apartment.
I’d never been to upstate New York, and my geology training kicked in as soon as I saw the landscape. Ithaca is at the southern tip of forty-mile long Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, a series of lakes gouged out by the glaciers in the last ice age. The rock is limestone, at one time mountains but now planed off to gradually rolling hills by the ice. It was very pretty countryside, if grim and leafless in the middle of a Northern winter. The ground was covered with several feet of snow and dirty heaps lined the roads. God, how I hated Northern winters. I always felt cold and longed to be going to a warm place instead.
We rolled into the city through some charming neighborhoods of old houses and huge trees. This was the environs of Cornell University, where Steven and Robin were graduate students. He already had an English degree from Columbia; now he was working on an MFA in theater arts.
As we drove through the campus, the road went across a long bridge and I glanced down as we crossed. I was startled to see that we were crossing a deep gorge with vertical walls at least sixty feet deep over an ice-choked river tumbling along at the bottom. It was dramatic and startling to see in the midst of an urban neighborhood. I had seen gorges like this before – the result of glacial meltwater lakes suddenly draining. I decided the area might be fun to explore – in what little time I might have left, I remembered with a jolt.
We parked in front of a large brick apartment building. It was on the very edge of one of these gorges, the brick wall melding into the stone precipice. The sound of rushing water filled the air. We ascended several flights of steps and Robin let us into the apartment. It was quite nice and attractively furnished. There was a bedroom and bath, kitchen, and living room. The living room had a big bay window with a built-in settee that looked out directly into the gorge a hundred feet or more below.
“I thought we could give you the bay window,” Robin said. “We can hang a curtain or a blanket across from there to there and give you some privacy. The bench is big enough for two, and we can give you some bedding. It should be comfortable.”
“Robin,” said Ann, “This is so very generous of you. We’ll try to be very small and very quiet.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “It’ll be fun.” I hoped she was right.
And so we settled into life in Ithaca. Steven and Robin were in class all day and often studied at night, so Ann and I spent a lot of time alone. At first Ann was paranoid that the police might be watching us, but I assured her it was absurd to think they’d bother. We weren’t important enough. Still, we tended to stay inside and keep a low profile.
A few days after we arrived, we got a letter from Mr. Anderson. He told us the examining trial had been approved and was scheduled for March 5th, just a week away. He also said he’d talked with a Mr. Thermes, an attorney in Dayton. Somewhat to my alarm, he’d explained about both the Ohio conviction and the current proceedings. Mr. Thermes had said there would be no revocation of the Ohio misdemeanor probation unless I were convicted in Dallas. Further, he said there was no supervision in cases like mine and it was very unlikely the Greene County Ohio authorities would ever learn of the offense in Texas. That eased my mind considerably.
There was little for us to do in Ithaca. We read a lot and did what little cleaning and dishwashing the apartment required. We tried to be good guests and not be in the way. We kept the apartment clean and kept our few belongings out of sight behind our curtain. If Steven and Robin were entertaining, we usually went out somewhere, though they told us we were welcome to stay. But we were poor company and didn’t feel like small talk with strangers: “So why are you guys living in a window seat?” “Oh, we’re facing life in prison.” Talk about a line to kill a party.
On Tuesday, March 4th, we flew back to Dallas. The next morning we met again with all three attorneys. I had bought a suit and Ann wore a tasteful dress and stockings. They looked us over and approved. They told us to answer only what we were asked, to be polite and respectful, and always address the judge as Your Honor. We were not to touch or hold hands.
At 3:15 that afternoon, we appeared in the Justice Court, Precinct #1, Place #2. As in my previous court appearances, I was struck by the friendly camaraderie and exchanges of pleasantries between the court officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys: “Hey, Jim, how’s that little girl of yours? Golf on Saturday?” Of course for them it was just another day at work with the people they worked with all the time. I was just a boring little case, a bit of product for them to move along through the formalities. But I couldn’t help but view the police, prosecutors, and court officials as the enemy. It was their job to put me away for life, and I didn’t want to hear they were playing golf with my attorney.
The purpose of the examining trial was solely to determine if the state had just cause and sufficient evidence to arrest us. Mr. Anderson hoped to show that there had been no traffic violation and thus no reason to search the car. The older cop was called to testify first. He said that he had personally found the joints on the floor between the passenger seat and the right front door. I nudged Mr. Anderson and told him it was the younger cop who found the joints. The old guy never even approached the car. Also, it was “found” at the side door of the car, not the passenger door. Mr. Anderson just shrugged, but he made a note.
We had been afraid that the cops would try to strengthen their case by saying they found other contraband in the car. But he said nothing about that – just two half-smoked joints.
Mr. Anderson questioned him about the illegal lane change. He seemed disorganized and confused, but eventually he swore under oath that he had seen me change from the left lane to the right without signaling. I fussed and fumed at his blatant lies, but there was nothing I could do. We were not there to defend ourselves. We would tell our story at the trial.
Then the younger cop testified. His story differed from his partner’s in several respects and he too gave some conflicting replies. For instance, he said that he was the one who had personally found the joints in the car in the front seat – Ann’s seat. However, he also swore that I had changed lanes illegally and added that I was driving “irregularly,” but not recklessly. Under questioning, he said that neither of the officers had seen the marijuana or any evidence of it until they searched the car.
Then another officer was called to testify. He said that when Ann was searched during booking, several “grains” of marijuana were found in both her purse and the pocket of her coat. We looked at each other in alarm. No one had mentioned anything about this before. I wasn’t terribly surprised at the news, as we were all constantly around pot. I was surprised nothing else had been found in the car.
Finally the judge closed off questioning. He asked where we were living and inquired about our being flight risks. He seemed satisfied with our answers. Then he ruled that the state had acted properly and that he would forward the case to the grand jury. And that was that. It had taken less than twenty minutes.
We returned to Mr. Anderson’s office to discuss what had happened. I said it was obvious that the cops were lying because of all the inconsistencies in their stories. They couldn’t even agree who found the dope or where. But Mr. Anderson didn’t think that was damaging to the state’s case. They had legally stopped and searched the car and had found marijuana. We had lost our only hope of having the charges dismissed.
“Nevertheless,” he added. “I am slightly hopeful. It is still possible the state will decide to drop charges. It is a small amount of marijuana. You were not causing a disturbance or driving recklessly. You submitted to arrest without resisting. You come from good families – and I might mention you’ve hired a well-known and respected law firm. You’re not just indigent transients.”
Ann and I looked at each other in surprise. This was the first encouraging news we’d heard since that terrible night.
“Do you really think they’ll drop the charges?” I asked hopefully.
“I think it’s possible they’ll drop the charges against the other five. But the police officers have sworn in court that they found marijuana on you. They will never change their stories now. That would be admitting to perjury. And the prosecutors are not going to just drop it, not in the current political climate.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ann.
He paused, ran his fingers through his hair. “There has been a great deal of publicity recently concerning drugs, especially their use among minors. The papers are full of angry letters and editorials.” He took some newspaper clippings from his briefcase. He found one and read it.
“This is a quote from the official bulletin of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics: ‘Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death. Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind. Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.’”
“But that’s crap,” I said. “That sounds like McCarthy’s ranting. It’s all lies.”
He picked up another clipping. “’If the people in authority can’t stop this plague of illegal drugs, we should elect some who can.’”
He dropped the clippings. “In light of that, the prosecutor’s office is under considerable pressure to bring in convictions and stiff sentences.”
“Can they win?” I asked.
“The State’s case is solid. The pot had to belong to one of you. So I don’t think they’ll drop charges against all of you. No grand jury will doubt the evidence, so they will indict. And the same for a trial. They’ll look at the joints and the people who owned the car and think – it must have been theirs. And we have no argument except ‘Did not!’ I am fairly certain they will convict you. We would then appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals, though it’s just a formality because they have no reason to reverse it. When we lose there, we will appeal to the Federal District Court of Appeals. There is some chance the conviction would be overturned there because Federal law stipulates that the officers must have some reason to suspect a felony is being committed. However, I think it unlikely they would overturn a conviction that was valid under state law.”
Our spirits dropped again. “However,’ he went on, “in the interest of saving the state the considerable trouble and expense of a jury trial, the prosecutor might be willing to drop charges against the others if one of you pleads guilty. They might even consider giving that person probation instead of prison time.”
“What would probation entail exactly?”
“Since you live out of state, you’d be allowed to return home or to college. You’d report to a probation officer there, usually once a month. If you skip town or if you’re arrested again, for anything, you’d be returned to Texas to serve the rest of your term in the penitentiary. If you stay out of trouble for the year, the probation would end and you would be free. However, as a convicted felon, you should be aware that you would be giving up many of your civil rights.”
I shook my head. “I understand it makes sense to plead guilty and get a plea bargain if you’re guilty,” I said. “But we’re innocent. We broke no laws. Doesn’t that make any difference?”
He looked at me in exasperation. “Are you determined to go to prison? Have you been listening to what I’ve told you? I think the grand jury will indict you, and I think the jury will convict you. I will do everything in my power to see what I can do in terms of a plea bargain, but it may not be possible in this climate. If you won’t even agree to that, Brian, it is my professional opinion that you will die in Huntsville Penitentiary.”
“So our only hope is to perjure ourselves – to swear we did something the police know we didn’t?”
He steepled his fingers and gave me a level gaze.
“Yes. That is my advice.”
“And you think if I plead guilty, you could get me probation?”
He snorted. “With your record? Not a chance. But Ann…”
“No,” I said. “No way.”
“If she testifies that the cigarettes were hers alone, they’ll have to drop the charges against everyone else, including you.”
“Unless one of the other five confesses, I believe it is your only hope. Plus, there is the marijuana found in her purse and coat. That would lend credence to her confession. With that evidence, a jury is unlikely to believe that she was not involved – even if you plead guilty, Brian.”
“That’s not acceptable. Ann had nothing to do with this. She’s done nothing.”
“Neither did you, if you’re telling me the truth.”
“No, I didn’t do anything wrong, not in this case. But let’s not pretend. Anybody who saw me in my hair and beard and beads knows I’m a hippie. I’ve been doing drugs for years; it’s basically what I do. But Ann’s never been a part of that scene. She’s taken drugs, but it’s not really her thing. She could take them or leave them, you know? So for her to do time for drugs is just stupid.”
“None of this is relevant, Brian,” he replied. “The fact remains that Ann is the only person who can keep you from going to prison for the rest of your life.”
“I will not let her take the rap for me. How could I do that? What kind of man would I have to be to let my lover go to prison for me? It would ruin her life. She’s been through too much already.”
“Why don’t we let Ann speak for herself?” he suggested.
We both turned to look at Ann, who sat looking at her hands in her lap. She looked up with tears in her eyes.
“I have to think about it,” she said at last.
We flew back to Ithaca the next day. The airline tickets had cost us the last of the money I’d worked so hard for – money we’d saved for our trip. I was broke again and totally dependent on my parents. It humiliated me to have to keep asking them for money. I knew they were spending their retirement savings on the attorneys, plus there were continually other costs – court fees, recorder’s fees, and phone and postage fees from all the correspondence going between Ohio, Texas, and New York. If this did go to trial, then to state and Federal appeals, I feared they would have spent their life savings. They assured me they were willing to do whatever it took, but I felt awful about accepting it.
One day there was a heavy rainstorm, then when the temperatures dropped at night everything froze. The ice storm broke tree branches and downed power lines throughout the area. We lost power and lit candles. The ice had frozen in huge waterfalls down both sides of the gorge, making it look like an ice palace. The river fell silent for the first time. Power was restored the next day. The following night we were awakened by a thunderous roar. The entire building shook. We opened the window and leaned out. A piece of ice ten feet thick and the size of a football field had broken off the cliff below us and plunged into the gorge.
The next day was a Saturday and we did our only family outing of our stay in Ithaca. The four of us got in Robin’s bug and drove to Watkins Glen, about twenty miles west on the next lake. It has another deep glacial gorge, and the town is most famous as the site of a grand prix auto racing track. The track was closed for the winter, but the glen is a state park and famous for its scenery. There are beautifully-built stone-walled paths cut into both sides of the gorge. Unfortunately the sun had not yet warmed the deep-cut gorge and the ice still flowed across the trails in places, sloping out over the retaining walls. It was most disconcerting trying to cross these thick ice flows, knowing a slip would drop us a hundred feet into the river. It occurred to me more than once that such an end would be preferable to what I was facing.
It was now the middle of March, three weeks since we’d arrived in Ithaca. Steven and Robin were extremely hospitable, but we were clearly crowding them. We tried to take up as little space as possible, but the apartment was very small. One of us was always in the bathroom when they wanted to pee or in the kitchen when they wanted to cook.
And we were not good company. We were both very depressed. There was nothing for us to do in Ithaca but think and talk about the bust, the trial, and the dark future before us. We were still close and deeply in love, but there was no denying that the strain we were under was wearing on us. We snapped at each other and had arguments about trivialities.
We knew we couldn’t just stew like this for three more months until the trial. We had to have something to do. Ann needed some semblance of normality back in her life. She wanted to return to Antioch and start the spring quarter in April. If so, she needed to get back to Yellow Springs soon to start looking for an apartment.
I could return to school as well, but I was more inclined to go to work. Paying tuition was starting to look like money wasted with the future I was facing. And I desperately wanted to make some money to stop draining my parents’ meager reserves.
The Ohio probation seemed less of a threat after Mr. Anderson’s talk with the probation officer and the research my parents had done in Ohio. It was unlikely the Greene county authorities would ever learn of the Texas bust. If they did, they couldn’t take me unless I was convicted. And even if I was convicted, they couldn’t have me until all my appeals were exhausted – and that would take considerably more than a year, long after my suspension had expired. Everyone seemed to think they would not try to put me in jail again.
So I wrote to my parents and proposed returning home. They replied that I was always welcome and they would love to see me and offer me the comfort of home. However, they were concerned about the probation. The information we had was purely conjecture. It was possible that the sheriff would come pick me up as soon as I arrived.
Their letter cooled my enthusiasm for going home, but we had to do something. The attorneys had encouraged us to go back to school or get jobs so we were no longer just unemployed hippies. Clearly getting back into school would be the best thing for Ann’s spirits.
When I left my civil engineering job before we left on the trip, the company had told me I could come back if I wanted. I was eager to return to the job, which had been relatively interesting and well paying. I liked working outside, and the job offered a pleasant mix of hard physical labor (driving survey stakes with a twelve-pound sledgehammer) and mental work (doing the calculations for the surveys and level circuits). I was out on construction jobs, but not fully a laborer – more of a light-blue collar job. It suited me.
So we started making arrangements to go to Ohio. On Friday, March 21st, Steven drove us to the Syracuse airport. We thanked him again and again for all the support he and Robin had given us. Then we boarded a TWA half-fare to Dayton. My parents picked us up at the airport and welcomed us with big hugs. It was the first time they had seen us since we drove off in the VW bus on February 8th. Mom exclaimed over my appearance, saying over and over how nice I looked with my hair cut and clean-shaven face. My parents had really liked Ann when I first brought her home, and had mostly adopted her since. We had lived at their house for months while I had been working as a surveyor, and they thought of her as the daughter they never had. Ann seemed to feel comfortable with them as well, which always made me happy, especially considering that her mother was dead and her dad was distant in more ways than one.
We went straight to Yellow Springs, where Ann registered for the spring quarter, due to start on April 7th, two weeks away. Then we returned to Beavercreek and home. It felt wonderful to walk into the house where I had grown up. In those first terrible days in jail, I had thought I would never see it again. Yet here I was back in my old childhood bedroom, just like the old days – except for the fact that I had a beautiful blonde sharing my bed. I was so grateful to my parents for providing this refuge we so needed. Many parents wouldn’t have permitted such a sleeping arrangement. Then again, most parents would have probably disowned me when I went to jail.
Ahart Engineering hired me back without questions, for which I was very grateful. I was in no state to go around begging for work. I had to borrow Dad’s car to go to work every day, but at least I had money coming in for a change.
We talked about what Mr. Anderson had told us – that my only hope was for Ann to take the fall for me. None of us was clear about the loss of civil rights. The next day Mom wrote to Mr. Anderson for clarification. Which rights exactly, and for how long? Could they be restored? How long would that take? She also asked about the impact on my situation with the draft. In her letter, she enclosed a check for an additional $300 for Mr. Anderson’s fees through the trial.
My relationship with the draft board was complicated. I had been called up the year before, soon after I dropped out of school and lost my college deferment. I had gone to Cincinnati for the physical, but was thrown out after I called the examining doctor a quack to his face (well, he was). They re-classified me as delinquent and called me up again, saying if I caused trouble again I would go to prison for five years as a draft evader. I went back and took the physical again, noting on my application that I was gay, a drug addict, and opposed to war in any form. I had taken several chemicals supposed to make me look like an addict on the verge of death and had spent a long afternoon giving myself scores of needle marks. But in those dark days of the war, the Selective Service was anything but selective. I passed with flying colors and was classified 1-A, meaning eminently suitable for cannon fodder.
I had filed as a conscientious objector, and after months of hassling, paperwork, and even letters from my alleged minister, it was granted. But just before I was to report for alternative duty (as a hospital orderly in Seattle), I had been busted for sale of mescaline. My service had been deferred until that case was settled, and of course after I was convicted and released, I had hit the road for points west. We all assumed that if I ever got out of jail, I would then be shipped to either Seattle if they would still consider me a CO, or Vietnam if not. We were reluctant to report to the Selective Service that I was back in town, especially as the office was just down the block from the sheriff’s – and we had no intention of letting him know I was in the reach of his long arm of the law. Also, the local Selective Service office in Xenia had mysteriously burned down in April with the loss of all their records. Many suspected that it had been the work of those Commie hippies at Antioch College (and I happened to know they were right). All in all, the local community was not friendly to me and my kind. I was sure they’d snap me up if they ever caught me out of jail, though that seemed less and less likely.
Mr. Anderson replied to Mom’s letter on March 25th. First, he reported that Ann and I had been indicted by the grand jury for possession of marijuana. He said the other five occupants of the car had appeared at the hearing and testified that they knew nothing about any marijuana, but they were all indicted as well. This indicated to him that the state intended to prosecute aggressively.
He said the case would now be placed on the schedule of cases before the district attorney. The schedule was long, and he did not expect the trial to be set before June. He was interested in which DA was going to be assigned the case, and said, “Now the maneuvering begins in earnest.”
He recommended that I notify the Selective Service that I had been indicted for a felony in Texas because that would make me temporarily ineligible for the draft. Of course, I never did that. The less the draft board knew of my doings and whereabouts, the better.
As for the loss of civil rights, a convicted felon is forbidden to vote, hold a passport, serve on a jury, hold certain types of jobs, purchase a firearm, or run for public office. The rights would be restored after the sentence or probation was completed.
The attorneys had talked amongst themselves about representing both of us. It is more common for two defendants to be represented by different attorneys because the interests of one are not always the interests of the other. However, as Ann and I had told exactly the same story and were facing identical charges, they felt there was no conflict of interest in representing both of us. We were pleased, as we both felt Mr. Anderson was competent and always straight with us.
He also told us that under Texas law any vehicle in which contraband is transported can be seized by the state and sold at auction, usually for a small fraction of its value. This is true even if the owner is not convicted for possession – or even knew the contraband was in the car. This was independent of the cases against us. So there was a second case now moving through the courts – the State of Texas versus a little red VW bus. So long, Li’l Red. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
So we settled down to a new life of waiting. Ann didn’t have a car, so she needed to move to Yellow Springs. She found an apartment on the outskirts of town and moved there on her own. I was still afraid of showing up in Yellow Springs where I was well known and could easily be identified. It was just a few miles from Xenia, where the sheriff and the draft board both awaited me.
I stayed at home and worked at Ahart Engineering. Life was much as it had been six months before – except for the knowledge that I could be going to prison in a few months. It was literally incredible to me; I could not bring myself to believe that while I went to work every day, men in Dallas were negotiating the end of my freedom. It was not a relaxed or happy time for any of us.
Ann’s father wrote to say that he now planned to attend the trial, though it would be very difficult for him to get away from the university at that time. My parents invited him to fly to Dayton and they could all drive to Dallas together. He accepted their offer, but he could not book flights until the trial date was finalized. On May 20th, we had still heard nothing, so Mom wrote to the attorneys again. She asked if it would help if they flew to Dallas. She asked if he could guess when the trial would be held, because Ann’s spring quarter would end June 14th and she hoped to be able to complete her courses before the trial. Mom also wanted to know what length of sentences were being handed down in Dallas in similar cases. Were people really getting life sentences for possession of pot? She also gathered her nerve and asked him for his best estimate of the chances that I would go to the penitentiary.
He replied on May 22nd. He guessed that the trial would take place around June 25th, so Ann should be able to finish the term. He said the range of penalties being handed down was so broad it was difficult to give an average, but most young people charged with marijuana were getting from two to fifteen years, though some of these were probated. Any sentence of more than ten years could not be probated. He said that while the attorneys would be most happy to meet both the families, their presence would not be of any particular benefit to the case. No doubt sensing Mom’s anxiety, he added, “Each member of this firm feels that we can assure you that neither Ann nor Brian shall be required to go to a penitentiary. We believe that one of them is going to be required to accept a probated sentence for a term of years, but I am not in a position at this time to say for what period.”
This statement really changed the atmosphere for all of us. It was the first hint that I might not spend the rest of my life behind bars and the first really encouraging news we’d had since it all began more than three months before.
Since their presence was not likely to help the case, my parents decided not to go to Dallas. When Ann’s father heard that, he decided he would remain in France. Ann took this news very hard, feeling resentful that he wouldn’t even be with her for the trial. I think she felt that her mother would have been there, and it was another sign of her father’s distance. On June 14th, she finished her spring quarter. In spite of everything, she had completed her studies and done well. I was very proud of her.
On June 17th, the attorneys wrote to say the trial had been set for Thursday, June 26, just over a week away. They had met with the DA who would be prosecuting our case. He agreed that if one of us would plead guilty, they would drop charges against the other six. He also intimated that he would not necessarily insist on prison time.
We talked it over with Mom and Dad. We were all very reluctant to agree without a definite commitment. We called Mr. Anderson immediately to see if the agreement could be made more specific. He said these things could not be committed to writing. However, if another thousand dollars were wired immediately, he would see what he could do. We were never entirely clear, but this sounded suspiciously like a bribe. Mom and Dad wired the money the next day. He called back to say the DA would not agree to a suspended sentence for me. The best he could get for me was two years in prison and then parole. However, if Ann pleaded guilty, her entire sentence would be suspended.
On June 21st, Ann wrote to Mr. Anderson herself, requesting a written statement on the firm’s letterhead that she would not have to go to prison. Since there was not time for it to arrive before we left for the trial, she asked him to give it to her when we arrived.
Ann and I booked flights. I again quit my surveying job. On June 25th, we flew to Dallas. We went straight from the airport to a conference with all three attorneys.
They seemed more upbeat than in our previous meetings. They were pleased with the outcome, saying that it was the best we could have hoped for. They seemed to take for granted that Ann would plead guilty, though we were still not convinced. They told us they could not give us a written commitment because it was not their agreement; it was up to the DA. He had given them a verbal commitment but would not put it in writing.
“What’s to stop him from just changing his mind?” I asked. It was against my hippie nature to ever trust The Man, and nobody’s more The Man than a Dallas District Attorney. “You said yourselves that everybody’s up in arms about drugs these days and leaning on the DA to get more convictions. Isn’t it to his benefit to talk us into pleading guilty and then shaft us with a stiff sentence?”
“Yes, no doubt. But we believe he will keep his word.”
“Why?” I persisted. “If Ann stands up there and takes the rap, what’s to prevent him from saying he doesn’t remember anything about any agreement and giving her forty years?”
“Well, nothing. But we all have to work together, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys. We’ll appear against each other many more times, and if one side doesn’t keep its promises that would be very difficult for all of us. It’s how things work.”
“And what about the judge?” Ann asked. “Doesn’t he have the final say on sentencing? Is he in on the agreement?”
“No. But if the DA agrees to a suspended sentence, he’s not likely to override that.”
“But he could, right?” she persisted.
“He could, yes.”
“And he needs to be re-appointed, too, right?” she asked. “So if he’s tough on crime and locks away some druggie for a long time, he gets some political points, right?”
Mr. Garner interceded. “Now let’s hold up right here. Ann, are you saying you won’t plead guilty? We worked very hard to broker this deal. It wasn’t easy, believe you me. I am convinced – we all are – that this is the best possible outcome for you kids. If you back out now, I think you’d be making a terrible mistake. If you go up before a jury, there’ll be no deal and I don’t believe you’ve got a hog’s chance in Chicago of getting a suspended sentence.”
Ann and I looked at each other. I needed her to do it for me – it was my only hope of staying out of the pen – but I would never even suggest it, much less try to talk her into it. It had to be her decision alone. I desperately wanted to have some definite commitment that she wouldn’t do time, but apparently that was impossible.
“I’ll do it,” she finally said. The tension in the room broke and the attorneys all smiled. “Good,” said Mr. Scott. “I think that’s a wise decision.” I just looked at her, unable to speak. What does one say? Gee, thanks?
The next morning, we showed up at the courthouse. Ann was dressed in a demure dark blue dress with small white dots. Her hair was up and she looked very beautiful, but I thought she also looked very young, small, and frightened. I was in my only suit and incredibly nervous. We sat on a long wooden bench in the echoing marble corridor while people in suits hurried by with briefcases. We didn’t talk to each other. I kept thinking what I would do if the DA or the judge sent her to prison. Murderously violent fantasies flashed through my mind.
Mr. Anderson showed up and greeted us warmly.
“This will all be over in a few minutes,” he said with a confident smile. “Ann, please listen carefully. When the case is called, we will go into the courtroom and sit in the front row on the right side. Just walk in, sit down, and don’t say anything. The court officer will announce the charges against you. When the judge asks how you plead, I will get up and say that you are pleading guilty. He will then ask you to stand up and will ask you some questions. He will ask if you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties that could be applied, and that you can choose to not plead guilty and have a trial. He will ensure that you understand that by pleading guilty you are giving up your right to a trial by jury and that you are pleading guilty of your own free will. You will simply reply in the affirmative to all questions. Do not – I repeat – do not say anything else. He will then find you guilty and ask the state for its recommendation for a sentence. The District Attorney will say the state recommends a suspended sentence, and the judge will impose that sentence immediately. Do you understand all that?”
She nodded nervously.
“What should I do?” I asked.
He looked at me. “You should stay right here. I think it better than you not appear in the court room.”
“What? No, I need to be with her. Why?”
“Because I don’t want to take a chance of prejudicing the DA or the judge.”
“I’m cleaned up. I’m in a suit, for Christ’s sake!”
“I can’t stop you, but my advice is that Ann and I go in there alone.”
“I need to be with her. She needs me there!”
She looked at me sadly. “Let’s not do anything to make it worse, Brian. Please, this is hard enough for me as it is.”
“But I – but I want to be there for you.” I was almost in tears. All this time I had felt so terrible about her doing this for me. The only thing I could do for her was to be there with her. Now I couldn’t even do that.
“Just do as Mr. Anderson asks, Brian. That’s what I need from you right now.”
“Yes, yes, okay. All right. But I’ll be right here, right outside the door. If you want me in there, just look at the door, and I’ll be there in a second.”
The bailiff came out of the courtroom and announced the case.
“Here we go,” said Mr. Anderson to Ann. “It’ll soon be over.” She stood up and he held the door for her. They walked into the courtroom and the door swung shut behind them. I looked through the little oval window. There were only three or four people in the audience, and none of them looked up as Ann and Mr. Garner took their seats. Several men in suits were gathered around a table on the other side of the barrier. I assumed they were the prosecutors.
After a few minutes the judge came in and everyone rose. I could hear nothing, but I saw the scene play out just as we’d been told. Ann stood up and answered a number of long questions with short one-word answers. She nodded. There was discussion between the prosecutors and the judge. Then Mr. Anderson and the DA approached the bench.
I started to panic. What had happened? Was it going wrong?
But a moment later they returned to their places. Ann and Mr. Garner stood up again and the judge talked for some time as if lecturing her. He banged his gavel, and everyone stood up as he left the room. The attorneys started stuffing papers into their briefcases, anxious to get on to the next case, no doubt.
The doors opened and they came out. I searched Ann’s face, but she appeared to be white with shock. My terror rose up again.
“What happened?” I cried. “What did they say?”
“Just as we agreed, Brian,” replied Mr. Garner. “One year in state prison, sentence suspended, no restrictions. Ann is free to leave the state. In one year, if she has stayed out of trouble, her rights will be restored. Ten years after that, she can apply to have her record expunged.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“If the court agrees, the record of her conviction will be sealed from public access. She can then legally answer the question, ‘Have you ever been charged with or convicted of a felony?’ in the negative – unless she is testifying under oath before a court. In essence, for college or job applications and so forth, she will no longer have a criminal record.”
“So we’re free to go?”
“Ann is, yes. The charges against Brian and the other five defendants are still outstanding. They have to be formally dismissed. It should happen within a few weeks. I’ll let you know. There’s also still the case against your car.”
“But nobody’s going to prison, right? It’s done; it’s settled; they can’t change their minds?”
He smiled. “Yes, it’s over. You’re both free.”
I shook his hand. “You did it – you got us off! Thank you so much, Mr. Anderson.”
Ann seemed to be coming back to herself. “Yes, thank you. How can we ever thank you enough?”
“Just stay out of trouble – both of you.”
“We will,” we said. He walked off, and for the first time in more than four months we were not staring into the dark tunnel of prison. We called my parents to give them the good news, then went straight to the airport. Neither of us wanted to ever see the state of Texas again.
Two weeks later, charges were officially dropped against me and the Fort Worth Five. On July 15th, the bail bond was returned to my parents. Two months later, we unexpectedly received another letter from Mr. Anderson: “We wish to advise you that we have been successful in preventing the State from forfeiting your automobile. If you could come to Dallas and contact us we will arrange the release of the vehicle to you.”
My reaction was mixed. I was overjoyed at getting L’il Red back out of the clutches of the Dallas pigs, but it meant I’d have to go to Texas again. I was determined to spend as little time as possible in that benighted state. I flew down, met Mr. Anderson, got a release for the car, and went down to the impound lot.
The car had been there so long it was buried way in the back of the lot and dozens of cars had to be moved to get it out. It was a sorry sight – covered with dirt and bird poop, one headlight broken, all four tires flat, and all four corners bashed in. They had left the windows open. When they finally towed it out, I got in. It was musty and stale and our sleeping bags were sodden and moldy. The pretty curtains Ann had made were faded and water stained. It wouldn’t start.
I had it towed to a garage and got the headlight replaced. The tires just needed inflating. They drained the coagulated gas out of the tank, replaced the fuel pump and battery, and filled it up again. It fired up with its usual wheezy whine. I paid the bill and headed northeast for Ohio. I drove fourteen hours non-stop until I was well out of Texas, then couldn’t go any farther. I parked in a rest area in Missouri, crawled in the back, and fell asleep.
I woke an hour or so later with a police officer rapping on the window. Oh, crap, I thought, here we go again.
“You can’t sleep here, buddy,” he said. “This isn’t a campground.”
“It’s a rest area. I’m resting.”
“Not any more. There’s no sleeping here. Hit the road.”
“But I just drove fourteen hours. I was falling asleep.”
“You want me to run you in, kid?”
“Okay, okay. I’ll go fall asleep at the wheel instead. Crazy laws around here.”
I took off and drove until I couldn’t stay awake another mile. I pulled into a truck stop and parked surrounded by big rigs. It was a noisy, rowdy place with lots of drunks staggering around and making noise. I was worried that some of these good ole boys would come hassle me. I walked around the car and made sure every door and window was locked – and there are a lot of them on a VW bus.
The driver’s door couldn’t be locked from the inside, so I opened the window, leaned out, and locked it with the key. Then I crashed on the smelly old mildewed mattress. It was a lousy place to sleep but I was so tired it didn’t matter.
I woke up sometime after sunrise and jumped in the driver’s seat. I wanted to put more miles between me and Texas. I’d driven an hour or so when I saw a car broken down on the shoulder. It was an old beat-up car, and a young man was peering morosely under the hood. I’d been there myself lots of times, so I pulled over behind him to see if he needed any help. I left the car running and got out to talk to him.
“Naw, I think it’s just overheated,” he said. “It’ll cool off in a while. But thanks for stopping.”
“No problem. Good luck, man.” I went back to the car and discovered it was locked. Of course. I had locked the door with the key last night, and when I got out and slammed the door, it locked again. I went around the car several times, cursing my thoroughness in locking it up last night. Finally I picked up a big rock and smashed out a wing window. The damned car was mostly a wreck anyway, but it hurt me to add to its miseries. Like me, it had been through a lot.
Ann and I stayed together for another six months, but something had changed in our relationship. One day she broke it off, saying it just wasn’t working for her anymore. There was nothing I could say to that. I took it hard and always wondered how it would have all worked out if we’d gone to California instead of Dallas. I left Ohio and traveled. My parents retired to San Diego and I liked the place and moved there too. In 1970 I joined a group that had bought a schooner in Nova Scotia and spent twenty months in the North Atlantic. Later I fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to the South Pacific. In Tonga I met a Peace Corps volunteer from Virginia named Linda Brooks and fell in love again. I used my nautical experience to sail from Tonga to Australia, then worked there as a surveyor. In ‘74 Linda and I got together again and went to live with my parents in San Diego. In December of that year we were married. Three years later my parents were killed in a plane crash in the Canary Islands. In 1986 we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and had a son two years later.
When the Internet came along, one of the first things I did was search for Ann’s name, but I could never find her. Then in 2006 I stumbled across her brother Steven when I found his name as manager of a mutual fund I was thinking of getting into. I wrote to him, and he put Ann in touch with me. She lived in Fresno, just a few hours away. She came to the house for a visit.
It was very strange to see her after nearly thirty years. I don’t think either of us would have recognized the other. She assured me that the conviction had not ruined her life, as I had always feared. The probation didn’t really affect her and she’d had the record expunged. I asked if she hated me for letting her take the rap and she said that she didn’t – it had obviously been the only sensible resolution. She absolved me of the guilt I’d always felt. But it was clear she didn’t remember me nearly as fondly as I did her. She thought I’d been cheating on her (I hadn’t) and didn’t remember that I had been just outside the courtroom door during her ordeal. She said that the main reason she’d agreed to see me was because I had some letters from her dad to my parents from those days. She’d always been hurt and resentful that he had not come to her trial, and I got the impression that it had poisoned their relationship. He was dead now, and she wanted to read the letters to see if they would change her feelings or explain his motivations. I gave her his letters.
She stayed only an hour, then said she had to go. I suggested we keep in touch. She gave me that sad little smile I remembered so well. “No,” she said with a shake of her head. “I don’t think that’s necessary. We both got what we wanted from this meeting. What more is there to say?”
That horribly empty, helpless despair I’d felt during those terrible times swept over me again – that sadness that all our hopeful beginnings should end this way. I suppose she was right; we had nothing more to say. But I kept feeling that there should have been more.