Sarah Jane Olson

I met Sarah Jane Olson in 1999. As Kathleen Soliah, Sarah had been involved with the Symbionese Liberation Army in the early 1970s. In 1975 she took part in a bank robbery during which Myrna Opsahl was killed, and another time she helped make two bombs that were attached to two police cars and that never went off. At least that’s what she was eventually convicted of.

Although I had never met her, I offered to help market Serving Time: America’s Most Wanted Recipes, her fundraising cookbook. Just in case you’ve seen it, I had nothing to do with its production. I hawked books and called bookstores, mostly independent and lefty, around the country to get them to sell some books for us and give us most of the money, and I set up appearances for Sarah on a planned fundraising tour. Once I had dinner at Sarah’s with my family. She’s as good a cook as they say she is.

I never cared whether Sarah did any of it. Anything the FBI is involved in is probably paranoid and underhanded anyway. Ditto the CIA. And I can’t support any law as blatantly commie as the one that makes you responsible for anything bad that happens while you were in the act of violating a law, even though somebody else, whom you may not even know well, actually did the bad thing. Johnny threw the spitball, so nobody gets recess. It’s still not fair.

I was sorry when Sarah went to prison, because I knew that under the right circumstance when I was twenty-five or so I’d’ve done much more than blow up some cops. I once considered applying to the FBI because of what I thought would be opportunities for large-scale sabotage.

Last year I went online to find out the procedure for visiting Sarah—unfuckingbelievable, by the way—and I once called her old number. Now she’s out and back home with her family in Saint Paul after seven years in the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla. I’m glad.

I’m also glad she had the guts to resist a system she saw as repressive and violent, albeit by violent, ineffective means. It was sad for the Opsahls that Mrs. Opsahl got killed, but I think Myrna’s doing just fine, being eternal and all, not to mention she was depositing money for her church at the time and probably got extra credit. I read that Jon Opsahl, her son, is still angry and wanted Sarah to rot in prison forever. He figures that Sarah was in jail for her part in his mom’s murder for one year out of the seven she served. I hope he gets over it.

What happened to rehabilitation? People change, all of us. Some of us, like Sarah, evolve. Some of us don’t.

As I’m sure Jesus would say, “Well, listen, the bombs didn’t go off, and you didn’t shoot anybody, so go forth and sin no more, Sarah, especially if I can have another one of those mushroom turnovers.”
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2 comments

  1. my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.