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Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison

The LA Times has a long profile, gleaned from hours of interviews, on how former SLA member Sara Jane Olson is coping in prison. Even if you're not interested in Olson (formerly known as Katheen Soliah) or her case (TalkLeft coverage is assembled here), it's a great read because it really conveys the dismal, grey, barren life of a female state prison inmate.

Shortly after 8 each weekday morning, Inmate W94197 reports for work on the prison yard. She earns 24 cents an hour emptying trash cans and tidying up. She is grateful for the job.

....[Olson] is now a white-haired woman of 59, serving out her seven years. Her experience, related in letters and a series of conversations, reveals much about punishment and survival in a state system that holds 11,730 women.

As to daily life,

Surviving in prison meant accepting what she called "enforced idleness," with one monotonous day sliding into the next. The noise is ceaseless, the facility packed to twice its intended capacity. "We live on top of each other," she said. Anything private "has to be done inside your head."

The interviewer adds:

She laments the absence of anything meaningful to do. She craves privacy. And she tiptoes nervously through each day while awaiting that moment in 2009 when she'll go home.... To be famous is no advantage. The savviest convicts strive to be unremarkable, undeserving of concern. Olson does not discuss her past, and few women living alongside her in this San Joaquin Valley town are aware of it. There is, inmates say, an unwritten rule behind bars: You do not ask an incarcerated sister what she has done.

....Amid the crowd, Olson's posture is nonthreatening, a semi-slouch. Her expression is blank. To show emotion is to attract unwanted attention -- or, worse, risk causing offense. Anonymity is best.....She laments the absence of anything meaningful to do....

Olson's husband and daughters visit from Minnesota about every six weeks. Other than that, like every other prisoner, she's doing her time and hoping she doesn't get sick since prison health treatment is so bad. Her sentence is up in 2009.

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    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 09:58:01 AM EST
    the political bush prison system is what it is. I can't stand bush rat! but she is telling you the facts of hell inside the so called land of freedom and some-what justice system! ask why so many inside the hell we call prison? ask what is really behind the system that has put millions inside this evil system of mass murder? ask why so many gangs inside the land of freedom, ask why bush is still president and isn't do time inside the walls of hell. after-all bush has killed millions! and will keep killing until the third world war that he wants or all of you! are inside the prison system.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#2)
    by profmarcus on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 10:53:50 AM EST
    i used to do volunteer work in a maximum security facility and, earlier, ran a university degree program at another one... there is not the slightest trace of anything resembling "correction" inside a "correctional" institution... it's simply warehousing and an excuse for treating people as sub-human... the term "correction" is as big a misnomer as the word "justice" in our "justice" system (with allowances made for present company, of course)...

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#3)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 11:48:52 AM EST
    Fred - What does Bush have to with the present "system?" et al - I think we need to consider this:
    Caught in 1999 after living as a fugitive for 23 years, she was convicted of murder and other crimes stemming from her link with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a violent band of radicals best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst
    And then consider this:
    She laments the absence of anything meaningful to do. She craves privacy. And she tiptoes nervously through each day while awaiting that moment in 2009 when she'll go home
    Her dead victim has no time at all, and her victim won't go home in 2009.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#4)
    by demohypocrates on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 11:49:59 AM EST
    Violins start playing The Kleenex comes out. She plead guilty to second degree murder and to aiding and abetting a plot to plant bombs under Los Angeles police cars. Sounds like terrorism to me. Don't look so befuddled the next time you are accused of being soft on it. Her misery is well earned, but it doesn't compare to the misery of the family of the dead victim. The real crime is that she had 23 extra years of freedom and she wasn't caged like the animal she is. Myrna Opsahl is the victim's name. I am sure you wanted to know. Here is her son's account of the his mother's murder.
    the political bush prison system is what it is. I can't stand bush rat!
    You really have lost it, but its fun to watch.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#5)
    by jen on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 12:28:31 PM EST
    This is not about what the people inside the prisons have done. It's about the behavior of The People. A civilized people have certain minimal standards of conduct - INCLUDING how they treat prisoners. And the question is are we civilized. Or do we want to be.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 06:25:12 PM EST
    Yeah, prison sucks. But what's the alternative?

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#7)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 06:58:46 PM EST
    Jen - If you are correct then the choice of a poster child of someone in prison for a terrorist killing has got be one dumb move. Of course we are talking about the LAT..... But leaving that aside, what punishment would you have given this person who killed and plotted to kill other innocents.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#8)
    by jondee on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 07:06:14 PM EST
    Who did she kill counselor? Apparently you have info about this case that you need to share with the authorities.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#9)
    by jondee on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 07:14:10 PM EST
    Apparently she was involved in a bank robbery shooting in which a customer was killed. I mssed that in the first reading. Snark withdrawn and placed in reserve.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 08:43:44 PM EST
    Okay... If anonymity is so important to her, why did she grant an interview to the Los Angeles Times?

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#11)
    by jen on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 04:33:13 AM EST
    See what I mean about binary? I speak of keeping up minimal standards in prisons and people star up with the assumption that I want to abolish prisons.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#12)
    by Dadler on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 08:55:36 AM EST
    Jen, I guess that's the price one pays for intellectual rigor. It's easier to just stop thinking at a comfortable point for most people. And here that comfortable point is "She deserves it, so I don't care about the rest." That she might deserve it AND we should care about the rest is too grey for the black and white crowd. The crimes of individual inmates keep many people from thinking about the separate issue of the prison system as a rotting whole. Can't see the forest because of all the trees. Or all the people IN the trees distracting them.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#13)
    by Bill Arnett on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 01:40:44 PM EST
    Sigh. The world ends today. For once I totally agree with ppj. This little miss shot and killed a man in Carmichael, in the greater Sacramento area during a bank robbery. That she was able to escape detection for so many years, and the fact that she lived a staid and placid life while on the run is of no consequence. A family lost a husband, a father, an uncle, a brother, and a loving provider to a bullet fired by this scumbag, and I, along with ppj (Sigh!) shall not shed a single tear over whatever treatment she receives in prison.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#14)
    by Bill Arnett on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 01:51:47 PM EST
    I should add that even though most people (including myself) think me to be an all-out, dedicated, iron-core liberal, I do believe in the use of the death penalty. I believe it should be extended to rapist and child molesters as well, for no matter how they are treated by prisons, I am of the opinion that these types of people should be removed from the gene pool so that the possibility of them reproducing is eliminated completely and forever. Harsh, I know, but murderers, rapists, and child molesters forfeit their right to breathe oxygen as far as I am concerned.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#15)
    by Peaches on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 02:39:33 PM EST
    I once went to a party at Sara Jane Olsons house. I hung out with some of the same people in St. Paul, MN. Artistic, theatre types with left leaning tendencies. I played her piano as people conversed and drank wine. In the morning I realized I had left my glasses on top of the piano. I went back to retrive them and Sara Jane came to the door and gave them to me. She was a sweet woman. Horrible mistake at a very young age during her life. She was not the one who shot the young mother, but she was there. She is paying her debt to society now, as she should. She was not a threat to society when I met her. Far from it.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#16)
    by Sailor on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 02:39:54 PM EST
    this little miss shot and killed a man in Carmichael
    No, she didn't. It was a 'felony murder' charge. She was present but didn't have the gun nor pull the trigger.
    the fact that she lived a staid and placid life while on the run is of no consequence.
    Ahh, but it is a factor. IF the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate, then she has obviously done so.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#17)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 02:47:59 PM EST
    Good God, people. She was never accused in the murder in the bank robbery. Never. She didn't murder anyone. She wan't indicted in it. She plead guilty to a conspiracy or an intent kind of thing - something about bombing a police car. I can't remember whether the car blew up, but no one was injured - I do know that. The only thing that tied her to the crime was a single finger print. It was far from a slam dunk case. She intended to plead not guilty, but in the crazy post-9/11 felt like she risked a massive sentence that she wasn't willing to risk. It would be nice if we could find more productive things to do with people like Sara Jane. It's ridiculous that someone who is as generous and thoughtful as she is is picking up trash rather than saving people's lives.

    Re: Sara Jane Olson on Life in Prison (none / 0) (#18)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 06:51:55 PM EST
    She and the rest of the SLA levied war against the United States of America. None of them have denied it. She was charged with the wrong crime. She is not guilty of second degree murder. She is guilty of treason and should be dealt with as appropriate: federal death penalty, though I personally prefer the old British custom of hanging, drawing, and quartering for treason. I know this is a pro-defence, anti-death penalty site, but that's how treason should be dealt with. Engaging in a conspiracy to bomb the police and calling your gang an army shows your true intent. All of the 70s radicals were dealt with far too lightly. Thankfully there is no statute of limitations on their crimes, and there is still hope that justice will be served.

    Kathleen Soliah (none / 0) (#20)
    by Peacewarrior on Sun Mar 23, 2008 at 03:18:14 PM EST
    I am a progressive. But I am not sympathetic to Kathleen Soliah because she tried to kill people. I am for agitating for change in a lawful manner. I do however feel sorry for her family. I hope she learned that it is cool to be progressive, but don't try to hurt people. No cause is that important.