A COMPLEX APOLOGY
by Andy Dawkins
I’ve written elsewhere about the Summer of 1979 and hanging with the St. Paul Riff Raff co-rec softball team. One of our favorite things was dancing to reggae music at the Longhorn Bar. Pressure Drop often played and was one of our favorite bands because we knew the band members, including the trumpeter, Fred (Doc) Peterson.
It was at the Longhorn that Fred, also a medical student, met Sara Olson, soon his wife. When Fred and Sara went off to Zimbabwe for Fred’s internship, they asked me to handle their legal affairs here in town, so I knew them quite well.
Years went by, and by 1997 I was a state legislator and Fred and Sara were living in Saint Paul raising three daughters. It was a huge shock, of course, when Sara was arrested for being part of the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, 25 years earlier, and involved in the Sacramento bank robbery that left one person dead, an innocent bystander.
There was national media coverage when I testified at Sara’s bail hearing in Los Angeles that I believed she was not a dangerous person or a flight risk. More than several political cronies publicly advised me to back away as fast as I could, disavow my friendship, even condemn Sara – no matter the presumption of innocence. But for me it was not a political calculation.
A few weeks after testifying I was marching in the Rondo Days Parade as a candidate for reelection, and person after person came up to me and said, “We’re with you Andy, putting friendship before politics.” – A huge affirmation of my belief in people and our common humanity. For me, friendship indeed should be thicker than politics and can be maintained without sacrificing justice.
The following play, written by me, sans dialogue, consisting of Four Acts, is almost entirely fictitious, all made up by me wrestling with the sometimes thin line between being a peace activist and a revolutionary. The only semblance of truth attributable to any individual living or dead should strictly be limited to me, myself and I.
Tomorrow: Act One
Act One of A Complex Apology: The New Arrivals
NARRATOR: Like mostly happens to Good News, little got reported. But when the Bad News hit, it made international headlines. What was hardly reported is that for 15 years a small part of Saint Paul, near Como Lake, had become extraordinarily neighborly.
SCENE ONE: It all began to spark when Joy and her husband, the doctor, moved into the big white house on the corner by the lake. A beautiful house, large by neighborhood standards, it sits at the bottom of a hill that slopes towards the lake. Tallish white pillars seem to mirror the larger white pillars of the Pavilion across the lake from their house. Como Lake is wide at its foot and head, but has a snug waist line, with the Pavilion and the big white house pulling in the waist from opposite sides, a splendorous view for those walking around the lake. Before Joy and “The Doc” (as we called him) moved-in, the house was owned forever by the Henderson’s. Old Man Henderson hung onto it as long as he could, faithfully keeping the house whitewashed and the large yard mowed.
Soon, Joy and the Doc’s three delightful daughters joined the world. Next door lived the Darymples, also newly-weds, with their two boys. The block had a nice mix of kids, young parents, middle-aged parents, and veteran grandparents. Everybody showed-up at the annual block party: lawyers, doctors, professors, hard-working blue collar types, retired folk, church-goers and not-so-much church-goers, even a couple gay couples with their kids, no one in visible poverty, and more than the usual assortment of politicians. Idyllic for 1982.
Joy was a dark-haired beauty, slim and athletic, who eschewed make-up. Although she certainly had her political points-of-view, she was mostly thought of as a good mom, a friendly helpful neighbor, a master chef who always threw a great Christmas party, and an avid gardener. Not everyone on the block knew she started each morning reading the New York Times to the blind on the radio, but just about everyone could see she was in love with Fred and liked to be kissy-face. Apple Pie in all appearances.
Tomorrow: Act One, Scene Two
Act One/Scene Two of A Complex Apology: Organizing the Neighborhood
SCENE TWO: Right after moving-in, Joy bought an electric lawn mower and at her first block club party urged the neighbors to borrow it, “Less pollution,” she said. Within the year, the lawyer on the block who worked for the Environmental Protection League had convinced almost every neighbor that a very nice, albeit not entirely weed-free, lawn could be maintained without using pesticides. He had made a name for himself by successfully arguing that honeybees have an easement right to fly onto neighboring crop land without being poisoned while performing their necessary cross-pollination duties. At the time Joy moved-in, he was laying the ground work for another successful law suit holding lawn pesticide companies responsible for the unnatural death of a large number of trees. He knew a guy who had invented a non-poisonous method for dandelion control. Everybody on the block got a discount for just trying it.
While pregnant with their third child, and with two in tow, Joy spent time visiting with the neighbors and convinced us all that our one block stretch of East Como Boulevard could be turned into a pedestrian-only greenway (and later also a community garden) leading to the lake. Because each side of our one block stretch had an alley behind it, and every neighbor had a garage on the alley, no one had to give up their cars. The City insisted that emergency vehicles still be able to traverse the vacated street, but soon grass and a walk path replaced the concrete. The City also agreed to establish permit parking in one section of the parking lot by the lake for occasions when a large number of guests meant not every arrival could fit in the alley. We all loved it.
Tomorrow: Act Two
Act Two of A Complex Apology: Joy Before We Knew Her
SCENE ONE: Joy had grown-up in the suburbs of Chicago, a child of the 60s. Her dad was the local Methodist minister; her mom a school teacher. Her parents were members of FOR (Freedom of Residence) and genuinely in favor of integration – even taking Joy with them to join Martin Luther King, Jr., on his civil rights march into lily-white Cicero. While in college Joy became of the opinion that they had joined FOR as a salve for their own part in the white flight to the suburbs when Joy became school-age. When the family took the Expressway downtown to go to the Art Museum, or go boating on Lake Michigan, or some such thing, both her parents would explain it was not safe to take the side streets because Black Folks were justifiably angry with White Folks.
In college Joy had taken-up acting and even won a starring role in a local theatre production, but mostly she made money waitressing after college. She liked the Second City scene.
Also in college she fell in love with a black man.
It was the summer after her sophomore year that the Mayor of Chicago took advantage of a transit strike, paralyzed the city by barricading the expressways, called in the National Guard, and laid siege to Chicago before ordering police attacks on innocent citizens – protestors lawfully gathered to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. He even was heard yelling “F*** You!” on national television on the floor of the Democratic National Convention facing down a McCarthy delegate objecting to the police riot outside.
Joy was part of Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Mule Train parading down State Street from the Convention Center (with a permit) to protest the abject poverty on much of Chicago’s South Side. So was Fred (her first Fred). Together they met police resistance and violence.
Tomorrow: Act Two, Scene Two
Act Two/Scene Two of a Complex Apology: A Police Murder
It was after the summer of 1968 that her first Fred joined the Black Panther movement and Joy met folks in the Weather Underground. It was an easy and natural extension of the civil rights movement and anti-war movement. It was not reneging on a commitment to be anti-violent, but rather a reckoning with the reality of 1960s America, of government-sponsored violence, even shooting college kids on campuses across the country, not to forget 50,000 Americans killed in Viet Nam.
And Joy had a good understanding of justice. It was watching the Chicago 8 trial, where exercising First Amendment Rights to oppose a war was jiu-jitsued into being charged as a criminal for conspiring to riot and commit mayhem, that Joy felt reminded of the stories she’d read in history class about the Haymarket Riot and Chicago in the 1890s, where innocent men were hung for allegedly orchestrating the murder of a police officer when in fact they were simply leaders of the labor movement who had called a labor rally. It was the opinion of many that the government had started the shooting at Haymarket Square in 1886, and, with her first-hand experience in Grant Park in 1968, it was now also Joy’s firm opinion that government leaders were indeed capable of instigating violence, of taking the law into their own hands, and that justice was not to be counted on in a court of law. Wrong, and sad, but true.
Joy had learned well in Civics Class about how necessary it was that America fought a revolutionary war to gain freedom and how important the First Amendment is to preserving freedom. So it wasn’t anything but with the best of intentions that Joy started hanging with Black Panthers and the Weathermen.
After the police executed her first Fred in a raid on a Black Panther headquarters, Joy went to Grant Park to protest the police killing, took the microphone, and said “Now you’ll have to deal with me.” Shortly after that one of her waitress friends moved to LA to be closer to the acting scene and Joy went along, still furious about the death of Fred. She took on an assumed identity in Los Angeles and then did several things that led to a life-long struggle with her conscience about whether to apologize for her behavior or stick to her guns that what she did was justifiable.
Tomorrow: Act Three
Act Three of A Complex Apology: Back in Utopian Saint Paul
SCENE ONE: Fast forward to the late 1980s. You had to figure that the Darymple boys and Joy’s daughters would become expert tobogganists, really good downhill skiiers (right in their front yard), and some of the most popular kids in town. Meanwhile, the monotony of marriage surfaced surreptitiously with bedroom eyes exchanged across backyard fences and the ladies’ book club taking up a book of the adventures in the science of female desire. Ms. Darymple simply couldn’t take her mind off how handsome and well-built the guy next door was.
One thing led to another and one afternoon while the boys were out playing she found herself asking that handsome fellow to help her move some furniture into the Grandmother Apartment above her garage (recently constructed, yet to be occupied). A romance ensued and once again an East Como Boulevarder was facing an ethical dilemma wondering if what she was doing was right. Turns-out it was all serendipitous.
While lady Darymple was having a secret life of great sex, Mr. Darymple was often working late at the office and having his own secret affair. When they both found out about each other’s unfaithfulness, it saved the marriage! They found out they still loved each other, they really loved their kids, and that their disagreements and disappointments – many as they were – no longer loomed as important given their separate pursuits of happiness. Only their closest friends (and a couple of neighbors) knew about their open marriage and how one time even Ms. Darymple invited her overnite beau into the kitchen for breakfast with Mr. Darymple. No apologies necessary.
Tomorrow: Scene Two
Act Three/Scene Two of A Complex Apology: All Kids Doing Great
SCENE TWO: With both parents happily remaining at home, the Darymple boys prospered. The youngest Darymple won the Fourth of July Essay contest as a Sixth Grader and got to read his essay at the Como Park Fourth of July Celebration. It was all about how great America is, specifically mentioning our freedoms, our creativity, and our compassion. It included a part about how sometimes it seems hard to see how great America is, and how the good things don’t make TV all that much, but he concluded optimistically saying America’s best days were still ahead, that America serves as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, especially because we can speak our beliefs without being punished, and that we will continue to be a great country so long as we act with compassion.
Joy and The Doc’s children also prospered. Their oldest was quite the musical talent, even making it on TV as a teenager. Maybe best of all was that, with Joy’s help, a group of neighborhood high school kids was successful in starting an Americorps program. They simply wrote-up what they were already doing and said they could expand it. What they were doing was earning money from “the neighborhood bank” by doing senior chore services, lawn-mowing, etc., and most importantly, running a great after-school and summer recreation program for the younger kids.
Tomorrow: Scene Three
Act Three/Scene Three of A Complex Apology: The Neighborhood Bank
SCENE THREE: The idea for a “neighborhood bank” came about incrementally. After a couple neighbors started borrowing Joy’s electric lawn mower, the block club made a decision to purchase as a neighborhood four electric lawn mowers so everyone could quit using their gas mowers. The money raised from selling off the old mowers was donated to The American Federation for the Blind. Mr. Hartwell – now the oldest person on the block after the passing of Mr. Henderson – no longer used his garage and volunteered to store the four new mowers in return for one of the neighborhood kids mowing his lawn. Eventually the block club saw the advantage of sharing other things besides lawn mowers, and reduced their per capita expenses, by purchasing together (and storing in the Hartwell garage) a power saw, a long extension ladder, two snow rakes, and so on, for everyone’s use.
The next big idea was buying a very large freezer that took up one whole side of Hartwell’s garage, and buying meat and other groceries in bulk from a CSA in Wisconsin. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture – organic farmers who take orders early in the year, grow or raise what’s ordered, and then make regular deliveries throughout the year. Not only did those who joined save money, they also saved time on less trips to the grocery store. Best of all, they found that free-range chickens tasted better! (And tomatoes didn’t have to be hard as rocks.) Meanwhile, a community garden sprung-up, and within a couple years, the neighborhood was growing its own tomatoes rather than buying them from the CSA.
The tough part was keeping track of who grew the tomatoes, who wanted tomatoes, who ordered the beef and who didn’t, and who mowed whose lawn, etc. This led to the establishment of “the neighborhood bank” which started simply as a sign-in / sign-out sheet in the Hartwell garage, then became a ledger book where you could note “credits” for your contributions and your “debits” as you advantaged the free lawn mowing, etc. All of which led to a part-time job (earning credits) for Joy who oversaw the after-school recreation program and collected real money from the parents whose kids no longer went to child care (and now, instead, were in the rec program).
“The bank” disbursed money to the teenagers who ran the rec activities (and/or were mowing lawns, etc.), and there was a monthly accounting of who still had credits coming for some future services. At the time the Bad News arrived, the block club had just begun a tithing program from the per capita savings and was seriously exploring expanding “the bank” into a self-insurance line and a “crowd-sourced” loan outfit. Solar roof collectors were on the list of things to buy that save money. Of course, little of this would have been possible without everyone having total faith in Joy and total trust in her honesty. (Actually none of this would have been possible except that Fred the Doctor made good money and Joy could be a stay-at-home mom.) Harmony in all ways.
Tomorrow: Scene Four
Act Three/Scene Four of A Complex Apology: Just Before the Bad News Hits
SCENE FOUR: The kids, of course, soaked it all up, little realizing how lucky they were, how unique their neighborhood was. Of course you get to ski and toboggan in the winter. Of course all your friends want to come to your house after school. Of course your mom makes everybody hot chocolate and cookies. Of course you can make money shoveling walks and mowing lawns. So they tackled ice skating. There’s Como Lake at the end of the block. Why isn’t it shoveled and made into a rink? Didn’t there used to be an oval with a warming house that sent speed skaters to the Olympics? As a group, the kids drew up a petition asking the City to once again get ice skating back on Como Lake, and so it came to be.
By the time they were in high school, a whole set of loosely organized summer activities had also evolved. Another little used garage on the block became an activities center with a nok-hockey board, a foosball table, and outside a basketball court and volleyball net. Summertime the yard was a croquet court that never came down. The eldest Darylmple boy invented a game called “Guerilla” (which the younger kids thought was spelled G-O-R-I-L-L-A), a sophisticated game of hide-and-go-seek. One person is it. The others go hide – using half the neighborhood. Each hider has six bullets for ammo. Point your finger and say “Bang!” once, and the seeker has to stop in his/her tracks and count to 25. Use all your ammo and the seeker has to count to 150. If you wanted to find a new hiding place, you might use all your ammo at once; if you just wanted to get a head-start on racing away, you might just use 1 bullet and save your ammo.
A kid from the next block over taught everyone how to play “Rip Ball” off the garage roof. Using the volleyball, the idea is to keep the ball coming off the front of the roof, next in turn batting it up again, until someone misses and gains a strike. Five strikes and you’re out. The experts could leap high and rip the ball off the roof requiring the next in turn to have to make a volleyball-like save to get it back on the roof. Another kid invented a neighborhood version of Frisbee golf, using the Bigelow’s big oak tree, the stop sign at the corner, the park bench, etc., as the holes which your Frisbee had to hit. Occasionally even a “half-ball” game would spring-up in the alley. Como Pool was only a short bike ride away.
The beauty of it was that all the kids were outdoors playing, older kids mixed with younger kids, and so it came that the kids still in child care complained bitterly that they didn’t want to go to child care anymore and instead just wanted to have fun in the neighborhood. Upon learning this, Joy suggested to those parents that if they left a little lunch money, she’d make sure their kid got lunch, assign the most responsible teenagers to make sure the kids stayed safe, and pay the older ones. Jobs for kids and savings for parents. What a ‘Win-Win,” soon to be an Americorps Program. Maybe your kid will be the next Olympic champion speed skater, or get a volleyball scholarship to Santa Cruz State, or be the next great drummer in a rock & roll band. (A neighborhood band had formed using the Darymple’s grandmother apartment for jam sessions.)
Tomorrow: Act Four
Act Four to A Complex Apology: The Bad News is Overwhelming
SCENE ONE: So now you know how utopian and idyllic things were on East Como Boulevard in the early days of the Summer of 1997 when the Bad News hit like a thunderbolt and spread like wild fire: “Did you hear Joy was arrested this morning!?”
Everybody knows the rest of the story because it made all the papers and was a lead story on the national news for the next year, but actually, come to think of it, nobody knows the full story. Of course the first thing most of us thought about was Fred and the girls. They were all right – or rather as all right as you can be under those circumstances, Fred assured us, saying he had tons of friends and family looking out for him and the girls, that he’d already talked to the girls about what all would be happening, that he had a good lawyer already retained, and that he was standing by Joy. Later on in a private conversation he told me that before they decided to have kids, Joy told him there was something in her past that could come back to haunt her/them, but that he was better off not knowing anything more. To which he said, I know the Joy I’m in love with and I’ll face whatever it is with you.
Fred’s state of mind helped all of us on the block to not question everything we’ve ever known about Joy. From the news we learned that Federal Marshalls had taken her into custody on charges of having been part of a violent revolutionary gang involved with robberies, shootings, kidnapping and an attempted police bombing in the California area in the 70s. Talk about totally unbelievable! This certainly couldn’t be the Joy we know. In the end it turned out it was and it wasn’t.
Tomorrow: Scene Two
Act Four/Scene Two to A Complex Apology: A Dilemma of Conscience
SCENE TWO: Her bail was a cool one million dollars. For the sake of her daughters, and because everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and especially because we all knew for sure we’d get our money back, we quickly raised the one million. We had faith that she wouldn’t skip town and forfeit bail, not just because we had known Joy for so long and knew she wasn’t going to run from her family, but also because we had faith in Fred that he and the girls would be staying put. His word was good enough for us that things were going to work-out. Later on I heard we set a record for the fastest time in the history of American jurisprudence for raising that much cash, and also learned that much of the million came from other doctors who knew Fred.
Joy pleaded Not Guilty, and per basic lawyering, kept mum. For the next year all we learned came from the papers, and those of us on the block marveled at how well the family was handling things. The girls stayed in school; still kept getting good grades; their friends stayed friends. The elected politician on our block agreed to appear at her bail hearing as a character witness and made a public statement that he believed in the American justice system, that someone is innocent until proven guilty, that Joy was a long-time friend, that he could under oath tell a judge that Joy was not a flight risk, and that he was sticking by his friend. The press had a field day speculating this would be the end of the politician’s career, and fellow legislators attacked him for supporting long lost causes, but, in the next parade he was in,
the streets were lined with supporters who said they appreciated how he put friendship above politics. And that’s kind of the way it was in The Doc’s house too: This is our mom; we’re going to let the legal system work things out; we’re standing by our mom; we talk to her every day; we hope she gets home as quick as she can.
And that’s how the dilemma of conscience intensified for this one East Como Boulevarder. Joy was now faced with publicly declaring, even to her daughters, her guilt or innocence, whether what she did was wrong or right, justifiable or not. She maintained her innocence (at least publicly) up to the time of trial, but the evidence against her was overwhelming. In the end she agreed to go straight to a sentencing hearing, described her judgment as in keeping with the times, and said she understood that it was up to the judge to pass judgment on what the consequences would be for the judgment calls she had made. A dilemma for the Judge too.
Tomorrow: Scene Three
Act Four/Scene Three to A Complex Apology: To Stay With Joy or Not?
SCENE THREE: For those on our block, judgment calls were also necessary, maybe easier than the Judge’s but devilish nevertheless The point of departure was: Who is the real Joy? Only it got complicated because it turned out the name she used in California was her birth name, and the Minnesotan we knew was an assumed identity taken while she was on the run from the law. Not even Fred knew Joy was an assumed name, but neither Fred, nor her daughters, nor any of us doubted who the real person was – it was the Joy we knew, and while in prison she legally changed her name to Joy. Whew……
Easier didn’t mean it was easy. All of us did much soul-searching because an innocent bystander (a mom) died in the California shooting. Certainly not an intentional killing, but the law rightly says (as for guilt or innocence) that when you decide to participate in a bank robbery with guns, you are responsible for all unintended consequences as well. An innocent person is dead because of your actions, and a son is without a mother – permanently - unlike Joy’s daughters where the loss of mom’s presence, though considerable, was only temporary…. temporary, that is, if the family held together during her prison term. Fred was great; the kids stayed great; the family all held together. It still amazes how much normalcy Fred was able to maintain for the sake of his kids.
And somehow we all threaded this needle too. Certainly it was easy to continue to embrace The Doc and his daughters – they were innocent of any wrongdoing. But how would we embrace Joy upon her return? It was even alleged she participated in an attempt to blow-up a police car with police officers in it.
The stream of consciousness went like this:
……….“Yah, it was the 70s……
……….. Yah, the police certainly had some blood on their own hands……..
…………….but No, you just don’t go taking the law into your own hands and fight fire with fire,
…………………..unless you’re truly in a revolutionary war……..
….……. .and Yah, you want Joy’s daughters to get their mom (the real Joy) back as soon as possible……..
…………but don’t forget how important the lesson will be for the Darylmple boys to find reason to believe or not believe in our justice system……..
…………and the biggest Whoa!: someone got killed at Joy’s hands – and the fact that the police had killed her college sweetheart is not enough to justify it.”
The ethicist on our block posed the question: Does it matter whether we believed her cause was just or not? Would we still support her if she had been a Nazi collaborator rather than a civil rights activist? Would none of her positive contributions to our neighborhood matter if she was once a Nazi sympathizer?
For me, the question was not whether her cause was just; the question for the ages is what choices would I have made under similar circumstances? Would I have been mature enough to understand the ultimate facing of consequences? Young, idealistic, and with reason to be revengeful. In any war there are innocent casualties… but shouldn’t this “war” have been fought in the court of public opinion rather than out of the barrel of a gun? I hope I would have chosen the former, but maybe that only comes with maturity.
Tomorrow: The Apology
Act Four/Scene Four to A Complex Apology: The Apology
SCENE FOUR: Our block politician, the one elected, made it a little easier for us to thread this needle when he went on a national radio show and talked in person with the son of the woman killed in the bank robbery. The first thing our politician said was how deeply sorry the whole community of Saint Paul was that he had lost his mother, and that whether Joy had ever said it or not, we were apologizing for her actions. In turn, the California son, in a most kind gesture, said that he understood Joy was raising three daughters, and apparently doing a good job at that, and wished the family his best.
Back in the neighborhood, and in the local paper, our politician elaborated on the apology as an apology for all unjust behavior, the Government’s too, and even got one of the sons of the 1960s Chicago Mayor to agree that his dad should have handled the 1968 Democratic Convention in a better way. Together the two made the point that you have to have an honest reckoning of the past in order to set a best possible course for the future.
In the end I decided I could support Joy whether I believed in her cause or not based upon the premise that the person you are in your 20s is not always the person you are in your 30s or 40s. The cause doesn’t matter so much. Although I could think of no good reason for being a Nazi sympathizer, and I couldn’t imagine myself ever putting any trust or faith in someone who once was on the side of the Nazi’s, it was really Joy’s interactions with our community which I was going on.
Opinions as to the righteousness of her cause, or any other cause, whether the opinion of a holocaust victim or the opinion of a Ukrainian who viewed World War II Germany as an ally in the Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination, were just that – someone else’s opinion. All I could go on were her interactions with me, and my trust in her judgment going forward. I didn’t have to consider “what if her cause had been ….”. But it helped that at least someone had apologized for the killing and that the son of the woman killed had been so forgiving as to wish her family well.
So it was that we each threaded the needle of what to think about Joy. Seven years later upon her release from prison just about every one of us embraced Joy. We felt we knew the real Joy, assumed name or not, and that the actions she took with us in the 80s and 90s represented the real person she was. That though by destiny of circumstance she had lived the turbulent 60s and early 70s in a way most of us could barely imagine, in the end she went on to do good things to make the world a better place. The criminal part, though real, should not cast a permanent dye.