In May, 1980, Sara Jane Moore called me from prison at Alderson, West Virginia, where she was incarcerated. At the time I was living in my mountain home in Pollock Pines, California. She asked, no begged me, to save her art collection from disposal by driving to San Francisco and rescuing her few prized possessions; The only things she had left to pass on to her only son.
I did. I made a promise to keep her art for the day when her son became an adult. He is now 42. Or her friends who said they would come and take it when I returned to California from Washington, D.C. in 1996. No one ever called or showed up. Or, for the day she might be released, which I never thought would happen, but she did. Sara Jane Moore was released from prison on Dec. 31, 2007. I still have not heard from her and I've been storing her 30+ pieces of art for 28 years.
Let me back up--
On October 15, 1975, I received an unsolicited hand-written note from Sara Jane, inviting me to visit her. The note was sent to me at the Los Angeles News Journal, where I worked. She had read an article I had written about a class-action suit against Sybil Brand Institute, Los Angeles County's women's jail,[i] and she thought I would be a sympathetic ear. Further, she would begin serving her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California, just five miles from where I lived with my husband and young son. I was intrigued.
As the day for my visit approached, I tried to imagine what she would be like. It was January 1976. I couldn't wait to meet the woman who had attempted to assassinate a U.S. president, a woman the newspapers described as sharp-tongued, scatterbrained, uncommunicative, and uncooperative.
The woman who approached me at the prison was not like that at all. She entered the room with confidence, extending her hand to me with a warm and friendly gesture, rather like central casting's good-natured Aunt Millie. Middle-aged, of medium height, blue-eyed, with short, curly brown hair-a rounded suburban housewife. She could easily have been my neighbor. She was just like a friendly and chatty member of the Parent-Teacher Association event. She looked me straight in the eye with her own clear gaze.
"I'm so glad you came," she said, smiling broadly.
The disconnect was stunning. She behaved as if we were meeting for lunch at Chez Pannise, a five star restaurant in Berkeley, rather than sitting in the middle of a human storage facility. "By the way," she asked with interest, "how old did you say your son is?"
So, her art is still safely tucked away in yet another storage facility. A promise is a promise.
[i] Geri Spieler, "Balance of Power: Women and the Prison System," Los Angeles News Journal, Oct. 1975
Causes Geri Spieler Supports
Gobal Tolerance, Village Harvest, harvesting produce for the homeless and hungry. American Lung Association, Big Brothers and Big Sisters,