AN American Radical: A Political Prisoner in My Own Country
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On a November night in 1984, Susan Rosenberg sat in the passenger seat of a U-Haul as it swerved along the New Jersey Turnpike. At the wheel was a fellow political activist. In the back were 740 pounds of dynamite and assorted guns. That night I still believed with all my heart that what Che Guevara had said about revolutionaries being motivated by love was true. I also believed that our government ruled the world by force and that it was necessary to oppose it with force. Raised on New York City's Upper West Side, Rosenberg had been politically active since high school, involved in the black liberation movement and protesting repressive U.S. policies around the world and here at home. At twenty-nine, she was on the FBI's Most Wanted list. While unloading the U-Haul at a storage facility, Rosenberg was arrested and sentenced to an unprecedented 58 years for possession of weapons and explosives. I could not see the long distance I had traveled from my commitment to justice and equality to stockpiling guns and dynamite. Seeing that would take years. Rosenberg served sixteen years in some of the worst maximum-security prisons in the United States before being pardoned by President Clinton as he left office in 2001. Now, in a story that is both a powerful memoir and a profound indictment of the U.S. prison system, Rosenberg recounts her journey from the impassioned idealism of the 1960s to life as a political prisoner in her own country, subjected to dehumanizing treatment, yet touched by moments of grace and solidarity. Candid and eloquent, An American Radical reveals the woman behind the controversy--and reflects America's turbulent coming-of-age over the past half century.
fucks agnes—all with distinct markings. As I examined them, it occurred to me that they were the modern equivalent of hieroglyphics. I understood the need to make a mark, to leave a message, to scream out loud in this disembodied hole, “I was here. Don’t let me disappear.” Then I saw one that read long live black liberation. It relieved me greatly to see this one. I was not the first political person who laid on that bench. It was such a simple thing, yet it gave me much comfort. It was a sign
they had seen before. People trained in prisons might reference Marion Federal Penitentiary, the all-male, super-max prison, where a sentence could last years and years with no human contact except with fully loaded security personnel. Once in a while when a visitor was touring, they would say, “It’s a control unit, isn’t it?” But the staff was instructed only to mouth certain answers and would always say, “No, it is just high security.” One day in the early spring of 1987, Silvia and I were in
send her way, she asked, “Who are you?” “Rosenberg,” I muttered. She stopped walking. “I know who you are.” I thought for a second that I would have to fight her. Not being able to tell where she was coming from, I kept walking. “I’m a political prisoner, too.” The emphasis was on the word “too.” “Yeah, what did you do?” I asked, getting more exasperated with each turn in the yard. “I hate the government,” she said. I kept my pace. “I bomb abortion clinics,” she went on. “Me and my
to speak to my father for a few weeks. He was always in rehab when I called. I assumed that he was dying and that, without parts of his spine, he would be permanently immobile. But he had announced to my mother and his doctors that he would walk again, and with all his might and will he was working at it. The next few months felt like one long march. Every day I woke up thinking about my dad and every day I strained harder against my incarceration. The line between my acceptance of my
activists Philip and Daniel Berrigan; G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent and Watergate burglar; international marijuana dealer-turned-author Richard Stratton; a number of mob members; and various high-profile, white-collar criminals. It had been changed to house women only in the early 1990s. As one CO unchained me, I could hear the chatter from the others who were lounging around and watching the process. This batch was young except for the gray-bearded man in charge of R&D. He seemed