The California Heiress Turned Hostage
In early 1974, the scruffy radicals who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army—seven whites and one black—were plotting a “revolution” of the poor and oppressed. The keystone of their strategy was the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Campbell Hearst, whose grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, and father, Randolph Apperson Hearst, symbolized to them the evils of corporate America. On Feb. 4, Patty Hearst, then 19, was abducted. Privileged and protected, she was hardly prepared for adulthood, let alone life as a prisoner of the SLA. The middle of five daughters born to Hearst and his Southern belle wife, Catherine, Patty grew up with nannies and servants in a mansion south of San Francisco. A sophomore art history major at the University of California at Berkeley, she was engaged to Steven Weed, 26, a former track star at Princeton and sometime math teacher who had tutored her at an exclusive private high school. Patty and Steve were living together in a Berkeley duplex and busy planning their wedding when the unthinkable happened.
By the winter of 1974 I had come to see that my first true love was not perfect. Steve Weed was not only intelligent and self-confident; he was also arrogant and condescending. Perhaps it was simply that I was growing up and was no longer satisfied to adore him, eagerly absorbing all he could teach. I was wholly aware of women’s rights at that time, but I did not realize the unfairness of his making all the decisions in the house we shared on Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley. In the two years we had been living together, I always did what he wanted me to do. I did the cooking and the washing up afterward. He set the times when the meals should be on the table. In a million small things and most large ones, he was the boss. I came to wonder if I had exchanged parental authority for his authority. That was not my idea of independence. During one fracas at the dinner table, he picked me up bodily and deposited me like an unruly child on the porch outside our front door. I was locked out until he decided to allow me back in. During another argument, while driving home one night, he brought the car to a screeching stop by the side of the road and shouted, “If you don’t like it, you can get out and walk home,” and I almost did, until I realized that it was my car.
Steve displayed this air of superiority to others as well. He could be subtly and not so subtly condescending toward my parents. At dinner, he might laugh at a serious opinion expressed by my mother or disdain to give his own opinion on a subject under discussion, or refuse to give even a polite chuckle at one of my father’s quips. It was not so much a matter of what he said or did not say, it was his demeanor which seemed to declare, “I’m so much more intelligent than you are.” This was not at all obvious to me at the beginning, but I became aware of it eventually. At the time I did not recognize the extent of my parents’ displeasure with the man I loved. Only much later would my sisters tell me that after Steve and I had left the house my mother and father would launch into their complaints over just about everything Steve had done while there. They did not approve of his clothes, his table manners, his deportment, his opinions.
As the date of our wedding, June 1974, grew near, more doubts and fears crept in. Did I want to be an assistant professor’s wife, kowtowing to the wife of the head of the department and to the dean’s wife? I did not think so. At one point, I considered joining the Navy and seeing the world. Literally. It was a way out, but it was not very practical. Another time, I slipped into an emotional depression that lasted about two weeks, in which I felt that my life was closing in on me. A little nagging voice in the back of my mind told me: “You’ll marry him, but it won’t last more than a couple of years…” Nevertheless, our wedding plans went forward. The parents of my closest childhood friend, Trish Tobin, sent us a lovely traditional “engagement cup.” My mother swung into a frenzy of efficiency, planning a big, formal wedding at the country club in Burlingame on the peninsula south of San Francisco. There was no escaping what had to be done: selecting china and crystal, registering a silver pattern, shopping for a gown.
Then, on Friday, Feb. 1, a minor incident at our apartment inexplicably unnerved me. Late in the afternoon, when we were not expecting anyone, the doorbell rang. At the door was a tall Oriental girl who looked rather spaced out. She asked if our apartment was for rent or if we knew of any apartment in the building for rent. Standing behind Steve in the front hallway, I could see a man just beyond the girl, nervously wringing his gloved hands and glancing from side to side. Then they left. That was all there was to it, except that I was disturbed. We laughed them off as Berkeley weirdos, and as it turns out, the incident had nothing whatever to do with what occurred afterwards. But I did learn later that during this period, I was being followed and kept under observation, although I had no awareness of that at the time.
Steve and I continued on with our domesticated lifestyle. On Feb. 4, Steve returned home from teaching about 6, and I woke up from a nap about 6:30 or 7 o’clock. I took a quick shower and slipped into some panties, my blue terry-cloth bathrobe and alpaca slippers, and went to my tiny, corridor kitchen to prepare a quick, light dinner. A good part of one wall of the kitchen was covered with a pegboard which Steve had put up so that I could hang my ever-growing collection of pots and pans. By my third year as a homemaker I enjoyed making soufflés and fancy dishes, but this evening I just opened a can of chicken noodle soup and prepared some tuna fish sandwiches. After dinner, Steve insisted upon watching Mission: Impossible and The Magician; then I cleared the table so we could settle down for some studying. A little after 9 o’clock the front doorbell rang.
Steve got up to answer it and I sort of looked around the corner of the front hallway. I could see the bulky outline of a person standing beyond the frosted sliding glass front door. “That looks really weird,” I told him. Feeling jumpy, I thought of warning Steve to put the chain on the door before he unlocked it, but he didn’t give me a chance. By that time he had the door open and I had walked into the narrow hallway, a few feet behind him, wondering what was up. I could hear a girl’s agitated voice. Her words came tumbling out so fast that I could barely make out what she was saying: She had backed up and hit some car in the garage under the house. Could she come in and use the phone?
My immediate reaction was disgust and anger. Oh, great, I thought, she hit my M.G. I turned away and started to walk toward the kitchen at the other end of the hallway. At that moment I heard a commotion and turned to see two men with guns burst into the apartment, a thin black man and a heavier, shorter white man. I backed away from them into the kitchen, shocked, screaming. Then the girl tame in after me, backing me into the stove, pointing a black automatic pistol at my face. At the same time she clamped her hand over my mouth and said, “Be quiet and nobody’ll get hurt.” From beyond the kitchen, in the hallway or in the living room, I could hear Steve talking amid sounds of scuffling.
Then the white man pushed me to the floor. I landed on my stomach and he sat on me, straddling my back. Twisting around, I tried to look up to see his face. “Don’t look at me,” he commanded, slamming my head onto the floor. “Keep your head down!” As he was tying my hands together behind my back, I could make out voices from the other room. “Where’s the safe? Where’s the safe?” the black man was demanding, and Steve was crying, “We don’t have a safe. Take my wallet. That’s all we have. Take anything you want…anything you want…”
I had thought they were going to rob us and then they would go away and it would be all over. But it now flashed through my mind that they would not be tying me up for an ordinary robbery. I tried to struggle but I could hardly move. Someone was yelling in the other room and suddenly a gag was thrust into my mouth. It was a rag of some sort with knots tied in the middle so that the knots went into my mouth. A blindfold was wrapped around my eyes and tied behind my head. I was yanked up and half dragged into the hallway. As I passed the living room, Steve suddenly began shrieking in pain. I thought he was being stabbed to death. Through all of this I heard the girl shouting, “Let’s get out of here.” Then I managed to spit out the gag and I started screaming as loudly as I could, hoping the neighbors would hear me and summon the police or some kind of help.
Suddenly, I was on the dark porch outside the apartment, feeling the fresh air, and screaming my head off. It was my last chance to save myself. It was plain to me that I was being kidnapped. Where were the police? Everything was happening so fast. My senses were assaulted with a confusion of sounds, voices, impressions. My neighbor’s door opened and I distinctly heard the girl next door cry out, “Oh, my God!” Then her door slammed shut and in that instant the man at my side opened fire with an automatic rifle or submachine gun. The shots were very loud. Glass shattered. Other doors slammed. I was still screaming, wanting the whole world to hear me, hoping someone, anyone, would save me.
Then a terrific blow landed on my left cheek—from a rifle butt—and I was stunned into semiconsciousness. I was vaguely aware of being dragged down the concrete steps to the carport below. I was grabbed again, lifted oft’ the ground, and thrown into the trunk of a car. I heard another burst of rapid gunfire, and the car, with me in it, bound and blindfolded in the trunk, sped away. Everything was happening so fast, my thinking was disoriented. How long had it taken these people to come into our apartment and drag me out of there? Three minutes? Five minutes? I didn’t know.
Moments later I found myself standing on a dark residential street, held firmly in someone’s grasp. My blindfold had come off in the car trunk and I was surrounded by a small group of people whose faces I could not quite make out. Three automobiles stood parked on the otherwise empty street: the vintage white Chevy I had come in, a dark VW bug parked behind it, and up ahead a station wagon. I was shoved into the wagon on the floor of the back seat, and then the others piled in over me. The car took off immediately and a blanket was thrown over my head, blacking out all light. I was crying and the black man kicked me and yelled, “Shut your mouth, bitch, or I’m going to blow your f—king head off.”
The ride seemed interminable and the black man kept kicking and prodding me with his foot. I could hardly believe that I was actually being kidnapped. I kept asking what they were going to do to me. The black man would only tell me to shut up or else he would “blow me away.” Finally, the girl in the back seat reassured me, “Don’t worry, bitch, we ain’t going to kill you—you’re worth much more to us alive than dead.” Hands reached down and replaced the blindfold.
My face, where I had been hit, began to ache, now that the shock had worn off; my legs had been scraped raw on the concrete steps and were oozing blood. They stung and felt hot, feverish, while the rest of my body, clad only in a bathrobe, broke out in goose bumps from the cold air. At last the car slowed down and came to a stop. Someone got out and then the car was backed carefully into a garage. The black man told me to lie still and be quiet or I would be killed.
I lay there in the dark silence. Long minutes ticked by and I wondered if the others would ever come back. But they did. I was led up some stairs, down some hallways. Totally disoriented, hearing none of the usual city noises, I thought perhaps I was somewhere in a house out in the woods. We came to a stop and they pushed me a few feet this way and then that way and I could sense that they were opening some kind of door. A stale, dirty smell assaulted my nose with such an abrupt suddenness that I thought I recognized what they were about to do to me. I completely panicked. In utter terror, I struggled and fought to get free, praying, “Don’t bury me…God, please, don’t bury me, no, no, please…” I remembered in a flash the news story of a girl who had been kidnapped and buried in a box for days, with only an air pump keeping her alive. She had survived by luck alone.
I don’t know how long I fought. Probably for not more than a few seconds, but it seemed like forever before I was subdued. Then they slammed the door shut. I groped around and found that it was a closet, a padded, empty closet.
The inside of that closet stank. I was alone there with a stale, musty odor of body sweat and filth. For all the air circulating in there, I might as well have been in an underground coffin. Curled up, I lay in a corner, weeping. Tears flowed of their own accord, soaking my blindfold and running down my face. I felt caged, like a wild animal, so helpless. The closet itself seemed of ordinary size, about six feet long and a bit more than two feet wide. It had been soundproofed with carpet and undercarpet padding, hung on all four walls from ceiling to floor, even covering the door, with just a slit for entry. The pads were very old and worn and dirty. The closer I brought my nose to the padding, the stronger was the odor I detested. There was no escaping it. Never had I felt so helpless. Why me? I asked myself over and over again. Why me?
My mind skidded from one thought to another without focus. More than anything else, I felt an uncontrollable fear: They could kill me and I could not stop them. I thought they might. I could not imagine myself dead. It was too awful. My lungs felt as though they were being squeezed in a vise: only crying seemed to relieve me. I did not think; I cried.
The closet door flew open and someone placed a small radio inside, blaring soul music. He told me not to touch the dial. “We’ll only tell you once. So don’t forget. Don’t touch it at all.”
The raucous music, very loud, filled the closet, assaulting another of my five senses. The radio was meant to prevent my hearing their voices on the other side of the closet door and it was effective. I have always had very sensitive hearing. At home I had played my own radio so softly that my sisters Anne and Vicki often wondered how I could possibly hear it. But now I had trouble hearing myself think; the music was overpowering.
Some considerable time later, perhaps an hour or two, the door opened, the carpet mat was thrown back, and I heard a voice declare: “I am General Field Marshal of the Symbionese Liberation Army. My name is Cin.” The voice, cold and flat, was that of the black man, the leader, and in my shock I did not grasp what he had said. The only words that registered in my mind were: My name is Sin. New fear struck my heart as I thought, “Sin—these people must be evil incarnate.”
He went on talking rapidly but I simply could not comprehend what he was saying until he seemed to be angrily repeating the same question: “Haven’t you heard of the Symbionese Liberation Army?”
“No,” I whispered.
Recognition struck then. These were the SLA, the people who had shot and killed Marcus Foster, the black leader in the East Bay Area and the first black Superintendent of Schools in Oakland.
“You are a prisoner of war of the Symbionese Liberation Army,” he declared. “You will be held in protective custody and you will be treated according to the Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war.”
“Can I go to the bathroom?” I asked.
“What do you want to go to the bathroom for?” someone replied, and they all screamed with laughter. I did not know what they were getting at until he said, “Look at her, the fancy, la-di-da lady, a real Marie Antoinette. Listen, if you gotta pee, say, ‘I gotta go pee.’ That’s the way poor people talk.”
“I’ve got to go pee,” I said, and someone helped me up and led me out of the closet.
In due course, someone—I was told she was a registered nurse—ministered to my scraped and skinned legs. I was told that my left cheek was just bruised, and although it was sensitive to the touch, did not require any medical treatment. My blindfold, again sopping wet, was changed. I could not stop crying.
All through that day and the next, they talked to me about the aims and goals of the SLA. Mostly it was Cin who came to the closet door to deliver the lecture or impart a new scrap of information, but the others came also, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups. Someone would open the door, ask if I wanted to go to the bathroom, and then launch into a monologue on Marxism or some revolutionary principle. I could not have cared less about their Communist claptrap; in fact, I barely understood what they were talking about. My own best course of action, the only one I could see open to me, was to humor them: Listen to them, I told myself, and do exactly what they want. Somehow, sometime, I would be rescued.
They fed me, gave me water or tea to drink and led me to and from the bathroom. Saying that they were sharing their combat rations with me on an equal basis, they gave me two meals a day: Breakfast consisted of an herbal tea and one or two slices of bread; dinner was a cumbersome production, for I ate blindfolded with a spoon from a plate balanced precariously in my lap. With each spoonful, I had to find where the food was. My first such meal came some 18 hours after I had been kidnapped. I was not very hungry but I ate, without knowing what I was eating, other than that it had a rice base.
“Guess what you’re eating,” someone said. I had no idea. It was mung beans and rice. I commented that I had never heard of mung beans. For that I was called a “bourgeois bitch,” because, someone said, that’s what the poor people in America had to eat every night and I had not even heard of it. Before I had finished, the plate flipped and the mush spilled over my bathrobe. It was no great loss, for my appetite had been appeased with the first few spoonfuls, but I felt so humiliated, like a helpless baby. On other days it was rice mashed with bananas or rice spiced with little slivers of fish, and always peppermint tea. It was the pungent peppermint tea that I came to hate much more than the food.
It was on my third full day there that the “interrogations” started. Cin was quite formal in announcing and conducting what he called the necessary interrogation of the prisoner. It seemed straight out of the movies or television; a Hitchcock film or a nightmare. The only thing missing was the bright spotlight in my eyes. Cin proceeded to take me through my whole life history, my schools, my friends, my opinions; my sisters, their names, ages, where they lived, what they did; my mother and father, how much money they had, what stocks they owned, what property they owned, how many cars, boats, airplanes, what each did every day, whom they saw, and on and on and on, for hours on end.
I wish that I could say now that I stood up well under Cinque’s interrogation, that I lied and fooled him. Instead, I spilled my guts. I answered every question as truthfully as I could. I quickly learned to give them the answers I thought they wanted. I was afraid and weepy. As the days went on, I became more and more fearful that I would not survive this ordeal.
On my fifth day of captivity Cinque got into the closet with me, and while I sat at one end with my back propped against one wall, he sat at the other end of the six-and-a-half-foot closet with his tape recorder, a sheaf of notes and a flashlight. He untied me, handed me the microphone and instructed me on how we would proceed. Because there were so many important points to get across to my father and to the police, if there was to be any chance of my release, he would tell me what to say and I would put it in my own words. I was happy to cooperate in this; I would do anything, I thought, to get a message home. But I found I had to exert all my determination to keep from breaking down and crying as I told lie after lie about how well I was being treated.
When the taping was finally over and Cin said, “That’s it,” I slumped down against the wall, half sitting and half lying, and began to sob in utter exhaustion. Suddenly, I became aware that a hand was stroking my breast and Cin was over me, cooing in my ear in a mock-sexy voice. Then he pinched my nipple, brutally. The pain and shock ran right through me. His hand darted down and grabbed my crotch. Another pinch. I sat frozen in the dark, stunned. My whole body felt icy numb. My heart thumped. “I hear you were disrespectful to one of our sisters. I don’t want to hear of you doing that again. You hear me? Or I’ll be back to see you about it!” His voice was low, almost a whisper, but there was no mistaking the menace in it or the threat of sexual violence. Then he was gone.
I had sensed the ever-present possibility of sexual abuse. There had been undertones. But this was a clear, overt threat of what I could expect if Cin became angry with me for any reason.
As the days went on, incidents came back to me with such vividness that I could hear or see my sisters Anne or Vicki or Gina saying this or doing that. I remembered that our last family vacation together had been that Christmas, a little more than a month before my kidnapping, when the whole family and Steve had gone on a skiing vacation at Sugar Bowl in northern. California. As a joke, I had given my father a Christmas present of the new game called Anti-Monopoly, in which the object was to lose all your money.
After a couple of weeks I thought I would go out of my mind with loneliness and fear. I longed for the sound of a human voice, even one of theirs. Then as time went on, the SLA talked with me more and more. The pattern was that I would sit in the middle of the closet, my back propped against the wall, facing the door. One or more of them would sit just outside the door and we would “rap” for hours. Almost every day they read me news items they clipped from the newspapers, reporting horror stories from dictatorships around the world as well as revolutionary “actions” in Puerto Rico, Mozambique, the Philippines and other countries of the Third World. It was all very confusing. I realized that my life prior to my kidnapping had indeed been very sheltered; I had not even read the daily newspapers with any regularity. Nevertheless, virtually everything they tried so hard to pump into me went against my grain, my upbringing and my value system.
The SLA, in turn, held my lifestyle in utter contempt. They were appalled at the red nail polish on my fingernails and toenails at the time of my “arrest.” That was a flaunting of capitalist narcissism. “Poor people don’t paint their nails.” My sports car was a capitalist toy that was an affront to starving people.
From my closet, I could hear them training every day: calisthenics in the morning, military maneuvers in the afternoon. They wore combat boots as they scurried around the rooms, dived to the floor, rolled around, whispering “Bang, bang, bang” at one another. I could hear the clicks and clacks of their rifle bolts and the sound of ammunition clips being jammed into place. Some of them delighted in sneaking up to my closet door and hissing “Rat-a-tat-tat” in simulated fire at me and laughing uproariously. They were undoubtedly devoted to their revolution. Nevertheless, they also found time to watch the afternoon horror movies on TV.
In time, I became as sensitive to sounds, movement and moods as a blind person. While they had removed my gag and untied my hands, my blindfold was kept on at all times except to tape communiqués. My continual weeping made a problem of the bedsheet blindfold they had used at first: It tended to become loose. Eventually they produced a blindfold consisting of a strip of bedsheet, over which went two dishwashing sponges, secured by a tight elastic band around my head. The sponges worked well, for they gripped the sheet and held it in place. However, the elastic was so tight that it rubbed the bridge of my nose and the pressure caused terrible headaches. I was as good as blind.
After about three weeks in the closet, I was offered my second bath. I pleaded for permission to remove my blindfold in the tub so that I could wash my hair. They held a meeting on that. “You’re going to be able to take the blindfold off and we’ll wear ski masks,” Cin told me. “And if you try anything, it will be the last bath you ever get.” It was pitiful. My legs were wobbly, as if made of rubber. In the bathroom, someone standing behind me removed the blindfold and everything looked so strange, so out of proportion. Everything around me appeared huge, distorted, and constantly moving like ocean waves. I tried to focus my eyes. My own hands appeared to be grossly enlarged and changing color from pink to purple and back again. I seemed to be hallucinating and yet I thought I had all my senses about me. Then I was helped, stumbling, into the bath they had drawn for me. It was hot and lovely. During the bath, Cin walked into the bathroom two or three times. On his first appearance, I tried to cover up and heard him snicker. It was most embarrassing and humiliating. Then I said to myself, “To hell with him,” and I just continued with my bathing, as though he weren’t there. What did it matter? Privacy was a luxury I had lost when I had been kidnapped.
My physical condition continued to deteriorate. I experienced more and more trouble walking to and from the bathroom, even with someone holding me up by the arm. At one point, I simply melted to the floor. My knees would buckle and my body would turn to mush. I found myself in serious distress—weak, feverish, depressed, and increasingly confused.
One day Cin told me that he was going to give me lessons on how to handle a shotgun because the combat unit had decided I ought to be given the chance to defend myself in case of an FBI raid. The next day they showed me how to use a gas mask. For the next three days, under their instructions, I practiced handling a sawed-off shotgun, without ammunition, of course, and often with my blindfold still on. Cin promised that when the time came, he would issue me the gun along with their special SLA shells of buckshot laced with “Ajax”—the SLA code word for cyanide.
As time went on and my reeducation continued, the SLA comrades became more and more friendly and amenable. By agreeing with what they said, I was taken out of the closet more and more often. They allowed me to eat with them at times, and occasionally I sat blindfolded with them late into the night as they held one of their discussion meetings or study groups. They allowed me to remove my blindfold when I was locked in the closet for the night and that was a blessing. As a sort of trade-off, I agreed to read and study their recommended Marxist literature in the closet with the aid of a flashlight. I even took up smoking cigarettes with them, for the sheer want of something to do. They smoked roll-your-owns and so did I; only the General Field Marshal could afford the luxury of Lucky Strikes. All the while, I waited for the other shoe to drop.
When it did, it happened so casually that I missed the significance of what was going on. One day Cin shooed away the others and said he wanted to talk to the prisoner alone. “I was thinking,” he said, “maybe I could go to the War Council and convince them to let you join us. That would be better than getting killed. We wouldn’t trust you completely, but maybe you can make up for some of the crimes that your parents committed. You can live down your past and help the people. You’re kinda like the pet chicken people have on a farm—when it comes time to kill it for Sunday dinner, no one really wants to do it.” Then, after a prolonged pause, he added, “You know, we’ve kind of gotten to like you, so we don’t really want to kill you, if we don’t have to. Think about it.”
I did—all the time. At first, it seemed like a hideous offer. I wanted to go home. I did not want to join this crew. Nor did I like the alternative. I expected him to talk about it more, to explain the ramifications, to tell me what would be expected of me. But the subject was not brought up again, either the next day or in the days that followed.
Sometime after that, Gelina, one of the female members, came to me and whispered with glee in her voice, “Cujo wants to get it on with you. You know, he wants to f—k you.” It was as if she were Cupid and this was the most natural thing in the world. I really was not even very surprised. Perhaps, deep down, I had expected this. I was given a bath, then led, blindfolded once again, back into the room outside my closet and greeted by the others. By this time, they were all calling me “Tiny.” That was my code name, replacing the old “Marie Antoinette.” They used code names for me because they did not want anyone spying on us to hear them say “Patty.” Then I was put back in the closet. Cujo, who was, at 22, the youngest member of the SLA, followed me in. The door was shut, we took our clothes off, and he did his thing and left. I don’t think he said a word. If he did, I have absolutely no recollection of it. It was awkward, the closet was small and he was a big man, a big man who acted like a little boy. Only one image came briefly to mind: of all the others sitting silently outside, listening and knowing. And when he was gone I consoled myself: It could have been worse; it could have been Cin. Don’t worry about it. Don’t examine your feelings. Never examine your feelings—they’re no help at all. Better not to think.
So I went to sleep.
The next day not a single word was spoken about the sexual encounter. But three days later Gelina played Cupid once again. “Cin wants to f—k you,” she whispered to me. Her babblings indicated that Cin’s decision to sleep with me was a great honor: Cin was the leader of the cell, a man with whom all the sisters wanted to sleep, and having sex with Cin would bring me so much closer to all the sisters.
I tried to keep my face expressionless, to hide my revulsion. Cin came into the closet, shut the door and said, “Take off your clothes,” and he had me. I lay there like a rag doll, my mind a million miles away. It was all so mechanical and then it was over. I said to myself, rationalizing again, “Well, you’re still alive.” What did this kind of abuse matter?
One day, when I was left alone for an unusually long time, I became aware of the sounds of some kind of new activity going on in the room outside. “We’re moving to another one of our safe-houses,” I was told. “This pad is getting hot; Cin says we’ve been here too long.”
“When are we moving?” I asked.
They packed up their belongings all that day and that night they took me out of the closet and said that I would be transported in a garbage can, a brand new, clean thirty-gallon plastic container. In that way, no one could possibly see or recognize me, they explained. I gingerly stepped into the garbage can; the lid was placed over my head and secured with ropes. They had cut two air holes in the lid, each one about the size of a nickel.
They toted me out of the house in an upright position, but in the trunk of their car the garbage can was placed on its side and I rattled and rolled in there for at least forty-five minutes. I was numb and stiff when I was carried out of the car and up some steps to the new safehouse. I did not make a sound. Nor did I cry out when they dropped the garbage can on the steps. The strangest part of all this, however, as they delighted in informing me later, was that they themselves were surprised at how docile and trusting I had become.
When I was lifted out of the garbage can, my legs had gone tingly numb and I could not stand at all. They half carried me into a large bedroom closet, and I slept there on the floor.
A few days later Cin sat down at the edge of the closet and in a low voice said, “Tiny, you remember what I told you about the War Council thinking about what to do with you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, the War Council has decided that you can join us, if you want to, or you can be released, and go home again.”
The choice caught me totally off guard but only for an instant. With positive clarity and without a doubt, I knew that the real choice was the one which Cin had mentioned earlier: to join them or to be executed. They would never release me. They could not. I knew too much about them. He was testing me and I must pass the test or die. The thought process was so rapid I do not believe he could have discerned a hesitation.
“I want to join you.”
“That’ll mean, you know, you never can go back to your old way of life. You’ll be an urban guerrilla, fighting for the people.”
“Yes,” I exclaimed, “I want to fight for the people.”
I could sense that he was smiling. Oh, he liked my answer. He thought he was so clever, giving me a choice. Cin added a proviso: “I’m going to ask the sisters and brothers to talk to you and you have to convince every one of them that you are worthy to join this elite combat unit.”
For the next full week, I had heart-to-heart talks with members of the cell. They also held many, many meetings without me and I literally sweated it out in my little cubbyhole, worrying about their ultimate vote. Then, at last, I was led into still another cell meeting. There was a certain electricity in the air and I sensed that a decision had been reached in my case. I heard Cin say: “The sisters and brothers have all voted for you to join this combat team.” A wave of relief spread through my body.
“Okay, take your blindfold off!”
Take it off? I couldn’t believe that he had actually said it: the point of no return—I would see their faces.
So I took off the blindfold, slowly. There they all were, grinning at me. And I heard Cin declare: “As General Field Marshal, I welcome you—you are now a guerrilla fighter and a soldier in the Symbionese Liberation Army!”