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I think I should start this off by saying that I am the last person on earth you would expect to end up a political prisoner. Except maybe Burl Ives, and I think he might be dead. I mean I am hardly the type. I'm much more likely to be compared to Madonna than Mandela. At least I was before all this happened.
I've been in a lot of places and fantasized about being in a lot of others, but I certainly never dreamed I'd end up in the Hardwick Women's Correctional Facility. Granted, I have my own trailer, which we call "Tara," and I'm allowed "special privileges," but let no one believe that these gifts flow from the benevolence of the great state of Georgia. They are both for the benefit and convenience of the national news media and a political concession to the thousands of people who come here regularly and chant my name at the gates.
They say that some people are born great, some people achieve greatness and some people have greatness thrust upon them. I am clearly in the third category, and at this point I'd like to thrust it right back.
I certainly wasn't born great. I grew up the third and invisible child of five, the "brain" in a family that valued only athletic achievement. For all the hoopla about my looks, I wasn't considered the beauty in my family. That honor went first to my older sister Gigi, who was even briefly a runway model, then to my baby sister Bobbie, who waddled through junior high and metamorphosed in her sophomore year into a teen queen.
I was a bored and uninspired student at Miss Porter's until I was asked to leave on May 2nd, in my junior year. My crime was substituting Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" for the traditional May Day processional on the school's loudspeaker. The audience loved it, but the May Queen, whose father was on the board of trustees, was not amused. So, I finished my secondary school career at Girls Preparatory School. The yearbook at GPS doesn't list me in the Senior Honors section, although I was the president of the SSDS (the Secret Senior Drinking Society) as well as the holder of the record for the most classes skipped in a year (205).
I went to the University of Virginia, where I became engaged my freshman year to a boy whose family I had fallen in love with. We married my sophomore year, and I had Razz my senior year. The marriage was low-grade misery, but when I became a mother, I vowed that Razz would have a happy home with his original mommy and daddy. Then, four years later, when most of my friends were marrying for the first time, I just gave up and got a divorce.
As for achieving greatness, I can say that I've aspired to a lot of things, but I don't know that greatness would have even made the short list.
I've aspired to be a wonderful mother, something that surely doesn't fit my image, but anyone who knows me at all knows it has been my number one priority since that afternoon sixteen years ago when John Ransom Fontaine was delivered, absolutely livid, at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
I have aspired to be a loyal friend, a fearsome enemy and an accomplished lover, and I think that anyone who has known me in any one or more of the aforementioned capacities would likely tell you that I've been successful. I have also aspired to things where I've been an abject failure. I aspired to be a good and dutiful wife and was unable to pull it off. I aspired to be a great athlete and never overtook mediocrity. I also aspired to never cause my family and friends pain. The last three months have been a veritable monument to that failure.
If I aspired to anything resembling greatness, it's that I always wanted to live a giant life, full of passion and adventure, love and achievement, a life unsullied by fear or regrets for what I almost did or almost was. I certainly did not aspire to the kind of "greatness" that some in the movement now ascribe to me.
Three months ago no one knew who I was, now I'm one of the most famous people in America. I think I must have appeared on the cover of every magazine in the country with the exception of Popular Mechanics and Opera News. My sister Gigi is keeping a scrapbook, and the damn thing must weigh twenty pounds. On Sundays she brings it, with all the new things she's collected, and reads the articles to me as we marvel at the sheer creativity of the press. I mean, where do these people get this stuff?
Gigi's favorite, back toward the very beginning, was the cover of New York magazine. The photo must have been taken at the Met premiere of Turandot, and I'm wearing a low-cut dress and laughing. The caption reads "This woman may have caused the end of civilization as we know it ... and she thinks it's funny."
Maybe I'm just touchy but I thought that seemed a tad hysterical.
Razz's favorite is the quote, "This century has seen some real trouble-makers--Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein--but they must be considered rank amateurs compared to Lauren Fontaine." And this wasn't from some religious monthly, this was from the Wall Street Journal, for God's sake! And it wasn't even on the editorial page--this was supposedly an unbiased "journalistic" story on the movement.
This "thing," as my mother would say, has made people forget themselves. My mother, however, has not forgotten herself. She doesn't visit, though she calls twice a week. She's gone from being thrilled at my fame to mortified that, as she puts it, I've "ended up in jail." I have tried on several occasions to explain to her the difference between being a political prisoner and a criminal, but it makes no difference--she's as embarrassed in front of her bridge friends as if I'd been convicted of knocking over 7-Elevens.
Gigi comes every day. It's an hour commute each way, and she's only missed twice, and knowing that she's coming is one of the things that keeps me sane. It's not that I don't have plenty of visitors, but Gigi's the one who can make me laugh. She has a wonderful sense of the absurd, and some days she can even make me think of this as an unexpected adventure instead of a hideous nightmare.
Razz is taking this pretty well, I think. "As well as can be expected" is the phrase he uses, because he knows it just slays me. I talk to him every day for as long as he feels like talking. Sometimes that's two hours and sometimes two minutes. When I came here, I hired an old friend of mine to be his bodyguard. Razz acts as if this is a horrible imposition but is secretly thrilled to be the first kid on his block to have one.
I think this has been harder on Razz than anybody. After all, he's the age where he doesn't want any attention called to himself, where a normal parent is a terrible burden, much less one who's regularly on the nightly news.
It is, I have to say, by far the hardest part for me--to be separated from him and to know that he's in pain is more horrible than I can describe. Late at night it sneaks up on me and sits in this room like a fog of sadness. Missing him and knowing that he's suffering and not being able to comfort him is a wound as hot and deep as a dog bite. We talk about the difficulties together, but out of kindness neither of us elaborates, and every night I pray that we'll both be OK.
Prison has very little to recommend it. It's a dreadful experience, especially if, like me, you don't enjoy the company of criminals. Not that this is my first experience with them, since I spent several years working on Wall Street. It's just that the ones here can't even talk about why Negril is more fun than St. Barts, or why Rigoletto is a better opera than La Traviata.
Similarly, I am at a loss to debate why it is more effective to "cut" a girl who has moved in on your pimp than just to get her into a "lock" and break off her teeth on the curb. Funny, but this sort of lively discussion surpasses my realm of experience.
What's worse than the people and the lack of freedom and the horrors of prison, most of which I've been mercifully spared, is the stupefying sameness of every day. I've always wallowed happily in the chaos of my life--a Rubik's Cube of people and activities. But prison is the tedium of repeated movements, like walking endlessly around in a circle. I have an almost constant sense of deja vu.
In prison the most basic pleasures are surrendered, even things like jogging. I've jogged for years, but running in a prison yard is simply not a prudent thing to do. All of the guards are male, the meanest kind of no-neck rednecks, and they carry large automatic weapons. Watching them watch me makes me feel like a ten-point buck on opening day of hunting season.
So now exercise consists of working out with old Jane Fonda tapes on the VCR or dancing nonstop through the entire tape of Little Richard Live at the O.K. Club. This, I might add, is harder than you'd think.
The mornings are taken up talking on the phone, either with interviews or with the movement leaders. There is enormous tension in the ranks, and I spend a part of every day trying to hold things together. When I started this you could never have convinced me that it would last for more than a couple of weeks max. Anyway, it gets harder and harder to control, but I guess that's the natural progression for this sort of thing.
The afternoons are taken up with visitors, reporters, or friends. My sweetheart comes frequently, and we are even offered conjugal privileges. "Fat chance," is my only comment. I'm quite sure that Tara is bugged, and even if it weren't--well, it would hardly be kosher. I must admit though that I think about it almost constantly.
I also entertain my fair share of visiting dignitaries, politicians, etc. I try very hard to be uniformly passionate, articulate and charming, but sometimes it's like dancing nonstop through the entire Little Richard tape--harder than you'd think.
I never make appointments after 2:30, so by the time Gigi gets here I'm finished with my guests. I've even been known to escort startled politicians to the door at the stroke of 4:00. I am happy to be hospitable; I guess that's the Southerner in me. But my time with Gigi is a treasure I guard jealously, like a woman with a married lover.
She arrives at 4:00 and we make drinks and I tell her about my day and she tells me about the outside world. We give each other advice, we strategize and sometimes we even laugh. Gigi and I have two things that keep us incredibly close: the billion reference points that allow us to communicate in verbal shorthand, and an identical sense of humor. We can say more to each other with three words than other people can express in twenty minutes, and we can drive each other into hysterics over something that outsiders might find only marginally amusing.
Every afternoon we cook together, trying out recipes, just the way we did as teenagers. Then, visiting hours over, I eat alone and she drives home to make dinner for her new husband, the fabulous Tom Patterson.
I used to play basketball in the evening with the other women, until it became a problem. So many of the inmates think of me as a hero. They want to touch my hand and encourage me and tell me their stories, and I've always tried to listen and let them know that I'd heard them, and I'd hug them when they cried, because I know everybody needs that. But it became fairly evident that I had become the "object of affection" for several of these women, and I can't decide which made me more uncomfortable, the ones who'd write me love letters and make me presents, or the ones who'd call out their romantic and sexual intentions like dockworkers. I mean, regardless of what I started or how I'm viewed by the male population of the world, I have always been a lover of men.
Exclusively, totally, purely, a girl who likes boys.