ms. olson/soliah was released today
sara jane olson (a/k/a kathleen ann soliah) was released today, having served about half of a 14-year sentence in california. despite protests from minnesota's governor and the local police federation, she'll complete her parole here. in my view, ms. olson's case is helpful in understanding the nature of community supervision, as well as some of the cohort-specific class privileges claimed by the boomer generation.
the timeline for ms. olson is both unusual and all-too-typical. the unusual part is that she was a fugitive for 24 years. after her politically-oriented crimes in the 1970s, she lived a couple uneventful decades as a progressive minnesota housewife, before returning to do seven years hard time in california. the typical part is that she did her crimes in her teens and twenties and is now a relatively harmless sixtysomething who wants to leave all that behind and rejoin her family.
ms. olson's convictions involved placing pipe bombs under police cars and participating in a deadly bank robbery in 1975. she's hardly a risk for such crimes at this point, but i can certainly understand why the police aren't eager to stand by as she resumes a comfy upper-middle-class lifestyle in st. paul. personally, i'm sympathetic to parolees swimming upstream against the odds. nevertheless, this statement by lawyer stephen cooper was especially tough for this life-course criminologist to swallow:
"For many people, what happened in the '60s was not representative of where their lives went afterwards and they feel you shouldn't be held accountable by the same standards as you would in the '90s," Cooper said.
oh, i get it -- different standards for different times, especially for those who really meant well and happened to marry doctors. leaving aside the fact that none of ms. olson's crimes actually occurred in the sixties, nobody's crimes in their teens and twenties are "representative of where their lives went" in their forties and fifties -- that's just the age-crime curve and class privilege, folks. and don't even try to tell me that hopelessly misguided politically-motivated robberies and destruction of the priviliged should be treated more leniently than the hopelessly misguided garden variety robberies and destruction of the poor.
that said, ms. olson is now a parolee and (potential) taxpayer and i truly wish her all the best. here's hoping she accepts this status and no longer distances herself from the thousands of other parolees and (potential) taxpayers in minnesota. few of them have taken another human life and few of them will ever enjoy a nice house in a fine neighborhood. by carving out a boomer-specific culpability exemption, ms. olson's attorneys are simply demonizing those who lack the advantages that she had: she's one of us and they remain the other.
i suspect it won't be long before i see ms. olson at a social function. and i'll certainly wish her well -- just as i would for any other parolee or probationer trying to make it in my community. if i'm ever tried for conspiracy to commit murder, however, i'll instruct my friends and attorneys to dispense with that whole "can't be held accountable to the standards of our times" defense.