"I wish you'd try to understand the position I'm in. I am right in the middle, and I have to depend upon what all kinds of other people are going to do ."
From Patricia Hearst's tape to her mother, February 1974
She rushes through the door in her tan raincoat and stylish hat, looking unnervingly like Betty Coed meeting her date in the dorm lobby. She is such a tiny person, almost resembling a lost child down to the trace of petulance in her face, that it seems someone must have made a mistake.
Could this girl with the dark, hollow-eyed look of a helpless Victorian heroine be Patricia Campbell Hearst, the most notorious kidnap victim since the Lindbergh baby, the woman once photographed holding a machine gun and dressed as Tanya, the dedicated revolutionary? It doesn't seem possible.
"Well, gee, this is what she really looks like," Hearst says, smiling in a way that serves only to enhance the dichotomy. Her story, the tale of an American ice princess taken captive not once but twice -- first by an obscure, psychotic cult and then by the more lurid aspects of American journalism, aspects ironically pioneered by her own grandfather -- has been perhaps the most fascination of the 1970s. Yet she looks too young to even remember it, let alone to have been its lead character. One feels a bit like Lincoln must have when he met "Uncle Tom's Cabin" author Harriet Beecher Stowe and said, "So you're the little lady who started the big war."
Patricia Hearst, the name she prefers, is now 24, almost five years older than she was on that strange February night in 1974 when she was dragged out of her Berkeley apartment wearing a dark blue robe and screaming "Not me! Oh please, not me!" Not until September of 1975 was the FBI able to track her down, and after a steamy, hotly contested trial, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for participating, along with other members of the erstwhile Symbionese Liberation Army, in the robbery of a San Francisco bank.
Hearst has served nearly 22 months of that sentence, the last seven-plus (following 18 months our on $1 million bond) in the medium security Federal Correctional Institution in Pleasanton, a small, 300-prisoner enclave placed in the middle of Camp Parks, a mothballed Army base 30 miles from San Francisco.
If Camp Parks with its row after row after row of absolutely empty barracks, looks like an errie set for "The Day The World Ended," the prison it encircles resembles a summer camp incongruously surrounded by a high, barbed-wire-topped fence. Its modernistic and angular, brown and beige buildings have no bars on their windows, and the staff carry no weapons, making Pleasanton seem pleasant for a prison. But as patricia Hearst aptly noted, "I don't see anybody lining up to spend six months here."
There is this surprising and refreshing tartness to Patricia Hearst, a flip, sassy, animated said that she acknowledges by responding to a request for self-analysis by calling herself "stubborn and sarcastic." She is the exact opposite of the passive automaton described by the reporters who covered her trial, and she is also, for the first time since I'affaire Hearst began, noticeably bouyant and hopeful about the future.
For one thing, she has fallen in love with and become engaged to Bernie Shaw, a 33-year-old San Francisco policeman who met her when he took a moonlighting assignment to be one of her bodyguards. He tries to visit Hearst at least twice a week, and when asked what she likes about him, she says, "just everything, I can't think of anything specific, it just sounds so corny."
In addition, her legal situation is imporving. She has discarded the flashy F. Lee Bailey in favor of another attorney -- a highly regarded, strictly business criminal lawyer maned Gerige Martinez, who is trying various legal maneuvers to get her sentence reduced or voided even before she comes up for parole in July.
And most encouraging of all, an honest-to-good-ness grass roots campaign has sprung up aimed at getting President Carter to grant her Clemency, perhaps as soon as this Christmas. The only unsettling note in all of this has been the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan, a prime mover in the clemency drive, whose letter to Hearst telling her to keep her "chin up" arrived at the prison the day his death in Guyana was confirmed.
Hearst has agreed to be interviewed in an attempt to do her bit to help what is officially known as the Committee for the Release of Patricia Hearst, a group which in addition to circulating clemency petitions distributed "jail Kidnapers. Not Their Victims" bumper stickers and "Thou Shalt Not Punis Kidnap Victims" bookmarks.
It is not her favorite pastime because, despite her spunkiness, she is very much a private person who say without hesitation that the first thing she wants to do when she gets out of prison is "Go hide, hibernate for a little while." Yet the people close to her have very shrewdly realized that the convincing, appealing way in which she presents her case, her very normality, is the most persuasive tool they have, and so they are using it.
"I've been quiet for so long thinking that that would somehow be a big help, that all the publicity, the weird gossipy stories, the National Enquirer baloney, would all die down, but it didn't" she explains. "So I decided to give interviews to let people know what I'm really like instead of reading totally madeup stories in gossip rags."
Much of her bouyancy, she confesses, comes from that noticeable shift in public opinion about her, the change in image from the spoiled rich girl to the despoiled martyr to brutal circumstance.
"As people get further away from the hysteria that took hold of the press and the country they realized they'd been caught up in something that wasn't really rational; they calmed down and in hindsight they realized 'Ooh, that was an ugly thing,'" she says by way of interpretation.
She pauses for a moment and then adds, over so slightly bitter, "It just seems like it was a real mass hysteria lynch mob. It was much more fun for everyone to believe I was this wild girl running around in college. It's much more fun to believe children are rebellious and in trouble than to believe children are rebellious and in trouble than to believe the truth."
As to exactly what did happen during the long months she was a conscript in the Symbionese Liberation Army, that is the one area that Hearst talks about unwillingly, if at all. This reticence appears to stem not from calculated coyness but rather from a genuine revulsion toward dealing with an experience of peak horror.
"It seems now like it was a bad dream, like waking up shaking from a nightmare and saying, 'God, it seemed so real,' except this time it was real," she says, making an effort to make you understand. "People forget how crazy they (the SLA) were; they were nuts; they took themselves very seriously, and needless to say I took them very seriously, too. I wasn't with a bunch of Cub Scouts.
"It's such a complicated area," she goes on, speaking softly at first and then with increasing emotion. "I still have trouble sorting out what was real, what I thought was real, what they thought was real. It was something that had to be done in my therapy, and it had to be done during the trial, but I don't want to have to go and sort it out again until I feel emotionally ready. I don't really think about it that much. I don't want to think about it. It's too horrible to go over."
Though she doesn't say so in so many words, Hearst's position is that as a captive of armed fanatics who deprived her of any links to reality and played games with her mind (a situation in many ways similar to the one in Guyana), she did whatever she did strictly to survive.
"Pure instinct got me through, brought me out and back to normal," she says. "I think that I had reserves I was never aware I had. Even when I was terrified of these people, when it seemed like everything had collapsed, a total will to survive took charge of everything. A friend of mind said that my will was so strong that according to Darwin, I owed it to the population to reproduce."
As for her parents, who visit her on as many of the four allowed visiting days per week as they can, "they're really proud of me for going through it. They've told me many times they don't think they could have survived what I did."
Any talk of the whys of Patricia Hearst's kidnaping inevitably comes back to her parents specifically and to her family, the fabled Hearst clan, in general. She can joke about why she was chosen -- "I wish it was a lottery, anything. I never win any prizes, yet out of 220 million persons they took me" -- but she obviously knows. "If I had been an ordinary daughter of an ordinary person I wouldn't have been kidnaped in the first place.
"And if I'd been the ordinary daughter of an ordinary person, I would have gotten probation by now. That's what's hardest for people to get over, my family's wealth, that's what's really bothering them. It's like because my family's wealthy, I should remain in prison. Somehow, I've become the symbol for all of that."
If Patricia Hearst is reticent in some areas, speculations about why she has received what she considers unfair treatment is not one of them, and the thoughts she expresses are both intriguing and provocative.
On one level she notes that "when the S.L.A. Kidnaped me, everyone thought they were a great big organization and they totally manipulated the press into printing all that garbage. When the truth came out, I think the anger at being taken in got directed onto me. And Watergate and Nixon's pardon didn't help. Pressure was put on the government to find a focus for all that hostility and I was the convenient scapegoat. I got what some people were hoping Nixon would get."
As to why the general public viewed her at first with such outright malevolence, her ideas are pricklier still. "If I could have just been killed instead of captured, people wouldn't have had to face those things in themselves, to face what happened to me could have happened to anybody," she says.
"Everybody has weaknesses, and there are people capable of exploiting you, manipulating those weaknesses if they can get hold of you. Nobody likes to see weaknesses in themselves, to realize what can happen to persons when they're put under stress and sensory deprivation, to think of themselves as doing anything to stay alive. They think they'd say 'Kill me first,' just like in the movies, and get saved at the last second. In my case" -- and here she cannot resist a faint smile -- "it didn't happen that way."
As rankling as that initial public enmity has been the way she has been treated by the media. "I've been exploited by virtually everyone who's come in contact with me," she says calmly, reciting a list of books by a cast of authors ranging from her former fiance to her former guard. The latest example, a projected TV movie called "Get Patty Hearst" and based on the recollections of former FBI agent Charles Bates, seems especially galling.
"It's the FBI version of how they finally caught me after 18 months of falling all over themselves," she says tartly. "You'd think they'd want to forget their performance. No, I'm not resigned to this at all. It seems like I'm going to write something myself one of these days. It seems like I don't have any choice right now."
Any writing, however, will have to wait until Hearst gets out of prison, where her current assignment is in bakery detail. She spends her spare time crocheting and reading, sometimes best sellers like "Tai Pan" and sometimes her voluminous mail. "Every now and then I get one or two they say 'We hate you, we hate you,' stuff like that, always unsigned, but recently it's almost all been favorable," she says. "Last Monday I got 250 letters and every one was positive. That's what really keeps me going."
Noticeably less supportive have been some of Hearst's fellow prisoners, who, among other things, placed a dead rat in her bed the day Bill and Emily Harris pleaded guilty to her kidnaping. "Yes, things like that do happen. It's not just in the movies," she says. "People in here are jealous of the campaign -- they feel if they're in prison everyone else should be there, too. But things have gotten better. Some of the most obnoxious people have left. The government let them go. You'll be happy to know they're walking around the streets instead of being in here."
When she herself gets out, Hearst's still unformed plans for the future include, besides marriage to Shaw, "working in the women's movement, helping women with situations similar to mine, counseling battered wives, that type of work." The only thing she knows for sure, and it is potentially a crushing bit of knowledge, is that she can never again lead lead a conventionally normal life.
"I don't know whether it's possible, the whole case became so bizarre, it was blown up into such a big thing that public attention is probably focused on me pretty permanently," she admits. "Even when I was out, security has just become part of our lives. It's not just guards, it's miking reservations in a different name when I go to restaurants, always looking around me when I go anyplace, being careful of who's next to me when I go through a crowd. Everything's changed."
Yet if anything is most striking about Patricia Campbell Hearst, if anything illustrates her strengths of mind, it is how well she seems to have adjustes her strengths of mind, it is how well she seems to have adjusted to that eventuality.
"If this is the way it is, I'll just have to cope with it, I'd be a nervous wreck if I tried to figure out all the ways I could escape it," she says with surprising conviction. "I'm a realist. Whatever my life is is going to be normal for me."