The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘My 82-year-old bones hurt’: Jane Fonda spent the night in jail to protest U.S. inaction on climate change

Jane Fonda exits the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse in Washington on Saturday after spending the night in jail. (Hannah Natanson/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

One of the first things Hollywood star Jane Fonda did in jail was give up her red coat.

The wraparound garment — colored the exact shade of a winterberry — earned fame of its own over the past month, becoming a trademark feature of Fonda’s weekly appearances on Capitol Hill to protest the United States’ lack of action on reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases.

Fonda, who is holding the anti-climate change “Fire Drill Fridays” with advocacy groups Greenpeace and Code Pink, among others, was arrested mid-protest around noon on Nov. 1 — marking the fourth time police apprehended her but the first time they incarcerated her for civil disobedience.

Jail — where Fonda, 82, spent the night Friday — was apparently chilly.

“There was a woman who was very cold and I loaned her my coat,” Fonda said in an interview shortly after she was released Saturday afternoon (without charges, according to her attorney Mark Goldstone). “But I did have to take it back: It was my mattress.”

Jane Fonda was arrested leading an environmental protest on Capitol Hill

Fonda had checked with a guard, she said, who told her that accepting one of the provided mattresses would be a “pretty bad” idea. The guard insisted: “You would not want a mattress here,” Fonda said. So the Academy Award-winning actress splayed her coat across a metal cot and settled in as best she could.

At least the food was decent. Fonda dined on a baloney-and-cheese sandwich that “tasted good,” she said. Less ideal were her dining companions. “I’ve got all the cockroaches on a first-name basis,” Fonda quipped as she rode the escalator at H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse.

Other discomforts were ethical, not material.

The time in a D.C. cell spurred thoughts of her first time behind bars, in 1970, when Fonda spent the night in a Cleveland jail after she was falsely accused of drug smuggling. Fonda, who was apprehended while returning from an anti-Vietnam War fundraiser in Canada, posed for her mug shot stony-faced, one fist uplifted — an image that came to symbolize women’s defiance and launched a hair revolution in America.

“When I was overnight in jail in Cleveland … it was all white, and now it’s all black — it’s called the new Jim Crow,” Fonda said, referencing the fact that African Americans are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites in the United States. “And that makes me sad.”

Why Jane Fonda moved to D.C. to combat climate change

Still, the past did not distract from the present for long. Riding up the escalator, Fonda peppered the group of friends and family that came to collect her with questions.

“Did anything interesting happen in the world?” she asked, then added without pausing for an answer: “Anything new on impeachment?”

Outside, as she strode past TV crews clamoring for interviews and climbed into a waiting black car, Fonda’s thoughts narrowed to even more immediate concerns. She cited a strong desire to head home and take a shower.

Fonda has moved to Washington for the duration of the protests, which are slated to continue until early January. And she plans to keep participating. But she’d like to avoid another night on a mattress-less metal cot.

“As one of my jailers said, ‘There’s gotta be better ways to call attention to your cause — don’t come back,’ ” Fonda said. “I think she’s right. … My 82-year-old bones hurt.”

Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.