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Identity Memo: "Question Authority"

Anne Dalke's picture

When I was in high school in the ‘60s (gasp), as part of a research project on LSD, I wrote to request information from Timothy Leary—infamous @ the time for his experimentation with psychedelic substances, arrested often enough “to see the inside of 29 different prisons worldwide," known for catchphrases such as "think for yourself" and "question authority." Leary responded with a standard cover letter and some printed material, which I found very helpful. I got an “A” on the project.

When I finished high school, I was accepted into ICYE (the International Christian Youth Exchange Program), excited to be spending a year living with a family and attending a 13th year of high school in Schleswig, in northern Germany.

But then my father got a phone call from the local Sheriff’s office, saying that my name had turned up on a list, distributed by the FBI, of Leary’s “associates,” and that questions had been raised about the propriety and possibility of my leaving the country.

I fancied myself a rebel in those days (okay, still…) and I laughed out loud at this story. But, of course, I was only free to do so because I was surrounded by privilege: my father (who “just happened” to be the Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia) spoke to a few people. He gave me hell—why did I write that letter? Did I have a copy? Didn’t I know that I should make copies of all my correspondence?--but he also got me expunged from the list. And I got to go to Germany, where I spent 1968-69 with a liberal-leaning family, whose perspectives got me questioning the (rural Southern law-abiding) culture I’d been raised in…

All of which is to say that I “offended,” but wasn’t “victimized,” because of a whole panoply of privileges. I know, from the few years I’ve been facilitiating reading groups in prison, that the institution is filled with women who don’t share those privileges, who didn’t have powerful fathers to keep out of trouble—or to get them out once they’ve gotten themselves into it.

I don’t laugh anymore as I tell my story, or as I listen to theirs….

What I like most about being there is the honesty and directness of our conversations; there isn’t much empty posturing.