Sara Jane Olson, the former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive who became a Minnesota housewife and is now serving prison time for trying to bomb police cars in the 1970s, says she tries to hide her radical past from her fellow inmates.
In letters and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, Olson described how life at the Central California Women’s Facility had changed her.
“I’m older — oh, who am I kidding, I’m old — and I’ve become really paranoid,” Olson, 59, said in an article published Monday. “I’ve also become very good at masking my emotions. It scares my daughters, when they see my face, but in here, it’s just what you do to survive.”
Olson had been a member of the SLA, the group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974. Known then as Kathleen Soliah, Olson was charged with the 1975 attempted bombings of Los Angeles police cars, and she disappeared from California.
She was caught 24 years later when her minivan was pulled over by police near her St. Paul, Minn., home. She had changed her name and her life, living as a housewife with a husband and three school-age daughters.
Olson eventually pleaded guilty for the attempted bombings and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. She also is serving a separate six-year sentence for a Sacramento-area bank robbery that left one person dead. According to the Times, she is expected to be released in 2009.
Olson said few inmates are aware of her past.
“For me to come forward with some kind of spiel about what I did in those times, and what was happening from a political perspective, it’s just not a discussion for public consumption right now. That’s the old life,” she said.
In prison, Olson has limited privileges. She earns 24 cents an hour emptying trash cans. She watches TV, writes letters and walks for hours around the prison yard.
Before she arrived in prison, Olson thought her stay would be educational, but now, she said, “I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone.”
About 10 times a year, her husband, Fred Peterson, comes to visit from Minnesota and tries to bring at least one of the couple’s daughters.
“We make the most of it,” Peterson said. “Visits are what keep everything going, so we consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to be able to go.”