Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I Became an All-Expense Paid Guest of Uncle Sam—The Waiting

I tried to divert myself with Christmas.  A trip to State Street  was in order.

Note: This series of posts all first appeared on The Third City Blog.

The months between my refusal of induction into the Army in early December of 1972 and my March rendezvous with destiny at my Federal trial went by in kind of a blur.  Actually, I spent a lot of time trying very, very hard not to think about it.  You can imagine how well that went.

There were distractions.  The festive holiday season, for instance.  My folks had decamped Skokie for semi-retirement in beautiful Des Moines, Iowa where my Mom, in delicate physical and mental health, had family.  I had told my father what was going on, but we agreed that Mom could not handle the stress of the news.  He wished me well, but thought it advisable not to visit for the holiday lest something slip out.  

My twin brother and his wife had gone to the west coast where they were doing the Lord’s work in a cult.  That pretty much exhausted my family connections save scattered aunts, uncles and cousins. 
So we spent Christmas with my girl friend Cecelia’s Jewish family in Elgin.  They tried to make nice but were obviously less than thrilled with their daughter’s choice of an exceptionally scruffy Goy with no good prospects.  

I knew that she yearned for a nice warm, fleece lined coat fashionable that year.  I couldn’t afford the real thing.  But I did save up enough money to purchase, at what was probably my first ever visit to a suburban discount store, what I thought was an acceptable faux fleece coat.  It set me back $25 or $30, a tidy sum for me in those days. 

I proudly let her Mom peek at my gift after we arrived Christmas Eve day.  Anyway, the next thing I know, they are taking her out to Joseph Spies, Elgin’s premier downtown department store.  When they returned she had on a real thick coat, nice natural suede on the outside.  That’s the kind of Christmas it was.

New Years Eve, of course, was for one of the legendary Wobbly party Bacchanals featuring fifty or more folks jammed into an apartment, unlimited booze, and reefer to spare.  There was, of course, singing.  Much singing.

But cold gray January had to come.  I went about my routine—the night shift at Schwinn, the Industrial Worker on weekends, drinking when-ever possible. Towards the end of the month Cecelia suggested that I should begin to make preparations for my trial.

So I called the good folks at the American Friend Service Committee who did counseling for Resistors.  They wanted me to come down, but I preferred talking on the phone.  Over the course of several conversations, they uncovered what might be an actual defense to the charges—the glimmer of hope that I could have my cake and eat it too by being a heroic (in my eyes) figure while taking a walk on a technicality.

It turned out that the Draft Board had called me after my three year “window of opportunity” for eligibility to be called up had expired.  When I inquired of the Board how this could be, I was told that I had been “removed from the pool” pending investigation for dangerous Un-American and subversive activity on account of my membership in the IWW, which was officially on the Attorney Generals List of bad organizations alongside various Communist, Nazi, and Ku Klux Klan outfits.  I had never been informed that my name had been suspended, and then re-instated with the time ticking again as of the suspension. 

My counselor thought that I had a plausible ground to plead good faith in refusing induction because I wasn’t informed.

The next step was getting a lawyer.  There was no way I could afford a private lawyer.  I may have been doing better, but I was still basically living pay check to pay check, just a little more comfortably.  The good Quakers recommended the lawyers at the People’s Law Office.  

I knew them.  Their office was on Halstead Street in spitting distance from the IWW Headquarters on Webster.  Sometimes we would share a drink or two at Glascott’s Groggery.  They were radicals, earnest and meant well.  They started off defending the hundreds rounded up and arrested during the Democratic Convention in ’68.  Do you know how many cases they got dismissed for lack of evidence or how many acquittals they won?  Zero. Zip.  Every single person arrested in conjunction with those demonstrations was convicted.  

Now I knew that the fix was in.  But a 100% loss rate did not give me confidence in Movement lawyers, no matter how well intentioned.

My final option was the Federal Public Defender Program.  That’s where attorneys in private practice volunteered to represent indigent defendants.  That was me.  Assignment was at random from a pool of volunteers.  I drew Jason Bellows, one of the top corporate lawyers in Chicago.  A real legal heavy weight.  Encouraged I set up an appointment to meet him about a week before the trial.

We met at the digs of his large law firm.  Probably on LaSalle Street, but I don’t remember.  I do remember the accommodations were plush and the view out of the window of his office was spectacular.  Bellows was in his late 40’s or early 50’s.  He was nattily dressed in a very expensive suit and sporting a red bow tie.  He was the first man I ever met who obviously had a manicure.  His handshake was warm and soft.  He had a fringe of dark hair and spoke with a smooth, cultured tone.

Early in our interview I noted his resemblance to Chicago’s leading literary icon.  He nonchalantly admitted to being Saul Bellows’ brother.  I was impressed.  He seemed interested in me and my situation.  He listened intently, I thought, while I outlined the legal strategy recommended by the American Friends and gave him the telephone number of my councilor if he had any questions.  We wrapped up the interview in about twenty minutes of his very valuable, billable time.

The next time we would see each other would be in court.  But I was feeling pretty confident.  

Next:  The Trial!

1 comment:

  1. I knew there was a reason I liked you. I burned my draft card on Grant Park Lawn then too. When called later that year, I was living in Detroit, and I resisted. A couple of FBI guys visited me where I lived, but I think since I appeared harmless and merely confused, they went away and never came back. I was never tried for it, and the crime disappeared from my record when I was forty.