we ended our conversation, agreeing tornresume it at one of Jessica’s few remainingrnSan Jose State classes after the holidays.rn”Do come to class,” Jessica said,rn”we’re having some convicts in.”rnJessica taught two classes: “MuckrakingrnTechniques,” a relatively small classrnof about twenty students, and “ThernAmerican Way,” a huge lecture class ofrnthree hundred or so. It was in the latterrnclass—the texts for which were booksrnlike George Jackson’s Soledad Brotherrnand Ramsey Clark’s Crime in America—rnthat the convicts were scheduled to perform.rnAll was confusion in the huge lecturernhall: the microphone wouldn’trnwork; a terrified dog scurried about withrnseveral hirsute, scruffy students chasingrnafter it; and Jessica, looking like LillianrnGish playing a governess, ordered thernconvicts about, shooing them into theirrnseats on the cluttered stage, instructingrnthem how long to speak, and so forth.rnFrom talking with various students inrnthe audience, I gathered that the studentsrnwere looking forward to a sequencernof prison atrocity stories—talesrnin the Devil’s Island genre. But the convictsrn(ex-cons, really)—Earl Johnson, arnman in his 60’s, who’d spent most ofrnhis life in prison; Willy Holder, presidentrnof the Convicts’ Union; and twornyoung women who identified themselvesrnonly as Patty and Joyce—didn’t quiterndeliver. Earl, a likable man who’d startedrnhis career by stealing (for Detroit’s PurplernGang) a boxcar of U. S. Army machinernguns, began his talk by reading hisrnbirth certificate and going on, day byrnday, from there. After an hour or so, Jessicarnwas forced to cut him off. Willy,rnhead of the Prisoners’ Progressive ArtrnLeague, as well as president of the Convicts’rnUnion, spent most of his time deploringrnthe fact that prison authoritiesrntake back nearly 45 percent of the earningsrnprison artists make selling theirrnwork. And one of the young women—rnPatty, 1 think it was—seemed more interestedrnin bombarding the audiencernwith obscenities than in relating prisonrnhorrors. Patty, pasty-faced and sporting arnyellow beehive hairdo, was primarily agitatedrnabout prison restrictions on whatrnshe obviously regarded as her constitutionalrnright to free and frequent fornication.rn”Man, who’s to say you can’t f—?rnMan, I don’t care if you’re in the Joint orrnnot, Man that’s f—ing with your head.rnThat’s a lot of sh~.”rnAlmost three hours went by, and itrnwas nearly time for the class to endrnwhen Jessica began asking for questionsrnfrom the audience. “Now I know,” shernsaid, “that everyone is intensely interestedrnin questioning our convicts [Jessicarnpronounced it, ‘Awah Cawnvicts’],rnso shall we start?”rnThere was a long silence before someonern—obviously determined to hear atrnleast one solid atrocity story—askedrnWilly to elaborate on the horrible problemrnof homosexuality in prison. Willy,rnplainly eager to get back to the plightrnof the prison artist, replied impatiently:rn”The homosexual problem is no worsernin prison than it is anywhere else.” Thernclass had gone into overtime; studentsrnwere streaming out, and Jessica wasrnforced to call things to a halt.rnJessica’s smaller class, “MuckrakingrnTechniques,” required each student torndo some sort of muckraking project orrnreport. “Some of the projects are jollyrngood,” Jessica informed me, “and somernare smashing. One student built arnminiature casket, complete with foamrnrubber and velvet lining.” Of the reports,rnJessica said, “they don’t have tornbe anything terribly definite, you know.rnI mean, they can be extremely flexible.rnOne student is sort of looking over thernpremises at San Quentin and having arnsort of forceful speaking out on the matter.”rnIn both classes, Jessica made muchrnuse of visiting speakers; of her friends:rnpeople like Bettina Aptheker, Maya Angelou,rnAngela Davis, Germaine Greer,rnthe editors of Ramparts, various BlackrnPanthers, and others; and of her enemies:rnvarious undertakers, FBI agents,rnprison officials, and businessmen. Thernday I attended her class she was having arnblack psychologist. “His eyes are out ofrnline—you know, he flies his own plane,rnthat sort of thing. He bashed it up orrnfell out of it or something. He sings inrnFrench and mimics cockneys marvelously.”rnWe were in the corridor outside therncourtroom of San Jose Superior CourtrnJudge William Ingram, who was to renderrnthe final decision on the fingerprintsrnbusiness—”The Great Finger Flap,” asrnJessica called it. In an earlier compromiserndecision, Jessica had agreed to letrnthe court keep her fingerprints in arnsealed envelope pending a final decision,rnwhich boiled down to: if Jessicarnwon, the court would return the fingerprintsrnin the sealed envelope to her; ifrnshe lost, the court would give the printsrnto San Jose State.rnI remember Jessica staring out therncorridor window at some rose bushes. “Irnsay, roses in January—smashing.”rnReporters appeared and Jessica alternatedrnbetween talking to them, consultingrnwith her lawyer, David Nawi, andrngiving orders to her student assistant,rnNovelle Johnson. “Novelle, do run andrnfetch a newspaper. I must see my horoscope.rnAnd do check and see whenrnChannel 4 is coming.”rnBy my count, that day was the fourthrntime in as many months that Jessica hadrntaken San Jose State to court—a schedulernJessica thrived on. Jessica’s enemies,rnmany of whom expressed themselves inrnletters to the editors of Bay Area newspapers,rncontended that the San Jose litigationrnwas an answer to Jessica’s prayers.rn”It gives her what the Mitfords have alwaysrncraved,” said one letter writer, “lotsrnof publicity; and it gives her another opportunityrnto do what she does best—rnbring out the worst in people.” A TVrncameraman complained: “She’s usingrnthis thing to promote that g~damn bookrnof hers [Kind and Usual Punishment].rnEvery time she gets a chance, she tries tornstick that g—damn book in front of myrncamera.” Whatever Jessica’s motives,rnshe certainly succeeded in bringing outrnthe worst in various of the San Jose Staternofficials. “She has,” said a San Jose Staternprofessor, “succeeded in taking a grouprnof ordinary and really quite amiablernbumblers and making them look like extraordinaryrnoafs and bullies.”rnWith malice toward all, Jessica handledrnthe college officials—just as shernhandled the undertakers and just as shernhandled the late Bennett Cerf (whomrnshe inveigled into making such devastatingrnadmissions about the FamousrnWriters School as “Frankly, it’s an appealrnto the gullible”). Again and again,rnJessica succeeded in bringing out thernworst in the officials and their lawyers, inrntrapping them into saying and doingrnthings that showed them up as increasinglyrnpetty and stupid, as far worse thanrnthey really were. The officials fired her;rnshe forced them to rehire her. They canceledrnher classes; she forced them tornreschedule her classes. They refused tornpay her; she forced them to pay her. Andrnall with much publicity and fanfare. Thernofficials, from the start, were caught inrnthe Mitford tarbaby, and the more theyrnpunched and kicked, the more foolishlyrntarbound they became.rnJessica’s finest hour for bringing outrnthe worst in the San Jose State officialsrnDECEMBER 1992/47rnrnrn