Oregon: I Can't Go Home

Randy Leonard

If you were a teenager or older in the early 70’s, especially if you lived in Oregon, you will remember the story of Jo Ann McDaniel of Salem, Oregon.

Jo Ann was 27 years old in 1973 and traveling in Turkey when she and two friends, also from the United States, were arrested in Turkey for smuggling hashish.

Jo Ann and her friends were sentenced to death. However, after a huge backlash in the United States (especially in Oregon) and because of the questionable culpability of Jo Ann, Turkish authorities relented and reduced her sentence to life in prison.

Inspired by the front page stories of Jo Ann McDaniel’s horrific plight, a struggling band from around the Salem area, Blackhawk County, led by lead singer Bill Coleman, wrote a song entitled “Oregon; I can’t go Home”.

Imagine a young, frightened woman unjustly jailed in a Turkish prison under a numbing life sentence. Now imagine her closing her eyes and singing this song as her thoughts drift back to her home in Oregon:

Turkish_prison_1

They say the Oregon rain will get you down,
But I hunger for the freshness of its sound
The wind, the sun, the things that I have known before,
Now seem like faded ghosts, like shadows on the floor

I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!

Let me roam endless hours on my own ...
Take me home, back to where green trees grow ...
I feel so lonely and forgotten in this place ...
I'm losing hope, my mind is troubled by disgrace ...

I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!

I've painted pictures on the blank walls of my cell ...
I've walked through countless dreams no mortal words can tell ...
I feel how lonely and forgotten I could be ...
My heart is crying out to those who hold the key ...

I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!
I can't go home ...

When the song hit the airwaves in 1974 it was a hit. The story behind the song soon followed. People now heard the lyrics from Jo Ann McDonald's perspective. What had been originally heard as a beautiful song transformed into a haunting plea for mercy that struck a deep, visceral –nearly painful- chord within many Americans...but especially so for Oregonians.

I came across this post about the song on Rob Kremer’s blog earlier this evening. Rob’s excellent post linked to Bill Coleman's web page (click on "Oregon" on the sidebar) where Bill explains in detail how he was inspired to write and record “Oregon; I Can’t Go Home”.

For anyone that remembers the saga of Jo Ann McDaniel, Bill Coleman’s recounting of the story is compelling and fascinating.

As you visit Bill Coleman’s site, please note that he offers the original recording of “Oregon” as a free mp3 download.

What a treat.

Thank you, Rob, for your post.

And thank you, Bill Coleman, for your wonderful story and generous sharing of your gifted work, “Oregon: I Can’t Go Home”. I -and many of my generation- are in your debt.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    The songwriter has not seen Joanne since a few months after she was released from prison after getting back to American in a prisoner exchange. He told me that he often wonders what became of her.

    One of my readers did some sleuthing and thinks he may have found her down in Coos County (which is where she grew up) and in the comments section of my blog post has posted the address and phone # that might be her.

    Would be interesting to see what she is doing now. I remember that song so well, and Randy is right, its haunting tone did indeed touch some kind of visceral chord with me that I carried with me for the last three decades.

  • Sponge (unverified)
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    I haven't heard that song for over 30 years, but it plays in my head every once in a while. Good words, Randy. Thanks.

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    I wonder if her story was the inspiration for Brokedown Palace, with Claire Danes. Similar story, except it was Thailand instead of Turkey. Thanks for the writeup, Randy.

  • jami (unverified)
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    Perhaps she knows how a huge percentage of black men and women in America feel. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/racepris.htm

    I'm glad she was eventually freed, but it might be good to examine our own justice system before we go pointing accusing fingers far away, deep in the past.

  • K Fish (unverified)
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    Wow! I remember listening to this song in grade school. For some reason I remember being told it had been written by prisoners - it's great to know the true story. Thanks for posting this!

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)
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    How nice that someone's posted her address and phone number publicly on a blog. I bet she really appreciates that.

    And I have to agree with Jami. I, too, am glad she's free and I understand the local perspective of this story, but our own justice system - especially as it relates to the "war on drugs" - is a mess. And I have to wonder why the thought of "a young, frightened woman unjustly jailed in a Turkish prison under a numbing life sentence" should be any more compelling than a young, frightened woman (or man) unjustly jailed in an American prison under a numbing life sentence - or any sentence for that matter.

    But it's not really politically correct or conducive to fight for the little guy against "the man" anymore, is it?

  • Jim Pozey (unverified)
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    Madam Hatter: Care to give us an example of some folks unjustly imprisoned in America?

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    Oh! Oh! Let me.

    Every single person who is in jail and has physically endangered no one, done no violence, and stolen no property.

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)
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    Thanks Pat.

    Jim- Seriously? How much time have you got?

    And Pat refers only to unjust laws. It isn't too hard to find countless cases of people who've been wrongfully convicted - and therefore unjustly imprisoned - of violating "just" laws (like murder) as well. [Try Googling "wrongful conviction cases"]

    Briefly, here's some from Oregon: from Center on Wrongful Convictions:

    The Exonerated: Oregon Christopher Boots William Branson Jasper Jenkins Theodore V. Jordan Santiago Ventura Morales John Pender Eric Proctor Lem Woon

  • Happy Hatter (unverified)
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    I think you missed the whole point Madame Hatter.

    A group of musicians used their talents to write and publish a song for Jo Anne McDaniel. They donated all of the proceeds to her while she was in prison so that she might have the essentials of life.

    The generosity and attention this group brought to Ms. McDaniel's plight also raised public awareness of her unjust imprisonment. It is that attention that saved Jo Anne's life and ultimately led to her release.

    Fortunately for Jo Anne, she did not come from a generation of supporters who did nothing but bitch and whine, all the while anonymously.

  • Robert Ted Hinds (unverified)
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    That's really heavy, Randy. Kudos for writing about it. People need to face the harsh realities that exist out there, even if they don't experience them personally.

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)
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    Happy Hat-

    Thanks for reiterating the obvious. Sorry it took so long for me to see it.

    Actually, it is you who missed my point because I was perhaps a bit too subtle. I have a tendency to be too blunt and outspoken and have tried to temper that in my old age, and sometimes when I try to be tactful, I'm too oblique. So here's my point:

    [DISCLAIMER: This is criticism but is not meant to offend anyone, so I apologize in advance if I do.]

    I find it ironic that on Blue Oregon, which rarely, if ever mentions - let alone criticizes - the local police or criminal justice issues as they effect "the little guy," that so many people could wax nostalgic about this one particular (long ago and far away) injustice without acknowledging (by even occasionally writing about it here) what's going on right here, right now in our own country and neighborhoods.

    And I'm sorry Randy, I support you on a lot of things and have thanked and applauded you here when I do, but you guys in city hall have got to do something about all the "deaths by cop" and other LE scandals around here. I know it's really Potter's deal and I know you're just Portland and can't control the whole state, but you can certainly talk about it, set an example and lead the way.

    That's not to say all cops are bad or everyone in prison is there unjustly. I don't want to start on that false dichotomy of choices. But the cops that are bad - or are under-trained, or burnt out, or otherwise not handling situations optimally - and the policies that condone them, need to be changed.

    The militarization of LE correlates to (and was funded by) the overly-punitive and hysterical war on drugs which in turn, leads to increasingly punitive laws elsewhere (Measure 11). When it's OK to marginalize and/or take away the rights of one group of people (ie, pot smokers, or the homeless for example) it's easier to do the same to others - the old slippery slope. And pretty soon, as we've now seen with habeus corpus, 200 years of freedom and democracy go down the tubes and people are rotting in prison for non-violent crimes (or are summarily executed for peeing in the street)... just like in Turkey.

    The Oregonian just reported on the AG's new "Organized Crime" report. The article goes into great length about the alleged gangs of Uzi-toting pot farmers who (they make it sound like) are going to start mowing down droves of hunters on opening day. So far, they've arrested five illegal immigrants who are there working off their debt for getting smuggled into the USA. Fear-mongering anyone?

    Sorry for the rant and for raining on everyone's trip down memory lane. I just thought this was all kind of ironic.

  • (Show?)

    (or are summarily executed for peeing in the street)... just like in Turkey.

    I don't know what happened, and don't feel in a position to judge. I know if someone tried to bite me, it would piss me off. I don't know what I'd do, but then I don't carry a gun either, or handcuffs, and don't have the responsibility of keeping the streets "safe."

    What I DO know...or, I'll bet? Turkey has places for people to pee. Public places. Other countries are sort of civilized that way, unlike the Pearl where...well, where DO you go?

  • Miss Obvious (unverified)
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    Unfortunately Ms. Madam Hatter, you have not grasped the obvious.

    You have used your energy here to rant about amorphous injustices that you have yet to offer any specifics about.

    Please resist the temptation to pound out another angry response to Blue Oregon readers citing various web page links and other such indistinct references.

    Had you commented here with a plea for the plight of just one victim of an unjust imprisonment -including offering specifics- you may have actually begun a movement just like for, hmmmm, I wonder who?

    As was stated a few comments above I am sure Ms. McDaniel, if she is reading this, is thanking the heavens above that she did not have advocates like you fighting for her release.

    If she did she would still be alone and forgotten but most likely dead.

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)
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    So much for my disclaimer...

    Not sure what "amorphous injustices" you are referring to but the "web page links and other such indistinct references" I cited above were merely in response to Jim Pozey's question:

    "Care to give us an example of some folks unjustly imprisoned in America?"

    I happen to believe, like Jami and Pat Ryan noted above, that "it might be good to examine our own justice system before we go pointing accusing fingers far away, deep in the past," and that "every single person who is in jail and has physically endangered no one, done no violence, and stolen no property" has been unjustly imprisoned.

    But Jim (perhaps ironically?) asked for an example. So I gave him several. From Oregon. Who were exonerated - and therefore proven to be unjustly incarcerated. If you or anyone else now need specifics in order to verify the information I provided, do the research yourself. It's not like it's hard to find.

    And, hey, I'm not out to start a movement nor did I find fault with the movement for Ms. McDonald. I think what was done was great. I just think it's sad that that kind of activism - and the same type of issues - are rarely discussed or even mentioned on the leading progressive political blog in the state.

    Finally, since none of you know me from Adam, I find it hilarious that you feel justified in blithely condemning me personally with statements like:

    "Ms. McDaniel, if she is reading this, is thanking the heavens above that she did not have advocates like you fighting for her release. If she did she would still be alone and forgotten but most likely dead."

    and

    "Fortunately for Jo Anne, she did not come from a generation of supporters who did nothing but bitch and whine, all the while anonymously."

    • especially from hypocrits who also "bitch and whine" (aka blog) anonymously!

    FYI - I'm very active in the issues that I feel strongly about and, do a hell of a lot more than just bitch about them online. In fact, our efforts have led to a federal civil suit being filed - the only recourse available to us to seek justice in this particular matter.

    When I have tried to bring up this specific case on Blue Oregon, it was ignored. Or criticized - as this post proves. As has been almost every reference I've made to the general topics of police use of force, the war on drugs, or our dysfunctional criminal justice system.

    Just recently, there were three people killed by cops in one weekend here in Oregon. In Clackamas County, 4 out of the 10 homicides that occured in the county last year were committed by cops. 40%!

    Whether you believe they were all justified or not, it was big news for every media outlet and a hot topic on many local blogs. But not even a word about any of it here. Not even a mention, as far as I saw. The movers and shakers in the Democratic party in Oregon - the party that's supposed to be protectors of, and advocates for, the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless - were and still are silent.

    If by pointing that out, I offend anyone, I'm sorry. But you confuse the issue with your personal attacks and by misconstruing my words to imply that I was doing the same about the movement for Ms. McDaniel.

  • Rocky Wilson (unverified)
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    Randy, I've seen Bill Coleman play dozens of times. His support of Joann McDaniels was a big deal in the day. If you get the chance, drop in on his gig. He does "Crying" better than you do.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)
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    "He does "Crying" better than you do."

    No Way!

    Is he still in the Salem area, Rocky? Does he still do "Oregon".

    Drop by BO more often...I can always use the help.

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