Thursday May 23, 2013
Oregon (I can't go home): The Rest of the StoryBonnie King Salem-News.com
The song written to spotlight the plight of an Oregon woman serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison remained at number one in 1974 for nine weeks in the NW, and was number 16 on Billboard's national charts.
(SALEM, Ore.) - In recognizing Oregon's 150th birthday, I was recently serenaded by a group of fifth graders singing "Oregon, My Oregon". I love that song. As I thought about my Oregon background, another very poignant song came to mind.
"Oregon (I can't go home)" by Black Hawk County wasn't an official song for our state, but made a large impression on me while growing up here in the 70's. It was beautiful, and really connected myself and my friends to the Oregon we knew and loved.
As country kids, we relied on the AM radio as our link to the world "out there". We had our clock radios set to 62KGW and started our day the same way we ended it- singing along to the top 40.
We listened to our transister radios all summer long; in the strawberry fields and on the buses, while we rode horses through the hills, while we slept outside under the stars. Prior to the FM revolution, nobody could beat AM rock.
During the summer of '74, one song took over the airwaves. It was the haunting tale by a local band, in rememberance of a girl from Oregon who was being held in a Turkish prison.
The Portland DJ told the story of how this song was written to help a young woman who had been found guilty of smuggling hashish and was sentenced to life in prison in Turkey, along with her two traveling partners.
Every time the song came on, we were affected. The plight of the three young people and their absence from our world seemed very physical, it pulled on our heart strings. Guilty or not, we missed them, without ever having known them.
I distinctly remember the song bringing me to tears, and it did so again today.
"Oregon (I can't go home)" by Black Hawk County was number one for nine weeks in the Northwest, and rose to number 16 on the Billboard Charts.
The band wrote the song with a specific purpose. They had heard about Joann McDaniels, a University of Oregon student who had taken a sabbatical from school, and was now in prison in Turkey.
JoAnn was from Coos Bay, and had last seen her parents in 1972, when she came home for a six-week visit, then she returned to Spain where she was living with friends. Soon thereafter, she and her two compansions, Bob Hubbard and Kathy Zenz, were arrested by Turkish border authorities, charged with smuggling hashish, and initially sentenced to death in December 1973.
Their sentence was later commuted to life in prison, which could be as little as forty years, if they were lucky.
According to a March 1974 People's Magazine article, the trio "had the misfortune to be arrested shortly after the United States had put pressure on the Turkish government to crack down on their country's opium trade, one of its principal cash crops. The Turkish courts were in no mood to be lenient toward Americans."
The band was told that Joann's greatest fear was that she would become a faint, fond memory held only by close family and friends. They knew they could write a song that would tell her story and draw attention to the case.
"Black Hawk County never made any attempt to claim her innocence, but we vigorously protested the harshness of her sentence, and did all that we could to keep her plight in the public eye," said Bill Coleman, songwriter.
So, what's the whole story?
The group of three is said to have hosted a middle eastern tour made up of European college students. Bob, Joann and Kathy were each driving a van of students, and the headliners had been lined with 265 pounds of Syrian hashish. They were driving the vans back to Germany, where they had departed from, and that's supposedly where the hashish would have been sold.
But they didn't make it that far, they were stopped at the border, apparently set up by the very drug dealer who sold Bob the hash.
"Bob Hubbard claimed full responsibility for the entire operation at the trial," Coleman explained. "Bob had attempted to convince the Turkish authorities at the time of their arrest that the scheme was all his idea. The Turks didn't buy a word of it."
All three were sent to a small prison in the ancient city of Antioch. The women shared a 15-by-20-foot cell with as many as 30 other women. In February, 1974, they were transferred to a larger prison at Adana, which housed convicts with long sentences.
The girls spent much of their time writing to friends and relatives at home, haunted by the fear that they would be forgotten.
Kathy wrote to her parents, "It's against the American story-telling grain to have someone in a situation he can't get out of. This isn't a story — it's real life. How will I get out of this one?" According to People Magazine.
Coleman said, "We felt it would be terribly distasteful for us to profit from Joann's misfortune. So, all of the proceeds, every last cent, were kept in trust for her. We never saw a single penny for our efforts."
The proceeds from the sale of the song paid for Joann to finish her degree from the University of Oregon while she was still in prison, through correspondence courses.
"We kept that secret to ourselves all these years, feeling it was no one else's business," Coleman said. "No one has ever known until now... and now you know how we got rich from our one hit."
After over six years in a Turkish prison, Joann, Bob and Kathy were returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange in 1980. They were parolled by the U.S. soon thereafter.
Just before coming back, Joann and Bob Hubbard were married.
Bill Coleman saw Joann in 1980 when she came appeared at bar in Portland where he was performing, to thank him. She and Bob told him they planned to write their story, something many of us still anxiously await.
That visit from Joann meant more to the singer/songwriter than words can say, "Sometimes wealth cannot be measured by how much money you have in the bank ... sometimes money just doesn't matter. Sometimes you just look into a crowd of people and see a woman smiling back at you and know that it was all worthwhile."
And that's what happened. She and her friends were not forgotten. And, since their return, I'd venture to bet that the Oregon rain has never gotten them down.
So, Happy Birthday Oregon, you are treasured. And, Welcome home, Joann. You were missed.
LISTEN TO THE SONG: "Oregon (I can't go home)" BELOW BONNIE'S BIO.
Bonnie King has been with Salem-News.com since August '04, when she became Publisher. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER). Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers.
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