Xenia Jail Rag

By Diane Breakstone Colello ’ 72

This is an actual song I wrote in 1970 from the Xenia jail.  It is to the tune of a song by Country Joe and the Fish, maybe called “The Fixin’ to Die Rag” or some other rag.  The chorus of the original is “One, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?  Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.  And it’s five, six, seven open up the pearly gates.  Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die.”

Anyway, that long ago spring, reacting to the expansion of the war in Vietnam into Cambodia, a bunch of Antiochians, more than 100 I’m pretty sure, protested by lying down in the street, blocking the entrance to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  We were arrested immediately, taken by bus to be processed, released, and then devoted a lot of time, energy, and money over the next couple of months to our defense deals.  I wasn’t sure that our action was useful to stopping the war and became pretty certain the subsequent negotiating with the criminal justice system was a waste of resources.  I still don’t know.

We mostly were convicted of a traffic violation and required to pay a fine of something like $250 (my memory could be wrong on the amount) or spend five days in jail. A few people identified as leaders were given harsher sentences; one of whom, Eric, is referenced in the song.  Quite a few of us chose jail and I remember it being like summer camp—without the outdoor activities and very limited arts and crafts. They did allow us to bring our knitting, having concluded that suicide by knitting needle or gang warfare employing same, were remote possibilities. All the women were in one large cell and, as there were lots of bars around, we held ballet classes. And we wrote this song.

Looking back on that time, I smile, then I shudder. I’m struck by my innocence and the sense of invulnerability that my youth and privileged place in the world gave me. I even thought my parents were silly for worrying about me. This was the same spring that four students were shot and killed at Kent State.

What can I say about this snapshot? I am so grateful for the blessings of peace, prosperity, and opportunity that allowed me to have such a good time as a war protester and the luck that allowed me to escape the horrendous consequences that were so close—just outside my knowing.

This particular Antioch adventure has often been in my thoughts, as I consider politics, protests, and efforts to improve the world. So maybe it was an important part of my college education.

XENIA JAIL RAG

Well when we sat down in front of the gate, didn’t hesitate, didn’t get there late. Didn’t think we’d end up in the brink, maybe just didn’t think.

First day busted wasn’t no treat, smile for the camera, eat that meat. And the cell mates feelings seemed to be, “Ain’t this class over at 3?”

Chorus:
Hi there, dear, what are you doing here?
I’m sitting in jail today, because I wouldn’t pay.
They’ve already got much too much of our dough,
That’s why we chose to go, confuse the foe, let the inmate census grow.

Well the next few weeks were sophisticating, liaison groups were mysticating. Three thousand deals, three thousand bucks, And Eric still got fucked.

My old man, he ain’t here, I said to him what’s the matter dear? He said we could afford to pay, I said it just ain’t that way.

Chorus

Support group really makes me strong, makes me feel I’ve done nothing wrong. They may be carrying signs saying free ‘em, But they’re silent and I just can’t see ‘em.

Been here nearly two whole days, kept our cool in a lot of ways. Down by the Riverside, Rock my Soul, When do we get out of this hole?

Chorus