Linda Evans was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1985 for using false identification to purchase firearms. Women’s and multicultural groups on campus say her unusually long sentence was the U.S. government’s way of punishing Evans for her role as a political activist.
Evans will speak Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center to discuss her 16 years in jail and her pardon from President Bill Clinton. Her free talk, “Queer Activism: Inside Prison, Inside the Prison Movement,” will cover sexuality, race, gender, social class and prisoner rights.
Evans has been involved in political and social movements since the 1960s, when she rallied against the Vietnam War and performed in a guerilla street-theater group and an all-woman band. She embraced the black liberation movement in the 1970s as well as the women’s and lesbian movement. Her work was extended internationally to regions such as Central America, Palestine and South Africa, until a Louisiana judge sentenced her to 40 years in prison.
According to UCSB Asian American Studies Professor Diane Fujino, Evans’ 40-year sentence had more to do with her history of political activism than of false identification or firearms.
“Political prisoners are people who are incarcerated for their political beliefs,” Fujino said. “They get much longer sentences and are treated more harshly.”
While incarcerated, Evans became an AIDS peer counselor and a jailhouse lawyer, supporting the rights of prisoners who had been separated from their children. She was also active in raising funds to help free fellow political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal from his death sentence in a Pennsylvania prison.
“[Linda’s] main message is her spirit of love for people and her passion for justice,” Fujino said. “She’s always working, no matter what. Even in prison she found ways to help people, to improve prisoner rights.”
Evans said she thinks the sentence was a result of the FBI pushing to abolish public political organization. Although this view will be used as a foundation, Evans will be emphasizing sexuality in her talk Tuesday.
“Because it’s Gay Pride Week, I wanted to talk about unity and why I think it’s important for transgender, transsexual and bisexual people to fight for unity,” she said.
Evans’ written work on political and female prisoners, like herself, has been published in prison-affiliated newspapers. She is currently working on a master’s thesis on the global economy. Evans said in her political stand she has not been fighting just for others’ rights, but for her own as well.
“Really, I’m fighting for a better world for myself, too. When you’re struggling for justice, you’re struggling for a better place for everyone,” she said. “I hope [students] will become conscious of the situation of political prisoners and become active in supporting them and supporting their release.”
Tony Samara, a graduate student in the sociology department, said he supports Evans’ cause. According to Samara, 40 years is the longest sentence anyone in the U.S. has ever received for her offense.
“Here’s someone who was willing to put her life on the line,” he said. “When she went into federal prison she continued to organize, and if she can do that on the inside, then certainly we can work on the outside.”
The MultiCultural Center and the Women’s Center are sponsoring Evans’ appearance. Sharon Hoshida, Women’s Center program director, said she thinks students can benefit from Evans’ anti-imperialist views because she speaks from multiple perspectives.
“[Evans] stands as a living role model, as a political activist. She’s engaged herself wherever she happens to be: during the 60s, the anti-war movement; during the 70s, the anti-imperialist movement. Wherever she sees an injustice, that’s where she focuses her attention,” Hoshida said. “This is an opportunity to hear somebody who has been a participating activist for 30 years. Her knowledge could provide blueprints for what we can do today.”
Evans said it is important Americans do not allow the government to set the boundaries for society.
“The government wasn’t powerful enough to break my spirit,” Evans said. “Don’t give up. You’re not alone.”