“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Recently, while visiting a friend’s house, a book on his coffee table caught my eye: Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Last Gonzo Campaign.
It sat atop a pile of magazines; its red, black and white cover was glossy and pristine. Unread. Untouched. I opened it carefully – the binding had yet to be cracked and I wished to preserve that moment for the book’s owner. On the inside of the cover an inscription read Jamie – Keep living the dream. Matt Moseley.
I sat down and began to read, and it wasn’t long before I was lost in the telling of a story that felt more like a call to action; my fingertips tingled and my heart beat faster, and in a few short pages I was swept off into a recollection of actual events, all of which derived from a simple, seemingly insignificant moment in time – a girl behind bars reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
I stopped reading after a few pages – it felt wrong to commandeer an unread book from its owner. I did, however, encourage Jamie to start reading it as quickly as possible – both because I knew he’d enjoy it, and, selfishly, because the sooner he read the book, the sooner I could borrow it. Since then, I haven’t been able to shake the story from my memory.
Because of Jamie’s geographical and emotional proximity to the events outlined in Dear Dr. Thompson, I’ve asked him to write a perspective on the story, and the events that compelled his acquaintance Mark Moseley to write the book.
It’s not often that you read a book about a place you’ve lived that discusses events that occurred while you lived there, and notes “characters,” albeit minor ones, who you are friends with.
This is where I found myself though while reading Dear Dr. Thompson, and for an ordinary guy it feels a little like a brush with fame or infamy.
The story – in the very broadest of strokes – is this: On a typically beautiful Denver day in 1997 Lisl Auman took a ride in a stolen red Trans Am with skinhead Matthaeus Jaehnig. The ride culminated with Ms. Auman handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser while Mattaeus shot it out with Denver police, tragically killing Denver Police Officer Bruce Vanerjagt. Jaehnig then turned the gun on himself. Lisl Auman was left to bear the brunt of all charges, and was sentenced to life without parole.
At some point during her thirteen-month stay in Denver County Jail a fellow inmate loaned Auman Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. During the darkest time in her life, in one of the darkest places in her life, this book inspired the simplest of human emotions – it made Auman laugh.
After the trial Auman was moved to the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility in Canon City where she sought out more of Thompson’s work. She was subsequently – and incorrectly – told that his books were banned from all correctional facility libraries.
What Auman did next set in motion the greatest and mightiest of forces – one that would change her life forever. She sat down and wrote Dr. Thompson a thank you letter. She thanked him for making her laugh. She didn’t ask anything of him, but noted that he could check out her website http://www.lisl.com if he was interested.
What ensued was an all-star campaign to free Lisl Auman, led by Hunter S. Thompson. His efforts, and those who supported his charge for justice, were rewarded when Auman’s conviction was reversed after seven years in prison.
We don’t have to be great writers to write something great. We don’t have to have great intentions or expectations, we just have to write and sometimes greatness will come. Just ask Lisl Auman.
The Edmund Burke quote that I referenced at the beginning of this post became the call to action for the Free Lisl campaign, Moseley notes in the prologue. It is a powerful message, attached to a powerful campaign and an astounding story – a story that, with an air of surreality, combines the strength of the novel, the influence of the written word, and a call for justice that ends with just that.