Un-American eco-terrorist #ZoeBecker will rot in jail until she dies. Unless she gets the death penalty, which I fully support. #DeathPenaltyforZoe
@PresidentPOTUS, June 3, 2017 07:22:47
Within 24 hours, President Frank Fowler’s tweet garnered over nine million likes and was retweeted about 51,000 times.
Chapter 2. The Interview
Later that day.
The commotion frayed at Zoe’s nerves: industrial size cables, high-intensity video lights, production crews, lawyers, prison guards. An unceasing buzz. Her head throbbed as the chaos pulsed around her like moths circling a flame, electrons orbiting a dense nucleus. A nucleus with a throbbing headache. She wore a bright orange jumpsuit, her new identification in black lettering over a chest-high white rectangle: 79370-022.
Outside, the throngs continued on. Six weeks long, they've camped, sang songs, screamed in protest. Detractors and cult-like fans on opposite sides of the entranceway, just past the double rows of metal barriers and concertina wire added in makeshift fashion. A sign of the times.
The unlikely home of America’s most notorious teenager, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, was the lower Manhattan tentacle to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. From a distance, the dun-colored facility could be mistaken for a hastily-designed office tower or a 60s era medical facility ripe for modernization. But the grimy twelve-story structure, the former home to John Gotti, Bernie Madoff and El Chapo, Al Qaeda operatives, international drug dealers and gang leaders, was now the inner-city domicile for Zoe Becker while she awaited trial. Zoe and her defense team took weekly, highly-guarded trips across the Manhattan Bridge, the ugly step-sister to the famed Brooklyn, to battle prosecutors over jury selection, material witnesses, and admissible evidence in Federal District Court. Down the hall and three floors above, her father, David Becker, sat in a very similar cell of his own until his release on house arrest a few days ago. The trial was scheduled to begin in one week.
The country waited, glued to their TVs. They gathered in bars and paused at the airport, unwrapping the plastic from their overpriced sandwiches, cutting their flights too close. CNN's ratings shot to OJ levels. Servers on Twitter shut down from the overload of traffic, argument and counter-argument. The yawning fracture across the nation’s landscape—red vs. blue, smooth vs. chunky—widened in subsidence. The President tweeted daily, complicating the jury selection process. "Zoe Becker is a traitor to this country!" screamed one man into the reporter’s camera outside the MCC’s walls.
Inside, on the seventh floor, Zoe watched from the corner next to her graying lawyer. She clutched a chamomile tea with both hands to reduce the shudder.
Heather Danielson barked at a production crew of two dozen. "The interview starts in 5 minutes!" The cafeteria of the correctional facility’s only female wing had been transformed into a makeshift studio. Another dozen or so, guards in standard-issue garb—white uniforms, black patent leather shoes, walkie talkies, billy clubs, Smith and Wessons—looked on stoically from the cafeteria perimeter, avoiding her gaze. An uncommon pre-trial conversation awaited. It would air the next day, Sunday, the 60 Minutes broadcast expected to reach an audience of about 100 million, nearly ten times its normal size. Zoe heard the rumors, some calling it a desperate attempt to portray a criminal as a misunderstood teenager, a confused child, angry at the state of her country. "Ethan, are you ready?" the producer asked.
Ethan Webber, 11 years as a journalist for the famed TV show, another 20 plus in the industry before landing the coveted spot, hunched over in one of three plastic chairs at the center of the room, studying his notes.
"I want camera one here pointing at Zoe from a low angle," Danielson shouted, reining in the chaos. "Camera 2 for Zoe and the lawyer straight on. And camera 3 on Ethan. Places everyone, please!"
Producer Danielson turned to Zoe, motioning to the chair. "We're ready for you, honey."
Zoe and the attorney stood up. She floated above her body, appendages numb, a surrealistic echo in her ears. Stanley Zivitz, an expert in criminal defense, was paid from an anonymous donation if he agreed to cut his fees in half to $450 per hour. He took the offer readily. They sat in unison, Zoe right, Stanley left, and traded assuring glances. Days of practice were coming to a head.
After an initial greeting, Webber took his seat opposite Zoe, forestalling eye contact, rumpling his prepared questions one last time. He was more handsome in person, she decided, but not in a jerky way. The lights turned on, massive 800-watt bulbs slung from a skeleton of steel, wheeled forward to perfect the mood.
Pinkish chafe marks, silhouettes from the handcuffs worn during regular transporting, hung like bracelets around her wrists. She gathered her hair, brown with blond highlights, into a quick knot, and looked past the giant lights to discern the production crew. Was this a good idea?
"And we’re live in six, five, four," Danielson counted the remaining numbers with fingers and thumb in silence. Her free hand pointed to Webber as the camera’s red recording light came on.
"Zoe, thank you for being here."
"Thanks for having me."
"You've been in jail for six weeks. How are you faring?"
"OK. Nobody bothers me."
"It's been rumored you have some guardian angels here at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Is that true?"
"Yea, that's true."
"And that the other inmates ask you for autographs."
"That's true too."
"Outside, can you hear them?" Echoes of shouts and airhorns, muffled but unmistakable, filtered through the prison walls. Webber pointed to a small TV monitor to Zoe’s right as it flickered on. "This is a live picture," he explained. The crowds outside, factions separated by the jail entranceway, came into view. Free Zoe. Arrest the King of Clubs, handheld signs read that warm night in New York, just a mile or so from where she grew up. "There are people out there, shouting for your release."
The camera panned west along Park Row, the name far more glamourous than the non-descript six lanes of poured concrete affronting the southern Manhattan prison. Across more rows of metal barriers and a cordoned off no-man’s land, the opposition crowd, even larger and louder than her supporters. The posters all read the same three-word phrase: Lock Her Up! "And others," Webber commented, "for your life imprisonment."
"It’s kinda crazy," she admitted.
"In some ways, you've become a cult hero. Was that the intention?"
Zoe hesitated to let the anger diminish. She practiced this very moment, word for word, with Zivitz for the last week or more. But now, most of America was watching, or going to in another 28 hours, give or take. She gathered her hair. Webber noticed her tattoo: listening quietly from behind her left ear, Buddha holding a blue-green earth.
"N… No," was all she could muster.
"But you planned all along to expose the King of Clubs? Isn't that right?"
Zoe shook her head, not sure how to respond.
"Excuse me!" Stan Zivitz stood up and blocked the camera, searching for Danielson, the 60 Minutes producer, between the lights. He pushed his wire-rim glasses back into place, sat down, and gestured to Ethan Webber. "I’m sorry but Ms. Becker is not here to talk about the court case or the King of Clubs or offer any admission of guilt."
Zivitz corralled his gray hair into place, down towards his dandruff-flecked suit. "We agreed to the ground rules. You wanted to introduce Zoe to the American people. That’s why we’re here."
Webber looked back at his notes and tried again. "Zoe, can you take us back? How did you first become interested in protecting the environment?"
Zoe paused, looking over the edge of an imperfection in the concrete floor. Her lips quivered with response. "Where do I start…"