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Apr-06-2009 07:25printcommentsVideo

Oregon (I can't go home): The Rest of the Story

The song for an Oregon woman serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison remained number one in 1974 for 9 weeks in the NW, and was number 16 on Billboard's national charts.

Oregon scenery
"Oregon the Beautiful"
Photo by Bonnie King,

(SALEM, Ore.) - FORTY YEARS AGO: The summer of 1974 has this song as part of it's soundtrack if you are from the Pacific Northwest. Here's to that memory, and a tribute to never giving up. (Republished for 40th Anniversary)

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 (AM) and started our day the same way we ended it- singing along to the top 40.

We listened to our transistor 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 remembrance 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.

Scott Riordan and Bill Coleman, with bassist,
Spencer Palermo, (standing left), and drummer,
Dennis Parish (Schick) (standing right).

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, Oregon, 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 companions, 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."

They say the Oregon rain will get you down,
But I hunger for the freshness of its sound
The wind, the sun, the things that I have known before,
Now seem like faded ghosts, like shadows on the floor
I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!
Let me roam endless hours on my own ... Take me home, back to where green trees grow ...
I feel so lonely and forgotten in this place ...
I'm losing hope, my mind is troubled by disgrace ...
I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!
I've painted pictures on the blank walls of my cell ...
I've walked through countless dreams no mortal words can tell ...
I fear how lonely and forgotten I could be ...
My heart is crying out to those who hold the key ...
I live in Oregon, Oregon's my home ...
I love the trees, the hills, the places I have roamed ...
I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind! I long to be there, I long to be there with my own kind!
I can't go home ...
I can't go home ...
I can't go home ...
They say the Oregon rain will get you down,
But I hunger for the freshness of its sound
The wind, the sun, the things that I have known before,
Now seem like faded ghosts, like shadows on the floor
I can't go home...
I can't go home...
I can't go home...

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.




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Robert Williams September 11, 2014 10:46 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at Incerlick , Turkey from 1976-1979 I was in det 193-1 Security Police Sg, Law Enforcement. I went to the Adana prison many times in the blue bus with trays of food from the chow hall you you guys. God Bless you all. I have never forgotten you guys. here is my e-mail drop me a line.

Diana Cockerill November 12, 2012 10:24 am (Pacific time)

No one I know has ever heard the song but through the wonders of technology I found it and the story! I grew up in The Dalles and had forgotten it was good old AM radio we lived to back then..if you love Oregon you will feel the connection. How wonderful to finally know the rest of the story and that U of O stuck with JoAnn! Go Ducks and bless you Bonnie! I am in Bend now...I will expose everyone I can to the song and story!

Thanks Diana, the song was so special to us back then, I enjoyed writing this story very much! ~ Bonnie 

Tammy September 20, 2012 10:05 pm (Pacific time)

I remember KGW radio well. As a teen growing up in Portland when this song hit the air waves I was entranced. Both by the lyrics and the sad story that it represented. 30+ years later the song is still in my heart. It evokes a place I too roamed . . . and am striving to return to. I am glad to hear that JoAnn is back in Oregon . . . someday I hope to be as well.

Bonnie: It's great to hear from a fellow Oregonian. Geography isn't nearly as important as what's in your heart! Thanks for sharing your memories :) 

Isaac Robison, Jr January 16, 2012 12:26 pm (Pacific time)

I met JoAnn and Kathy at the Adana prison in 1976. I was stationed at Incerlik AB and visiting the GIs incarcerated there. Both girls were in unblievably good spirits playing with a small child, whose mother was in prison for sneaking drugs to her husband. There was no one at home to care for the child so, she was allowed to stay with the mother. I'll never forget that day. I'm now a military retiree, and that was one of the times I will never forget. Thanks for the story. 

Editor: Thanks for the fantastic comment Isaac, Bonnie was very happy to hear of this, feel free to write to our newsroom, her address is

Kathy August 4, 2011 12:28 pm (Pacific time)

Just found this today while sitting in Kansas City, MO dreaming of my old hometown in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. I was lucky enough to have heard BlackHawk County live, numerous times, while a student at Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. I was given my copy of Monkey Zoo, the vinyl album containing "Oregon", by "Scooter"(Scott)Riordan, a good friend of my college roommate. Always wondered what happened with JoAnn. After all these years, I now know. Thanks for "the rest of the story"!

Beth June 2, 2011 6:57 pm (Pacific time)

I remember this song and the story from my sophmore year in high school. I reposted this to FB to see how many of my friends remembered it also. It has been 2 years since you wrote this, but somethings are timeless. Thanks.

Editor: Thanks Beth, Bonnie says indeed it is timeless, if you get anything going please let her know,

Dreamer January 31, 2011 8:47 am (Pacific time)

I remember this song from so long ago visiting a cousin as a little girl. She said something about a girl rotting in prison but I never really knew the meaning behind the story. This is truly an epiphany for me.

Anonymous April 9, 2009 2:29 pm (Pacific time)

Cody, thanks a lot for your insight,.

Daniel April 9, 2009 12:52 pm (Pacific time)

Great story , one wonders if they were convicted in parts of this country for the same crime , would they still be in prison today !

Henry Ruark April 7, 2009 10:01 am (Pacific time)

Bon et al: Beautifully done, Bon ! We all need more like this, given the current economic crisis.

Cody April 6, 2009 6:17 pm (Pacific time)

Nice to see this Bonnie! It's before my time, so the history is rich. :) It's nice to hear some news that doesnt have to do with the lates car bombings... And it is nicer to hear about something that kinda makes you sit back and go...woah....and for a good reason too!

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