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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

May 19, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

LONG TIME GONE: A Black Panther's True-Life Story of His Hijacking and Twenty-Five Years in Cuba by William Lee Brent (Times Books: $25; 276 pp.). In 1968, while running guns for the Black Panthers, William Lee Brent was arrested in the shooting of two San Francisco policemen. The following year, to avoid a return visit to San Quentin (he had already spent eight years there, for armed robbery and auto theft), Brent hijacked a jet to Cuba. While there he eventually worked for Radio Havana. Clearly, Brent would be tried and convicted and sent away for life if he ever returned to this country and justice would be done. Right?

Well, no--even though Brent, now 66, expresses in this memoir neither credible remorse for his extremely serious crimes, nor any desire to atone for his mistakes. It's quite unexpected, but Brent, who hints broadly at the conclusion of "Long Time Gone" that he would like to return to the United States, manages to generate a lot of sympathy for his position.

Raised dirt-poor in Louisiana and then in the ghettos of Oakland, Brent makes his gravitation toward drugs, booze, street crime and resentment toward "whitey" seem absolutely inevitable and his subsequent radicalization by the Black Panthers a kind of salvation. Nonetheless, Brent was expelled from the party soon after his 1968 arrest, the Panthers torn up by infighting, immoderate paranoia and overindulgence in controlled substances. Brent's hijacking of a TWA flight while free on bail was, he writes, a solo operation and shockingly easy but ended in an even bigger surprise--22 months in a Cuban jail, courtesy of Eldridge Cleaver's insinuations that Brent was a government agent.

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