After three months sitting in prison, barred from fresh air and the sun’s rays, Barry Adams prefers to hold his interview in a patch of sunshine in his backyard. He’s happy to be back in Missoula, to once again take on obligations like fixing the lawnmower and caring for his daughter. He was sprung May 20 from a federal prison in Seattle after serving 90 days and paying a $500 fine for “unauthorized use of National Forests systems land without authorization when such authorization is required.”
The charge stems from the 2000 Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering that drew 36,000 people to southwestern Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Adams, now 59, was accused of being a leader of the Rainbows after he applied for personal use of national forest land and attended the gathering after his application was denied. He explains that the feds insist Rainbows are an organized group, and there must be leaders, but that’s not how it works.
“I’m not your follower and I’m not your leader,” he says, a smile rising from under his worn black hat. “This is a very hard concept for the people of the United States to understand and for the government to accept…I didn’t believe I could sign a contract on behalf of thousands of people I don’t know.”
He’s been arguing with the Forest Service about that for more than 30 years now, beginning with the first Rainbow gathering in Colorado in 1972. “I did not understand it then, and here it is, 2005, and I still don’t understand it,” he says.
The native Montanan and Vietnam veteran says that mail from around the country kept him company in prison and he “spent [his] days in there reading, writing letters, trying to learn to draw and thinking about a lot of things.”
He isn’t sure yet whether he’ll go to this year’s gathering, held July 1–7 in the mid-Atlantic states. He says he’ll be there in spirit, if not in person, but leader or no, his voice will continue to be heard: “The battle has been going on for over 30 years and I’ve been a big mouth about it.”