The Man Who Turned on the World
7. The New Heresy
Six accused in Chelsea drugs case
'Arrested at a flat in Pont Streets Chelsea, yesterday evening, an artist, writer, physician, company director and an art dealer and his wife were each remanded on £100 bail until March 18 at Marlborough Street today.
Being busted is like going bald. By the time you realise it is happening it is too late to do very much about it. So one tries to minimise the consequences as best one can, though of course the damage is already done. Later, perhaps, it may even become one of those stories that, suitably edited, you tell against yourself
No one was particularly surprised when the police raided my flat. The place was a centre for all kinds of psychedelic experimentation, and it was only a matter of time before someone complained or turned me in. There had been a number of 'incidents' surrounding the history of this flat, such as a party attended by some eighty guests who got accidentally turned on via a spiked fruit-and-wine punch, amongst whom were some police spies masquerading as hippies. There was also the problem of noise since the speakers were seldom off, always playing at full volume. Yet despite all this, I observed the scene with complete indifference; I was in any case unable or unwilling to do very much about it. It was an oversight I was to 'learn to regret', as the saying goes. Indeed, yes, it was, for I had not expected anything quite so serious as it subsequently all turned out.
I think this was due in part to the fact that Leary himself had been busted in Laredo, Texas, only a short time before the police in London got after me. Tim had been passing through Laredo on his way to Mexico with his daughter, Susan, and his son, Jackie, and Susan had a small stash of grass hidden in her brassiere, which the American customs found. Tim did the only thing a parent could do under such circumstances, he admitted that the grass was his and that he knew where it had been hidden. The Texan judge sentenced him to thirty years' imprisonment. And Susan got off. The American Establishment had got their man.
But this left me in a somewhat difficult situation in London, for the plan had been that Tim would join me before Easter for a big Psychedelic Rally, possibly even at the Albert Hall, with pop musicians, poets and members of the British underground taking part. I had come on ahead to set it up, and, like a juggler, I had several things suspended in mid-air at any one time in the sure knowledge that when Tim came he would be able to act as my 'apologist' and catch them. Now that he was unable to leave America, l suddenly found everything tumbling about my head. My world had come crashing down and I was unable or strangely unwilling to do much about it. I simply let events take their course, that's all.
It was difficult to explain any of this to either the judge or the jury. The 'politics of ecstasy' was a completely foreign world to them, and one moreover they seemed to equate with drug-taking of the very worst kind. l had also violated the law. I was now liable for a penalty of ten years' imprisonment and a fine of £1000.
Yet despite the seriousness of the charges and the fact that I would almost certainly be found guilty, I treated the whole matter as an exercise in breathtaking intellectual negligence. It seemed to me that the whole purpose of the British legal system, with its roles and rules and rituals, is to convince you that, by its gravity and seriousness, it knows better than you do. And it was through this insight that I decided to defend myself rather than have a barrister do it.
I had also taken some LSD before arriving at court, which enhanced the unreality of the scene, myself high in the witness box on a charge of getting high, the judge in his robes and wig, the jury banked in rows like eggs, a gallery filled with plain and faceless men, and I saw myself as an actor in a B-movie.
There was one exchange I remember; it was during my cross-examination of a Detective Sgt. Dalton of the London Flying Squad, who had arrested me in the first place. The case had begun to drag a little. The witnessesfor the prosecutionwere uniformly serious in their evidence. They all made me look like some kind of horrible pervert who took non-prescription drugs as for themselves it would be, say, whisky or beer. The scene had become 'heavy'. Now that Dalton was in the witness-box, I could try to lighten the proceedings a little, and addressing myself to him, I asked him to tell the court what he had done when he first entered the bathroom, where the marijuana had been found.
'I went over to the toilet-bowl,' he replied.
'Very good, you went over to the toilet-bowl,' I said, carefully lowering my voice so that it was almost a whisper. 'And did you see anything in there ?'
'Excuse me, but I didn't hear the question.'
I raised my voice slightly: 'Did you see anything when you looked into the toilet-bowl ?'
'Yes. I saw some leaves of what I believed to be cannabis sativa floating on the surface of the water.'
'So,' I said, my voice in rising crescendo, 'you saw some grass floating about in the toilet. Well, isn't that a good place for it, thenin the toilet-bowl?'
I thought it was a good joke, and inoffensive, but I was told later that it had probably cost me an extra six months on my sentence.
As it was, I was unprepared for the sentencetwenty-one months for less than an ounce of hashish and a negligible amount of marijuana. It seemed altogether too long and I must have just stood in the dock in utter amazement, for the next thing I knew was being grabbed on both sides and propelled down the staircase to the cells under the court, there to await the Black Maria or something, to take me and the other new prisoners to Wormwood Scrubs.
When my name was finally called, I was brought out and handcuffed and put in the van. And it was a strange sensation to observe London through the grillwork and glass, handcuffed, and coming down off a trip. It also happened that the van actually drove past my old flat, and I wondered how I would have reacted if a few weeks earlier someone had said that one day I would be passing the place under the exact circumstance I described. It was all very curious.
Soon enough, however, we reached the Scrubs, a huge mausoleum of a place that could have been built as a Victorian factory, with high walls and gothic towers, dustbin-dirty in the way of railway stations, and rife with the smell of incontinence of urine. I felt as if I were entering the bowels of the earth. I don't think that I have ever been quite so depressed as I was for those first few minutes in prison. My soul turned grey, if such a thing is possible. I felt drained of all light in this netherworld place in which it was impossible to imagine how anything had ever been young or beautiful. My sensibilities simply turned themselves off in the face of this monstrous universe. I could have been a stick a stone, a zombie, for here there were none who could emphathise with my plight.
But after a night's sleep, my heart began to revive, and my curiosity about my unknown daily routine got the adrenalin working. There was also the novelty of getting into my new prison clothesa striped shirt with a black tie, socks about quarter of an inch thick, a pair of trousers and military-style jacket made of thick material, and a pair of heavy marching boots. Nothing fitted properly, of course. Oh, I felt like a walking scarecrow, which was probably the intention anyway.
I had no sooner got dressed than the landing officer unlocked the cell and told me to go down and get breakfast. The noise in the hall and passageways was quite deafening, redolent with the sound of male voices, hoots of laughter, crashing metal and bells. It was like living inside a huge alarm-clock, I reflected, as I made my way down the narrow iron staircase to the main hall. Prison is one huge sensory deprivation tank, an incredible human vault that echoes to the least footfall. It is a way of life to suit a sort of monk.
Breakfast consisted of a plate of watery porridge, a couple of table-spoon measures of milk, a dry sausage, as much bread and marge as you could eat, and a mug of tea.
After breakfast, I was told to go back to my cell where I would be called during the morning to see the Governor who liked to meet each new charge. He would also allocate my work.
My cell was not very big. The walls had been painted a sickening pink, the colour of corned beef, and the cell door was a bright green. Light entered through a barred window recessed some two feet into the wall. There was a table, a plank hard chair, a bed, and a metal chamberpot. To look out of the window you had to stand on the table, and it was possible to discern in the distance beyond the high prison wall the contours of the city, to look out nostalgically at all the lightness of heart and foot going past in the park, never knowing for sure whether you would ever rejoin it. This is something of what it means to be a prisoner.
The morning passed with monstrous slowness. A prison sentence is a certain fixed period of enforced idleness. ThingsI was to learnhave their own momentum of realizability. You can rush your life on the outside by the scruff of its neck, but in prison everything happens according to the rules. It is a permanent 'working to rule', you might say; rushing anything would be like trying to rush a stalactite. So one needs to be philosophical about the slowness of it all and develop the necessary mental and physical yogas to overcome inertia, impatience and boredom. It's not so strange this world as so different.
Like most new inmates, I suppose, I went through quite a few mental changes during those first few days. They were appallingly difficult. My head was ambushed by depression and stagnation, and it seemed that I was beset with all sorts of cares, existential longings to be free again, angst. I think that to be locked up without freedomthat is, without access to loveis something you have to adapt yourself to, for man cannot live by bread alone. We like to think it. And of course we should, but we really cannot, you know. Individual human life needs the closeness of another body, a warm hand or look, the occasional kiss and merging with another. The inhuman regimen of prison existences does not allow for spontaneity with joy, but dictates a certain style of living in a prescribed manner, always to form, always to rules accepted as facts. It is indeed an experience of so-called reality. I continue to be amazed that there are so few suicides, singly or even on mass scale, a reaction to the tyranny of a system that allows bodies of men to press on the bodies of men, and usually for so little reason. But with patience and the passing of time, the mind-body adapts itself, trying as best it can to keep a little flame of humanity alight in the dark, womanless silence, and later, even achieve a simple affirmation of the world. You must or otherwise you would die. So you live on in the hopefulness that once beyond these walls your heart will quicken and your tongue renew. I think prison is really dedicated to the idea that we should think of ways in which to bring each other down not up, and is thus the antithesis of the aims of our new 'psychedelic revolution'.
When the Governor finally sent for me, I was taken to the main administration block, and told to remove my shoes before entering his office. I saw the reason for this when I went inside. The Governor sat at a desk about fourteen feet from where I stood. We were separated by glossy linoleum as smooth and as slippery as an ice-rick. It seemed that inmates were sometimes in the habit of reacting violently to the Governor's decisions, and this (almost) foolproof method protected him from assault. He had of course nothing to fear in that way from myself.
The Chief Prison Officer gave my number and name to the Governor, who looked up and asked me if I had ever been to prison before. 'No, but I've worked in a prison.' 'In this country ?' the Governor asked.
'No, in America, at a maximum security prison. I was with a group of people from Harvard who used to run LSD sessions for some of the inmatesrevelation followed by reformation, that sort of stuff.'
'Yes, I see. Now, it seems you were charged with possession of dangerous drugs. And that is why you are here now. It seems a pity that someone like yourself who is obviously well-educated and literate should find consolation in drugs. How is such a thing possible ?'
Like the New York call-girl from Radcliff who is asked how a nice girl like her came to be in such an occupation, I replied 'Just lucky, I guess.'
The Governor also expressed concern about what work to give me. He finally settled on the steam laundry. And I was told to report there after lunch.
The chief laundry officer was an amiable sort of man who had been at the same job for twenty years. He began by showing me around the laundry. There were huge steam rollers and presses, washers and dryers, ironing rooms and drying rooms, and about thirty prisoners variously engaged in keeping the flow of laundry moving at maximum speed, or so it seemed at the time. He then showed me what I had to do. My job carried 'a lot of responsibility'; I was on the reception desk, and I had to check in and check out all the laundry and to see that what came in also tallied with what went out. A simple enough job on the face of it. There was one snag, however: the nurses' laundry. It could happen, if one didn't watch the articles like a hawk, that brassieres and panties simply 'disappeared' at some stage on the way through the various laundry processes. And a number of such articles often found their way back to the cells. My main job, the officer told me, was to see that this didn't happen. There was also a complicated system of record keeping, which was explained to me, but my brain couldn't embrace all the details and I simply 'tuned out' halfway through the hour-long laborious explanation by the officer. The result was that by the end of the third day the laundry was besieged with complaints, particularly from the nurses' home, which reported nearly a dozen panties missing and several brassieres. There were also complaints from the long-term prisoners, for whom clean laundry was one of the few remaining pleasures, who were understandably impatient that their bespoke shirts or specially fitted trousers had not been returned.
I was transferred to the ironing room and told to iron shirts. Here again I seemed to get things cocked or somehow not quite right. And this time the complaints were that shirts were coming back from the laundry with big burn marks, missing buttons, and twisted collars.
Once more I found myself standing shoeless before the Governor. I had not been charged with negligence or insubordination, but the implication was there. I was given a 'second chance' and transferred to the book bindery, which is considered something of a plum of a job at Wormwood Scrubs.
The book bindery is run by a civilian, and it is quiet. In appearance it resembled a Dickensian solicitor's office, with high tables and chairs and strained faces buried in piles of books. I was put in the paperback section to be trained in the craft of hard-cover binding, a job by which none would be particularly impressed but requiring a certain amount of manual skill, nonetheless. The civilian supervisor told me in this connection that book-binding required three things: 'The first is dexterity, the second is dexterity, and the third is dexterity.'
I was glad to be away from the old steam laundry and was quite enjoying my new job when another one of those unwritten minor tragedies occurred. I had left a foot-high stack of books in the press; the new covers had been glued on and the idea was to let them dry overnight. This was the culmination of a week's work, and I was naturally excited to see how the finished products looked in the morning. The civilian supervisor came over with me to unscrew the press and see what kind of a job I had made on my first assignment. He began to turn the handle; and his dismay was equal to my own, for all the bindings had stuck together with the result that the books rose as one, in concertina fashion, and then crashed on to the floor, sending loose pages all over the place. The civilian supervisor stood for a moment, his mouth wide open, and then said very, very slowly, and with great pathos: 'Good God! Good God! Good God!' (I was with him on the first two all right, but he lost me on the third.)
That was the end of my stay in the book bindery. A complaint was made to the Governor who immediately despatched me to a foetid factory building to sew mailbags, the final degradation, no doubt, for after mailbags there is nowhere further down the work rung to go, except possibly being a waiter in the Prison Officer's Mess.
With the slowness of the Himalayan range, it seemed, my average uneventful days passed into routinely ordinary weeks. There had been quite a bit of news about hash and LSD in the daily Press, mainly about people getting busted, so that by the beginning of the summer quite a few of my friends were inside with meNick Douglas, the painter; Hugh Blackwell, the writer; Hugh Lansdowne, the poet; Pat Ryan, the musician; Robert Fraser, the art gallery owner; and John Hopkins, one of the editors of the International Times of whom Christopher Logue wrote in his poem:
'Mistakes like mine occur
And there were to be several hundred more 'psychedelic' inmates in British jails before the year was out.
The Press was having a field-day on the topic. Pot and LSD were the new twin menaces of our Western kind of society, evils which had to be stamped out. 'At least 100,000 more Britons will take psychedelic drugs this year in spite of new provisions in the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1966,' said one headline, and went on to say that this figure was the result of twelve-month nationwide survey conducted by a Dr. Jim Marle, the Atlantic psychiatrist, at a meeting in Oxford.
In fact this was more likely to happen because of the provisions in the Dangerous Drugs Act. Restrict anything and immediately people want it. There must be thousands of readers now buying grass and LSD who would never have done so but for articles of this kind; and quite a few I daresay now believe that LSD is compulsory, like vaccination or fluoridation Besides, total prohibition has never worked.
Yet drugs is a subject that can never come under discussion without so much emotion that rational argument becomes obscured if not totally banished. The Press, and to some extent publishers as well, seem to delight in touching people where they are most vulnerableproducing articles and books which threaten the incredulous and the superstitious. Whenever one of these articles or books appears in public they set off a chain of articles or letters, each more heated than the last. This is possible because the problems concerned with drugs are not susceptible to single convulsive solutions. It is as though where questions of morality come in that detachment quits the scene.
And often the Press would slant a particular piece so that not even an idiot reader could miss the point. One example comes to mind, also from this period in the mid-sixties. It is from the now defunct Daily Sketch. It showed a photograph of Leary, smart and serious in a suit, deep in conversation with the reporter. The article was headed 'I'll Turn On Britain, says the leader of the Drug Church'. And Leary is then quoted as saying: 'I don't imagine I shall run into as much opposition for my religion in Britain as I have here in the States. The British are more tolerant and have a sense of humour.'
The question of drugs inside the prison was also a matter of some concern, for as the 'psychedelic' inmate population rose, and as other prisoners became cognizant of the phenomena LSD and hashish, there was a corresponding increase in their availability. Many ways were used to get psychedelics in, from felt-tip pens stuffed with Red Lebanese to bunches of grapes spiked with acid. I myself had a reasonably steady supply of hashish, and a stash of LSD which Richard Alpert and Owsley had left during their visit to the Scrubs. There was very little if anything the prison authorities could do to stop it.
Naturally, I would often be approached by other prisoners to tell them something about these drugs, or they simply wanted to score. And as a general rule, I would share any hashish I might happen to have, whilst refusing to give them LSD, that is, unless they were already pretty experienced in using it. There were exceptions, however, most notable of these being George Blake, the spy then serving a sentence of forty-three years' imprisonment. He had served about five years of his sentence when I met him. And it was not long before we were having long discussions about 'turning on'; and he said he would like to try it.
We decided to run a session on the Sunday, when the cells in 'D' Hall are left open all afternoon and one can roam at will about the landings without supervision. Blake's cell was on the ground floor, comfortably furnished with a carpet and curtains, a bookcase stuffed with books and, on the table, a short-wave radio, which he had somehow acquired in order 'to listen to Arabic language stations'.
Nothing much happened for the first hour. But as the session developed, Blake became quite tense, a nervous strain verging on complete paranoia, and seemed to believe that I was a Secret Service agent who had administered him a truth serum. He told me that I'd be killed within the next twenty-four hours, and made other similar threats. I felt quite baffled as to what to do, so I did nothing, merely listened as he went through his flip-out, and tried to reassure him by means of treating the whole affair as if it were all somehow something quite ordinary strewn into the everyday, though secretly I was quite alarmed in case a prison officer happened to look in and hear what was going on.
He finally settled down, however, and the last couple of hours were spent in deep thought and quiet reflection concerning his future existence, and he said he might not be able to stand up to many more years of incarceration. I suggested they'd probably let him out on parole in a few years' time, but he doubted this. He felt that he was in prison as a living warning to others who might be similarly tempted. But I said that was an old cliché, and had never worked anyway.
As it happened, Blake escaped only a few weeks after the session, by scaling the wall one Sunday afternoon by means of a rope-ladder thrown over by an accomplice, who had been in touch with him via the short-wave radio in his cell. When I last heard about him, he was living in Moscow and working for the Cairo Section of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
I had been at Wormwood Scrubs for about four months when I was
asked about going to an 'open prison' at Leyhill, near the English-Welsh
border. I said I'd prefer the country. And shortly after this
interview, I was transferred to Leyhill Prison.
THE GREAT BRAIN ROBBERY
Up stood the apedown came the drag
Oh adult the mistakes you make
Between your meals you make your deals
Adult will you never see
You're losing and you think you're gaining
What you're trying to regain
You was robbedso you made belief
Another song, called 'Brainbloodvolume', has been set to music by Julie Felix in her furthest-out number yet.
It was lost and now it's found again
It's what the poets have written for
It's what the pipes have been smoked for
It was necessary to approach the Governor to obtain permission to stage it in the prison theatre, perhaps even before an invited audience of students from Bath and Bristol universities. I decided to plug the Milton section at the expense of the rest, feeling that the Governor would be more sympathetic to it than the modern additions.
The Governor was most attentive during my outline of the play, and wrote a memo to the Prison Chaplain that he should consider staging it one Sunday in the Church.
Accordingly, I met with the Chaplain, a nice, easygoing man with a strong sense of Christian vocation, who had been at Leyhill for four years and had a good understanding of prisoner psychology. I introduced the matter by suggesting that there is a mystery in the story of Paradise Lost that lies at the heart of all our lives. And this is older than that of Oedipus. In the play there are overtones of the great four stories of the world's various religions, and specifically of the Hebrew-Christian tradition. Guilt and Sin are pretty powerful themes of the Christian Church, and any attempt to understand their place in the world and their relevance to contemporary man was, I assured him, a matter of concern to today's criminal. One begins by depicting man as some kind of "hairless talking ape" who is unable to benefit from the possibilities of his own existence, who then has a revelation, in this instance, through piercing a small hole through his skull to increase the volume of blood to the brain.
The Chaplain looked puzzled. 'But what has Paradise Lost got to do with making holes in your head ?' he asked.
'Well, the theory is that by increasing the amount of blood to the brain the surface of the capillariesmillions of themincreases, which in turn release glucose from the blood into the brain cells. This is the physiological secret of "getting high". So the "hairless talking ape" who does not know that his "fall" (loss of brainbloodvolume) has a purely physiological cause. Thus he lives out his simple life or death without ever realising his golden future, truly the parable of fallen man.'
'It sounds all rather godless to me.'
'Well, the modern writer uses myths and metaphors in order to get his message across. And in the case of this play, he has found modern counterparts to the story of the Fall in poetry, science, and music to express an awareness that we all have, however obscurely, that there are vast capacities in man which he continually fails to realise. The message of the play is simple. If things are not right inside yourself, then change them. The evolutionary leap in being from monkey to man produced a new kind of animal, a creative animal, an animal with imagination, who could devise ways to regain the lost paradise of lost brainbloodvolume.'
'But why trepanation ?' the Chaplain persisted.
'Because trepanation offers a solution on a manageable scale.'
'A solution to what ?'
'A solution to the problem of staying "high".'
'But what has staying "high" got to do with putting on a musical play in my Church?'
'The Governor and I thought that because of the religious themes you might '
'But I find the whole thing utterly "godless", and I could never allow such a production to be shown. And now that you have explained it to me, I doubt whether I could allow it to be performed in the theatre. Prisoners are very suggestible you know, and we could not risk wholesale trepanations. It is just what the Daily Express are looking for. I really think, Hollingshead, that you ought to concentrate instead on more practical plans for your own future than try to launch a social movement based on people putting holes in their heads. Have you ever considered the profession of the church ?'
'I'm sorry you don't like the play. I thought you would. What we are seeing today is merely the visible aspect of a universal neurosis, and the Fall myths, in whatever language, illustrate humanity's unconscious awareness of human suffering, which is the failure of humanity which Paradise Lost symbolises. God is simply a creative power which is part of human life in the Garden. A voice within man tells him that he can and should regain the lost brainblood of childhoodshould exercise some degree of control over his own consciousness, in other words, which is the message of the new developing religions in the West. The problem facing the established Church is that if man lived up to his full creative capacities, there would be no religion.'
We decided to go ahead anyway, and started rehearsals. Hugh Landsdowne, a poet and magician, who had been imprisoned for growing half an acre of marijuana at his farm in Essex, linked in the I Ching; and together we made a huge stroboscopic mandala with an electric motor we pinched from one of the machines in the tailor's shop. The play was never performed in either the church or the theatre, due to the misunderstanding as to what the play was actually about; but it was seen by most of the inmates at some point in its actual unfolding; and helped keep our minds off more dangerous matters.
I tend to remember perhaps only the positive things about my last year in prison. Yet in all honesty I cannot rid myself of the thought that my life there might have been very, very different indeed. I think all of us carry around in our heads some picture of how we imagine prison life to be, though doubtless altogether impossible to identify in reality. Mine was a superstitious mixture of Gestapo camps and what I had seen in American movies. The reality is quite different; there is, for instance, very little real fear of the intentions of the prison authorities, who tend to stick to a rule book that does not include physical brutality or torture or idiosyncratic sadism. There is also very little physical violence going on between inmates, though incidents happen from time to time, like anywhere else. Man is only human after all. And violence is part of his human nature.
And yet the experience of prison is a painful one. It may be no more than an enduring slight headache, but it is always there, forever encroaching on your private world, an impersonal, indifferent environment in which you are physically contained; and all for the greater public good. Prison is a feeling, a subjective as well as a purely physical thing. It hits directly at your sensations, but acting more like a dampener than an actual brake. It lowers by its sense of decay, its corridors of refuse, its wasteland approach to fallen humanity. No wonder one feels saddened to observe how as our twentieth century develops so too does the machinery of incarceration and the illegality of our various legal actions, who seek to condemn even the children who comprise our future brave generation.
Prison is some kind of other place in which I would never wish for anyone to have to live out their simple life or death.
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Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
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Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
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Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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