Ex-prisoners critique the 'correctional economy'
By John Sinclair
Published: November 24, 2010
Legalized medical marijuana has helped remove the looming physical
and mental presence of the narcotics police from our lives for the
first time since we started smoking weed. If we have a patient ID
card, we're protected from arrest and imprisonment for our daily
smoking activities, and we can replenish our supplies from our
licensed caregivers without fear of intervention by the police on
either end of the transaction.
This breakthrough in the criminally elongated War on Drugs is a great
thing for those of us with physical or mental ailments for which
we've sought treatment from our physicians and ended up as certified
medical marihuana patients.
But it does nothing for the millions of Americans who enjoy marijuana
or other criminal substances on a recreational basis but suffer
arrest, prosecution, jailing, drug testing, job loss, mandatory
treatment programming, draconian probation or parole supervision, and
other chilling punishments simply because they like to get high.
When I did my time for marijuana offenses some 40 years ago, the
police forces were just beginning to find us as ugly blips on their
cultural radar screens, and there weren't very many of us in confinement.
I served six months in the old Detroit House of Correction in 1966
for possession of less than an ounce of weed, and then two-and-a-half
years of a 9-1/2- to 10 year-sentence in Jackson and Marquette as a
maximum security prisoner of the state of Michigan for the crime of
giving two joints to an undercover policewoman from the Detroit
Since the reviled Richard M. Nixon administration seized on the
recreational drug issue in a big way and triggered the War on Drugs
against an innocent and helpless populace involved in mental and
sensual stimulation of various sorts, prosecution of this vicious
campaign has stimulated the growth of a vast police state mechanism
of almost unbelievable proportions.
"The United States jails, imprisons and correctionally monitors
(supervision, probation, parole) more people than any other nation in
the world," Charles Shaw asserts in his new online memoir Exile
Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality, "around six million,
or one out of every 50 Americans. Most are for nonviolent drug offenses.
"This 'correctional economy' which comprises the police, courts and
prisons, accounts for millions of jobs and billions of dollars. At
the same time, state budgets are so overwhelmed they can't afford to
hold all the prisoners they have jammed into their systems like
animals on a factory farm [while] marijuana is the No. 1 cash crop in America."
I met Charles Shaw in London this past week, when I attended his
lecture about the War on Drugs at the Hub in Kings Cross. He was
showing footage of his interviews with a wide variety of recreational
drug users and victims of the drug wars that he's recorded for his
current film project, Unheard Voices.
Shaw is a fellow ex-convict and a close friend of my pal Dimitri
Mugianis, the ex-dope fiend and former Detroiter who cleaned up his
habit with the help of iboga and has since dedicated himself to
treating addicted persons all over the Western world as an
underground iboga healer. Both have turned their bitter experiences
with the culture of addiction and the minions of drug law enforcement
into inspiration for their committed activism on behalf of the
people's side of the War on Drugs.
Charles and Dimitri met when Shaw was filming his two-part
documentary The Iboga Insurrection (Parts 1 & 2), which "delves into
the history and typology of the ibogaine underground, with
evangelizing addicts and lay-providers, activists, medical
researchers and shamans."
Shaw's credentials are stunning. He serves as editor for the
openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum and the Dictionary of Ethical
Politics, both collaborative projects of Resurgence, openDemocracy,
and the Tedworth Charitible Trust. He's written for everybody from
Alternet and Alternative Press Review to the Huffington Post and the
New York Times; he's the founder and publisher of Newtopia and former
head writer for the nationally syndicated radio show Reality Checks.
Shaw's new book, Exile Nation, now appearing serially on the Reality
Sandwich website throughout 2010 (tinyurl.com/yj6lk3c) is a memoir of
his life as a writer, addict, activist, prisoner and spiritual seeker
as he puts it, "a mosaic of his descent into shadow, his personal
reckoning, and the long slow crawl back out to reclaim his life, heal
the past, and start over."
This guy knows the issue from the inside, and has a lot to teach the
casual bystanders of the War on Drugs, whose support must be enlisted
in order to bring this dreadful episode in our national history to a
shuddering conclusion. I saw him win over an audience of normal
citizens of the United Kingdom, who were visibly shocked by the
images confronting them on the screen.
A native of Chicago, Shaw spent the first few years of the century as
a radical journalist, political activist and habitual drug user in
Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston and San Francisco, before he
was arrested, tried and sentenced to a one-year prison sentence for
possession of 14 capsules of MDMA.
He did his time for the Illinois Department of Corrections in the
Cook County Jail in Chicago, Stateville prison in Joliet, and the
East Moline Correctional Center, and then "released from prison,
unable to find meaningful work, and alienated from nearly everyone in
his life" Shaw backslid into a state of suicidal depression before
what he calls his "rebirth and spiritual awakening" led him into
"meaningful work, shamanic medicines, love and community."
There's an addendum to the book titled "The Secret History of the War
on Drugs" that will open the eyes of even the best-informed student
of this historical monstrosity. Shaw examines the global drug trade
and the war on drugs "as a means of foreign policy, covert operation,
domestic policy and social control. Highlights include the role of
U.S. intelligence services in the drug trade and in the psychedelic
community, the connection between drug laws and racism, and how crack
and heroin were intentionally used to destroy the African-American community."
This is some heavy shit, but really it's just the tip of the iceberg
in terms of the extent to which the War on Drugs has poisoned our
society and turned millions of harmless citizens into criminals and
convicts whose lives have been seriously damaged by the forces of law
and order merely for attempting to alter their consciousness.
With the tide of public opinion finally rising up over the carefully
constructed dams of ignorance and official disinformation to
challenge the feasibility and the very basis of the War on Drugs, the
one relentless question remains: How long are we going to stand for
this shit? We've got them on the ropes it's time to finish them off
now and reclaim our country from the warmongers who operate what Dr.
Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange has called "the largest working
railroad in America: the criminal justice system."
This week I'll be attending the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam and
reporting from the festivities, as well as weighing in on some of the
recent negative developments in the Dutch cannabis community being
proposed by the new right-wing government of the Netherlands. In the
meantime, as the vipers used to say, "Light up and be somebody!"
London, Nov. 19, 2010