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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More than a few tokes over the line

Sorry to have my inner Frenchman intrude again, but this is important to him.

I was a stupid kid in 1979: a nineteen-year-old who was constantly high on almost every drug imaginable. I'm not sure I was sober for more than a few hours that year.

I'm not proud of that now, although I think I understand why I was that way. I had no hope of breaking out of the tiny backwater where I lived and making anything of myself. No one from my extended family had. No one from my social class had.

Although I was brighter than most, if not all, of my classmates in high school, no one ever thought to tell me it was possible for me to go to college. That might not seem like something you would need to tell someone, but I had no inkling that it was possible. My family didn't know. They were barely literate and were suspicious of educated people. So no one told me about the ACTs or the SATs. No one told me about scholarships. No one told me that money was available for working class people to attend college.

My greatest hope in life was to work at the local La-Z-Boy chair factory where I could make a few pennies over minimum wage and "retire" with a bad case of company-doctor-diagnosed "non-work-related" chronic tendinitis after ten years.

No wonder I was stoned all the time.

One night in December of that year, I was doing bong hits back in the tire room of the truck stop where I worked when an old friend's little brother and another guy walked in. They asked me if I could get them some weed. I didn't really know either of them, but I had rodeoed with the older brother in high school--we were the only two bareback riders on the team--and we had been good friends. So I got them an ounce of what was probably paraquat-contaminated Mexican pot (thank you Jimmy Carter).

They were informants.

I was awakened in my apartment a few months later by four flack-jacket-wearing cops and arrested on a third degree felony, Distribution of a Controlled Substance for Value. I was convicted and began serving an indeterminate sentence of "no more than five years" on New Years Eve, 1980. I saw Reagan's inauguration on the rec room TV while I was there. I had voted for him, so I guess I deserved to watch it while wearing a florescent orange jumpsuit.

I only served a few months of my sentence behind bars. Space was limited. I was young, and wasn't dangerous, so they set me free on the condition that I remain employed and report to a parole officer every month for the remainder of the five years.

As horrible as the experience was--and it was a nightmare--it didn't change me. If anything I became worse, freebasing cocaine and doing a lot of mushrooms and MDMA (it's called ecstasy now). I was high all of the time again and dealing for real--no more buying bags for a friend--to be able afford it.

Then I met a woman, a single mother with two kids. We started dating. I wanted to get serious, to live together, but she refused because she had applied to go to college and didn't want to put down roots in Tremonton. I told her it had been my dream to go to school, but I couldn't afford it. She told me about financial aid, something I'd never dreamed existed. I know that may seem hard to believe--My 2007 self hardly believes it even though my 1984 self lived it--but it's true.

The following September, I began my first day at Weber State College. It changed my life. It became ok to be smart, no one mocked me for it or told me I was full of shit when I talked about things they didn't understand. I dove into my studies relishing learning for the sake of learning. I reveled in it. I eventually went on to get a graduate degree.

I stopped getting high (except for the toke I take every five years or so to remind me how paranoid it makes me). The ability to go to college made me a productive member of society.

If I had waited a few years, I wouldn't have been able to receive financial aid. The feds cut it off for people with drug convictions in the nineties. Without that opportunity, I'd probably be dead, in prison, or God forbid, a Republican right now.

Thankfully, Congress is considering changing the law. They're finally beginning to understand how counter productive it is. But, as with anything else that makes sense, they need a little push. I hope you'll consider writing or calling your Congressman about it. I'm told it's very important to call your congressman now if you live in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.

Thanks to Tom Angell of Students for Sensible Drug Policy for alerting me to this.

And as long as I'm being all French and stuff

Update: Reader Adam says I should tell you to Digg this post. I think the Digg it link below does that.


  1. Anonymous9:55 AM

    All us stoners bong toke you to good luck !!!
    That dude went to college !!!

  2. Citizens! Make sure you Digg! this story to get it out there!

  3. Anonymous10:09 AM

    How cool is that? I stand with you in solidarity!

  4. Anonymous10:18 AM

    Modern political conservatism is a belief system that revels in human cruelty. A true Christian can not be a modern political conservative.

    That video stings more now than it did 3 years ago.

  5. I don't know if you saw 60 Minutes this past weekend, but they did an incredible story on providing higher education to maximum security inmates. It absolutely blew my mind how education changed those men.

  6. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Hey, Jesus General, we are kindred spirits (well, except for the pot conviction). We are the same age. I came from a working class background. I was the first one in my family to go to college. My family were Jehovah's Witnesses too so on top of the money issue, I had to overcome the proscription against higher education, especially for girls. I had no mentor or family member to help me through the financial aid process and when I finally did get the information I needed, my parents wouldn't sign the financial aid papers so that I would qualify for grants and loans. I had to formally declare myself completely and financially independent of my family at age 18. Sometimes, I think it's a miracle that I made it through. I finally got my degree by fits and starts and now have the perfect career of my adolescent dreams. But I don't know how people in our circumstances do it today. How the hell do they get there? Who helps them and what are the financial costs to them? It's scary.
    BTW, I now tell my 11 year old brilliant daughter that the only reasion she shouldn't smoke pot is because it could cost her her future in terms of financial aid and scholarships. What a rotten thing to happen to a person as gifted as she is to be hobbled by this draconian law all because of a harmless joint.

  7. Thanks for your post. I'm writing my R "law'n'order" Congressman (perhaps a wasted effort, no pun intended).

    Now if only Pell Grants and NDSLs were brought back to pre-Reagan levels as well, we might have a chance at having funds available for anyone interested in going to school.

  8. Anonymous11:41 AM


    I have a friend who raised all four of his kids to fight and claw for whatever the hell it was they wanted. One of his son's got popped for pot when he was about 15 and the local cops decided to make his life hell because he had an attitude of defiance. At one point the acting Police Chief ( A lieutenant who was indicted for rape, himself) who was his wife's cousin, started lecturing my friend about how marijuana was the "gateway" drug. He told the guy he was completely full of shit. He said, more or less: "Gateway drugs would be sugar, chocolate, coffee and tobacco--all 100% legal. If the government and big business ever find a way to tap the money in the illicit drug business, you'll be able to buy machine rolled joints, by the carton, at the 7-11." I think the relationship has been "strained" ever since.


  9. Anonymous11:44 AM

    Back in the 1950's, Dr. Timothy Leary, then at Harvard and not famous (or infamous) did a study with people in the Massachusetts penal system. They used a combination of LSD therapy (legal at the time, and still holding great the books of Dr. Stanislov Grof) and talking therapy.

    They made the prisoners feel wanted, feel needed, when most of them had just felt like human garbage just taking up space their whole lives.

    And it worked. Their rates of recidivism dropped from something like 85% to something like 25%.

    Robert Anton Wilson wrote of this in one of his books, if you are into our dear departed friend old Bob.

    Punishment never made anybody's life better. Somebody's dangerous, a threat to others, get them off the streets, sure. But the idea of retribution, vengeance never made anybody's life better. And when people say they need "closure", that's bullshit. They think that by projecting their hurt and anger its somehow going to magically go away. And it never does.

  10. Anonymous12:47 PM

    The prison educational facility where I taught before my recent retirement was founded when Pell grants were available for inmates. Now there is zilch. But my valiant boss has kept the program going anyway. She's done this in the face of the unrelenting hostility of corrections people, from the warden to the social workers to the guys who want to turn the facility into a profit-making work camp.
    If any of you guys think you're tough, meet my boss, 5'2" and 125 pounds, standing up to some of the meanest guys that ever lived.
    I hope there is a heaven, because she deserves her place there some day.

  11. Anonymous2:33 PM

    i was in the last draft for veit-nam i would spend my lunch money for a hit of sunshine orange barrel or 225 and trip my ass of in high school and still pass the test's i knew there was'nt any hope my mom had a 4th grade educatin pulled her out of school during the deprssion couldnt read or write to well dad dug ditches drank constantly and came home and beat the fuck out us all they would give what they call battry test's and i would damn near ace them had a 12th grade reading score in 7th grade and now im a burden to society if we dont give intelligent underprivielged peaple a chance well all i think of is hunter thompson's song's of the doomed or kingdom of fear

  12. Letters sent.
    Although my senators are both wing-nut political opportunists, so I don't know if it will do much good.

  13. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Don't be too hard on your drug years. As Ginsberg noted in Howl and as I noticed at college, the best minds of our generation are high on something. You writing is testament to that and your experiences, as hazy as they may be, have helped you become who you are.

    I can tell you as a former distributer of narcotics and who still has acquaintances in the game, that when you don't give people a chance to go to college and become active members in society, they're just going to end up selling drugs again or living on the street.

    Personally, the pinko in me wishes that higher education fees were greatly reduced or entirely publicly funded at the state college level like in many countries in Europe. I hate to think of all the folks who could have gone on to do great things were it not for the seemingly astronomical cost of an education. With all the labor jobs being shipped oversees, it seems as important as ever to give people the means to specialize themselves. I hope this law gets changed.

  14. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Well, because I still live in Utah, Frenchie, writing to Orrin, Chris and even Jim is a big 'ole waste of time, even though I do it anyway. I still smoke teh bad stuff occasionally, but it's getting harder and harder the older I get 'cause all my "contacts" have gotten paranoid themselves. No, I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed either. Legalize It! From your fellow Weber State Alumni!

  15. Anonymous6:06 PM

    Mon General,

    Your sensitive side's post has caused quite the response! I suspect there are a few stoners reading your blog, like the followers of Monsieurs Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.

    I started smoking hemp when I was in Viet Nam in 1967 - 1968 (spoiled me). Since then, the only times I have not smoked daily are when I could not score. This is a problem for a 59 year old stoner; but, you know, it doesn't kill you not to smoke, but if I have my druthers, I smoke.

    I've never been busted, but my son was a few years ago. Fortunately it did not ruin his life - he's doing very well. Still smoking, but more circumspectly. But the "War on drugs" has ruined many young men and women's lives. It's total bullshit.

    One hopes that Americans will grow up.

    Jean Niege

  16. Anonymous2:10 AM

    Phew! Same shit, 5 years earlier, and one state to your south, mon general's inner F. Mostly just weed, though, not those other things. Lysergic acid diathethylamide did change my life, though, as it did so many others. Too bad more didn't find it. If GWB and Cheney had stumbled into a good hit of brown windowpane in their misbegotten youth, I doubt we'd be in the mess we're in now. If a beneficent angel had given Wolfowitz some mushrooms back then, we might be at peace today.

    Water under the bridge. Glad they let you in before the shit got too weird. I took my budding interest into why they called the stuff "Cannabis sativa" and ended up with a degree in botany, specializing in plant systematics, in the same department as a man (whom I never met) who was busted as a member of EMETIC, the Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy.

    These days I poison my liver with Beefeater's. Tequila got me through the first Gulf War, and gin will either kill me or get me through this one.

  17. Anonymous3:42 AM

    Bong Hits 4 Jesus General.

  18. With less of the drugs but back in the early 70's I was where you were. Only I didn't know that I had a scholarship to Smith for a year if I wanted it. My guidance counselor didn't tell me, because he thought it would give me a big head and he knew I'd never go. I would have if someone had told me that I could or given me some support. But as another poster said, water under the bridge. No college, but I'm a lifelong learner and successful mom to two kids who are going to follow their dreams and get lots of help from me while they do it.
    Shine on,

  19. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Really good post, General.

  20. Anonymous11:52 PM

    Nice write up... It made me remind weeds day when I even hallucinate that my SUV truck accessories are just monster that I need to kill... But when my parents noticed that I am acting strange in our truck and house... They came up with an idea that I should be rehabilatated and I was one of those drug users that has been benefitted with the changing of law by the Congress... Like you it really changed my life... Now, I am productive person of the society, a father of four and a husband for my beautiful and loving wife...


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.