Thursday, December 4, 2014

It Pays To Make Good Choices

I was just eighteen.  It was 1967.  I was living with a bunch of friends in a big house in Covina, California when I suddenly found myself in a rather disconcerting predicament.  I was arrested for selling marijuana.  A man had befriended me over a period of time.  I liked him, and trusted him.  I got him a job at the place where I was working.  About three months later he asked if I could get him some pot.  I didn’t sell drugs, and he was a friend, so I gave him a little bit of what I had.

A few nights later, at about three o’clock in the morning, eight or ten cops busted down our back door, came barging into the house, shined a flashlight in my eyes, pulled me naked out of bed, handcuffed me and placed me under arrest for the possession and sale of drugs.  My friend turned out to be an undercover narcotics officer assigned to befriend, and elicit, a drug sale from me.  Because I was a dealer?  Because I was a danger to others?  No, because I had long hair in a time when long hair made one a target of the law.  My ‘friend’ set me up, exaggerated the transaction, and he and his associates took me down like an escapee from a Louisiana chain gang.

My roommates and I were the first long-haired kids in our town and the cops wanted to teach us a lesson.

With guns pointed, they rounded us all up and made us squat together in a corner while they emptied every drawer in our house onto the floor, overturned dressers and tables, lamps and stereo equipment.  They tore open the chairs and sofas, and knocked holes in all the walls looking for drugs.  They didn’t find any. 
One of my friends got scared and ran.  They took off after him, shooting at him like he was a rabbit.  He got away, but died shortly thereafter.  Not from being shot, but in an auto accident.

They wouldn’t let me get dressed.  Took me to jail naked, hurling insults and ridicule about my long hair and nubile body, shouting about how I’d be fresh bait for the big boys in the County. They kept me in the City jail for three nights, and then transferred me, manacled, by prison bus to Los Angeles.  I went through heated derision and ridicule during the spraying and cavity search, and was then placed as the fifth person in a 4-man cell.  It was actually a cell for one or two, about 8’ x 12’, but it had two sets of bunk beds, one set on either wall, and I was given a thin mattress to lay on the floor in the narrow space between the bunks.  

My cell mates were seasoned, hardened criminals.  They ranged in age from 35 to 55.  Two of them were awaiting trial on murder charges.  One of the men had beaten a long-haired boy to death at a Love-In in Griffith Park.  I’d been at that same gathering.  The guards made it clear to me that I was put in that particular cell for the pleasure of their company.  These were not nice men.  I laid awake all night, every night, and most of every day.  It was the only defense I had in such a threatening situation.  
I was released about a month later when a judge dismissed my case.  The experience has lasted a lifetime.  I do not, today, revile the police, or those in law enforcement.  I believe I have every reason to, but I chose not to let resentment defile my life.  It was a time of cultural conflict.  Us against them, and them against us, for no particular reason.  The reasons were many,  and the conclusions were few.  I have always recognized that there are good, honest, and thoughtful men and women in law enforcement.  Had I chosen to travel a road of anger and bitterness I may have gone on to become a life-long criminal because of it, rather than the well-intentioned man that I have chosen to be.  
Life is a crapshoot, as the past can indicate, a series of happenstances, unintended, and sometimes unavoidable.  But it is also a choice, a series of choices, really.  It pays to make good choices.  They can be the difference between life taking us for a ride in a rudderless boat, and us having control of the rudder.