Mike Maki Released From Prison

Mike Maki

Mike Maki saying goodbye to his garden at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp

A final dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon. Mike Maki was released, after serving his three year term, earlier this month. Here is one of his final dispatches.

A Thousand Oregon Days and Nights 1/1/16

… And then some, since I came to reside here at the Sheridan Oregon Federal Prison Camp. Now I’m looking toward my last week here as a new year begins. Today, as we greet each other with “Happy New Year” it means different things to different men. Some of them have spent ten or fifteen New Years in prison, and because only nonviolent offenders qualify for camp, there is some resigned grumbling about spending such a chunk of their lives incarcerated.

For me, of course, it’s my third and last New Years here, and, I admit, I feel just a twinge guilty leaving everyone behind. Everybody’s glad for another’s imminent release, of course, but there are unspoken messages in the congratulations. But everyone, eventually, takes their turn through the exit turnstile.

There’s a broader shift in the population here this year, with many of the core inmate faculty in education also leaving. Besides the presidential clemency release of Chad Latham from the computer lab, Robert Miracle, the building trades lead is transferring to SeaTac FDC (Federal Detention Center) to finish his sentence nearer his family.

Then there’s Ned Roscoe, the super bright, but slightly crazy guy who spends his spare time (when he’s not teaching pest management or parenting classes) figuring out ways to provoke the people in blue, with the open sub-text of challenging them to do their jobs. Ned once ran for the governor of California as a Libertarian, and his right/libertarian perspective provides humor, challenge, and intellectual depth to all sorts of situations.

Other inmate teachers in GED and ESL have left recently, but as the saying goes, there’s another bus coming in right behind them. However, there is going to be a momentary gap, and I’m trying to help make a smooth transition in our voc-ed hort department. It’s going well, really, and the next crew is lining up. My last week will be filled with orientation as well as good-byes.

Even though SeaTac FDC is an indoor facility, with only one high window in the concrete rec area open to the sky as the only visual contact with the outside world, they have more liberal visiting regs and a couple of other percs, which include two-man rooms, which are much quieter (unless your bunkie happens to be a snorer) and more private (even though the in-room toilet calls for a bunkie etiquette of one guy leaving the room when the other needs to use the commode). Even though every family/friend visit to SeaTac involves a strip search for inmates, it’s one of those inconveniences that one simply gets used to. Here at Sheridan they just do random (and rare) strip searches after visits.

Apparently, the SeaTac FDC has set up a dedicated wing for campees who volunteered- or got drafted- to go there. Several guys have gotten shipped there over the last year, some willingly and some not. A few guys are like my bunkie Singh, who wants to transfer there because he can play cards, watch tv, or lay in bed all day, as well as see his family more frequently, basically wasting away his sentence in sloth and indolence. There are a couple of ways to do one’s time, and I haven’t felt like I had a day to waste anywhere along the way.

The truth is, I’m going to miss my friends here and can’t help but feel a tad guilty leaving them behind. After three years, I have become part of the old guard, and in my own way something of an inmate institution—the Plant Guy who can answer all your horticultural questions (fortunately, most all the questions are pretty simple ones), except for those pertaining to high-tech pot growing, for which there are some real wizards here. I’m also the resident old-school radical, not an angry one, but a peace and love stalwart who always has a note of good cheer (what I call “deep cheerfulness”) to accompany my freely offered opinions about the inequities and dysfunction of the System.

There’s also a big changing of the guard in blue suits, with a new warden coming on January 4, new counselors and case officers, and a whole raft of rookie men-in-blue corrections officers who’ve been showing up of late. It’s clear that our keepers, new and seasoned, are far from the best and brightest, but on the other hand they don’t for the most part either seem to be twisted and sadistic from their time spent on the job here in the human kennel. Messed-up alcoholics, maybe, and dog-kickers no doubt, mostly though, just BOP drudges doing their paid sentences to support their unhappy families.

All of this swirls together into the day-to-day life here that is a surreal reflection of the workaday world out there, except that here nothing much ever gets done, or done well. It is, as I’ve said before, the dysfunctional convergence of federal bureaucracy and trade unionism, long on gimme and short on giving a shit. I recall to my fellow inmates that while we come and go for a year or ten, our keepers are basically doing life sentences. It’s no wonder their life expectancies are short and suicide rate for their vocation (prison guards) is one of the highest in the country. We’ve had one c.o. suicide during my time here.

To create and maintain something resembling a real esprit de corps is a tall order, and it begins with the quality of people who choose the field as a career. There seem to be endless days in training for the c.o.’s, although to what end is opaque from here.
Altogether a tough business, and I’m curious to observe who shows up in both color uniforms. One thing for sure is that the potential for human development for the inmate is huge and virtually untapped. Rehabilitation receives lip service, but is basically a joke. There’s just not enough intelligence and initiative on the “management” side, or support for it from on high, where the mindset of punishment versus rehabilitation has not yet been resolved.

May the new year bring a new breath of change for the BOP, for the benefit of all involved—inmates, cops, and all of their families on either side of the legal divide, which divide is thinner all the time with the ongoing decline of the West.
I look forward to beginning the process in person in 11 days of reunion with my many friends. All my relations! -MM

Michael Maki – Breakfast With Aram

Sheridan Federal Detention Center

Sheridan Federal Detention Center

Another dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon:

There’s a stir among our Armenian-Russian brethren here (there are four of them, from all different walks of life and parts of this country, befitting a people scattered to the winds by modern history). A fellow in our wing, Elvin—better known as Elvis—got papers last night that he is being relocated. So there were hurried speculative consultations as to what might be up, but no conclusions. First thing his morning Elvis found out that he’s being shipped to an appeal hearing in Oklahoma. He learned this from a hurried phone call to his attorney, who was able to get the basic and purported facts. To get there will take a few weeks, part of the usual diesel therapy punishment for being a thorn in the side of the BOP/DOJ and asking for fair recourse in the law. He’ll apparently go first to Las Vegas/Parump, the CCA federal prison nexus and privatized toll booth for a few weeks, then on to El Reno (the now-famous federal prison visited recently by President Obama), then to another location in Oklahoma, from which he’ll attend a hearing, which will likely last a few minutes. Whether he will be shipped back here is anyone’s guess, but there’s a hopeful possibility. He thinks he might be back in a couple of months.

This morning I sat down in the chow hall with Aram, another Russian-Armenian friend. Aram is a fit, burly, fiftyish man, with classic Russian enthusiasm. He’s a Russian-trained attorney who has spent a lot of time knocking about Siberia, so we don’t have many places and experiences in common. This morning, though, as the breakfast table was discussing the future (and past) possibilities of nuclear war, and life behind our respective propaganda curtains during the Cold War, Aram jumped into his Russian army experience.

All young men in Russia are required to serve two years in the military, and Aram was sent to Mongolia, where he was six months before the full outbreak of the Afghan war. Then his unit was sent to the Khandahar area, and life got dangerous instantly. The fighting in the countryside was nothing the Russians had trained for; driving out in tank convoys under sniper fire to trouble spots on mountain roads, only to have the first and last tanks in the line hit by artillery, stopping the parade. This was the common practice, almost a daily occurrence. Then, while the soldiers sat in the stifling heat waiting for air support, they didn’t dare pop their heads out of the tanks, because a sniper hidden somewhere in the rocks had a bead on every tank. Shooting Russians in barrels.

“Why? Why? For what reason?” asks Aram. “We never saw the enemy, only snipers, always. In the morning you never knew who would be killed by lunch. I lost so many good friends. For what?! To bring freedom to the Afghan people? That’s what the Russian government told us. The Afgahn people don’t want freedom, except from foreigners. They have thousands of years of their own history, their own way of life. They don’t want to be part of ours. Just leave them alone! No one will ever defeat the Afghans, not America, no one!”

Aram said that before coming to Afghanistan, he had never drunk alcohol, but to sleep at night without a strong dose was impossible, with men screaming in their sleep every night. So after a few months he began to drink the vodka issued by the commanding officer to help put them to sleep. “I sleep with my Kaleshnikov by me every night. We never know when we will be attacked, or if we will wake up in the morning.” He said that during the day the sport of the Afghan snipers was to pick off officers only, plink, plink, plink. Maybe ten men died every day, mostly one at a time.

“You go into a village, you’re very thirsty, but they poison all the water. You make them drink it first to be sure.” His broad face took on a look of remembered fear and disgust and deep sadness. “Just leave them alone. Leave them alone.” Aram survived, and after perestroika came to California to live, working with his ex-pat community. We see each other every day, even though he is in the RDAP program, and we greet each other in Russian. He loves to work with rocks, and has volunteered to help out with a kind of crazy rock planter project one of our guys has taken up on the compound. Unlike so many of the guys here, despite his experience and no-doubt PTSD, he is always cheerful and upbeat, a man of great integrity who passes through here for reasons greater than the concept of punishment meted out by our own misdirected government.

Mike Maki

Mike Maki

Michael Maki—Snapshots Without A Camera

Mike Maki reading

Mike Maki, 2012, at home before imprisonment

Another dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon:

Oh, how often I say, man, I wish I could get a picture of this scene! This is like some sordid live-in sitcom, and central casting has done an absolutely champion job of digging up these character actors. I had breakfast this morning with a young guy named Nutt (his real name), a fellow who it’s hard to tell if he’s got a screw loose or is some kind of idiot savant. He’s currently walking around with his arm in a cast, broken by another inmate who attacked him on the ball field, they say in order to get sent to the SHU (aka the hole) just before he was scheduled to get shipped to SeaTac FDC (Federal Detention Center) for relentless knuckleheaded misbehavior, and to avoid his own likely bruising for not paying off his gambling debts before he split the camp. More on this now-departed fellow in a moment. Young Mr. Nutt, with a wild look in his eye, is always whispering, although sometimes bursting out in a shout: “Lies! It’s all lies!” He claims to be a computer hacker, but who knows, really; no one’s had his case Googled or anything.

Joining us at the breakfast table is Mr. Kim, a Korean who seems somehow familiar. A lean, serious-looking guy, Mr. Kim is also known for off-the-wall outbursts. In conversation, I learn that indeed we’ve met before. He owned three convenience stores in Grays Harbor County, which I have shopped in many times, noting the same fellow over the years behind the counter in different stores. Turns out, he would buy one (usually from a white owner), turn it over for a nice profit to another Korean, and then do it again and again around Western Washington. He can often be seen practicing on one of the beat-up guitars from the music room, playing- and singing- off-key.

Sitting next to me right now in the computer room is a young man in my horticulture class, Curtis, who lost an arm in a snowmobile accident and then turned to pot growing, which somehow resulted in him being here. He has a good attitude, and has turned his one good arm into a powerful extension of his will. He’s an artful softball pitcher, and a helluva batter to boot, respected by all for his willingness to get right in and do his best in any circumstance.

Two days ago I got a new bunkie. Even though I had applied for a friend to transfer into the upper bunk, our passive aggressive “counselor” assigned me a new guy, just in from four years across the street in the medium. A big, really big guy, Mr. Singh, a Sikh, was no doubt a gangster of sorts in his street life, but is a decent fellow withal. We just have a big cultural gap between us. He’s getting used to our easy-going camp lifestyle, and another guy who came over with him from the medium now also hangs out in my cube, which is feeling just a mite claustrophobic. We’ll work it out, one way or another. Singh was struck by my announcing that we are a profanity-free cube: “I been down a while now, and I never heard that one before!” he observed in his kind of hybrid gangster street accent. “But I think I can work with that.”

The last two Sikhs here, Chadha and Singh (as most folks know, there are a whole lot of Singhs within the Sikh Indian religious culture) were my friends, one an international MDMA smuggler, the other a all-around wheeler-dealer, both stereotypical Sikh hustlers, always working some angle. But I used to join them during their reserved chapel time (at their invitation) to watch Sikh music videos, which consist mostly of three or four musicians, a harmonium player, tablist, and sarodist or other Indian musical ensemble playing sacred music, which in turn consists of sung excerpts from their holy book, cut with scenes from temples and crowds of worshippers. Very pleasant listening, though, and easy-going hang time that won me their friendship. Seems that Sacramento and south, and up into the Sierra foothills is American Sikh country these days, and I have an open invitation to visit and stay with Chadha’s folks anytime, but especially around December 17, which is their holy day.

Did I mention that this is a multicultural sitcom? It’s now nearly time for the Saturday night count, and I need to give this machine over to some more of the guys before bedtime. Ciao for now, MM

Michael Maki – Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybe cubensis

Psilocybe cubensis

A dispatch from our POWOD (prisoner of war on drugs) correspondent:
——– * ——-
Here’s a little mushroom origin story from our experience. It was 1974, and we had heard rumors filtering up from Oregon that little magic mushrooms, liberty caps, could be found in fields in our coastal Washington State. We hunted and sampled—carefully—but couldn’t quite figure which of the many diminutive species they might be. My buddy Bill led the search, which became an obsession with him, and he became familiar with many fields and many kinds of mushrooms in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. The one semi-underground guidebook by Leonard Enos, with ink and watercolor illustrations, wasn’t much help. We knew they had to be there, but which ones were they?

Then, a friend got a letter from some local folks who had emigrated to Canada during the height of the Vietnam War and draft, and ended up on one of the remote Queen Charlotte Islands. They reported that hippies were coming there from all over the world to sample the legendary liberty caps, which grew abundantly in the fall. We anted up between us enough to help send the fellow there to obtain a live sample.

When he came back with the tiny packet in hand, Bill knew immediately which ones they were and where to find them. Exultant, we began stalking lowland pastures with certain types of indicator plants. They were everywhere! Actually, they were very shy and hard to spot, but after finding the first ones in a new field, and ingesting a few, they would suddenly appear as if by magic. Low-angle autumn afternoon light helped.

We spent many hours hunched over and on hands and knees locating and picking the indigenous delights. In the rain we donned ponchos, and after dark sometimes added headlamps. What we didn’t know was that all down the Pacific Coast of Washington and Oregon, others had made the same discovery and were pretty much doing the same thing.

We measured our daily take in plastic breadsack-fulls, and devised various drying set-ups. One of the ad hoc favorites, although limited in volume, was an empty bathtub with an electric heater inside, with window screens covering the rim. The humid, humusy smells filled the house. Candles on the table were surrounded with rainbow auras, rainy nights were magical, and sunny fall days exquisite. We had become friends and allies with these tiny little nipple-capped beings, and they were indigenous to our moist homeland.

For the first year and a half, we had the rural counties to ourselves; no one else seemed to be on to them. Curious cows would gather around us, mooing and jostling each other around the creeping humanoids. Occasionally a bull would run us out of “his” field. Curious farmers began to inquire just what we were up to, and we told them we were mycologists from the University of Washington, which seemed to work for awhile. We found that shallow drafts boats could drift from field to lowest-lying field, without having to park on the road and draw attention from the rural residents.

But a bonanza like this couldn’t stay secret forever, and the word got out, both to other young enthusiasts and then to the landowners and public in general. Soon the issue became trespassing, and magic mushrooms became an item of public interest, both pro and con. It quickly got to the high school, and of course out of hand. The beleaguered Pacific County sheriff saw a way out, announcing that “Peyote mushrooms [sic] don’t grow in Washington, so these young folks are completely mislead. We will arrest people for trespassing if landowners wish, but this magic mushroom thing is a myth.” Case closed. But so was the mushroom frontier by then.

Then we heard about a source for a little kit that enabled one to grow magic mushrooms, of a different species, indoors. Rumor had it that it was even associated with the mysterious Mr. Enos, with an Arizona address. We sent the requisite money order and soon received a fishbowl with the culture and growing instructions, which yielded a mere handfull of warm-climate mushrooms, but stimulated an interest that led to a later career in mushroom growing, which eventually led me to my current station here at the Sheridan, Oregon Federal Prison Camp. There’s a lot more to this story, but those are the beginnings.

Another thread of the story, though, is that right around the same time in the mid 1970’s, we decided we wanted to begin growing outdoor marijuana, and wanted to start right with the very best seeds possible. So, following a lead that connected us to a San Francisco rock band, Bill and I hitchhiked to California to trade a bag of our dried magic fruit for the foundation stock of our pot-growing phase, which was to last, off and on, through the next couple of decades.

Along the way, we were picked up by a fellow hippie in a tired red Econoline van, who had fled to Canada, but had immediately gotten tired of the winter and changed course to Mexico, his southern destination. Along the way, we made a deal with him to trade his van for a ticket to Hawaii, so we dropped him off at the San Francisco airport, he signed off on the van (with temporary Utah plates taped in the rear window), and we had wheels and seeds to start our enterprise. We got a couple gallons of green paint, and with rollers and brushes gave the rig a less conspicuous paint job. Many adventures followed, the stuff of local legend and a lot of laughter.

Since I got here two and a half years ago, I’ve let my hair grow long for the first time since that early 70’s era when I cut it to look less obvious as we drove around the backwoods of Southwest Washington. I have assumed the (not inaccurate) persona of the diligent hippie that I have always been, a Digger in the prison horticulture program and perennial smiling personification of good cheer and encouragement. I’ve coined a Buddhistic phrase to describe it: deep cheerfulness, and seek to practice it in the face of all discouraging things that are part of our life here in this human warehouse.

Michael Maki

Mike Maki & Larry Korn

Michael Maki (left, in prison duds) with Larry Korn, appropriately slightly out of focus and up against a wall at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp in Oregon

The first three books in my Dominick Chronicles—New Jerusalem News, Some People Talk with God, and Next Exit Paradise—each had its own location—the New England coast, the Hudson Valley, and Hawaii respectively. Dominick is a wanderer, and America is his serendipitous hobby. For reasons now vague, I decided to site the fourth book in the Pacific Northwest. But it had been forty years since I wandered that part of the country. I would need help with local color details.

I now live in the locale of the first book, spent time in Catskill and Hudson researching the second, and relied heavily upon my painter friend Catherine Buchannan on Molokai for the details to jog my memory in the third. A younger me would have headed west to revisit that stretch of coast between Mendocino and Olympia that always felt like a home I never got to live in. But for all the usual boring reasons of infirmity, poverty, and inertia that was not going to happen. I reached out to my old friend Larry Korn* in Oregon for assistance.

Larry, bless him, got me in touch with one of his good friends, the horticulturalist Michael Maki, who is a native son and long-time denizen of that piece of rural coastline I had come to focus on, around South Bend, Washington. Mike and I connected, and he came through, bringing coastal Washington back to life for me, helping me create the fictional town of Port Athens, where Dominick now finds himself, again enmeshed, against his wishes, in local affairs and other people’s problems.

But all that is really beside the point here, as the important thing that happened was that I got to meet Mike Maki through his writing. I will let him introduce himself here, then in future blogs share more of his observations.

I am right now at two and a half years into a 48 month sentence for growing and distributing magic mushrooms, Psilocybe cubensis. This was my first federal arrest besides one in 1972 as a draft resister during the Vietnam War, for which I got lucky and had charges dropped, besides an additional after-the-fact pardon from Jimmie Carter. Which isn’t to say it was the first time I ever grew psychoactive fungi, but it was the first time I ever sold them to a wired-up federal informer (who I thought was a friend) trying to save his hide on another drug charge, unbeknownst to me.

I went down as collateral damage in another drug investigation. The “mushroom people” aren’t really on the screen of law enforcement, not being a dangerous drug as measured by any of the standards of addiction, violence, or bad social judgment (except perhaps the questioning of authority), but still sitting in the Catch-22 catch-all category known as DEA Schedule I, the most dangerous category, where unfortunately and inaccurately marijuana currently lies, along with heroin and other truly dangerous drugs. I have always and continue to believe in the value of psilocybin and other drugs in the class called entheogens. All of this story is told in greater depth on my FaceBook page, “Support Mike Maki.” For a lot more information and current science in this field, I recommend the published work of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

So here I am in a minimum security Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Sheridan, Oregon, along with nearly 500 other men, many of whom are here because of a residential drug treatment program here that can qualify an inmate to up to one year off sentence for completion of the nine month program. I have been deemed unqualified for the program, since, well, magic mushrooms aren’t addictive or dangerous to myself or others, which loops into the Catch-22 part of this legal circus. So I’m doing my time, teaching landscape horticulture in the voc-ed program here, and generally making myself as useful as I can, following the old leftist dictum: You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Feel free, John, to post and share my letters out. I’m here at an interesting historical turning point, kind of like I was during the Vietnam War, when the authorities lost heart for throwing young men into federal prison for their beliefs, and just before an illegal and unjust war ground to an end. The so-called War on Drugs is likewise winding and grinding down, and society is awakening to the facts of its injustice and inequity. And that’s the way it is here on the frontiers of social change. All the best to you and your readers, MM

* See Larry’s new book, One Straw Revolutionary: The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka (Chelsea Green Publishing)