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 – Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybe cubensis

Psilocybe cubensis

A dispatch from our POWOD (prisoner of war on drugs) correspondent:
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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.