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—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

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)