Prison Drug Experiments
Is it just me, or have we all been in so much pain most of our lives that it takes a major shock to make us feel again? Do we have to be knocked down and kicked before we realize that we are under attack? We shake off hits to our minds and bodies that would have most people pissing themselves while hiding under the nearest table. What does it take to touch us? To touch our reality?
A reality of pain. We are pain. Our very bones hurt. For some it hurts to breathe; for others the pain is of the mind, of the heart. Who can we trust? Do we dare love? Can we share the nightmare of our reality, or do we keep it so deeply hidden that one day it bursts forth like a volcano? Spewing hatred, striking out even at those who would or could help us if only we had trust in someone, in something.
I was born in 1940 in Bellingham, Washington. Until age six, I lived what I thought was a fairly normal life. Shortly after my sixth birthday, life took a turn and I became a liar and many other things.
My father and my "Auntie Fran" took me fishing and then to Fran's apartment. They engaged in a number of sexual acts, including oral sex, in front of me. Dad told Fran not to worry about me telling Mom, as I was just a kid and had no idea what was going on.
When we returned home, Mom had visitors -- another aunt with her six-year old daughter. We were shoved off to my room. At some point, I decided that Dad and Aunt Fran had been having fun, so I talked my cousin into trying the same sort of things. As we were engaged in a comical attempt at mutual oral sex, my mother walked in. To say the least, Mom beat my butt bloody and asked what ever did I think that I was doing. I explained that Dad and Aunt Fran were doing it earlier at her place.
Dad was asked if he knew what I was talking about. Dad's answer was, "No. Why is the kid lying?" I told that I wasn't and it really happened that way, whereupon he gave me another beating and called me a fucking crazy little liar. I got beat a third time that day for walking in on my Dad in the john.
I felt more pain at that time than I would ever feel again, as a boy or man. Alley fights, stabbings, shootings, being hit by a car -- none of these even begin to compare with that twenty-four hours.
In about seventh grade, a family "friend" introduced me to sex -- that is, his idea of what it should be, which was pretty nasty. This was the routine -- I would submit to him for an hour or so and then he would allow me to play with toys he had received as a child. I felt that it was my fault. Crippling guilt came from doing things I knew to be wrong and then enjoying the toys.
After nearly twenty-five years, Mom finally had enough. She took my sisters and left. Years later I asked her why she had left me, a ninth grader, with Dad. She said only that teenage boys were just too much trouble to raise. A bit later, Dad split my lip because I objected to his bad-mouthing Mom. I'd had enough, too, and I hit him back. "If you're big enough to fight back, you're big enough to hit the fucking road." So I hit the fucking road.
What followed was a couple of years of pure hell. No one wanted me, not Mom, not Dad, no one except the chicken hawks of Seattle. Well, I lived through it and at the age of seventeen joined the Army.
On graduation day from Basic, a group of us headed to town to have a beer. At some point, LSD was slipped to a number of us. We tore the bar up, as I understand. The military police took us back to our company area, not the stockade, which seemed strange, because by all rights, we should have been locked up. Was this a set-up, an experiment? I don't know.
I soon got in more trouble and went AWOL. I turned myself in and a second LSD attack occurred in the stockade. I ended up in a single cell on suicide watch.
We'll skip the next few years. It's now 1960. I committed a number of burglaries, was caught, and ended up being sent to Walla Walla, Washington State prison. One day I lost it. I began beating on the wall, daring the guard to shoot me. Instead, he had a higher-ranking officer come out to talk to me. This officer said, "Come on, let's go to the control room and have a cup of coffee." We had been there about five minutes when one of the male nurses showed up with a shot of Thorazine. The next thing I knew, I was checked into the psych ward of the hospital, where I remained for several months.
I had been there about a month -- a month of Thorazine, Librium and other drugs -- when I was approached by the prison doctor and two other docs. They said they were testing a new drug that would help people like me sleep.
And so began a lifetime of terror and pain. There was no informed consent, no warning about possible side effects, nor was I warned about flashbacks or blackouts. I was injected weekly, sometimes twice a week, with Ditran, a very powerful hallucinogen. This continued until late March 1962.
Some three months later I was released on parole. I married a woman and we had two sons, both of whom were born with minor birth defects. I sometimes wonder if that was due to the drugs I was given. Between 1962 and 1965, I had many flashbacks and blackouts lasting from minutes to months. I would wake up in bed having sex with a strange man or woman, not knowing how I got there.
Sometime late in 1965, I left our apartment in Seattle to go buy a quart of milk. I returned to reality, for lack of a better word, thirty days later in jail in New Mexico. No idea how I got there. The sheriff took me to the city limits and told me to hitchhike home. Days later, I came to in Seattle, again with no idea how I got there.
In 1965 I was arrested for parole violation and returned to prison. The next eighteen months are either missing from my memory or so confused I can make no sense of them. When I returned to reality (?) in June 1968. I was nearly a hundred pounds lighter and totally lost. For a period of weeks I was put into a small yard surrounded by tall buildings somewhere in the prison hospital. I lay there for hours listening to the radio through a head set. From time to time, I would be handed some pills. Later, how much later I don't know, I was returned to the prison hospital.
The irony of it is, I could have gotten probation but refused. Why? Because I knew that I had problems and also knew that I would not receive help on the outside. Even the judge who sentenced me said that he was sending me to prison, not so much for the crimes that I had committed, but in hopes that I would either find the answers to my problems within myself or would get help while incarcerated.
Some fucking help! Used in drug experiments and then turned loose to survive in any way I could. Criminal? Yes, I was. Something less than human? I think not!
Between 1968 and 1975 I held a number of jobs in various states, all the time suffering flashbacks and black outs. In the fall of 1975 I was in an Anchorage bar where a large number of the customers were native. So when three young white men with brand new clothes walked in, they stuck out. One asked me if I cared to shoot a game of pool and another handed me a beer. Less than thirty minutes later I was in jail for threats to kill those three. Something had been put in the beer. Acid? I don't think so. Ditran? No, it was something even more powerful.
A friend on the police force had me released to him and took me to his home where I remained for two or three days. At one point, he threw me up against the wall and put his service pistol to my head. He said, "You dumb motherfucker, don't ever get me mixed up with those guys again or I'll save them the trouble and blow your fucking head off myself" (Of course, after that our friendship cooled.) I still don't know who those guys were, who my cop friend thought they were, or what they slipped me.
In 1975 I met Jeanne, the woman I am still married to. At first I treated her like shit. Let me stop here. I am not proud of what I was or what I did, but it must be told because it happened and because it was not what I wanted to be. The first five years were pure hell for her. I drank myself numb, and if I fell out of the truck (I had sense enough to let her drive) she'd cover me with blankets, snow or rain, and leave me there until I sobered up enough to go into the house. I slept with a pistol under my pillow and a loaded shotgun by the bed.
One night, I returned home almost sober and started in on Jeanne. I slapped her and this time she reacted. She grabbed me, threw me on to the hood of the car and said, "Listen to me, you bastard. I've never fucked around on you and I've stood by you because I knew that what was on the surface was not the real you. You've got two choices, get sober and stay sober and talk to me, or leave. Don't just strike out. Open your ears and listen to me." Well, for the past twenty years I've listened.
In 1992 I found a doctor who was willing to let me roar, rant and rave. He is not even a head doc; he is a heart and lung type. He also treated me for depression and PTSD. One day he introduced me to Paxil, and in about a month I began to understand some of my problems. Hell! Suddenly I could think without hearing voices or seeing black shadows from the corner of my eyes. My memory isn't what it should be and I still have blackouts, but thank God they don't last long. Oh, yes, I still trust no one except my wife, my doctor, my dogs and cats, and some folk I've met through the Internet. I protect my back at all times.
Editor's notes: The University of Washington performed experiments, with federal funding, at Walla Walla in the 1960's. Prisoners' testicles were exposed to radiation to study its effects on sperm. Prisoners brought suit and were awarded $2,400,000. Ditran is a powerful hallucinogen with effects that last for days. It was stockpiled by the Department of Defense along with other "non-lethal" chemical weapons.
Vern recommends the book Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science by Allen M. Hornblum. (Routledge, 1998, NY)
Copyright © 2003 by vern and Survivorship.
All rights reserved. You may print out one copy for use
in your own healing. For additional reprints, write
Survivorship, PMB 139, 3181 Mission St, San Francisco CA 94110.