16 June 2022

Fear and Loathing in the Midwest

I spent the first weekend of June doing an Alternatives to Violence (AVP) Workshop at the pen - my 46th workshop, BTW.  (We all have our hobbies.)  

Anyway, we hosted a bunch of brand new inmates, who were still being processed, i.e., watched and classified. That takes about a month, during which they have plenty of time to experience apprehension and remorse. Maybe.  

So we had a boatload of new inmates, and they all really got into it, and it wasn't just that they were bored s***less in their cells. (Being locked down 23/24 is harder than it sounds, especially if you're not allowed books or other entertainment.) They were impressed that we weren't Bible-thumpers, or some kind of recruitment for treatment centers (although we certainly recommend AA/NA/Al-Anon), etc. All of them wanted to go to the next workshop, and all of them said the program is desperately needed outside. (Tell me something I don't know.) 

Meanwhile, during and in between exercises, war stories were told. Most of them were in for addiction - drugs, alcohol, gambling - or addiction related crimes. 

"Meth is everywhere," one guy told me. "You can't go to a party where someone isn't loaded with meth. You can't hang out with your work buds without someone offering it to you."

"And they're all crazy," another guy said. 

"Yeah, this one guy, he was tweaking for 24 straight, and he finally crashed, right. Right on the living room floor. And then when he woke up, he woke up just freaked, totally paranoid, and started shooting everyone in the house."  

"Yeah, these days they'll kill you. They'll shoot you and don't know why they're doing it. They'll shoot you first and then figure it out."

"Somebody's gotta do something about meth, man." 

"Yeah, you're a hell of a lot safer here than out there." 

(Tell me something I don't know.)  

Of course, some kind of drugs have been everywhere for quite a while.  At least in California, where I grew up. In the mid-1960s, the junior high school girl's bathroom reeked of marijuana, but that's another story.  There were reds (downers), whites (speed), acid (blotter, orange barrel, windowpane, Mr. Happy, and other pharmaceutical concoctions), other hallucinogens (mushrooms, mescaline, peyote, etc.), hash (fresh off the boat or from the pressure cooker), heroin, and cocaine (very expensive).

There was also crystal meth which was, I was told, very cheap. But meth-heads then shot it up, which put it in the "Oh, hell no, I'm not doing that!" category for me. (We all have our standards.) Plus crystal meth users were as crazy then as they are today. True, they were less violent back then, but there were also a lot fewer guns around, especially since I avoided biker gangs if at all possible.  Turns out the biker gangs were the ones who controlled most of the production and distribution of crystal meth, which I did not know at the time, and only found out in writing this blog. (HERE)  

Anyway, crystal meth users were nuts. I had a neighbor at the infamous Blackburn Hotel who used crystal meth. He had a theory that, if he could get his body speeded up fast enough on meth, he would be able to run through walls. He tried that theory out, over and over and over again, with all the bumps, bruises, and smashed bits you'd expect. 

Another feature of modern drugs is, of course, fentanyl. Now there's a conservative talking point (making the rounds for quite a while) that drug addicts die because they're "doing fentanyl", as if they're actually buying fentanyl by name, and so they deserve to die of an overdose. (Sigh; the cruelty really is the point.) But fentanyl (which is apparently ridiculously cheap) is what today's drug dealers cut their expensive drugs with. So heroin - always notorious for being dicey in strength - today is cut with fentanyl. And a lot of junkies die. 

Back in my day, heroin was generally cut with milk powder, which was very cheap, but at least non-lethal. What was lethal was when some really pure heroin went around, and junkies who were used to the cut stuff OD'd left and right. Now it's fentanyl that's killing them, but it's heroin they bought. The same with the fake oxy pills that are out there - cheap fentanyl with some cheap other thing put together in a makeshift lab to look pretty much like oxycontin or oxycodone pills. Only these will kill you, and of course nobody tells you. It's a dangerous world out there. 

Of course, not all the drugs in my day were stepped on with benign substances, either. Orange barrel  acid was cut with strychnine, supposedly because it made for more intense colors in the hallucinations. I don't know anyone who died of it, although I did hear of a few people who had intestinal cramps.  

One thing that strikes me in the difference between then and now is that back then, most drugs were still either a plant (marijuana, peyote, mushrooms), or derived from a plant: hash, opium, mescaline, morphine, heroin, and cocaine. These were all processed in some way, but at least there was some natural substance behind it, and (lacking adulterants) wasn't nearly as toxic as the drugs of today.  

Today, however, most of the drugs are all synthetic - meth, oxycodone, ecstasy (MDMA), synthetic cannabinoids (known on the streets as K-2, spice, synthetic marijuana, bath salts, etc.), and fentanyl, all made in a lab, highly addictive, highly toxic, with a tendency to psychosis.  And it shows.  I see a lot of meth-heads (my generic term for people who've been on synthetic drugs for too damn long), and it doesn't take 30 days for them to detox - it takes 2 years. If then. They just aren't right. Sometimes they never get right again. Not to mention lesser issues like loss of teeth, skin sores, etc. (Warning:  Graphic PHOTOS HERE)

NOTE:  And even these drugs are cut, too - in some cases with brodifacoum, a rat poison that causes bleeding, or fentanyl. 

NOTE: I understand Fox News pundits are worried sick about "pot psychosis-violent behavior link". But pot doesn't do that. "Synthetic marijuana" does, but it's not marijuana. Apparently this is hard to figure out, especially if you're paid just to bulls*** about it.  (Wikipedia, The Wrap)

NOTE: So just get it over with and legalize marijuana nationally, so law enforcement can move on to stopping meth and synthetic cannabinoids, etc. because the boys are right, meth is everywhere, and meth and K-2 can transform people into psychotic monsters.  

God help us all. 

And now, a lighter note:

I don't know if you remember or were there, but if you stood in line at a drugstore in the 1960s and 1970s, you found all sorts of over-the-counter products that were chock full of amphetamines. That's what most prescription diet aids were were made of. Also all the No-Doze type study aids for sale, which now (I am assured) have only caffeine in it. But a lot of prescriptions are still made with amphetamines - like Adderall. 

BTW, am I the only one who remembers Ayds diet candy? There used to be a shelf of them by every drug store register. Yes, sales collapsed as the AIDS epidemic spread in the 1980s, and it folded. (HERE)  Note my favorite of all the ads:  how to control your weight during pregnancy, using Ayds...  

And, of course, back in the late 1800s, early 1900s Coca-Cola's main ingredients were cocaine and caffeine. Since 1929, Coca-Cola has used a cocaine-free coca leaf extract. But my mother, who was born somewhere around 1917 (exact date a little hazy), well remembered her father going up to the drug store on Saturday night for a pail of Coca-Cola, which was Coca-Cola syrup mixed on the premises with soda water. "And that was the best Coca-Cola I ever had. It's never been the same since they put it in bottles." 

Finally, a last word from South Dakota:

From February, 2022:  We had two successive Sioux Falls police officers arrested for possession, manufacturing and distribution of graphic, hard core child porn.  (Argus

From June 13, 2022: 2 Sioux Falls men were charged & arrested as part of a white supremacist group planning a riot at an Idaho Pride Parade. One of them, James Michael Johnson, moved from Denver to Cheyenne, WY, where he tried to make the world a safer place for himself, if not democracy by "march[ing] around downtown armed with a gun or a baseball bat, claiming to be keeping us safe." And then moved to Sioux Falls, because Cheyenne didn't appreciate him enough. (Dakota Free Press)

Seems like something rotten is going on in Sioux Falls that we we really need to pay attention to.

Ah, South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, and act like Goodfellas...


  1. A good, if depressing, 20th and 21st history of our drug use. But don't forget the 19th century and earlier had some pretty potent plant based stuff, too, ie opium and the various tonics with it, not to mention "mother's ruin", ie gin.

  2. Janice, absolutely - and back in the 18th century, let's not forget the Hogarth prints "Beer Street" and "Gin Lane". Elisabeth Barrett Browning was an opium addict (she gave it up to make it possible to have a child), and Shelley et al did a lot of it...

  3. I remember Ayds candy. They used to run commercials every day during the now long-defunct mystery soap The Edge of Night. Sigh.

  4. What many drug users don't care to realize is that there is no quality control in clandestine drugs, from cutting heroin with arsenic for a high to lacing low grade marijuana with whatever. Plus, most of the geniuses running clandestine labs are recipe readers, not true chemists. Sometimes when these recipe readers can't get the chemicals they need for a process, they will get a chemical that sounds similar to the one in the recipe.. Imagine how that can go wrong.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. When I was college senior I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. The doctor reached into a paper bag under his desk and pulled out a massive amount of samples. He also wrote a prescription. He urged me to make every effort to eat as much as possible. In addition to my normal meals I went to Diary Queen everyday for a shakes and sundaes. I got better, but I shall warrant I didn't yawn for a week. Yeaph, I was on amphetamine. It was a different time. Jerry Sweeney
    P.S. For reasons inexplicable I am unable to sign as other than anonymous.

  6. Thanks, Eve. Your description accurately sums up what I see in my jail down here in Texas.

  7. Barb - I remember them piled high by the check out counter.
    R.T. - Thanks. Yes, there were and are a lot of "recipes", and not all of them were good. There's a house up on SD state road 81 that blew up one night from some volatile pharmaceutical engineering.
    Mark, thanks - I think what we're seeing is the same whether in jail or prison.
    Jerry - ah, yes - amphetamines used to be passed out like candy, to students, truckers, and, of course, people who wanted to lose weight.

  8. Elizabeth Dearborn16 June, 2022 13:48

    In the late '90s the Coca-Cola from the Philadelphia bottling plant was by far the best. If I were passing through I'd buy a couple of cases.

    Back when I was smoking cigarettes, a friend who was a cancer patient painted some morphine on one of my cigs just so I would see what it was like. I understand why people like it & I'm glad the hospice nurse gave my mother a few small doses of morphine just before she passed away, to ease her transition.

  9. Damn, that brodifacoum is nasty stuff. I guess warfarin wasn’t bad enough.

    In a way, your Blackburn molecule-traveling friend was right, but off by a factor of a gazillion because he would need to approach light speed. I gather from the bruised he fell a bit short.

    Historically, strychnine has been ill-advisedly used as an athletic performance enhancement drug, dosed by themselves or a coach, and some athletes have paid the price as far back at the 1800s.
    I cannot believe I spent my latter teens and early 20s in the heart of Greenwich Village like a Purity Doll, a part of the music and art, but untouched by drugs. To be sure, one restaurant I visited spiked their wine, presumably with mescaline but sometimes other substances.

    A surprising number of NYU friends were the same, focused on studies and not the scene, although one girl I was close to never met a drug she didn’t like. She was an unusual combination of hard-worn harsh experience and willing innocence. We never dated although she asked to see me naked once. Just because.

  10. Now here is a riotous mashup: The Gay Pride Boys.

  11. Elizabeth, hospice generally gives their patients morphine (they certainly did with my mother-in-law). And my husband was given it after he suffered major burns.
    Leigh - yeah, my Blackburn neighbor's thesis had some merit, it's just that meth won't get you there. And he refused to learn...
    As for me, in the immortal words of Debbie Harry, "When you saw me at the restaurant, you knew I was no debutante." It's come in handy at the pen.


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