Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind
Excerpts From Bill Wheeler's Journal
December 27, 1972
San Francisco: drinking coffee in the Cafe Trieste with all the city crazies. I just
called my lawyer Al Cobb, who told me to expect the worst in February or March. It doesn't
look like the Supreme Court will hear our appeal. I phoned Gina, and she suggested we go
to Oakland to hear her guru who's holding forth there. At this point I'm ready for
December 20, 1972
Sheep Ridge, 8 a.m.: water frozen in the pipes, only comes in spurts from the faucets.
A clear, frosty morning, with more thoughts about our home and how it's threatened. It's
all so clear to me. I dared to challenge the system and now must pay the price. I -- we --
all the same. The play inexorably grinds to its climax. What will be our death song?
Actors in search of a playwrite and stage found it here -- God and the land. No one likes
to know the end of the drama before it happens, a deep, terrifying abyss of suspense
tingling the mind towards the predictable yet unconscionable end. Of course it is
happening every day in Vietnam, homes abandoned and destroyed. What must the Jews have
felt in Germany? The Indians in America? And of course, Morning Star, bulldozed four times
up to now.
January 11, 1973
We hear the roar below us
the flow, the torrent,
a trickle -- a stream -- a river
over its banks,
brown rushing waters
that say you are a part of me.
We plunge across -- the
force near my center,
yearning me to the ocean.
A twig gives me balance,
then a limb to the other side.
You say, "I can't make it!"
"Hold on to me," I say,
and onto the far bank we fall
in each other's arms.
Canyon waters, take me with you.
January 12, 1973
A steady rain all night. The Russian River must be flooding. Matches are getting hard
to light, a measure of how wet it is outside. But I've put away a good stash of wood, the
roof doesn't leak, so let it pour!
Very much alone, crawling into myself, gathering my energies. The abyss of loneliness
yields to the exaltation of self -- the joys of spiritual as well as physical masturbation
exceed those of any other kind of love these days. The desperation of loneliness against
the even greater despair of attached companionship. And what about love? Where does that
January 20, 1973
Sheep Ridge, 11 p.m.: Last night at milking, Claudia just would not get up. Screaming,
yelling, kicking, pushing and pulling, I could not get her to move. I returned home and
asked Janice and Melody to give her some comfort. The massaged her teats for half an hour,
and said she stopped moaning and even stood up a bit. But this morning she was down again,
unable to get up. I knew the end was near. When Janice saw her, she insisted we try to get
a vet. That morning she phoned an easy dozen, imploring them to come out, crying over the
phone. But we were too far away. Finally one agreed. We met him up at O'Brien's gate and
rode him down in the red truck. Tall, angular, thirty-one years old, obviously kind and
open-minded, not too put off by us. He was fine. We talked of cows and love of cows on the
On first sight he could tell there was no hope. Deep sunken eyes with tears pouring out
of them, long pitiful moans and shallow, rapid breathing plus a below-normal temperature.
She was no longer fighting the infection, and any drugs he gave her would be a waste. I
asked if she should be put out of her misery and he agreed.
Sadly we rode him back up the hill. After paying him $42 (he apologized for charging so
much for a terminal case), he left and I went to O'Brien's hired man to borrow a gun. The
prospect of blasting Claudia's brains out was painful, but her suffering more so. Nobody
home at O'Brien's. Then the vet came back. I'd forgotten to unlock the gate for him. He
agreed to come down and give her a sedative shot to kill her. So back down we go on our
errand of mercy.
When we arrived, our dear cow was surrounded by the loving people who had milked her so
many times. I told them we were going to put her away. No one objected. Straddling her
neck, the vet skillfully injected the drug. Within second she closed her eyes as we
to the setting sun. Goodbye, Claudia.
April 10, 1973
The people on the land have been given 24 hours' notice. The injunction was posted
yesterday, and Jack O'Brien has graciously opened his road from ten to two so that they
can leave. Everyone is supposed to pack and get out. A meeting was held on Hoffie's Hill
last night. The I Ching said to stick together, but the forces against us are too
great -- dispersal of seed. What to do? What to do? Civil disobedience, being jolly while
being busted. The hippies are the joke of the Revolution. They don't want to kill,
therefore are hated.
April 11, 1973
It's all been a blur, running back and forth, driving, telephoning, trying to pull
something out of the disaster confronting us. Everyone has known for years it was coming,
and yet its arrival has been a shock. Yes, it really is going to happen this time. We're
joining the millions of homeless refugees down through history. That's probably not much
of a change for many of the Ridgefolk, as they were refugees when they arrived. Now
they're on the road again, thrown back into society. The twenty-four-hour notice has got
to be one of the more inhumane official acts of Sonoma County. The changes people are
going through because of this are ripping them apart. Why a twenty-four-hour notice when
we've been here for over four years? Are they afraid of us? As we lose our homes, do they
fear in secret that someday they'll lose theirs also?
Thus far, the cops have been an odd mixture of tough fronts but compassionate acts. The
were the ones to persuade O'Brien's hired man to let the truck through the gate on the
return from a community run. A cop saw the mothers and kids ("Gee whiz, I've got a
wife and kids at home!"), and told him to let them through. I can't believe that any
of them relish the job of cleaning us out of here. During these hard times, the community
has pulled together as never before, people open and generous with everything they have,
food possessions. No one really understands what's happening, except that it's a mythic
moment full of the deepest feelings.
April 13, 1973
At the courthouse today Hayes, the undersheriff, told me that Judge Mahan issued a
restraining order against his own injunction. Amazing! Al Cobb succeeded in getting us
some time so that our application for a campground permit can be heard without all the
people leaving the land first. This permit would allow non-code structures to stand. All
that needs to be done is the construction of a code bath house and kitchen which would
satisfy the Health Department. We tried for the same permit in 1971, but got shot down by
the politicians. I don't think we have a much better chance now, but it's our only hope
for survival as a community. The restraining order runs for ten days, at which time the
judge will determine whether there's any further reason to restrain the bulldozers.
I mentioned to Hayes the outrageousness of the twenty-four-hour eviction notice, and
that even the poorest of the poor are given thirty days' notice. He said that we had had
two years to think about it while our appeal was pending, and that anyway, they had backed
down from that twenty-four-hour business. Only after pressure from our attorney, I
reminded him. I said it was clear that the county regarded us as niggers, and would like
to sweep us away. Startled by my words, he told me not to say that. "You have never
told me the truth," I replied.
Outside the courtroom, Judge Mahan emerged red-faced, overweight, a snarl on his lips
-- pure Genet. "Thank you, Your Honor, for what you did," I said. "It was
"Only temporary," he replied, and then, as an afterthought, "But then,
all of life is only temporary."
April 25, 1973
The judge ruled against us, and the land is now officially closed. The Sheriff's
Department came out yesterday for a meeting with me. Their attitude this time was much
different than before the ten-day restraining order. Now they were fully conscious of what
they ere doing, that people's homes and land were being taken. Unless they wanted trouble,
and I believe they did not, they would have to move with care and tact. The received a lot
of bad publicity over the twenty-four-hour eviction attempt. The politically created
refugee situation which ignores any resettlement of families has nasty implications and
could linger over them for years. They are fully aware that by closing us down they are
not solving anything. Instead they are creating more problems by displacing people, adding
to the burgeoning population of street people and freaks in other parts of the county.
They are merely bursting the pod and spreading the seed. The only alternative open to us
is to wait for the politics of Sonoma County and the country at large to change. It may be
closer than we think. Watergate. Now it's become clear to most Americans that Nixon's
Law'n Order smokescreen merely hid his own criminal behavior. People will be looking for
more positive alternatives to social problems, and the most obvious of these is -- Open
What's happening on the land right now? Around fifty to seventy-five hard core
Openlanders remain. These are high times for us, much sharing and good feelings. As for
myself, I'm very much into the garden this year, and want to remain to work on it.
Something is telling me to stay on and watch the plants grow. It's all right for people to
live in my residence, according to the sheriff yesterday, so I'll try to keep a few close
friends here helping out. The growing vitality of the garden somehow transcends the
destruction raining down upon us.
May 6, 1973
Houses are going down at the rate of about one a day. We are trying to dismantle them
before the county sends in the bulldozers, both to save their billing me for them and save
some of the lumber as well. Snakepit Eddie's went yesterday, David and Melody tore their
own down, the lumber neatly stacked. Janice's house and Verne's will go next. Lots of
lumber to build new nests. The tearing down doesn't seem an altogether bad thing,
returning the land to her former state, relieving her of the burden of man's structures,
no matter how lightly they rode upon her breast. They were the personal expression of
those who built and lived in them, full of the joys, sufferings, inspirations and
difficulties of the souls who passed through them. As we take them down, we feel all the
years of cumulative efforts of the householders. The board so lovingly fitted, so
carefully joined, now is ripped out like a tooth from a jaw and thrown in a pile, all the
magic dissipated. As I write this in the early dawn, I place in the stove a board from a
recently torn-down house. It seems to give off a special warmth, popping and hissing a
tale of the days and nights it has seen, of old friends and magic moments.
May 12, 1973
Today I asked Ralph Amaroli, the chief building inspector, and told him we were tearing
down the houses at a steady rate which would allow us to clear the land in about a month.
I begged him to hold off the bulldozers for that amount of time. He refused to give me a
straight answer, saying only that demolition firms had been contacted but that the final
arrangements had not been made.
May 15, 1973
I met George, the cop assigned to the land, in Occidental yesterday. It was a much more
relaxed meeting that our previous one. I gave him a list of the people who would be living
in my house, and also told him that people would be coming during the day to tear down
houses. I asked him not to bust them. He replied there would be no exceptions to the
injunction except for those people living in my house. He went on about the weirdness
between the D.A.'s office and the Sheriff's Department. Evidently the Sheriff's not
interested in being strict about the injunction, but when neighbors complain that people
are still living on the Ridge, the D.A. blames the Sheriff and vice versa. Naturally we
remain in the middle, getting the worst of it. Only in America! But what happens when she
runs out of gas? The writing is on the wall, but America's so crazy! And meanwhile, they
won't let us be Indians again. Thank God for the green, growing things in the garden.
May 20, 1973; 12:45 a.m. Sunday
Patricia and I are at Cliff's house at Star Mountain because we're homeless. Last
Wednesday we went to San Francisco for the day. Before we left that morning, we heard
bulldozers at work up on O'Brien's cutting a new road on the east side of Sugarloaf
Mountain. We didn't think much of it, since it was the beginning of the fire season and
O'Brien was probably making a fire access road. We didn't want to believe O'Brien was
having a whole new road built so that the machines would have an easy access to destroy
our community. After spending the night in the city, we started north. In Cotati, about
thirty miles from home, we stopped for groceries and I bought a Press Democrat. There on
the front page -- "Wheeler Ranch Is Razed." The short article described
bulldozers arriving on the land, demolition of homes and reported no arrests. It called is
"a model commune." I was reading our obituary.
Anger, despair and hatred flashed through me as we raced home -- going home when there
was no home to go to. It was really true. From the hill on O'Brien's we looked down and
saw an area of scraped earth where my studio had once stood. At the front gate we met a
group of people getting ready to leave in a pick-up truck. They looked like a Kathe
Kollwitz lithograph, an Eduard Munch woodcut, their faces lined with shock and misery.
"We'll be back together," I told them. "I love you all." "We will
always be together," was their reply.
Down the road we went, raising a huge cloud of dust behind us, dust kicked up by the
heavy machinery. Bulldozer tracks scar the ground for years. Out garden was still there,
but our house was not. A pile of broken sticks and rubble was all that remained. I spotted
the roof beam in the wreckage. How I remembered every tiniest detail! Our belongings had
been placed under the oak that had sheltered my house -- a sturdy tree, sturdier than my
creations. The piano and printing press they had put beside the garden. All so strange!
All my things and no house to put them in! But I was grateful for small favors. After all,
they could have bulldozed all my possessions along with the structures. It was obvious
that in the process of cleaning out the house they had gone through everything looking for
dope, my desk, Patricia's trunk, boxes. But they had been disappointed.
The bulldozers had appeared as if by magic at the front gate at six-thirty in the
morning, having driven up O'Brien's new road which they had made the day before. For the
Ridgefolk, it must have been a horrifying sight to see those huge monsters lumbering onto
the land. They started at the far end of the ranch with Jim's house, then to Evergreen's,
then Tony's which we had already torn down. But they loaded up the good materials, and the
balance of the lumber they pushed around a bit to break it up so it could never be used
again. Scorched earth policy.
We learned later that some of the bulldozing crew were prisoners who refused to
participate in the carnage. Later they were disciplined and given extra time. One of the
bulldozer operators was a young man from Marin County. When he realized what he was being
paid to do, he balked.
"Hey, these are peoples' homes, man!" he shouted. "We can't do this!
What the fuck's happening, anyway?" He walked away from his machine shaking his head
The rest of team moved in on the treehouse, a beatifically organic structure built
around a big old oak. Unfortunately they couldn't differentiate the house from the tree
and knocked both of them down. Sorry 'bout that, buddy. And they left the barn. That would
have been even too much for those hired killers. My house and studio got it next. David
and Melody begged them to wait a day until I got back, so we could move our things
ourselves. They were finally told to leave or else they would be arrested. A bulldozer
operator told me later that the building inspector didn't want to bother clearing out our
things, but just wanted to push the house over as it stood.
I was terribly depressed, but also realized that the bulldozers would be back tomorrow
to finish the nightmare unless we did something. There were fifty houses to go, and we
figured it might take them a week to complete the job. Besides being terribly expensive,
it was very hard on the land. Such destruction! We had been flung into a war zone, but it
was Fear versus Love. Burn, baby, burn! Which is just what we did. I went to Rod and said,
"Let's get to it!"
At the Triangle house, we took out the woodstove and anything else of value. Rod poured
some gas in a corner, threw a match, and the house was a roaring inferno. Flames licked up
through the fog, burning a hole through to the clear, night sky. Hypnotized, we watched
with a strange pleasure, a morbid fascination. In a flash of nature's energies, a house
disappeared in just five minutes.
All that night we went from house to house reenacting the same ritual. We began
competing for the right to light the match, turning into insane pyromaniacs. Purification.
God power. He didn't want to see any more of his land sliced up by those machines. At dawn
we torched the last house on the Knoll. We had burned all fifty. Stumbling home, I met Rod
who was standing by his burning cabin. "Let it all go,"he said. "Wanna
roast some marshmallows?"
About eight that morning the machines returned, along with ten squad cars full of the
Sheriff's Department's tactical and goon squad. George gazed at me with an 'I told you so'
expression on his happy, smiling face. I went up to the lead car. "Sorry to
disappoint you, but all the houses are gone," I said.
"We burned them down last night," I replied, walking away feeling defeatedly
But the bulldozers came anyway. clanking down the road like primeval monsters. I ran up
to the operator and asked him to go away, that there was nothing left. He said he had a
few pieces left to pick up. I ran down to set alight the pile of rubble that had been my
home but the cops surrounded me.
"No more burning," they warned me.
So the monsters came, followed by debris trucks into which they loaded the kindling
they had made. Such incredible insanity! Pure Kafka. Carefully, the driver scraped all the
sticks off the ground as if he was a housewife sweeping her living room, running back and
forth to get every last shred. The debris trucks headed for the dump. Unable to withstand
the futility of it all, I went to the driver and told him he was tearing down my garden
fence. The few remaining sticks made no difference.
He looked at me with incredible compassion and helplessness. "I don't like this
any more than you do," he said, and went on with his job.
May 23, 1973
We are still recovering from the shock of it all, picking up the pieces and trying to
put them back together -- finding a home, settling down. Definitely a low point,
discouraged and determined to make a stand. They won't run us out. Hopefully, within the
not too distant future, we'll be able to get back to the land we love so much. Living with
electricity and gas stoves, coffee in seconds in this kitchen where I'm sitting -- it's
just not for me. Gimme that old slow woodstove, so that it takes a half hour to make
coffee. We've got plenty of time.
July 6, 1973
It was windy last night after we returned from the Ridge, but today's clear and fine.
The holes for the septic tank and leach line are just about finished. Rod and I went off
for gravel to use in the leach field. We had to use a jackhammer to get through the hard
rock. I hated to use it, but I felt like the noise put the neighbors on notice not to fuck
with us. Machine gun fantasy. The inspectors are coming Monday, and I'm confident there'll
be no trouble. Hopefully the work will be approved and we'll be bale to get a trailer
permit. At least we'll have a home again.
On Monday, Don Smith from the Health Department gave the septic system his okay.
"Far out," he said. "Bill Wheeler has a septic system. I thought I'd
never see it happen."
On Tuesday, I went to the Building Inspection Department for a six-month temporary
trailer permit while we built the new house. They didn't want to give me one, but they had
no choice since all my papers were 'in order.'
The balance of the week I spent running around looking for a trailer. We found one in
Santa Rosa, battered but serviceable. Now just a matter of getting it down the access road
to the land. Buck, my neighbor to the south, denied permission, saying he didn't want to
set a precedent for my use of his road. He was falling in line with the rest of the
neighbors who didn't want to see us back on the land. So that left me no other choice. I
had to take the O'Brien road if the trailer was to come in.
Friday the thirteenth! If I had known what was going to happen, I would have stayed in
bed. Late that afternoon we hooked up the trailer to the big green truck, following it
with the red truck carrying timbers to help it over the rougher parts of the road. I knew
that taking the trailer in would tear it up, but I was desperate. I figured that somehow
we would finesse it onto the land. On Coleman Valley Road we met a sheriff's deputy who
warned us that O'Brien's hired man was waiting for us and would not allow us to bring the
trailer down to the land. I went back to a pay phone to call the Sheriff's department. I
told them I was fully within my rights to take a trailer in. They said they'd check it out
and call me back. I waited for fifteen minutes but the call was not returned. It was
getting to be late in the afternoon. I was due to fly to the East Coast the following day.
It was now or never.
I found quite a reception waiting at O'Brien's front gate: the hired man, six-gun
strapped to his hip, an overgrown kid working out his cowboy fantasy, and Clara O'Brien
with her Lincoln Continental. She stood defiantly behind the gate. I told her I didn't
want to hurt her, and that she was breaking the law by not allowing me to come through.
Two cop cars had arrived by this time, and I asked the deputies to arrest her. They
refused. Their instructions were to stay out of it, but not allow anyone to get hurt. I
showed Clara the trailer permits and that it was all perfectly legal. She said, "I
don't care! You're not going to use the road." The basis for her refusal was that the
trailer was not ordinary traffic and therefore, by her definition of the court order, not
allowed on the road.
I took the lock off the gate and pulled the truck up to it. The gate swung open and she
fell. The hired man jumped out of his pick-up and told her to lie still. He wanted to take
a photograph. The deputy came over to me and arrested me for assault with a deadly weapon.
"You've blown it," he told me as I slumped in the back of the patrol car.
"You've really done it this time."
I was in a state of total shock. Those same words had been spoken to me four years
before on Black Sunday by a bystander while people reeled around out of their minds on
acid, as if I was responsible for what happened. Was I responsible this time or was it
another hard God- joke?
Well, I was innocent until proven guilty, but an arrest on a Friday night means jail
until Monday. Judges don't work weekends. With my bail set at thirty thousand dollars, my
only hope was to wait until Monday when the judge might lower the bail. The steel door
closed with a sickening metallic clank, and the reality of my arrest and imprisonment
dawned on me. A free man one moment, a slave the next, no fear but a deep depression
because of my helplessness. No way out of that small green room where waves of
claustrophobia swamped me. I wanted to scream and beat against the walls in panic. Then I
remembered how Lou had said to me, "Jail is nothing." I began pacing back and
forth, as if that small freedom of movement would break the boundaries of those pressing
walls. After a few minutes I calmed down. After all, it was all in my head.
The temporary holding cell measured no more than ten feet square, with nothing to sit
on except the concrete floor. A washbasin covered with what looked like blood stood in one
corner, a shitter next to it. The blue-green walls held some graffiti: "Justice --
the deal the D.A. makes with your lawyer." Sharing the cell with me were three other
new arrivals, two Phillipinos doing weekends, and a drunk sleeping blissfully in the
corner clutching a bank deposit bag the same way a little girl would hold a favorite doll.
It turned out he was a bartender and had been arrested driving home from work after having
sampled too many of his own wares. The bag contained the bar's receipts for the week.
After an hour or so, they got around to booking me: birthdate, previous arrests,
address, empty the pockets, belt and shoelaces off in case I decided to end it all. I
leaned against a wall, legs spread, as the deputy felt my body through my clothes, then
into another room to be photographed and fingerprinted. Oh, those mug shots! Mine turned
me into a dope fiend mass murderer. Then I was led to another holding cell, the drunk
tank, larger than the first, with the added luxuries of concrete benches and prison
tobacco. From there I went upstairs. My clothes were exchanged for prison wear along with
a towel, a sheet and a thin foam mattress. A sign read: "Prisoners must pay for
anything mutilated." A shower was required, and then a medic came in and asked me to
squeeze my cock to see if any pus came out. He wanted to squirt some Quell into my pubic
hairs and behind my head for lice, but I told him I'd take my chances. Being a kindly
chap, he let me by without the requisite dose of poison. At last I was assigned a
cell,number eight on B row. Arrested at four- thirty, I was bedded, fully processed, in
the Sonoma County Jail by ten.
It was a long, long night. Jail has a timeless quality about it -- no watches to tell
the time, no sun to see, just a dark box that seemed to go on forever. A heavy feeling of
loneliness came over me, waiting for a morning that never seemed to come. I relived the
unreal events of that day, going over the smallest detail from every angle, backwards and
forwards, my thought going round and round, repeating questions to which there were no
answers. At dawn I fell into an exhausted sleep only to be awakened what seemed like an
hour later by the lights being turned on.
Was it morning? Half an hour later, the cell door rolled open and chow time was called.
Some forty prisoners on my row filed sleepily to the day room where all food was served
through the bars. What should I do about eating? Jail cuisine would not cater to
vegetarian tastes. I considered fasting, but was afraid of spacing out, that the added
element of hunger would be too much to handle. I resolved to eat just enough to keep my
stomach working so that I could concentrate on keeping my head together for three days.
The smelled reminiscently of rancid beef boullion soup, so I passed it on. The milk in the
cereal I drank and the nice red apple was appreciated. But the pancakes found another
home. Actually, the food was not all that different from the Denny's across the street.
Jail food is just good old average American shit- plastic food, refined and fucked with
beyond recognition, deadly poisonous but with enough nutrition left to allow the eater to
Immediately after breakfast, almost everyone went back to bed, many sleeping until
noon. Sleeping is a fine art. "I dreamed I was out of here." My three cellmates
were all champion sleepers, wrapping towels around their eyes to block ouy the cell light.
It amazed me how those guys could sleep! One was in for old traffic tickets, and was
waiting on a paycheck to arrive from Hawaii where his carpenter's job paid a hundred
dollars a day. On Sunday he was released and on his way back to the islands.
The second fellow was an accused murderer, held on seventy-five thousand dollars bail,
even worse than mine. He had found a body and reported it to the police who turned around
and arrested him for the crime. They had placed him in Solitary for a week as a dangerous
man, but he seemed okay to me. We played cards, and he was a shrewd player. I enjoyed his
company. Then there was Merideth, a graduate of six years in the penitentiary. He had
tried to escape from a work camp but was caught in a roadblock on his way to Canada after
hiking fourteen miles through the hills to the highway. The exhilaration of freedom during
that hike must have been incredible, but the price for that feeling was five more years in
As a sixteen-year-old, his father had beaten him and kicked him out. His specialty
became holding up check-cashing establishments. The newspapers dubbed him a polite thief
because he always said 'please' and 'thank you' during the robbery. After five years of
high living, he was finally caught and convicted of numerous armed robberies, sentenced to
five years to life, one of those indeterminate terms which allows the prison authorities
to set the length. This was also the way they kept George Jackson in jail for so long.
Merideth was a super-rapper, a smooth- talking con man, an entertaining and clever
teacher for me that weekend. According to him, homosexuality in the pen was not that
widespread, and those that practiced it were mostly gay before. Admittedly the young,
pretty guys with weak wills ended up with stretched assholes, but anyone who really wanted
to be left alone was left alone. He told me that when a condemned man from Death Row was
brought across the yard in chains to see his lawyer or whatever, two guards walked in
front and two behind him while the front guards shouted, "Dead man! Dead man!"
If the prisoners in the yard don't move out of the way, they are shot by the guards in the
Blacks and Whites stay apart in prison, he said. He had some black friends he would
greet, but he would never walk the yard with them. The Whites were organized into the
Nazis and the White Aryan brotherhood, the Blacks into the Muslims and the Panthers, while
the Mexican-Americans had their own organizations.
Lunch was the most unpalatable meal of the day -- Kool-Aid and two sandwiches of very
white bread, luncheon meat and cheese. Afterwards it was lock-up time again, the choice
being back in the cell or remaining in the day room which was fine except for the TV. The
incessant noise of that nerve-wracking and headache-producing machine! Its incredible
mediocrity and the subliminal American housewife distraction madness it spouted made the
room unbearable for me for any length of time. So most often I opted for the relative
quiet of my cell, doing a lot of thinking and reading. I struck up a conversation with an
inmate who was in for shooting a cop. I told him I planned on being out in a few days.
Could I do anything for him on the outside?
"Yes," he said. "You can tell the people that we're no longer dealing
with human beings but with a machine, starting with Richard Nixon and going all the way
down to the punk cop. Tell the people to wake up before it's too late and they lose all
Sometime in the mid-afternoon, Yard Time was called. This was the exercise period of
one hour, a chance to stretch the muscles and get their daily dose of Vitamin D. It took
place in the jail inner courtyard, a dee[ concrete cavern into which the sunlight seeped a
few hours a day. During this period I heard my name called, and was taken back inside
where I was greeted by a lawyer. I felt like he was Henry James visiting Thoreau.
"What are you doing in there?"
"What are you doing out there?"
In a small visiting room he asked me what had happened and I told him the details. He
was reassuring, telling me that it might look bad now,but that it might be an entirely
different story later. His presence was like food to a starving man. As we talked I became
more and more emotional until I burst into tears, crying uncontrollably the same way as
when my father died. He told me to let it all out, that it was good for me. So the lid
blew off, but then it settled back on even tighter than before. But I felt relieved, and
my bond of brotherhood with him that day went far beyond the usual lawyer-client
relationship. How I appreciated his presence!
The next day I reacted with tears again when some friends came to see me. It was the
regular visiting day, once a week on Saturday or Sunday depending where your name occurred
within the alphabet. The visits were limited to a half-hour on two telephones across a
glass partition, not exactly intimate but better than nothing. I tried to keep it
together, but all those beautiful faces and familiar, loving voices! My tears rose again
like flood waters. I had taken so much for granted until I had lost it. That day I learned
how important it is for people to visit their loved ones behind bars.
Clearly jail was putting me through changes. I was so emotional, my nerves shot. I
experienced despair, anger, splitting headaches and constant worry. The prisoner in the
next cell to mine had his mattress taken away because he had threatened to hang himself
with it. Caught stealing a woman's wallet, and possessing a long record of convictions and
time served, he faced many more years as a result of that small crime. What did he have to
live for? What did I have to live for? All the things for which I had worked so hard over
the past years were crumbling around me. I had plunged into the depths, and yet a survival
instinct was growing in me, telling me to et a hold on myself, that many other men had
gone through the jail experience profitably and that I could also. Sri Aurobindo, Thoreau,
Gandhi, Tim Leary, a host of contemporary American black warriors and young Americans who
had refused to fight an unjust war -- those were just a few who had done the jailhouse
yoga. And in my three short days, I was learning it also.
Dinner was served at four, the most substantial meal of the day. I ate just enough to
fill my stomach and then went back to my cell. Lights out at ten, and the liberation of
sleep. The first day wore into the next, and I calculated the halfway point in my mind.,
When I reached it, I knew I would have no problem surviving the balance.
RAMON: "On Monday, the judge lowered Bill's bail to ten thousand, and Zen Jack and
I drove over to the bank to cash a check for him. The cashier began counting it out in
hundreds and fifties. I suggested a cashier's check, with Jack fantasizing a fast trip
across the Mexican border beside me. Laughing, I shook my head. Poor Bill Wheeler! We had
to spring him. So back we drove, and Bill was out."
BILL: "SO... as far as I'm concerned this is the end of this act. I'm ready to
begin another, but in a different place and different time. Ramon tells me that five years
ago we were twenty years ahead of our time. If true, that means that if fifteen years Open
Land will be appreciated as the logical alternative to jails and insane asylums. As for
myself, I'm going to let the Revolution catch up with me this time.
Nevertheless, we of the Morning Star faith, those of us who have been
driven back to the cities, soon will be back on the land , happily in our gardens with our
families and loved ones again. We are looking for cool, hassle-free land, not a paradise
but free, open places founded on love and not fear, compassion and not competition. We
need space stations, sanctuaries, last resorts, blow-out centers, go-toos, freedom
exercise camps, goof 'n ball parks, time-out territories, home-free homes. Whatever you
want to call them, the sensation is always recognizable to everyone: 'Welcome home,
brother and sister!' And even you, dear reader, are one of us."