Last Updated Wednesday, 11-Jul-2012 18:06:28 CDT
December 30, 2005
The last thing I ever wanted or imagined I would become is a medical marijuana patient and would-be activist. I smoked marijuana some in high-school and college and then pretty much put it aside as I tried to build a life and make a career for myself, believing (as I'd been told all my life) that marijuana was a relatively harmless recreational drug.
I was gay, and the deep South was a hot-bed of prejudice and bigotry, and after years of having everything I tried to do thwarted by homophobia, I gave up on the South. In 1980 I left New Orleans with the pack on my back and $60 for San Fransico with the hope that I could become something more than a waiter there as an openly gay man. By 1986 I was earning $50,000/year at Price Waterhouse as their in-house MIS guru with the title of Analyst.
In 1982 AIDS began to devastate San Francisco. I concluded early on that that I didn't stand a chance unless I was sober. For at least 7 years I didn't even drink, much less smoke marijuana, or do anything else...except work.
1986 was a very bad year. Almost everyone I knew died that year. It was a climate of fear and panic. I went to a doctor complaining of depression, and was prescribed a new wonder drug, Prozac.
Then my nightmare truly began.
Prozac was still an experimental drug at that time and I was one of the 50%-or-so of the test subjects that dropped out of the studies because of serious side-effects. I experienced the feeling of electric shocks running up-and-down my nerves, and reported this to my doctor, who told me to take more.
I suffered other side-effects: agitation, akathisia, sexual dysfunction - my orgasm was divorced from my ejaculation for several minutes, and it didn't do a damn thing for the depression. When I woke up one morning standing in the middle of the bed after having dashed the alarm clock against the wall because I was angry it had woke me up, I threw the Prozac in the toilet. You see, it generally takes me a pot of coffee, several cigarettes and an hour or so to wake up in the morning...
The result of going cold-turkey off the Prozac was a cataleptic depression that cost me my job, and eventually everything. I floundered for years in successively less rewarding occupations, until by 1995 I was virtually on the streets and unemployable.
Desperate, I gave pharmaceuticals one last chance. The Team II Clinic on Monterey Avenue in San Francisco put me thourgh several of the tricyclics and SSRIs as I struggled, on General Assistance and Food Stamps, to pay for the public transit to get to the clinic. They put me though Norpramin, Desipramine, Zoloft, Welbutrin, and Paxil. They all had serious, debilitating side-effects and not a one of them did a damn thing for the depression.
I couldn't read because my eyes wouldn't change focus because of the pressure in the eye-balls. I couldn't go outside in the daytime because I became hypersensitive to light. This is a type of neuropathy where you experience nerve pain if youíre out in the sun more than a few minutes. Itís not a burning pain, like sunburn, it is nerve pain. There was the constant diarrhea. Even if I could go outside I was still a prisoner because I couldnít be more than a few seconds from a toilet. On Zoloft I passed out in my own Ö crap Ö while dialing 911. And they all made me crazy as a loon. And they didnít do a damn thing for the depression. When, after all of that, they suggested I take Trazadone, and I read up on it and learned about priapism, I refused and gave up once and for all on pharmaceuticals.
It was 1995 I took a big coffee can full of half-used prescriptions to The San Franscisco Cannabis Buyers Club, told them my story, and boarded the Mother Ship.
Being in The Club, seeing what cannabis did for people, hearing their stories, and seeing what cannabis did for me when I honestly tried using it as medicine was a revelation. Cannabis was truly the only medicine I'd ever tried that ever really worked and I firmly believe that if I knew as a teenager what I know now I could have self-medicated out of my early depressions and finished college and had a career and something like a normal life. But that did not happen.
I was busted a month before The Club and went to trial a day or so before Proposition 215 passed. I very well may be the frist court certified medical marijuana patient as Dr. Tod Mikuriya testified, as an expert witness at my trial (the day after passage of 215?), as to my condition (bi-polar, major clinical depression) and that he would recommend marijuana for it.
This did not prevent the jury (half of whom had been excused during voir dire for saying the law was ridiculous and they couldn't possibly find me guilty) from convicting me of two felonies for sale and possession for sale of less than an ounce. I know one very handsome man stood up and said he had AIDS and he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for people like me. And a psychiatrist said she couldn't possibly convict someone of a felony for marijuana...
My father died during the trial and left me 20 acres in Alabama and a little money, but even if California would have let me go back, I feared what would happen to me as a medical marijuana patient on probation and sold the land to my Uncle in order to have money to live on until my disability hearing, a year or so later. The hearing was supposed to have been in March but was unaccountably postponed 6 months until September.
My initial application for Social Security Disability was denied because when they asked what medications I was taking for my bi-polar condition, I had no reply except the truth, which was 'cannabis'. The Government's response was that I was an addict, and they would give me disability for 2 years as an addict to 'clean up'.
I think about 8 psychiatrists later, including the several the court appointed in my criminal trial hoping to find just one that would 'debunk' me, I won. The closest the government would come to conceeding that not only was cannabis medicine, but it was the best medicine, was to state that my bi-polar condition was 'indepently' disabling from my 'substance-abuse' which was in 'remission'. Still, for that time and place, I consider it quite a victory.
And the truth is cannabis does work better than any pharmaceutical ever has. I wouldn't have risked and lost what I have if it didn't. It stabalizes me. It dampens the mood swings without impairing me - I am clear on cannabis. When I am depressed it gives me the lift I need to put one foot in front of the other. When I'm hypo-manic (which is usually only because of stress), it calms me down to something resembling 'normal'.
Since then I've gone from one place to another in California trying to find a place I can afford to live on my disability benefit and grow my own medicine. First north to Sonoma County, and then south to Palm Springs and Morongo Valley. The felonies barred me from any subsidized housing.
Time after time I have been exploited, victimized, harassed, robbed, evicted and even busted by landlords, meth freak neighbors, sheriffs and pretty much everyone else with an evil disposition and too much time on their hands. After 3 aborted attempts, I finally managed to bring a few plants to harvest in Desert Hot Springs 5 years after Proposition 215 passed. Then, in March 2002, about a week before my birthday, I went out to harvest my plants to discover they had been stolen. My neighbors had stolen my medicine.
Then they shot the site-managerís cat, broke its back, and tossed it in my patio for me to find. Then they tried to bust me. After I got a restraining order they broke into my apartment and robbed me. I interrupted them just as they were about to take the computer out the bedroom window...I found it swept off the desk onto my bed. They got my surround-sound entertainment center (carousel 5-disk CD player, tuner, dual-dubbing casette deck), a cell phone, and my CDs and other recordings.
I had left the computer running with the webcam and microphone on, and even though the person I had the restraining order against was visible a few feet in front of my apartment seconds before you hear the window being broken and the recording ends, the sheriffs refused to do anything. Then the apartment owner gave me notice. If you're interested in reading accounts I wrote at the time click: Oh what a night and Looks like the end for me.
Being in that apartment after that was one of the most terrifying things I've ever experienced.
Before my notice was up there I found an in-law in Morongo Valley and, after telling Bonita my story, I moved in, getting my deposit back from the landlord in Desert Hot Springs. It was shortly after this, in November 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not prosecute doctors for recommending cannabis to their patients, and Dr. Robert Sterner was so impressed with my case that he wrote me a recommendation November 11, 2002. And renewed it six months later. And after I was arrested, before my trial, he renewed it again and wrote TWENTY INDOOR PLANTS on it. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
I lived there like a hermit, hoping that by not getting involved with anyone I could grow in my apartment, no one would know, and there would be no problem. I truly never dreamed Bonita would stage a scene and then try to score a quick and cheap eviction by having me busted. On Thanksgiving.
But then I didn't know that the daughter of the man she lived with for 10 years, and who granted her the house but never married her, that his daughter was the wife of a watch-captain at the local Sheriff's department...
I got on the computer and sent out emails, and made calls alerting people I was getting busted. And I turned on the webcam and microphone and recorded what I could. Lanny showed up and they arrested and abused him as well. They just booked him and he hitch-hiked from Joshua Tree at 3 Thanksgiving morning back to Morongo where Victor had been sitting in the car for 10 hours wondering what the Hell was going on. Then he scrounged up $10,000 cash, on Thanksgiving Day, and he and Victor drove to Cucamonga and got me out of jail and took me back to Morongo.
I surveyed the damage and made lists of what was missing, and then went to The Victors, where I stayed for 5 days. The sheriffs not only destroyed my medicine and trashed my apartment, they took my computer. It was over 6 months before I got that back. The cat had shit in the dirt left on the floor where the blooming plants had been...and it stank. Within hours of returning to my apartment, Bonita had posted a 3-day-quit, on December 1st, 2003.
Thinking about it now, two years later, I can't help thinking it was like being violently raped and then forced to live with the person who had raped you.
I found myself with no medicine, no computer, my apartment trashed, living next door to a maniac who beat on my windows and screamed until I was having anxiety attacks. With an eviction and criminal charges to fight (11358 - Felony Cultivation).
Inland Counties Legal Services managed to abort Bonita's first attempt to throw me out in the street. On January 14th I first filed a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, my contention being that I wasn't doing anything illegal and that by busting me and then attempting to evict me rather than giving me a 60-day-notice she was discriminating against me, under Unruh, because of my disability and the medicine it required - medicine to which I am entitled by law. And that her actions, such as serving as a confidential informant, were clearly not a reasonable accomodation for my disability, as required by state law.
Bonita posted another 3-day-quit on January 17th. The 1st Unlawful Detainer was dismissed February 17th (the day before the Preliminary Hearing on the felony cultivation charges) when Bonita told the judge, " I thought he was growing two or three plants. He had a prescription. He showed me a prescription - ." Four days later she tried again, posting a " 3-day Pay-or-Quit." Now the fact is that I'd tried to pay her, and she'd refused, and when I got a friend to witness me trying to pay her she tore up the check.
But she managed to drag me into court, and keep me so busy fighting to keep a roof over my head, and fighting to stay out of jail, and dealing with her screaming and beating on my windows and her verbal assaults, and harrassment, and abuse, that it's a miracle I was able to accomplish anything at all.
However, on April Fool's day, the 11358 Felony Cultivation charge was dismissed on a 995 motion (which I never got a copy of).
On April 22nd the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing began to pretend to do something about my complaint, the day Bonita taped her missive to my window. On May 11th I filed a claim against the County of San Bernardino. On May 17th Bonita filed the 2nd unlawful detainer. (You have to respond to these within 5 business days or you lose by default, and you'll never be able to rent a subsidized or professionally managed unit again.) On May 21st I filed an Answer - Unlawful Detainer. On May 26th Ben Sasnett, my public defender, made a Motion for Return of Property. the Public Defender filed an Opposition to Return of Property, Sasnett filed a Reply to Opposition, the Order for Return of Property was granted on May 27th, and Deputy Dougan brought it back. Well, everything but the cannabis, which they claim had been destroyed.
The 2nd Unlawful Detainer Trial continued the next month, and in the meantime I couldn't find anywhere else to live and being without my medicine, the stress, and Bonita's constant harassment, (including but not limited to beating on my windows and screaming at me, repeatedly and maliciously) was taking a real toll. Best I can remember, it was before I knew of the intended decision that her nephew chased me down the street when I was returning from the store, and smashed my casette recorder as I was trying to record his assault, and the sheriffs wouldn't do anything.
I went to the Victors, who invited me to take a room in their home and join their co-op, but refused to make any plans to get my stuff out of Morongo until a decision was announced.
It's them I have to thank for allowing me to put the plants I'd started (after the Felony Cultivation charge was dismissed April 1) in with theirs to finish. And for finishing the plants so that I had medicine as long as I did. And when I had to get my stuff out of Bonita's apartment they packed it up and hauled it to their place and stored it in their garage. But there were too many people with too many problems in that house. And I was too traumatized to cope. I literally ran out screaming.
One of the things that really, really pisses me off is that the one time I had a reliable, consistent supply of medicine and could have done something - and proved that it works and how well it does, I was instead forced to scramble for a place to live in one impossible situation after another.
I intended to bring a Civil Suit against San Bernardino county, even if I had to write it myself and represent myself. And I only had a year from the date of the incident to do it, as best I understand the law. Researching that is one of the things I haven't been able to do for over two years now.
I filed a claim. But after sleeping on a couch 6 weeks in the middle of the house (while a bedroom sat empty upstairs) I came to the conclusion I would never be able to get anything done there and took Jane up on her repeated offers to come up to Hayward. In the meantime, David Nick had expressed an interest in my civil suit, thanks to the Victors who informed him of my situation and arranged for me to talk to him about it when he was in Temecula on their behalf. Margolin also expressed an interest, but after the Victors experience with his partner I wanted nothing to do with him.
I knew Jane from The Mother Ship, and then from the Holy COW (Compassion on Wheels). She died October 25, 2005, they think from being poisoned by pesticides (Avid, specifically) on the cannabis she handled (as part owner of a club), and smoked and ate (as a patient). Jane began asking me to come and visit for months before the cultivation charges were dismissed. After they were dismissed I took her up on her offer and visited at least 5 times before I took them up on their offer to help me relocate.
When they first mentioned it, I protested that I couldn't afford to live anywhere near San Francisco on my disability benefit, which is why I left and how I ended up in Palm Springs in the first place (and how my nom de plume came about...though it was certainly never intended to become a self-fulfilling prophecy...) But they were very kind and said they would help me find a place and they were good at finding places for people and I really needed to get out of San Bernardino/Riverside.
Turned out I was supposed to be a minion. That was a disaster with enough material for another book.
Jane used to say, "Save it for the book." Well, now Jane's dead and there's a lot that will never be known. But she did let me stay in her guest room for a couple of months (I offered to pay rent but she wouldn't take it). And she did drag me around and try to interest everyone she could think of in my case and my civil suit. She introduced me to Dale Gerringer, who said, "I don't know any Civil Lawyers." She introduced me to Bill Panzer. It seems everyone agreed if they could get it in front of a jury I would win, but that what probably would happen is a judge would issue a summary judgement and it would never see the light of day.
I did end up moving into Jane's old apartment but it was just too dysfunctional for me to do anything but go nuts there. For instance, I was supposed to leave the place unlocked (with a couple of pounds of prime bud in my room) so a homeless tweaker could come and go as they pleased. The thanksgiving deadline was looming but no one gave a damn if I filed the Civil Suit or not. I was forced, instead, to spend my time looking for a place to live, and move.
And miraculously (so I thought) I did find something, at the last minute. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.
I saw an ad on Craig's List in the Santa Cruz mountains. I answered it, stating I was a medical marijuana patient & activist, and giving the address of my website, which had much the same content then as it does now. Mr. James responded quite warmly by phone and by email, so I went up there and looked at the place, signed a lease a couple of days later, and moved in a couple of days after that.
I do recall the lease made me queasy (and I emailed a copy to Tom and asked his opinion) because knowing I was a medical marijuana patient, why would he put in those rather unstandard clauses about illegal cultivation (item #8) and violating federal law (item#11)? But I was between a rock and a hard place and moved-in in good faith. The emails, lease, notice and court filing are all online in my blog entry " Homeless in Santa Cruz".
Two weeks after I moved in, a day or so after I showed him my stash (well under the 3-pound county guidelines) he tried to bust me, and when the sheriffs wouldn't do his dirty work for him, he threw away my cannabutter with a note saying, "This is no longer allowed in my house", and left a scan of the butter and the note in the freezer.
Then he gave me notice for violating the law because of my possession and use of marijuana for medical reasons.
I called the sheriffs about him stealing my medicine and changing the rental agreement and they replied that since I was a lodger and not a tenant he had the right to do this and that they didn't investigate theft of marijuana because they couldn't assign a value to it. When I replied that they didn't have any trouble assigning a value to it when they busted someone they had nothing to say.
That was it. After moving 4 times in less than a year, and moving every couple of years for the ten years previous, I was broke, exhausted and lost everything. Including the cat, who had been my friend and constant companion for 15 years.
Coincidentally, or not, the date I was supposed to be out was the same date my appeal on the unlawful detainer in San Bernardino Superior Court was heard. The day I became homeless. Two weeks after my 50th birthday.
I spent a month staying in hotels and sleeping in parks and abandoned buildings before the Volvo Jane gave me (with no brakes...the front rotors had been worn to the point that they didn't grind when the brakes were applied) died and I gave up and surrendered myself to the Concentration Camp Santa Cruz calls its Homeless Services.
I rented a locker there April 27th, though I think it was several more weeks before they let me so much as sleep on a church floor. And I endured it one way or another, paying off my debts till I had enough credit to buy a laptop.
Two days after I bought the laptop, just before Thanksgiving, I was told I couldn't leave the Concentration Camp after I signed on the Church Group (you must sign up every day at 3pm, and then wait 2-3 hours for a bus to take you to the church). This is something I've been doing for 6 months. The next day, when I got to the Concentration Camp a half an hour early so I wouldn't need to leave after I signed on the church group, I was told (after standing in line) that the bus was being repaired and they could only take 6. I was number 7. Several days later I went back, to be told they were only taking twelve, and there were more than that already in line.
This is already far too long. Suffice it to say that it is doubtful I will be able to sleep through Homeless Services anymore. I've been going so far into debt that I may never get out - renting a hotel room in order to have a place to sleep - and this is the first time in over two years (since April 2003) that I've been able to really look at, and think about, and revise this page. The first time in over two years I've been able to sit at a computer and actually do something.
August 3, 2006
I'm still homeless, and banned from Santa Cruz homeless services.
This means I now have nowhere to shower or store things. I've had to carry everything with me about 6 months now: sleeping bag, laptop, ground cloth, clothes, toiletries, medicine, cigarettes. I estimate I tote about 50 pounds everywhere I go. At 51 years of age.
Thanks to Robert Norse, I have somewhere to shower once a week and somewhere to store my things. One person I met through him lets me shower at their place and another is providing storage. It seems only people that don't have much are willing to help me. Once a week is about as often as I've been able to arrange a shower. Part of the problem is arranging to have clean clothes to put on once I'm clean.
I don't really want to get mired in the details of homelessness, but I am now painfully aware that most people have no idea how daunting the logistics of life are for the homeless. I didn't. Eating, sleeping, keeping clean, and using a toilet are all complicated and time consuming. The facilities that distribute food and provide toilets and showers are miles from anywhere safe to sleep. For me to walk (and a bus wouldn't be any quicker) to eat and/or shower is a 3-hour walk from where I sleep. Which means I would spend a good eight hours walking just to either shower OR eat a meal. Those who camp in the Pogonip and Harvey West probably spend between a half-hour and an hour to commute for food and/or toilet and/or shower. Unless you've been homeless I don't think you can begin to conceive of how time-consuming and daunting the logistics of the most basic necessities are.
I am up to my neck in debt, paying over $100 interest every month. I had eliminated the cash advance part of my debt, and then Santa Cruz Homeless Services banned me. After not bathing for a week I took an advance so I could just clean up. And I stayed until I had maxed out the advance. Just like when they kept telling me I would go to the armory and then watched me storm off the lot to charge a motel room until my credit card was maxed out.
There is no way I can even think about paying rent until the debt is paid. And it's taking everything I have, and then some, to keep myself in food, medicine, and cigarettes.
I returned to sign up for the church groups time after time, each time being told I would have to go to the armory after I had signed on to the church group. And they watched as each time I left the lot to get a motel room, as they knew I would. Several months ago I checked my expense report and deducted, from the days I paid for a motel, that I slept with the church groups 8 days in November, 7 days in December, and 7 days in January.
The first time it happened Marcus and Ken Cole stood in the lot having a discussion, and I overheard Marcus say, "If he doesn't like it he can leave." Which was their standard response to any complaint. And which I assume was meant for my ears particularly.
When I announced I couldn't stretch my credit any more I was told by the monitor that he had been instructed not to sign me up to the church groups any more and if I had any questions to ask my case worker. There is only once case worker at The Concentration Camp, and boy did she work my case. When I asked her why the monitors had been prohibited from signing me up for the church groups she quickly said, "We're going to get you a place," and then ordered, "You WILL go to the armory."
After all I'd done to avoid putting myself in a situation I knew I could not cope with - and certainly not without being able to use my medicine - all I could do was cry, "You've bankrupted me!" Which they had. And I could see that it was pre-meditated.
I was able to stretch my credit a little further, and stay in motels a little longer, but eventually there was nothing left and it was still raining. After wandering around for several nights, being moved from every spot I tried to sleep, I slept on the sidewalk behind a flower cart in front of a bookstore, in an alcove which kept dry even during the strongest rain. I slept there for two months, until I was sure the rain had stopped for the summer. I had to sleep somewhere else, my back was killing me. I was in pain all day from sleeping on the concrete. Still, thanks in large part to the very nice sleeping bag Elm Street Mission gave me, and being bone weary, I was able to sleep. It is truly amazing how much a good sleeping bag can soften the concrete.
I continued to shower and use my locker at the place I've affectionately come to call The Concentration Camp for several months but was harassed everytime I went there. Once, a guy screamed, "I hate fags!!!" while I was doing my laundry. I guess it took about fifteen mintues of this for me to ask the monitor, who had been sitting there all this time, to stop it. And after I had declared it was hate speech. And still nothing was done except that when I started to yell for the guy to stop they almost banned me then and there.
That was an example of what happened everytime I tried to use their services - to shower and use my locker.
It culminated in my being banned the last week of June. My locker was paid through June and when a new-found friend and I went to get my possessions, on July 1, we arrived to find the lock had been changed. It took my friend 15 telephone calls to get a response and arrange to retrieve my things for me.
And that brings things up to the present.
Recently the feds raided 13 clubs in San Diego, and 3 counties are challenging Proposition 215. The ACLU, ASA, and other organizations are joining forces against this, and to defend the clubs - which are nothing more than plantations, getting rich through the exploitation of patients.
Meanwhile, I have spent the past ten years attempting to grow my own and provide for myself, and maybe provide for others, and defend the right of a patient to grow their own and not be evicted. And it has cost me everything and I am now homeless.
It seems to me that unless someone defends that right sometime, and sometime soon, that the patients are really nothing more than cash-cows and cannon-fodder in the war between the legal drug-lords and the illegal drug-lords.
For updates, and a diary of my experiences and thoughts, please see my blog: blog.palmspringsbum.org
April 5, 2008
I became housed on March 10, 2008. Three years, to the day, after I became 'officially' homeless.
I have been pretty much in seclusion since then. Spending the majority of my time alone in my room with my laptop trying to catch up on all the things I've been wanting to do. I've gotten more genealogy responses, questions, and data than I have time to deal with. But after 3 years on the street, much of it spent in terror and all of it degrading, humiliating and (to say the least) uncomfortable, I find myself mostly confronted with what I have lost. And what I have suffered.
If you're interested in the gory details of my present housed but destitute situation, see my blog.
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