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The Ecstatic Adventure

  Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World

    Chapter 13 — The Crime Game


EARLY IN THE course of our research at Harvard we asked ourselves: if psilocybin produces such remarkable insights and revelations in "normal," socially adjusted individuals, what are the possibilities of helping persons with behavioral problems? Convicted criminals were a good group to work with for several reasons: first, there was a clear behavioral index of improvement—one can argue endlessly about personality changes, but a reduction in the crime rate would be very tangible evidence; secondly, recidivism is around 60-70 per cent in most prisons, that is, most prisoners return to prison for new crimes within a year of being released. The prison system is spectacularly unsuccessful as a method of reforming or rehabilitating "offenders."
    A program was initiated at the Concord State Prison in Massachusetts, in which groups of inmates met with Harvard psychologists, who explained the purposes of the project and told them what was known about psilocybin. Psychological tests were given before and after the series of sessions. The major innovation of procedure over previous therapeutic work with psychedelic drugs was that the psychologists took the drug along with the convicts, although a non-drugged "ground control" and supervising psychiatrist were always present. The reason for this was twofold: we did not want the convicts to feel like guinea pigs, and this, as it turned out, was remarkably effective in reducing the barriers of instinctive hostility and suspicion. In over two hundred sessions with men incarcerated for their antisocial behavior, there was not one moment of violence or aggression. Physical violence was much more common among the psychologists or theologians we ran as subjects. The second reason for joint sessions was that we found it was virtually impossible to communicate with a subject in the psychedelic state unless one's perceptions were at least slightly sensitized. As it was, the communication and even communion that was established in these groups proved so durable that several years after the termination of the project, those of the convicts who were still in the prison were continuing to meet regularly to discuss ways of working out mutual self-help strategies.
    The results of the follow-up did indicate that there was a statistically significant reduction in the rate of new crimes committed by the group that had participated in the psilocybin program.* Of course it is not just the drug experience that was responsible, but rather the whole program, including discussion, individual therapy, attention and after-care, combined with two or three powerful sessions with psilocybin.
    Although the particular "insights" reported by a convict such as George Castayne may not appear very unusual to the average middle-class mind, it should be remembered that insight is relative to prior ignorance. For a person of this type, with an IQ in the 80's and minimal education, this may very well have been the first time such thoughts occurred.

THIS WAS MY second experience with this wonderful drug. I'm with the same group as the first session. At only one time during this session was my own experience anything like the first, and for a very short time. The drug was not as powerful to me as it was before. The session was very quiet and peaceful. Everyone wrapped up not in their own world as last time, but in deep thought. We all took the drug at about 10 minutes to 11 and then we all went and lay on our respective beds. G. brought in his tape recorder and a couple of tapes he had made of a number of records, a few I'd heard before, but the others seemed new to me. I only recognized one record really, an East Indian record, that was played at my last session.
    About 20 minutes after taking the drug we all grew very serious, deep in thought. I felt a twitch in my left eye and on occasion I still have it when I get excited or nervous. The next effect that came about was a pleasant warmth in the room. The room did not change, except to become more gayly colored and friendly. I guess the next thing that happened, happened while I was looking at a photography magazine. I was a little toward the edge of the bed and I began getting dizzy and felt that I would fall off the bed as I settled myself comfortably in the middle of it. Then I felt as though the pillow I had my head on would fall to the floor. I began moving it and it fell to the floor. I remarked to G. when I got up to get it that I knew it was going to happen.
    I smoked while the drug took its bold of me, but not at all for about two hours. I looked through a book of Picasso's paintings that G. had brought in and also the photography book, before the drug really took hold of me.
    My bed was in the same spot as the last bed I lay in when I had my last session—over between two windows, then near the record player; at this session near the tape recorder. And the sun came in the window directly behind me.
    Next, I began getting extremely nervous. I paid no attention to any of the others, nor they me. I just lay back with a come-what-may attitude. The others did the same. It was so peaceful and content just lying there on that bed. If I moved, I got nervous and shaky. But I felt I would stay in the bed forever, that I would never leave it, nor did I want to.
    I tried to think of the people I knew outside and some of the things I'd done with them, but I just couldn't do it. I tried very hard to recall the fun and good times I'd had with these people, but as I said, I couldn't.
    So I tried thinking of the people I'd met while I'd been in here and in other jails. I couldn't do that either.
    Then all at once I could think of the people I knew both in and out of jail, but not of the good times and the fun I'd shared with them, just all the bad things I'd done with them, to them, and the way I treated them. I shut this out and started thinking of what I wanted out of life and how I was going to go about getting these things, not the material things, for under the drug material things did not matter to me at all. But again nothing came. I could not control the pattern of thought, all that I experienced was a period of complete nothingness, a void, empty, devoid of thought. This blank period seemed to last for some time, the only thing I could do was let the drug stimulate my thoughts. As soon as I stopped trying to think of what I wanted, the drug took over on the same pattern of thought as I had experienced in my first session.
    The last Indian record came on and I closed my eyes: nothing, no color, nothing at all. I opened my eyes and felt very dizzy, so I closed my eyes again and all of a sudden a vision came unto me, waves of sound, strings waving with sound, the music, its very strings danced before me. The strings were gold, bright and brilliant. A voice came from the strings, mystical and Godlike in its tone, precise in its pronunciation, far away and abstract in its meaning to me. Then I saw the little green man again, emerald green, robe about him, long legs and arms wrapped about himself, bald head shining with light, long thin ears, bright green eyes, sly, wide, grinning mouth. He had gold earrings in his ear, long, thin eyebrows and a little beard growing from his chin. He spoke of the music, of the very strings he sat upon.
    Then I was seared. I thought someone had pulled a trick on me, and the little man disappeared. I thought to myself someone has dubbed the record with their voice, someone who I don't know, someone very clever in his trickery. Someone wanted to hypnotize me, make me the living, speaking dead. I told myself that there was time and that I would let myself be hypnotized. Then I realized I'd beard this record, these strings, this voice, at my last session and that I had seen this little green man also. And then I thought someone had dubbed the record, that it was a trick to hypnotize me and that I wanted to be hypnotized then too. Then it all went away. And in its place came once again the vast, empty desert. And the mountain range with its one high mountain reaching into the cosmic sky. I saw myself running as I did before. I came to the mountain and climbed it in a running gait. I reached the top. There was the same rock, the softness of it still there. On this rock was a man, a man both young and old. He had about his slim body a liquid robe of the bluest blue. He had his hands folded in his lap. They seemed to glow, his fingers were long and bony and his hands slim and fine. He was looking into the sky and did not hear me. He had long, womanlike hair, smooth and shiny and black, coal black. I could only see part of his face, a small pointed beard covered his cheeks and chin, his eyes glowed with a yellow light and his nose was long and thin. He seemed to be speaking but I could not hear him. Maybe he was praying. I spoke to him, "Hey man, what are you doing here? I know you. I saw you before on a mountain." No answer. I could not help talking jive talk, abstract words. Then the vision disappeared and did not return.
    The next thing that came to me surprised me greatly. It's the same thing I wanted to think of before. I saw my friends, everyone I ever knew, had anything to do with, I knew their names. But all I saw, all I heard, scared me. It's all the bad things I'd ever done to this certain person, that certain person, people I thought I loved, I'd hurt them and they in turn hurt me. I saw the girls I'd gone with, the guys I hung with, my family, my relations, different people I knew. But all that would come was the bad, stealing, lying, beating, hurting, swearing, cheating, insulting, things I could no longer think of without feeling guilty. I saw guys in here, in other jails, heard about what they were doing, what they'd done. It was all so scary, so horrible. Sickening in its impact. I saw what a life of crime was, hated it, fought it, licked it. Hopeless people caught up in it, the small-times doing the pettiest, vilest things. Things that make me shake to just think of them. The poor small-time criminal, unfortunate, gutless being, fighting the world they live in. They fought the people they loved, hated people that did not a wrong. Spit on them and the only people that really matter.
    I hated crime, I now thought in this vision, and it meant something, but what? Then this too disappeared. I got up at this period and went to the bathroom. I wasn't drunk this time, nor was I dizzy. Nor did I want to stay in this bathroom as I did before. I weighed nothing in my mind as I did before. I just did it with little forethought. I smoked cigarettes now, one after another. They tasted rotten. By the taste, I felt I did not want to smoke, but I smoked four or five butts. I looked at the food on the table, I wasn't hungry. I looked at the milk there, drank one glass, wanted more so I drank someone else's glass too. It tasted wonderful, sweet and warm. I went over to the window and saw a few guys in the yard playing basketball. It looked like fun. Some of the other guys were on the football field practicing for Sunday's game. They looked very good out there, even better, I thought, with no other team on the field. I beard the yard radio, advertising some new car. I giggled, it seemed very funny that someone should be telling the con what car they should buy. What a waste of work.
    I went back over to the bed and lay down and started thinking about the crime bit once again. I found, now, that I could control my thoughts, the music was washed out, I paid no attention to it. I saw that crime was foolish, a coward way out, a ridiculous flaunt in a child's game. Anyone could steal, anyone could kill, anyone could hurt the ones that loved them. But not anyone could be a cold, calculating, professional criminal. To be this, one would have to cut one's love from his life, his heart from his body, his mind would be as a robot. Anyone could be a drunk. It took nerve to steal, but it took more nerve to be honest to fight for the right things in life, to live and let live.
    A criminal, at least myself and all I've ever met, were either unloved children or lost individuals. Lost between right and wrong. What they wanted and the means to it. They knew their ends, power, wealth, money could not buy friends, loved ones, happiness, beauty, intelligence. I saw how foolish the game I played was, just saw through it, saw the ends I would find, instead of the ends I'd imagined. Disaster! Everything seemed so hopeless, so foolish, so futile, not a bit of fun, no love involved. It sickened me, what was life, a life of this kind, just misery for myself and those who loved me.
    I again asked what I wanted from life and at once I got an answer—love, peace, plenty, intelligence, not power but friends.
    I felt all wise now, all knowing. I got up from my bed and paced the room for a few minutes and smoked a few more cigarettes. I went over and sat on the table. G. came over and we talked, I don't recall of what. Then I went over and started looking through the book of paintings again. They were all beautiful, all so simple. G. came over and we both found two pictures we talked lengthily on, I liked them, he liked them. Then I saw a bag of chips on the table, opened them and began eating them. They were very good. I asked G. if he wanted some. He said no.
    I looked at L., then closed my eyes and saw him again with a face following him, a woman's face. I got scared at this and felt I was going crazy. I told myself, "I'm not going crazy, it's the drug, it's the drug," but still I saw this. It's then that I opened my eyes and went to the bathroom. There couldn't have really been a blank spot in my thought after all.
    I started looking through the photography magazine and saw pictures I didn't see the first time I looked at it. I fell for one of the pictures of a young woman, and I felt I must some day meet this woman and make love to her. G. came over once again and I showed him the picture, he said it wasn't his type. I asked him what was his type. He went through the magazine trying to find his type. He found one, a face, a look of living enticement. I now knew his type, I asked him what his interests were and he said photography, a little art. I knew most of his other interests. We talked about art, about photography. He said his wife did some painting and drawing, that he took some photos and slides. I asked him what his wife looked like and he vaguely described her to me. I asked him if his baby had blue eyes, he said yes. We started talking again and he went away. And he listened to the music. I went around the room a few times feeling very energetic, very wise, very powerful, very handsome.

    Chapter 14


* For a detailed account of the methods and results of this research, see T. Leary, R. Metzner, M. Presnell, G. Weil, R. Schwitzgebel, and S. Kinne, "A New Behavior Change Program Using Psilocybin," Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 2, July 1965.(back to text)

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