Notes from the County Jail

On December 2, 1964, 800 Berkeley students were arrested in the big sit-in that climaxed the Free Speech Movement. Two and a half years later, the Supreme Court refused to review our case. So a number of us went to the county jail, for having (successfully) fought the university’s attempt to prohibit our advocacy on campus of actions—like burning draft cards or trying to shut down the Induction Centers or signing complicity statements or smoking pot or being black, though at the time we were thinking more of Civil Rights sit-ins—which might prove to be illegal.

These notes were written, then, during last year’s summer vacation, nine weeks in the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center. They were written to my friends, who know their longer original form as “The Adventures of Garbageman Under the Gentle Thumb of the Authority Complex.” I wish I were certain of their relevance to the many more who are going in soon, and for far longer.

They locked us in messhall again, to wait through a recount and a recount and a recount outside. Shadowboxing, the black kids singing. “Hey, sport, you’re kinda crazy,” said my new sidekick on the garbage crew. A Mexican kid with a sour expression, he pulled his toothbrush out and combed his mustache. You see it on most of them, that bent-over plastic handle hooked over their shirt pocket. Sideburns and beards are verboten, a mustache is all you can nurse. “Grows out all kinky if you don’t keep after it,” explained the kid who married a virgin. It really gave me a start, the first time I saw someone pull out his toothbrush and use it, casual as a comb through greaser hair.

You’re kinda crazy, sport,” said my partner—he does the kitchen head, I keep after the cans. “I know,” I said, idly. “No…you act kinda crazy most of the time.” “Yeah, I know.” “No, I really mean it, you do.” “Man, I know,” I said, “it’s cool.” “You like acid, dontcha,” he stated. I cracked up and eyed him for a moment, doing that little widening motion so the pupil floats like a blue yolk in its innocent white. “Man, I was crazy before I took acid,” I said, “but yeah, I do.” He was the fourth one to tell me I liked acid; they all say it with the positive relief of a bird-watcher hitting the right page in his manual. No one asks about grass. It’s taken for granted: everyone here smokes shit on the outside. But—even though a number of the spades have tried acid and dig it, and some of us haven’t—LSD is taken as a kind of dividing line. We are the hippies. Even though we stalk around with books in our hands all the time, that’s our identification: not college kids, or “professor” (as it was when I used to dig ditches, that traditional tag), but hippies …

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