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Letters From Marion

by Joel Blaeser

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Blaeser was a groupie for the Grateful Dead who found himself on the short end of the law after selling LSD. For his efforts, he received a 151 month sentence in Federal prison. This is the story of his incarceration.
As a 20+ year career working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I had an interest in reading this, and how the author described his experiences. While some parts of his story I believe, and have experienced myself, there are parts which do not quite add up.
Somehow, (and for the life of me, I do not understand how), Blaeser, as a first time, nonviolent offender, manages to be transferred to six different prisons in five years, each a little more secure than the last. And ends up in what was then our systems super-max prison, Marion. And all, if you believe the author, for rather minor infractions. Honestly, I cannot recall anyone else moving "up the ladder" like this. And my experiences were, starting as a Correctional Officer, moving up the ranks (although not as fast as Blaeser's rise to "fame"), and included positions responsible for designating inmates to the appropriate level prison. There was never an inmate who was sent to Marion for his "non-violent" reasons.
Blaeser also manages to make his disdain for the system well known, everything from the Officers who arrested him initially, through the Court officials, and on through the prison employees. One example he used was "I was arrested by the very corrupt Oakland police on suspicion of marijuana possessionn....spent the next 5 days at the Oakland County lock-up, until the charges were dropped and the $685 I was arrested with was returned to me in cash". (If the police were really "very corrupt", do you honestly think that you would have received your cash back?) Another example was "the staff in Englewood were using some of the inmates food budget money to stock their home freezers and throw lavish private parties". Again, sorry, but extremely doubtful. Do you honestly believe a food service employee is going to try to smuggle food out across the prison complex, through the control center sallyports, and out through the front entrance, all while under the direct observation of many, many other prison employees and supervisors? "Are you asking what that suspicious bulge in my uniform is Lieutenant? Oh, it's absolutely not food that I'm trying to take home, at the risk of my career and my own possible incarceration!) Give me a break. And, "the guards were nearly as corrupt as the criminals living there".
He romanticizes the more notorious inmates he meets along the way, expounding on how intelligent and worldly they were (there is no one quite as smart as a jail-house lawyer, they are so good that they cannot even get themselves out of prison). He makes much about the "respect" he is given by some very, very dangerous men, in particular, some white supremacists who are cold-blooded killers; I rather doubt this story, those men are very much old school cons, and would more than likely not ask a new inmate (the author was only in for a couple of years) to hold their shanks, and if they did, would not look kindly on being refused.
Blaeser also seems quite caught up in his own imagined "reputation". At one point he puts forth that he was the victim of a grand jury indictment, which he claims were only used "for the most high-level criminals, such as mafiosos and drug kingpins" (sorry dude, that's just not even close to the truth). He also makes his refusal to testify against other people into a badge of honor, as if he was in some rare group of "real men". Sorry again, you're not the only person in prison who chose this route; many, many inmates did not cooperate with the authorities. I've literally reviewed thousands of pre-sentence reports while doing designations, he is not in any rarified company there.
Also, one of Blaeser's recurring themes throughout the book is that he was a first-time offender of a non-violent, victimless crime. I readily understand the disparities in the drug laws, I was witness to them everyday for over twenty years. But I do not agree that selling large quantities of LSD to customers in concert parking lots is victimless. After all, what possible harm could come to a young person tripping on LSD? That person would never experience a bad trip, or a medical emergency from the episode, or get into a car and drive into a crowd of truly innocent victims. It seems the author has a blind spot to his own culpability.
As far as the book goes, taken for what it is, it is entertaining. The actual structure of the book is confusing, the timeline jumping back and forth with every chapter. The author included many letters that he wrote to loved ones while incarcerated. I don't know what exactly he intended them to show, but in reality they showed a narcissistic young man who claimed to be all about peace and love, yet would not hesitate to berate his family if they didn't send him money regularly.
So, what, you may ask, would be the point of the author spelling out this story? Some self-gratifying, stroking of his ego? Why would a man who was so proud of never testifying against someone suddenly go out and write this book, suddenly naming inmates and their misdeeds that might cause them no end of problems while they are behind bars? Or not hesitate to name his attorney who had an "in" with the judge to get Blaeser released after only five years (I would love to be a fly on the wall when that judge talks to the attorney again). Well it turns out that Mr. Blaeser is trying to develop a new career as a sort of prison and drug law reformist. My guess that this is his intended "foot in the door" to establish some type of bonafides. I wish him luck. ( )
  1Randal | Mar 4, 2016 |
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