Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | General and Entertainment

The Unluckiest Guy I Ever Met

by Clifford A. Schaffer

This is a true story. The facts have not been embellished. In fact, I left a lot of stuff out.

When I first met Art in the late 1960's, he had just gotten out of prison the first time and was in college, desperately trying to make a go of his life. He was a bit scroungy in his appearance, but everybody was a little scroungy in those days and the truth was that Art never did have the money for fine clothes. He did the best he could. Art was one the nicest, friendliest, and most agreeable people I ever met. As a friend, I enjoyed his company on every occasion and found that Art was not a complete angel (neither was I, for that matter), but there was no reason to ever believe that he might be any real threat to society.

But Art was the unluckiest soul I have ever run across. For example, the first time Art went to prison, it was for stealing his own motorcycle. He was later arrested and/or went to prison for burglarizing his own apartment, stealing a mattress from a Salvation Army box, and for selling marijuana that even the police knew wasn't his. Those are only a few of the misfortunes which befell him and I haven't even gotten to the part about his lawyer. I will explain.

Stealing His Own Motorcycle

When Art became old enough to get a driver's license, he worked hard and saved his money until he was able to buy the vehicle of his dreams, a three-wheeled motorcycle. When he thought he had enough money, about $1,000 as I recall, he searched around and found a three-wheeled motorcycle for sale at a local wrecking yard. The owner of the wrecking yard was not well-renowned for his honest business dealings, and Art probably should have been more cautious but Art was so dazzled with the prospect of fulfilling his dream that he bought it anyway. As Art tells it, the owner of the wrecking yard made certain promises about the mechanical fitness of the vehicle and Art quickly found out that the vehicle was in no shape to be driven.

Art called the owner of the junkyard, raised the riot act, and demanded that repairs be made immediately. The owner of the junkyard told him to bring the bike on over and he would fix it up. Art did so.

About a week later Art showed up to pick up his bike. It was all repaired and ready for the road, complete with a bill from the junkyard owner for several hundred dollars worth of repairs. Art went ballistic, screaming and shouting that he had been robbed and that the junkyard owner had warranted that the vehicle was in good shape when he bought it. It was an old story, the used car dealer with a mechanic's lien against the injured buyer - who are you going to believe?

Art left in a rage and his common sense, which never was in great supply, left him completely. The next weekend, he went to the wrecking yard when it was closed, cut the lock on the gate, went in, got his bike, and took it home.

On Monday morning, it was perfectly obvious to the junkyard owner what had happened. The lock was cut and only one thing was missing. This didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out. He had long experience in turning such situations to his advantage. He quickly called the police, reported the theft and, in addition, claimed that several thousand dollars of other goods had been taken. Who can tell what is missing from a junkyard?

The police simply stopped by Art's house, found the bike in the driveway, and hauled him off to jail. The DA then trumpeted the news that a major theft ring had been broken and shipped Art off to prison. The proof that Art was part of a major burglary ring was supplied by the fact that there really wasn't much evidence. They expected, from the junkyard owner's description of the incident, that there would be tons of stuff in Art's garage. As it was, there was nothing but the bike which indicated only one possible conclusion - he must have stolen tons of the stuff and been able to fence all of it in less than 48 hours - obviously a major theft ring. The DA and cops got a lot of good publicity for saving the community from this awful scourge. Fine police work saved the day, they said.

The junkyard owner got Art's money, the bike, and payment from the insurance company for the items "stolen" but not recovered. Art's lawyer got a mortgage on Art's parents' house. The situation worked out great for everybody, except Art. A couple of years later, when I met him, Art was still dealing with insurance company people who were pursuing him and his parents for reimbursement of the stuff he never stole.

For that he got a sentence of about five years, which netted down to about 18 months in prison. He might have deserved a day in jail and a short lecture about mechanics liens.

When I walked down the street with Art, or appeared in any public place, it was immediately apparent that the Sacramento County Sheriffs had it in for him. I am not sure whether they really believed that Art ran a major theft ring as had been alleged or whether they just didn't like his looks, or just didn't like Art. I suspect it was the latter. He was an easy target to pick on, and my personal impression was that they did it just because a number of them were plainly sadistic and they liked easy targets.

From that point forward, Art was likely to be stopped anywhere, any time, by any Sheriff who happened to see him, without any real cause that I could determine. They just made it a point to hound him wherever they saw him.

The Mattress Incident

Art got out of prison and enrolled in the local junior college. Art had no money and his parents had been effectively bankrupted by the legal experience so Art was in a daily struggle just to keep food in his belly and clothes on his back. But there was no question that he was trying to get an education and point himself in the right direction.

Because of the financial strains at home, Art moved out of his parents' house and got a small two-room cottage. "Small" is the operative word. The "bedroom" was literally not big enough to put a double bed in, and the kitchen was smaller. Mice and roaches? Of course. It was simply the best Art could do.

Life was extremely tough for Art. There wasn't much employment available for anyone, let alone ex-cons, and he lived a day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. Beset by financial pressures, he turned to dealing marijuana on a small time basis, using some of the contacts he had met in prison. That income was "iffy" at best and Art had to use nearly all of it just to eat, pay the rent, and support his dilapidated pickup truck, which meant he didn't have any furniture. That is, the only thing he had to sleep on was the linoleum floor.

He went out driving with his friend John one night and noticed a mattress that someone had dumped at a Salvation Army donation box. It seemed pretty clear to both of them that Art was just the kind of person for whom such a donation was intended, so they proceeded to load it in to the back of Art's pickup truck. As they were doing so, the Sheriff pulled up. John, a tall long-legged guy, had an ounce of weed in his pants so he quickly hurdled two or three six-foot fences and was gone into the night. Art was stuck.

The deputies started their standard routine of harassing Art for everything they could think of. They first hit him with every kind of mechanical citation they could on the truck, but that wasn't much. Then they told Art they had found a joint on the running board. Art, by this time, had learned the drill and pointed out that, realistically, such a charge would never stick and would just be a waste of time for both of them. Frustrated, the cops decided to charge him with stealing the mattress. Art, of course, clammed up and said nothing.

They stuffed Art and the mattress into the back of their patrol car and drove down to the main jail in downtown Sacramento, about fifteen miles away from where Art was arrested. When they got downtown, they talked it over with their superiors and decided that - despite all the danger that mattress-stealing represented to the community - there was no way they could make the charges stick in court. The reason was that they had caught Art with the mattress half in, and half out, of his pickup truck and they couldn't tell for sure whether Art was stealing the mattress, or dropping it off. I am sure it disappointed them.

So they went to Art, gave him the news and showed him the exit door. He asked for a ride back to his truck which was greeted with great hilarity all around. Art just turned slowly and walked to the door. As he reached the door they called out "Wait! Don't forget your mattress!"

They explained that he certainly couldn't leave his mattress there and would have to take it with him. Art considered telling them that the mattress wasn't really his, but quickly realized that, if he did so, and refused to take the mattress, they would bust him again for stealing it. He asked for a ride again which, he later told me, provoked absolutely panic-stricken laughter. "They were in tears!" he said.

Art left the building dragging his mattress behind him, and went out on the street to try to hitchhike home. He was tired, looked a little scroungy anyway, and was carrying a mattress, all of which is a real hindrance to efficient hitchhiking. He considered just dumping the mattress and walking home, but there were regular police patrols going by to watch his progress and make sure that he didn't litter. Then it began to rain.

Holding the mattress over his head allowed him to keep the rain off of himself, but it meant that the mattress got progressively heavier with each step - and he still had more than ten miles to go. Late that night, after several hours of struggle with the wet mattress, an undercover narc picked Art up, allowed Art to stuff the wet mattress in the back seat of his car, and gave him a ride home, pumping him all the time for information on where one might find a little weed. Art didn't tell him anything.

Art finally got home, propped the soaked mattress up against the wall in the bedroom, and went to sleep, exhausted, on the linoleum floor again. An hour after he fell asleep, the mattress fell over on him and, because the room was so narrow and the mattress was so wet and heavy, it wedged him in so tight he couldn't get out until his friend John came looking for him the next day.

Burglarizing His Own Apartment

Times were undeniably tough for Art, and the exhaustion of having to deal with the cops on an almost daily basis didn't help matters. A couple of times he did manage to get jobs, only to be let go when it became obvious to his employers that Art was a center of attention for the police.

But he managed to get by for quite a while doing odd jobs here and there, eating next to nothing, and wearing the same old threadbare clothes. Then one day the rent was due and his landlord came to the door. Art explained that he was about to go a job interview and then would pick up the rent money from his parents and, if the landlord would kindly wait a little bit, Art would surely have the money for him. It was a partial story - his parents didn't have the money, either, but he did have a job interview - but Art was just trying to buy a little time to keep his life together. The landlord seemed to accept the story and Art thought everything was fine.

Art started to get cleaned up for his job interview and, after taking a shower, put on his pants and went down to the mailbox to check the mail. By the time he got back, there was a padlock on the door. He pleaded with the landlord but the landlord also knew by now that Art was of special interest to the cops, so the landlord had no incentive to give Art even the tiniest break. Art went out and sat in the middle of a field, with nothing on but his pants, to think.

By and by it got dark and Art figured he would sneak back in to get the rest of his possessions which amounted to a belt, a couple of shirts, an old pair of shoes, three or four pieces of raggedy underwear, and the mattress, which he decided not to try to deal with again, because it had become extremely moldy from the earlier soaking in the rain. Getting in to his place was easy. He just popped in through a side window. He was inside no more than two or three minutes.

When he popped his head out the window a deputy sheriff's flashlight shone squarely in his face. The landlord had alerted them hours before and they were waiting for him. Due to his previous criminal record, he wound up doing about another six months on that one.

The Marijuana That Wasn't His.

When Art got out of jail he went back to college and tried to make a go of it again. The only regular income he could find was from selling small amounts of marijuana and other drugs. He had some fairly good drug connections from his various times in jail, but we was more honest and friendly than he was shrewd so he never did much more than a few small sales to eke out an existence.

As luck would have it Art ran into a bright young business executive who was just starting out with a new wife and baby and, having put a little money aside, decided to dabble in the marijuana trading market. Somehow, he managed to get his hands on thirty pounds of weed and then started looking around to sell it. He didn't know anyone himself who was interested in thirty pounds of weed but eventually he ran into Art and mentioned that he would pay Art a commission of one hundred dollars and a small bag of personal stash if Art could introduce him to someone who would buy it. Art knew lots of people and one hundred dollars was a lot of money to Art, so he looked around until he found someone.

Art introduced the two parties to the transaction and waited patiently for them to conclude their business so he could get his commission and leave. In the middle of the transaction, car lights went on and car motors started in the neighborhood around them. In a matter of a few moments, they were surrounded by Sacramento sheriff's deputies. The buyer he found turned out to be a snitch.

To summarize the legal proceedings which followed, the guy who actually owned the weed pleaded that he was really a good citizen who made a mistake, he had a wife and baby, etc., etc., He walked out with probation, with an agreement to testify against Art.

The snitch, who had previously been busted, got his previous charges dropped with an agreement to testify against Art.

Art was charged with possession for sale of the entire thirty pounds. That brings us to the lawyer.

And Now, The Lawyer

Art's lawyer advised him that, in view of all the previous convictions, and a long string of nuisance violations (which should have been self-evident police harassment), this time Art was destined to do some serious time in prison unless some sort of miracle happened. Art's lawyer suggested that the only way out was for Art to turn someone else in - turn snitch.

"Snitches get killed." Art said. "What else can I do?"

"Maybe they would let you off if you had a job and could show that you were trying to be an honest citizen," his lawyer suggested.

Art promptly went out and got an absolutely grinding job several miles from home. It was a massive struggle just to keep up with the job, but he did it. Then he went back to his lawyer.

"No dice," his lawyer told him. "You are going to have to do something else."

"Like what?" Art asked.

"You could always snitch someone off," his lawyer suggested.

"Snitches get killed," Art said. "I don't want to get killed. What else can I do?"

"Hmmm," his lawyer said, "maybe you should get married to show them that you are trying to settle down."

Art looked up an old high school girlfriend, explained the situation to her and she agreed to get married. She had a fairly decent job and they were able to move into a good apartment on her income. After the wedding, he went back to his lawyer.

"Still not cutting it," his lawyer told him. "You are going to have to do something else."

"Like what?" Art asked.

"You could always snitch someone off," his lawyer suggested.

"Snitches get killed," Art said. "I don't want to get killed. What else can I do?"

His lawyer thought it over again. "Maybe if you had a baby on the way. Babies always get sympathy."

Art promptly went out and got his bride pregnant. When she was beginning to show, he went back to his lawyer.

"Closer. I had them going for a while with the baby story, but it is still not enough," his lawyer clucked. "You're going to have to do something more."

"Like what?" Art asked.

"You could always snitch someone off," his lawyer suggested.

"Snitches get killed," Art said. "I don't want to get killed. What else can I do?"

His lawyer thought and thought again and finally said, "They might cut you some slack if you were a heroin addict and claimed that what you were out of control because of your addiction and what you really need is rehabilitation. If you did that, I might be able to get you out with a year or so in a hospital."

Art had never taken heroin in his life, but it was hard to turn down that kind of opportunity to avoid a long stretch in prison. He developed a good-sized heroin habit, went through a couple of really good withdrawal episodes in front of doctors who could testify that he really was addicted, and then went back to his lawyer.

"We almost had them there," his lawyer said, "but it still wasn't quite enough. You are going to have to do something else."

"Like what?" Art asked.

"You could always snitch someone off," his lawyer suggested.

"Snitches get killed," Art said. "I don't want to get killed. What else can I do?"

By that time, both Art and his lawyer had run out of ideas. Art was now working, married with a baby on the way, and a pretty good heroin habit, all on the advice of his lawyer. Art became resigned to the fact that, in order to avoid spending the rest of his life in jail, he was going to have to snitch someone off.

The sheriffs really enjoyed Art's company as a snitch. They rounded up several people before the word got out about Art and it wasn't long before there were rumors floating the streets that Art would not be long for this world if he hung around Sacramento.

But, it seemed to work. For the first time since he had been busted for the thirty pounds of pot which wasn't his, it began to look like they were going to let him off the hook - until the next time, at least.

Then, a week before his case was due to come its final resolution, his lawyer was busted for income tax evasion and had to drop out of the case. Art got a public defender who knew nothing about the case and believed the sheriff's deputies when they gleefully told him that there had been no deal with Art at all. Art went to prison, full sentence for the full thirty pounds, a multiple felony offender besides, and remains there today. He spends most of his time alone in protective custody because of the death threats against him.

Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | General and Entertainment