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from A Squandered Life / Orange County Jail '68

Updated on February 23, 2016
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Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

I awoke to the sounds of men saying urgently, “Keep your hands in the air, keep your hands in the air.”

I found myself dropped off at Laguna Beach. There were a few travelling people like me loitering around where the coast road overlooked the beach itself. I got talking to a young beardy guy called Freddy. He turned out to be slightly in the know locally and said that later on there would be a bonfire on the beach with free food so I decided to hang around.

We loafed together in the sun on the sand and sure enough, as it got dark, a bonfire sprang up further along the beach. I can't actually remember if we scored any food, but there was the usual acoustic guitar music and a certain amount of dancing. Freddy also had some grass which helped make the evening more sensate. As it got darker, Freddy got talking to a long thin hairless speed freak who said, “Yeah, there's a house in the town which belongs to some rich people and they've left it open for freaks to crash in. Wanna check it out?” Freddy and I said ok and later on we straggled off into the dark.

The speed freak spoke like some sort of high velocity mountain man and came across a bit erraticly, but he was sincere enough. He seemed to have lost most of his teeth and I wondered if this was a consequence of the speed or the mountains. We eventually found ourselves outside a darkened house and tried the door. It was unlocked and in we went. Inside there was mumbling and movement and the occasional splash of torch or match light and it appeared that much of the local beach community had gravitated to here. We found a bedroom with several hippy chicks ensconced on the bed. Even in the dark I found this a bit of a turn-on, but the three of us simply found some floor space and stretched out to go to sleep. There was a little bit of chat in the dark about where people had come from and where they were headed for, but this gradually petered out and I was fast asleep.

I awoke to the sounds of men saying urgently, “Keep your hands in the air, keep your hands in the air.” There were now several beams of torchlight flashing about and I could see men dressed as state troopers or sheriffs or something waving torches and batons and guns about. As bodies continued to rise from the beds and sofas and floors, I could sense that these men were shaken. They clearly hadn't expected this amount of people. A slight hysteria crept into their urgent calls as people kept surfacing to be herded towards the door. Outside, in the head lights of the two or thee assembled police cars, we could all, police and hippies alike, see the scale of the operation. I had no idea there were quite so many people in that house. The troopers were calling for “back up” and more cars and police vans appeared. There was confusion until a police bus arrived. We were all hustled into the bus and vans and cars and carted off to Orange County Jail.

On the way to the jail the speed freak was telling me and Freddy about how he was woken up in the night by somebody trying to start a motorcycle outside. He couldn't get back to sleep so he went outside and offered to help. The clearly shocked rider had accepted this offer and then, so the speed freak reckoned, returned the favour by calling the police. Hence the raid. “Last time I help anybody in the middle of the night,” he said.

At the jail we were all sat round on benches and steps and the floor as the troopers set about processing us. One of them strolled over openly flicking through my wad of traveller's cheques. “Whose are these?” he asked incredulously (and procedurally incorrectly) of the whole group. I had to own up and all those impoverished hippies began to eye me with suspicion. Here we were, turning on and supposedly dropping out, holding money and possessions and those who pursued them in contempt, when one of our number, namely me, was clearly in breach of the unspoken rules. I remember in particular a quiet good-looking very spaced-out black guy turning his wide dark eyes on me in frowning stoned wonderment. Having been “processed”, we were unceremoniously dumped into a large “day cell” to await judgement before the court in the morning.

Morning was already almost upon us so in a couple of hours we were marched out onto a much larger police bus and transported to a court room. I don't recall much of the proceedings except that the speed freak's story was borne out. The guy he had helped was a nephew of the owner's of the house who, it turned out, were neither rich nor adhering to an open door policy. We were all clearly breakers and enterers. “Three days or three hundred bucks,” said the judge and we were bundled like sheep back into the bus and shipped back to the day cell at OCJ.

Panic had set in and my fellow hippies were immediately discussing ways of raising the money to get out. Freddy and I had already taken the view that three nights in jail didn't seem so bad and were relatively relaxed throughout this, but I was approached by several, conscious of my wad of traveller's cheques, for emergency loans. Trapped by the ethos of the times and still embarrassed by having the money, I actually agreed to help out a couple of them. Fortunately, everybody was asking for their rightful phone call, and the ones with better off parents (which, as it happened, was most of them and who were also the ones asking me for loans) got through and had money wired. In a relatively short period of time most of the group had been released and the day cell seemed a less desperate place. Freddy and I and the speed freak and the black guy found ourselves getting into a little routine of telling stories, rolling cigarettes from the prison issue sawdust (packaged very nicely in rough little beige cloth drawstring bags) and waiting for meals to arrive. At one point I decided to join the queue for my rightful call, not to ask for money but just to tell them where I was in case they never heard from me again. My parents were out but the phone was answered by family friend Irene, a left winger who had been slapped into cells once or twice herself. “Are you allright?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “but if you don't hear from me in four days time, could you call Orange County Jail just so they know someone on the outside is interested?” “Of course darling,” she said, “Just take care of yourself.”

It transpired that Orange County couldn't be arsed to hang on to us for three days anyway, and once it became apparent that all the ones who could or would pay the fine had, they kicked the rest of us back out onto the streets. Freddy and I went back down to Laguna Beach but my credibility was completely blown by the outing of my traveller's cheques. One of the lead hippies sneered at me in a very unflowery fashion about some people not sharing their worldly goods (and cash) and I eventually said goodbye to Freddy and headed off back up the coast road on my own.

© 2012 Deacon Martin


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