Prison involves many things associated with bad trips: enclosed spaces, law enforcement, and violent people who might fuck with your psychedelic-stuffed head. For prisoners, though, a hit of LSD can expand the mind, as well as the walls of their cells.
Inside the belly of the beast isn't the ideal place to take a hit of acid. Prison involves most things people associate with bad trips: enclosed spaces, law enforcement, ugly rooms, and bleak environments—plus, violent people who might fuck with your psychedelic-stuffed head. For lack of a better comparison, it's more Shawshank Redemption than Alice in Wonderland.
Prisoners like drugs, though. When you're locked up, it's easy to want to escape reality through any means possible, and drugs are an effective method to make that happen. Many will settle for weed, hooch, or synthetic shit, but name a substance and chances are there's a way to smuggle it into your cell unit, regardless of where you're incarcerated.
I was a nonviolent offender who got sentenced for an LSD conspiracy, and met a variety of psychedelic enthusiasts during my 20-plus years behind bars. I found a way to get my hands on some acid when I was in jail, and it was a severely fucked experience. For other people, though, taking a hit didn't just expand the mind, it expanded the prison walls. It's a far cry from a rave or a Grateful Dead show, but it can be a life-changing experience. Below are three stories about what it's like to trip while living in a high security prison, starting with my own experience.
44 Years Old
Served 21 Years for an LSD Conspiracy Charge
You could say I'm an acid veteran. Prior to spending over 20 years behind bars for an LSD conspiracy conviction , I had taken legitimately thousands of hits. After I ended up in prison, though, I didn't really think about tripping much, likely because it was what got me locked up in the first place. Instead, I became a weed man. I would smuggle it in, sell it, smoke it; I didn't let a 25-year sentence stop me from selling drugs in any of the seven prisons I lived in. Regardless of where I was locked up, I'd manage to smuggle in bud by swallowing balloons full of the stuff.
Fast forward a couple years, and I began thinking about changing my outlook on life in prison. A hit of acid sounded like the necessary remedy. Being in prison can feel like having blinders on reality, and sometimes you just have to open the doors of perception. It was time for me to expand my awareness outside of the bubble of incarceration that I found myself trapped in.
In 2005, I was at the Federal Correctional Institution Fairton, New Jersey, and my girl was supposed to bring some balloons of weed for me to swallow during a visit. I asked her in advance if she could bring me some acid, too.
When I hit the dance floor, what prisoners call the visiting room, my girl arrived with bad news. She couldn't score any good pot to balloon up in time, but she did have a tab of "Blue Unicorn" LSD for me. She went to the vending machine, bought me a hamburger, put it in the microwave, and put the tab of acid in the mustard she spread on the snack. I greedily devoured the sandwich, expecting to be tripping in the visiting room with my girl very soon. But things turned out a bit differently.
It felt like a movie, but it would take a seriously twisted individual to imagine a more existentially fucked psychedelic experience.
I had been bringing a lot of weed in to Fairton, and this happened to be the day a compound snitch ratted me out to the correctional officers. Not even an hour into the visit, they pounced on me, made my girl leave (after searching her and coming up empty handed), and dragged my sorry ass to the hole. The spiked burger was likely settling in my big intestine by the time they made their move.
As my pupils began to dilate and my vision got funny, I was brought to what they call a dry cell in the Special Housing Unit: No running water, no mattress, no pillow, no toilet... nothing. They stripped me naked and checked my orifices to make sure I wasn't concealing anything before giving me a bed sheet and a pair of underwear. They had a big window in the front of the cell so they could observe me, and there was a video camera set up to keep an extra eye on me, too. I'm not sure what the guards manning the camera were expecting to see, but the footage probably only showed a terrified inmate who happened to be tripping balls on the low. It felt like a movie, but it would take a seriously twisted individual to imagine a more existentially fucked psychedelic experience.
I splayed my sheet on the metal bed and laid down under the bright lights that were shining on me. I was familiar with the narc routine, even though I'd never been in a dry cell before. Over the next 48 hours—longer than the trip itself—the guards would make me defecate at least five times in a plastic bowl lined with a clear garbage bag so they could search through my shit and look for drugs.
As the prison lieutenant searched my shit bowl, I anxiously watched him as the acid toyed with my senses. I knew I was clean (for once), but the drugs triggered an inescapable paranoia that they'd find something. What if there were balloons in my shit? What if there was one baggie that somehow got stuck in my gut and was finally coming out now? I was fucking losing it. By the time I passed every possible inspection, my psyche felt like it had been put in a microwave alongside that burger. To say the experience was a living hell would be an understatement.
I chilled out a bit once the hallucinogen wore off, but it's not like you can immediately snap out of something like that. For the remainder of my time in the hole, I mostly laid down on the cold, metal bed and tried not to melt into a puddle as the cameras continued to watch my every move and the fluorescent lights remained on.
I imagined my first psychedelic experience in prison to be an escape outside the barbed wire-lined walls, but it ended up bringing me deeper into the incarceration abyss. Needless to say, I have never taken a hit of acid since.
John 'Judge' Broman
35 Years Old
Serving 16 Years for a Bank Robbery Charge
I was a Deadhead while living on the outside—a yoga-loving, marijuana-smoking, LSD-tripping hippie fool. I also dabbled in heroin, and that's how I ended up in federal prison with a 16-and-a-half-year bid for a bank robbery that was committed to feed my habit. I smoked tons of weed and drank massive quantities of hooch in jail, but I'd never come up on any acid until I was eight years into my sentence.
I believe that LSD is a sacrament. It should be used as a tool to "get you there," but where you go is all a matter of perspective. I was locked up in United States Penitentiary Pollack when I had the chance to take that journey after my conviction. A Deadhead buddy of mine had already done time in the feds, and he knew how to get all sorts of contraband into a prison like the one I was in. When he sent me a healthy stash of LSD through the mail, though, it looked like the most obvious shit in the world: a Dr. Seuss card that said, "Oh the places you'll go!" with a huge, noticeable splotch on it where he'd squirted the acid. He had tried masking the splotch by using markers to color around it, but that made it even less subtle. Regardless, it still made its way into the prison and into my hands.
Pollack was a pen where violence was common, and walking around during the day with a head full of acid was not a reality I wanted to experience. They say you can turn your back on a man, but never turn your back on a drug. In jail, I didn't want to turn my back on either. So I schemed in advance and gathered a crew of trusted cellmates and planned where and when we'd eat the psychedelics. The gang included my celly, fresh in for drug trafficking with a couple life sentences under his paisley bandana, and a 20-something former tweaker who had never done acid but always wanted to. We planned to drop the LSD at night, after they locked us into our cell unit where it was safe and secure.
They say you can turn your back on a man, but never turn your back on a drug. In jail, I didn't want to turn my back on either.
Around 9 PM, the drugs started kicking in. In our cell, we had two acoustic guitars, a bass, and a bumping sound system with an amp and stolen speakers we racked from the laundry room. With the acid coursing through our bodies, we needed something to vibe on.
We turned off the lights and lit homemade candles and incense throughout the cell. The three of us then started playing punk songs with the volume down low so we wouldn't get caught, and we spent the next couple hours jamming quietly into the night. It felt like a séance with live music.
After a certain point, my celly fell into a depression as the fact that he was doing a life sentence started to seep into his brain. I, on the other hand, got back to "me," and started thinking about the eight years of prison I had ahead of me. For the first time since being locked up, the idea that I'd eventually get out felt real. I was stuck in the penitentiary, but not forever. I had a date. My incarceration wouldn't define the entirety of my life—an epiphany that was life-changing itself.
The rest of the trip was smooth, but the experience marked a checkpoint for me. The remainder of the time I had left to serve became shorter. When people would ask me how long I had left, I'd reply, "I'm going home soon." They'd ask how long and I'd say eight years. They'd laugh and tell me not to hold my breath, or whatever. When you are doing multiple decades as a young man, the sentence seems endless. But thanks to that Dr. Seuss card, I knew "The places you'll go!" line meant anywhere other than the pen.
47 Years Old
Serving a Life Sentence for an LSD Conspiracy Charge
In 1993, I was stuck in a county jail, waiting to be sent to the feds for a long time for an LSD conspiracy charge. I had been there six months and was spending my time sleeping 22 hours a day and eating Twinkies from the commissary nonstop to help me cope with the severe depression I was feeling about my impending sentence. In less than six months in the county jail, I gained 55 pounds.
I knew if I could get some acid then I'd have a chance of living before going to the pen. My birthday came, and friends on the outside sent me 30 hits of acid through the mail—six of them under each postage stamp like how the Deadheads would send LSD across the country. I took three tabs later that night.
As I tripped, I imagined seeing a world stage with the Grateful Dead there, along with a man I'd identify as President Obama years later, believe it or not. This was before he was president and I didn't know who he was at the time, but I believe I saw him, or someone who looked like him. I imagined walking on to the stage and shaking his hand. It was an eye-opening experience and it snapped me out of the malaise I was drowning in. The next day I started exercising and decided I wanted to live again, despite the time I was facing.
When I went to actual prison at USP Atlanta in 1994, a friend was sent an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper that was covered with hits of acid. Somehow they missed it in the prison mailroom. There had to be over 1,000 hits on the sheet. After that, me and my prison friends were tripping all the time. It was like being on tour with the Dead.
For the most part, I only took LSD at night in prison so I could remember the band and appreciate the drug as a sacrament. One time, though, my friends talked me into taking some at 7 AM. As fate would have it, they called me into the Lieutenant's office at nine. I'd taken three hits and was flying. I played it cool, but it was enough to make me think before taking it so casually in the pen again.
Several years after tripping in the county jail, I received a book filled with a dozen hits as another unreal birthday gift. When I took this acid, I saw the same stage with the president and the Dead I had imagined nearly two decades priors. I recognized Obama this time, and came to the conclusion that it must have been him I envisioned during that first trip in prison. Maybe it had to do with fantasies of being granted clemency from Obama—cause that's the only way I'm getting out of my life sentence. If I didn't eat those three hits hidden under the postage stamps so many years ago, I don't think I would have survived this long.