Richard, 66
Richard, 66

At 12, my Ma had me incarcerated as a hopeless incorrigible, but really she was just mad because I wrecked her car joy-riding. I didn’t even know how to spell incorrigible, much less tell you what it meant.

My mother said I could say goodbye to him at the funeral home, but it wasn’t the same. She should have told me sooner, instead of letting me believe he was getting better. I believed that for a whole year while he underwent treatment for cancer. I was ten, he was my Dad. Maybe they did try to warn me, but I’m pretty sure I blocked it out. I’m good at that, blocking things out. Trouble is eventually there’s just too much of it…like Pa’s cancer.

In any case, I was mad at Ma for keeping the truth from me and depriving me of any meaningful last words with my old man, who was also my best friend. Catching her shortly thereafter with one of the marines from Daddy’s honor guard didn’t help either. I ran him off with a butcher knife from our kitchen sink and any other bozos she brought home. After that, I was old enough to enlist in the Marines myself, which was a welcome escape from that crazy ass world where long-haired freaks smoked themselves senseless on dope and disrespected our troops. I wasn’t into that. My old man had been a hero in the war. I wanted to be just like him – joining up as soon as I turned eighteen; which also kept me out of California’s Youth Authority.

The only branch that would have me though was the Marines, Pa had been in the Army, The recruiter looked suspiciously like the one I had caught with Ma. He did a number on my rap sheet with a bit of white-out, as a favor to Ma, he said, Two weeks later I found myself on a bus headed for San Diego, where a true-life miracle occurred, “a ninety-day wonder” they called it. When I graduated, fifth overall, my mother and oldest sister were present. I don’t know who was prouder, me or them. The transformation was stunning.

After completing helicopter school in Millington Naval Air Station, Tennessee, I was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California. A reserve detachment where I was the only squad member it seemed who had not yet earned his stripes in Vietnam. Nor was I likely to have the chance. President Mr. Tricky Dick Nixon had signed onto the Paris Peace Accords, which began the drawdown and eventually ended in 1975 to this very unpopular war.

To say this outfit was a little bit slimy would be an understatement, most of its members were short-timers, biding their time until their final orders were cut. Each morning after formation everyone went off in different directions, only to end up all together inside the furthest chopper. Quietly, we could sleep off all the partying we had done the night before. My part was to post up in the cockpit and keep lookout for our squad leader, a hard-nosed gunny, whose mission in life, it seemed, was to make everyone else miserable.

I had made a mistake one night of trying to keep up with the heavy drinkers and party animals in my unit. Smoking bowls of ganja laced with opium and whatever else they could get their hands on, until the wee hours of the morning. One by one they would drop off to their own racks and crash. Vietnam it seemed had been such a horrendous experience, no amount of drinking and smoking could ever extinguish it sufficiently from their psyche. A phenomenon not yet fully understood, PTSD. In the morning as they were gathering themselves for another day on the flight line, they were surprised to find me still wide awake, high as a kite from the night before! “Sleep it off” I was told, “We’ll cover for you.” But sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was still tripping, seeing tracers and colors whilst the walls melted. I was frying and by day’s end, when I was no better, then by week’s end, my squad leader determined I needed to be evaluated for a 51/50. On the psychiatric ward of the naval regional medical center in Long Beach, I traded my clothing for a hospital gown. The doctor started me off with 300 mgs of Thorazine, when this still didn’t get me to sleep, it was raised. By the end of the second week, I was taking up to 2800 mgs of Thorazine a day and still, I was not sleeping!? Much of this period is a foggy memory. One day, what happened in the shower area though, is too clear. I would go there for the quiet and to be alone. On this particular day, I was masturbating. One of the navy orderlies snuck up on me and instead of allowing me to leave, began to reach around and masturbate me from behind. I guess I didn’t mind, not at first, but when he suddenly tried to f*** me from behind, I said no – STOP, but it was too late. I couldn’t get him off me until his co-worker walked in. Then, being chastised, he let me go. I never said anything, I was too embarrassed and ashamed it had even happened. I just wanted to forget.

After another two months in the ward I was finally sent home. I continued to self-medicate as an escape, memories of that ward, that one particular ordeal, made me question everything about my whole rotten life. Including my manhood. I became depressed and suicidal. I swallowed the whole bottle of Thorazine they sent me home with. My many suicide attempts and self-destructive lifestyle with drugs landed me in prison. I never told anyone about my nightmares from the psych ward, not until recently when I received a copy of my service records and read the psych report. It infuriated me. They said everything that was wrong with me was my fault and not one word about the rape. Surely that wasn’t my fault! That shit shouldn’t have happened to a dog! I didn’t report it, so what could I expect?

Now, however, I can’t shut up about it. I had been a good Marine up until the day I flipped out, and even that was not entirely my fault. I had joined the Corp to escape the madness, the hippies, druggies and all the rest. The early demise of my father and years that followed going in and out of juvie. Only to find life in the Marines, my squadron in particular, there were more crazed addicts awaiting me than I had left behind! Now, decades later, I feel ripped off. It had not been my intention to sign up for that scene, if I had received the appropriate follow-up care after the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” episode, I might have gotten better and avoided years of incarceration.

Rather than trying to escape our darkest past, we need to confront it and know there are people who care, who we can talk to and get the proper help. I found that recently with Humans of San Quentin, and trust me, this is far better than trying to drown everything in liquor and drugs. “You’re not alone,” they said, “We love you!”