John Maher of Delancey Street: A Guide for Peaceful Revolution in America,
by Grover Sales (Excerpts)
~ Jack Malloy, From Here to Eternity ~”All leaders, good or bad, who successfully promoted social movements, started with nothing: Martin Luther King, Jesus, Gandhi, Mao, Hitler, and Buddha — a millionaire prince who had to give it all away before he could get anything going. The Mormon empire is the classic case of a fanatical, oppressed, and impoverished people who could build an economic power independent of the government.
[A friend of mine who was a dope dealer knocked off a Catholic church for a considerable sum. The collection was returned. They took him down in a basement, took off his shoes, and burned the soles of his feet with a hot poker and made him walk home barefoot in the snow. They told him, “You sell dope to nice children instead of bums, and now you steal from the church. Now return the money — you can’t afford to have God against you, you got enough troubles with the landlord.” The woman that burned his feet was an old Italian grandmother, he sold junk to one of her grandchildren who died from an overdose. It was just a mild object lesson so people would understand that God is not to be fucked with.]
John Maher is reluctant to talk about his past, not because he’s ashamed of it, but because it bores him…
‘Why would anybody want to hear about that? It’s hackneyed to death, typical of a hundred thousand New York gutter rats. Only reason I’m different is I’m lucky, I had the opportunity to get out. Very few do…
‘When I wasn’t locked up in my room, I hung around the Public Library, where I found a copy of Crime and Punishment — that started me off at nine or ten on the Russians — Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol. I was knocked out by this kind of Russian mysticism because it was closely related to the ‘Celtic twilight’ attitude that was part of my family culture.
In retrospect, I think most of my antisocial behaviour was due to the fact that I wanted to get laid.
In slums, the romantic and heroic figures are those who can beat the system. Soon as a guy legitimately (sic) makes money, he moves out of the slums. No movie stars or social leaders there, so the guys that could make it with broads were the ones who had cash and some heroic nondrudge role — the hoodlums. So why dig ditches that don’t get you the girls, the attention, or the cash to pay off the cops?
I know Frank Serpico’s neighbourhood, and those cops have been on the take since I was a kid, a known thing. If you’re part of the Irish mob, or the Mafia and you pay, no sweat; if you happen to be a poor black or some dumb Puerto Rican that shoots dope, you go to jail.
Elements of the New York Police Department are a central source of heroin in the United States; nobody believes this. The police steal heroin, or buy it, off the Corsicans, who sell it to Italians, who sell it to the blacks, who sell it to the Spanish and other blacks. The whites buy it off the blacks, then go back to their neighbourhood and sell it to some teenager and he’s the one that gets arrested, by the same coppers that sold it to him. That’s why New York City is in shambles, because they all know they’re living in a lunatic asylum. …
That scene in the movie Serpico, where the cops hit him with a phone book, they don’t do that. What they do, and they did it to me, they put the phone book on your head and chain you to these hot water pipes. The handcuffs will heat slowly, and they wrap wet handkerchiefs around your wrists so’s you won’t get a burn, but you’ll feel the pain like boiling water. Then they put the phone book on your head, and beat on the book. This might not kill you but your brains might scramble. And they tell you, ‘We keep this up another half hour, you’re gonna go crazy — you gonna talk, or what?” Only way to beat them at that game is to pretend you’re already crazy.
Problem with the movie Serpico, it only showed one-tenth of reality; it’s ten times that bad. I used to walk into the station house on Alexander and 38th Street; been pinched there twenty times. Timothy J. Incumbent wants to turn out the vote, pick up his button and his literature, hand it out in front of churches, in saloons, and you’ll never get hassled. But anybody handing out any other literature, first time some of it hits the pavement, he’s arrested for littering.
And nobody sneaks around corners for the pay-off — you literally walk into the station house and yell “Lieutenant O’Hara in? Timothy sent me,” and he goes in the back, or slams the phone down in your ear (sometimes repeatedly!).
The ‘No-Meme-Gorky-Dabble ‘Jails
We should see more of the consequences of this war and hear less platitudes about it by our government.
~ Rasputin ~
‘Warwick, one of many prep schools for prison, was filled with lost, tortured slum kids — mainly black, some Spanish — who were utter social victims, caught in gang wars, boosting a car to go joy riding, or smoking pot. Once in every two hundred, they’d maybe get would-be professional like me, a stand up guy, which the administration hates. Anyone who says, “I don’t wanna go to basket-weaving class this morning, Buster’ is a bad guy. You got to kiss their asses. If you’re clever enough to con them into thinking they’re rehabilitating you, if you give them that ego enforcement, they let you go.
But they couldn’t stand what they called my attitude, which was that these reform-school clowns were incompetent assholes who couldn’t find a man’s job, so they settled for glorified baby-sitter at $75 a week while fancying themselves social heroes like Lincoln Steffens.
Brooklyn House of Detention: These low-level intellects couldn’t find more lucrative employment, so they fed each other’s egos by telling each other the reason they did this work was because they liked children; all bullshit.
I got in a fight there, this guy hit me in the melon with a table leg, so when I get out of the hole with my head stitched up, I have to get this punk — can’t be going home having somebody hit me and not get him back, because nobody on the street would ever talk to me again. So I clobbered him with an ax handle, and it was back to the hole again; seclusion they called it. For two weeks in the hole, I figured I got a reputation, so from then on I played up to these assholes, say good things about them in the school essays I had to write, “Supervisor Horseface took us boys on a wonderful camping trip,” and three months later I was out.
This taught me a great lesson for later life. With this kind of correctional creep, so lonely and hurt because they have failed for so long in their job, if you give them the slightest hope that they’ve helped you, they’re so thrilled they let you out of jail. First week you’re there, start a big scene and just waste somebody, really clobber them. You start out by creating this illusion you’re a totally dangerous motherfucker.
Then six months later, you’re less dangerous. After eighteen months somebody says, “What a remarkable transformation in this man!” Anyone stupid enough to think that anyone’s going to get well under the current correctional system deserves to get played with.
The administration at all times encourages racism, even to the point of pitting white guards against black guards. I’ve seen race riots in jails where the black guards managed the black team and the white guards were the Vince Lombardis of the white team.
In a jungle like that, where dozens of knifings are committed every year, prisoners gravitate toward those most like themselves for mutual protection. In prison, the education system has nothing to do with training prisoners, but it has everything to do with upping the budget and employing a few excess middle-class teachers.
In the middle of the daily race riot, it’s hard to concentrate on Shakespeare.
New York’s Rikers Island:
This was the armpit of New York City:
A place for detaining excess populations who are unemployable. Jails like rain to a farmer – just make sure you don’t get too much of it. Jail was a chance, with little risk, to impress gangsters from the Neighbourhood; there were men in all the New York jails who knew my father and grandfather. On the street, I had to work for a rep, but in jail I could build it easily, pick up the law from older Neighbourhood fellas, names I could use to drop on the outside, like “You was with Yago,” or “You was with Irving the Banker.”
In a prison like Rikers its inevitable that any new prisoner is going to be a target for sexual advances. Only two ways you can handle this: Either you go along with it and become somebody’s punk in return for his protection against gang-bang rapes – or you do what I did. First time someone makes a pass, or even hints at it, you say, “Lissen, punk, you so much as lay a hand on me and I will kill you, and when I get outa here, I’ll kill your wife, your mother, your whole fuckin’ family! And you ain’t bullshittin’, you mean it…
When my wrist healed I got a job in the psychiatric ward because I could read, write, and spell correctly. It was the doctor’s or the captains decision to appoint someone a psychiatric clerk. A good line of shit, and a fifty buck donation to the ‘Correctional Officers Benevolent Association’ would get you the job. The doctors were obvious yo-yos incapable of private practice, senile clowns, refugees from the University of Hungary, 1911.
One of my duties was to walk around and look at the nuts; the ones who are really crazy – hearing voices and talking to cockroaches – you write “faking” on their report so they’ll send them back to the yard to make room for a prisoner sane enough, who can pay us $50 or $100 for the cell. You wouldn’t have to pay nothing if you were a good fellow, and connected, with a mob, a man with ‘respect’ who had kept his mouth shut. So the real nuts with no money or connections never see the inside of the psychiatric ward, except for the few minutes when we transfer them to Bellevue or Matteawan.
The function of the prison psychiatric ward is to provide a place where the sane people could go to get away from the nuts. Nobody believes them when you tell them this. At night I walked around the tiers reserved for the ones who were so crazy you couldn’t pretend they were faking – the ones banging the heads on the wall – and try to calm them down. What the doctor tells you to do is Mickey Mouse stuff. You got to realize that in prison, nobody works; the guards just sit around. Once in a while some bright-eyed fool runs in bushy-tailed from the Columbia School of Social Work and wants to change things; he ends up bitter, rotten and corrupt. If they’re snivelers, they go around whining how evil the world is; if they’re mensches, they take it for what it is and do what good they can.
One day this brand new Ph.D. comes around looking for a quorum for his group therapy sessions, so I tell him, “You get us some good coffee and keep my boys out of the hole and we’ll go to therapy.” I line up this motley crew to sit around in a room while this dopey doctor asks some guy from East Harlem, for Chrissake, how he feels about his mother! Well, you don’t ask that to Italians – they’d just punch the shit out of you – kiddie stuff, you lead the sucker along: “Gee, Doc, I get these terrible feelings of insecurity when I go look for a job – we go out and get a fix.
I’ve been group therapized thousands of times – it’s about as good as exorcism.
The thieves and crazy people run the streets of New York; the police have the illusion that they run them, and the churches share this fantasy.
The Mymy Undergraduate
‘Hunesty is the best policy
Confession is good for the soul’
‘Never do anything you will be ashamed to read on the front page of a newspaper.’
Synanon was an easier way of getting smarter, of getting my emotional needs satisfied for the right reasons, rather than the false reasons of image. Dederich would wander about, telling the small group in a voice that rang with absolute conviction, “Stick around. Something very big is happening here. Something important. You’re going to have more fun than you ever had in your life. You’ll be amazed where this thing is going to lead, what consequences it will have, not just for us, but for this entire crazy country of ours. It will emerge.”
Dederich treated addicts like small children until he was satisfied they could think and function like reasoning adults. A man who threatened violence would have his head shaved and wear a sign, “I’m a little boy – please laugh at my courageous idiot attempts to act tough.”
Proving to the old man they could stick it became important. The main re-educative tool was the attack-therapy session, the synanons that Dederich later christened the Game. His theory was that since games were fun, games about people should be more fun than whacking little balls around. The purpose of the Game was to develop psychic muscles and human insight, and since laughter, tears, rage, and love are the most basic emotions, he counted no Game “worth didly-shit unless every player is either screaming with laughter, bawling like a child, hugging each other – or on the verge of physical violence.”
Dederich developed the Game when encounter group therapy was beginning to supplant one-to-one psychotherapy in America, and he took pains to reorient newcomers who had undergone psychiatric treatment. “We’re not interested if you wet the bed at ten, or if your scoutmaster jacked you off – we want to know what you did today, and what motions you’re going through to improve your behaviour tomorrow.”
As a result, Dederich claimed he saw people go through amazing transformations; whores became madonnas, pimps turned into leaders of men. He encouraged obscene and hysterical outpourings in Games to get bottled-up feelings of hostility out into the open.
His own prowess in Games was legendary. An aggressive Hunter College social worker was bold enough to put the Game on Dederich, indicting him as a supersquare, a philistine who thought music and the arts mere toys to distract lesser folk from more pressing social concerns. It took him all of fifteen minutes to thrust her back to yowling infancy, and another ten minutes to patch her up.
As Game players grew in toughness and skill, he urged them into Dissipations – marathon thirty to forty-eight hour ‘Games’, believing that people “‘dissipate’ their psychic energies in dreams,” and that with no sleep to act as a protective shield, players were put through “fantastic changes – they stopped conning us and experienced some real breakthroughs.”
Synanon as a group had its own breakthrough on a June night in 1969, the Night of the Big Cop Out. While some residents had been living clean, many clung to old street ways, hoarding a stash of pot, bennies, or even shaving lotion, anything to get high. Most of Synanons law-abiders knew, but true to the old criminal code, they never told Dederich. Squealling on your friends was still the unthinkable crime. This changed overnight when a pres-resident in a Game accused his friend of using.
“Look shit-head, I know you got loaded last week because we got loaded together!”
Suddenly the urge to cop out, to admit using drugs and to finger known users, swept the clubhouse. Dederich roused all from bed at 3:00 A.M. to join in an orgy of self-confession, obscene accusations, howls of denial, and maniacal laughter.
He climaxed the meeting with a still-talked-about marathon speech, proclaiming the Code of the Street had been replaced by the Synanon Ethos.
If Pontius Pilate had been a smart Washington politician instead of a dumb Roman bureaucrat, he could have subverted the entire Christian movement by giving the Founder five thousand dinars to start a boys club in Bethlehem to see how many Samaritans he could cure. Next year, the Carpenter would come back to Pilate to refund the grant because the new state regulations say they need two psychiatric social workers, one probation officer, and a fire escape. This would have cleverly diverted the Leader from His central purpose: to sit around with a dozen buddies and “work out a philosophy that’s acceptable to us.” Now, that’s powerful talk, because if that ethic makes them feel good, lots more folks will join them.
When these women come to us for help, most of them have been used and don’t even know it. No one with authority in the Foundation – male or female – can sleep with someone who comes to us for help until these inmates have been taught to regard themselves as human beings and not just a piece of meat, and have gone through our re-educative process to where they are no longer dependent on us, socially or economically. This is not going to be another of those freak free university professors-ball-students bullshit in the name of liberation.
When Archie Bunker screams, “I’m tired of being mugged, and I’m gonna break some jaws,” it’s the same thing as the black radicals saying, “Get these corrupt cops, dope pushers, and creep social workers out of my neighbourhood!” Because of the difference in political rhetoric and their sociological platform, they’ve got different perspectives. But the good people in both these camps find themselves at war with each other, when they’re actually on the same side, and in this kind of struggle, it’s only the giant bureaucracies that win. Quickly we find that the most virulent white racists can begin to respect blacks who stand up for themselves, and that when blacks meet really tough whites for the first time, instead of middle-class social worker lames, a mutual respect builds to where they can work together.
The toughest gangsters are verbally more racist when they come here, and racist in terms of who they hang out with. But the tougher they are, the more quickly they will grant respect to a member of another ethnic group who behaves in a fashion acceptable to their code.
In Games, a white racist is talked down to, laughed at, and maybe yelled at from time to time. We find it silly, some asshole comes here of any colour, never done anything except steal off his own mother, pimp off his wife, sell dope to poor people – this clown gets up and says, “I don’t like Armenians, they’re oily, smell weird, and got the brain-pans of salamanders.” This is comical, but not in a threatened environment where the integration is not genuine, and where such nonsense is greeted with horror. But in Delancey Street, we greet this kind of garbage with great gales of laughter. How can some black dope peddler come in here selling heroin to black children to keep them enslaved for the benefit of the landlords and the police structure, actually get up and rail at the white oppressor?
HE IS THE FUCKING OPPRESSOR!
We recognise that racist babble and drug use are merely the symptomlogy of the oppressed, therefore not great crimes.
Minion Fun and Games
“A Game is like an orgasm – just words until you’ve had the experience.”
“There’s no greater joy in life, than to watch tough, big-city gangsters terrified by their first encounter with a be-feather garter snake’
Almost all prison riots start in the mess hall, and probably most family fights, too. Food and sex are such visceral things that it’s very tough to fuck with them, and since we have to have certain restrictions on sex around here, with men outnumbering women four-to-one, the least we can do is give our people a good meal.
Ron Coombs: Vietnam veteran Sundance kid
Of course, John Maher is behind all this. They held these seminars every morning, where someone in the house would run it down about what Delancey was doing, for about an hour, except when John did it, once or twice a week, and then it would run three hours. First time I heard John, I thought, “Jesus, they got me in here with a bunch of commies!” The second time he spoke I thought I was hearing Martin Luther King. And his seminars would start to build the unity. He told us where the Foundation was going; we’d ask him questions. He got rid of a lot of my prejudices about blacks, and my ignorance, the labels they put on people.
John has a way of carrying everyone in the room. He will say something in three hours to hit all three hundred people, give them something to work on. He speaks to an audience. He can talk about the prejudiced honkies, the prejudiced blacks, the guilt people carry around. He caroms everyone, hits them with something, and when he walks out, he leaves them thinking about themselves and their actions, what they really want to do with their lives, and if their lives are kind of fucked up, how they can change it.
The reason John gets to much respect is that everyone knows he is not asking you to do anything he doesn’t do himself. I got so much trust in the man, that he can ask me to do anything, I wouldn’t even question it, and I never felt that way about anyone. John can relate to you, put you through changes, because he’s been there himself, it’s not something he’s read in a book.
I’m not afraid of John, but I know if I try to run something under him he’ll say, “Ron, quit bullshitting me. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter,” and that’s frightening, because you got to come right out and level with him. ..
— Source: John Maher of Delancey Street: A Guide for Peaceful Revolution in America, by Grover Sales.