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Jailhouse Religion

As I waited in my little graffiti-covered cell in the Collin County Jail, I started hearing about that pale-faced Jesus of my childhood again. I refused to see any ministers, but my parents let me know they were praying for me. My mother even suggested I might want my old Bible. I was more interested in the magazines they brought-they were good for something. I could cut brightly colored pictures out of them and paste together surreal visions of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" characters popping out of flowers and huge insects and animals gliding across purple landscapes in a scrapbook I was making. Sometimes at night those visions would leap from the pages into my head, mingling with blood and Charlie and the desert and knives, and then the other prisoners would call for the guards because I was going crazy in my cell, throwing myself against the bars and screaming.

The flashbacks didn't come very often, though. Mostly it was just passing time, doing nothing. Outside, Bill Boyd fought the extradition step by step, using every device our legal system offered him to keep me in Texas.

In his book Helter Skelter, Los Angeles Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, understandably frustrated by his inability to get me out to California for trial with the others, states that Roland Boyd was campaign manager in a race for state attorney general by the very judge (David Brown) who granted "delay after delay after delay" in the extradition request. The implication that the Boyds used political influence to stretch the law is simply not true: Roland Boyd was, in fact, not campaign manager for anybody running for any state office; Judge Brown issued only one thirty-day continuance; and the law was not stretched. The normal processes of appeal, if followed to the end, naturally take nearly a year. It was just that no one had ever fought an extradition case as thoroughly as Bill Boyd did mine.

Early in December, a few days after my twenty-fourth birthday-the first I would spend in jail-two lawyers from Los Angeles arrived in McKinney, announcing that they were my attorneys. These men had represented my claim in the accident case several years before, and we'd smoked grass together a few times, but beyond that, the only thing that could possibly have brought the two of them to Texas was the smell of publicity and money. They insisted to the news-hungry press people who were stuck in this very small, very boring town that I was being held incommunicado and that they were being kept from their client by the unscrupulous Mr. Boyd. It finally ended up in the courthouse down the street from the jail. I was asked by Judge David Brown if I wanted to talk to them or be represented by them, and as I stared up at the stained ceiling of the old courthouse that looked more like a Baptist church than a court of law I murmured, "No . . . ."

Since Boyd was planning to argue against extradition on the basis of pretrial publicity, he had me wear a coat over my head for the short walk from the elevators to the courtroom (I'd been brought in a panel truck from the jail to the courthouse basement). We were not going to provide any publicity of our own, he said. Eventually Judge Brown ruled that each of the frustrated cameramen could take a limited number of pictures in the courtroom while we were in recess.

On December 14, the Los Angeles Times exploded with Sadie's front-page account of TWO NIGHTS OF MURDER, and Boyd had more support for his case. He had hired Bill Reed, formerly of the local McKinney paper and now on the staff of the Dallas Times-Herald, to do a complete survey of all news coverage of the Tate-LaBianca cases in California and Reed ended up with 114 exhibit samples. In printed material alone it ran the gamut from Ladies' Home journal to a sleazy Pageant article that tried to link the evils of Hollywood "sex clubs" to the deaths. This impressive display of the saturation coverage in the state (it nearly equaled that of the Kennedy assassination) did not convince the Texas secretary of state. He granted the extradition on January 5, 1970, and the next day the order was signed by the governor. Boyd immediately filed a writ of habeas corpus in Judge Brown's court and on the sixteenth the judge granted a thirty-day continuance. But on February 16 he ruled that, while there had indeed been extensive press coverage, there was no evidence of irresponsibility by the media (". . . sensational events cannot be accurately presented in prosaic terms . . . ") and that any decision about detrimental pretrial publicity should be made by a California court, not his own.

The process of appeals began-the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the United States Supreme Court. Each was denied, but with each new appeal, two more months were allowed by law for preparation and presentation of briefs, plus the time required for the judge or judges involved to reach a decision. Finally the Supreme Court declined to admit the case for hearing-and it was over. I was on my way to California. The trial of Charlie, Sadie, Katie, and Leslie was already in its third month.

I left for Los Angeles on September 11, 1970, over a year after the murders. Bill Boyd's last words to me were: "Don't say anything to anyone. You have the right to remain silent." And all the way to California, as newsmen with video machines and cameras tried to get at me and the two detectives who were with me tried to interrogate me, I wouldn't open my mouth, even to the stewardess. During processing at the "Glass House" in downtown Los Angeles, I refused to answer even the simplest question. Boyd had said not to talk, so I would not talk. This barrier of silence would eventually drive me deeper and deeper into myself, working on me, building with so much else inside my head that it seemed as if I would lose not only my sanity but my life itself.

Late on the night of my arrival, as I sat in my cell high up in that enormous Los Angeles City jail, the earth began to tremble. Charlie had always said there'd be an earthquake soon, just before Helter Skelter. It would be one of the signs, he said.

The next day I was transferred from the city jail to the sprawling county installation just northeast of the Civic Center. I still kept my silence and it was strange-the longer you went without speaking, the easier the muteness became. Words no longer flew to your mouth; it was as if the connection between mind and tongue slowly withered. I did finally talk to the chaplain there, John Goffigan, although at first I was certain even this quiet, gentle man was a spy for the D.A. My mother had written him and sent a Bible that he gave me along with several other books. Back in McKinney I hadn't been interested in reading any Bible, but things had been different then. I'd grown accustomed to my little cell in the Collin County Jail. I'd had my family nearby. It had been a world I understood, for all the twisting and turning that went on inside my head. Now suddenly I was part of a huge institution where everywhere I looked there were staring eyes and .hostility, from guards and inmates alike. I was immediately the object of morbid curiosity and violent hatred. Here was the creep who'd butchered Sharon Tate when she was eight months pregnant!

I don't blame anyone for what he felt, and I know I didn't make things any easier when I refused to talk to the few men who did stop at my cell bars and try to make conversation. I was a stranger in a strange land, unconnected and apart, an object to be stared at by a hostile world. I was cut off from my family and the Family that had replaced it, cut off from both realities I'd lived, cut off even from the one outsider I'd been able to trust since my arrest, Bill Boyd. In a world like that, the only place to go is in. But in for me was a confused country. Sometimes I felt like my own mother's son again; at other moments I was still and always Charlie's child.

Partly to get relief from everything that wouldn't stop churning through my head, partly to find something to focus on besides the negative vibrations coming at me from every direction, I started reading the Bible my mother had sent - sometimes the Psalms, sometimes verses I'd memorized long ago as a child in the Copeville Methodist Church. Often I'd just open the black book at random. I understood very little of what I read, but that didn't seem to matter. The words washed over me like soothing water; they made me feel at peace. They were the place of stillness in my world of constant light and noise.

The God of my childhood had been that hazy blond man with long hair and insipid features who smiled out of Bible illustrations and Sunday-school calendars. He was often pictured nailed to a cross, with purple skies seething behind Him, though how He ended up there I was never sure. All I knew was that on Easter there was a lot of special music, flowers that made the church look like a funeral, and you wore new clothes and had ham for dinner. Perhaps that's exaggeration, -but whatever I may have been able to rattle off in a Sunday - school class or evening devotional, I never really understood, or even bothered to wonder about the meaning of this Jesus whom I supposedly belonged to through personal experience (Of what?) and water baptism. That weak Messiah-behind whom stood a carping Judge with the face of an old man and the moral sensibilities of my mother-had never been more than some sort of touchstone for my assorted guilts. As I grew up, God rapidly became the least important thing in my all - American world.

The next god that came into my life was Charles Manson. His love was evident; I lived it. His Family gave me what seemed to be a new life, even as it took away all of mine, and he had his own peculiar baptism-drugs and fear and sex and death. But now it was beginning to look as if he, too, had failed me-or was it that I had failed him?

My mother's Jesus, the Stranger in the white robe or Manson, my Jesus, a stranger who became the self with a thousand faces and whose last face was death? And now, as I read the Bible which Chaplain Goffigan had given me, there was another Jesus, the real God. The events through which They revealed themselves were the familiar stories I'd heard as a child, but as I read now, the stories became something more than fairy tales about men in bathrobes. It was nothing I could put words to, hardly even a feeling, far less than belief . . . . Perhaps the name for it was hope.

While I had still been in Texas, Bill Boyd had made contact with a lawyer in California who'd agreed to take my case for $15,000. Somehow my family agreed to what was an astronomical figure for working people in Copeville, but when I got to Los Angeles and called the man, the figure had been raised considerably. During a visit to the jail the next day, the attorney kept talking about more and more money until finally, having passed $100,000, he told me he would need "unlimited funds" for my defense. I never saw him again until I was taken to court for arraignment. At that time he informed the judge that I could not afford counsel, and Sam Bubrick was appointed to handle my case, later to be joined by Maxwell Keith, Leslie Van Houten's attorney.

Sam Bubrick was a somewhat nervous, overweight man in his late fifties who seemed-at somewhere about five-footnine-a little short to me (I'm six-foot-two). He liked wide, flashy ties and would tear at his fingernails when he was under pressure. Keith was a few years younger and dressed more like the image of a lawyer I'd come to expect from Boyd-pinstriped suits and school ties. Somehow I always picture him as coughing-he was a chain-smoker. My first conversation with Bubrick was through a plate of glass, with the two of us talking into telephones in the visiting room at the Los Angeles County Jail. I was afraid to say much of anything to him. He wasn't Bill Boyd, so I had no reason to trust him, and besides, I was sure the conversation was being monitored.

The sense of being watched, trapped, observed, and overheard at every moment, awake or asleep, became the dominant reality of my existence. Each day the shell that held together what little was left of myself closed tighter and tighter. My physical body seemed to suck in on itself, drawing my arms and legs back into my belly. My body was shrinking slowly to a tiny dot of presence that one false wind could blow away forever. Yet the smaller my self got, the farther apart the pieces would float. I began to imagine that there were television cameras following me everywhere I went in the jail, hidden in dim corners and angles of walls. I was sure there were bugs in my cell and that every person except the chaplain who showed any interest in me was a spy sent by the police or the D.A. When Sam Bubrick would visit me, I'd tell him frantically that they were putting drugs in my food and that at night my hands glowed in the dark.

The confusion wouldn't stop, it would only pound at me, harder and harder, like some gigantic engine. Family member Bruce Davis was being held on the tier above me and, whenever he thought the guards couldn't hear, he'd call down messages to me from Charlie, which the girls who were free brought him in the visiting room. Day and night his voice would boom out in the metallic hollowness of the jail: "Cease to exist . . . remain one . . . Helter Skelter is coming down soon . . . ." Even the food became an enemy. They mixed together the meat and vegetables on the paper plate they shoved into the cell, so there was no way I could avoid eating flesh except by not eating at all.

I went on reading, even when I didn't understand what the black book was saying. Hour after hour I'd turn the pages of the Bible and let the words roll across the jagged edges of my mind. As I did, something else began to happen inside me, something that was perhaps the final straw to my sanity: I began tasting the reality of what I had actually done during those two nights of blood. It was no more than the tiniest spark of human feeling, somewhere deep inside my gut, but it was enough to drive me wild. Suddenly they were not nameless, impersonal things, not pigs-they were terrified men and women who had begged to be allowed to live, and I had battered and stabbed and shot the life out of them without mercy. It wasn't even so much guilt that racked me; it was the beginning of compassion. I began to throw myself against the bars, shaking them and screaming. I'd already let my cell become a smelly mess, my body steaming in its own filth. Now I started squeezing my toothpaste out onto the walkway through the bars and spattering the walls with food. I was taken to the hospital ward upstairs and put in restraints. Later, prosecution psychiatrists would claim I had faked much of my disintegration, but it was not true. All the little pieces just finally came unglued.

I seemed to improve a little in the hospital, so after a while I was sent back to my cell. It began all over again: Bruce's voice screaming down at me about hacksaws and escape and Helter Skelter, and the negative vibrations all around me driving me deeper and deeper into nothing.

When my weight dropped to 110 pounds from my usual 165 I was sent back upstairs. Once more I was bound to the cot with four-point restraints-both ankles and wrists-and now orderlies came and jabbed a tube down my nose. As humanitarian as forced feeding may sound, it is hell to live through. The sensitive membranes of the nose and throat are torn by the tubing and most of the sickening liquid being pumped into you is vomited back up, mingled with blood. Strapped on your back, it is all you can do to keep from drowning in it.

By this point I couldn't talk even if I wanted to-and Sam Bubrick was afraid I would die. He asked for three court psychiatrists to examine me, and they determined that I was regressing into a fetal state that could be terminal. I was insane, they said, totally incapable of standing trial. On October 29, Judge George Dell who had earlier ruled on Leslie's sanity-had me committed to Atascadero State Hospital for ninety-day observation.

"Jailhouse religion" they call it in cynical prison slang: the sudden desperate piety of an inmate who's up against it and hopes that God will somehow bail him out, a kind of bribe for an Almighty who has, up to that point, been of little interest to the new convert. Of course it often fades once the crisis has passed and it is often based on nothing but an overwhelming need to get out of trouble, with no thought for what God might ask of us. Of course. But despite all that, it was Jesus of Nazareth who said, "Come to Me, all of you that are carrying burdens more than you can bear . . . . I won't turn you away." (See Matthew 11:28; John 6:37.) I believe He hears. In fact, I know it. He heard me.

As I lay strapped on my back in the hospital, the words of the Twenty-third Psalm-one I'd memorized as a child and read again in the Bible my mother had sent-began to run through my head: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . . ." I repeated the whole Psalm, over and over, with a sudden clarity of memory. First it was a prayer; then it became the answer to the prayer. I was suddenly aware of another presence in the stark hospital cell, not exactly visible, but unmistakably, powerfully there. It was this new Christ I'd been reading about. There was no doubt of it; this Son of God was saying: "Come to Me . . ." and He was there. As the Psalm continued to flow through my mind it was as if He took me to Himself, held me, and filled me with a peace and a quiet that left me sure that everything was going to be all right, no matter what came next. Whether I lived or died, I had nothing to fear: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." He was with me; I knew it and I could rest. It didn't matter anymore what happened-He would not desert me.

When I had been with Charlie, I'd stopped caring if I lived or died because I was dead already. Now it no longer mattered to me whether my physical life continued-because, alive or dead, I knew that Life Himself had made me alive in Him.

Chapter Seventeen Table of Content Chapter Nineteen

(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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