"How about your perception of Neal's Spirituality? Was he really a "Holy Con Man" or just a Con Man?"

Neal has often exhibited a range of behaviors that fit the description of an accomplished con man. Nevertheless in my dealings with him he was quite the opposite of a con-man. I understand a con man to be someone who persuades others to give away items of value by promising returns that will not materialize. Neal, more than anyone that I have known has given and given without keeping anything for himself.

I will give you one example from my own experience about it. Carolyn had written a foreword or something, I forget where, but it was published material. I saw it browsing a City Lights shelf. quite a few years before browsing was popularized on the Internet. She was giving his relationship to me as an example of how he conned me to the point that I became a law breaker. She was not trying to put me down. She also said there that I had helped Neal in prison more than anyone, or maybe she said that I was the only one who did, I don't remember exactly. She seemed to genuinely believe it.

First of all, while I was fired from my job because I visited them, it was also true that the rule prhibiting prison employees from "assocating with ex-convicts or their families" had an exception, "unless their job requires it". They were so eager to get rid of the troublemaker (me), that they neglected to look into what my job at the time was. It took me two years to win my case. Carolyn not only knew that, she accompanied me to the hearing where I defended myself. My job at the time was to design a research program which was to be called "parole follow through program" and I complained that because we had no experience with how circumstances change for the convict when he leaves on parole, I needed time to learn about it. I received a memo from the Research Director in Sacramento which stated among other things, that it was my job to find out everything that I needed , "that to do anything less would not be doing a professional job", and that it is my job to have it all worked out to be started in July. It happened to be a month or so after Neal's release. The memo arrived at the same time when Neal asked me to talk to Carolyn. I jumped at the only opportunity to get into a parole follow through situation. This happened at the same time when Neal asked me to talk to Carolyn. I looked up the rule and it was clearly a situation where my job required it. A real need existed, can we help, and I can get some feel about what issues arise, and how to deal with them.

The year before my chief clerk at the time also felt the need for support after release on parole and asked me if he could contact me if he needed help. Btw, this man became a poet and I have not been able to locate him in many years. Does anyone by chance know of the whereabouts of Gene Fowler? I would love to get in touch with him. But I am digressing. I asked permission to see Gene Fowler after he was on parole. I received permission in a memo that stated "in view of the fact that Mr. Fowler worked with you on research projects, it is understandable that you may need to see him and permission is granted. Of course, it is understood that no personal matters will be discussed".

I was ready to give up on being able to do anything wothwhile there and was willing to break the rule. Gene was very sensitive at that point about living totally within the rules, and we decided not to make contact while I would try to work on changing that rule. Carolyn knew very well about that, because, as you might imagine, I was quite a bit preoccupied with these things. Still in her mind apparently she saw it as an excellent example of what a con man Neal was, how he made a lawbreaker out of me. Btw I establishd contact with Gene after I was fired. We enjoyed a very good, to me very rewarding friendship for a couple of years when our paths took us in different directions.

I feel certain that others have mentioned how Neal would travel without money, and more importantly, without stash, and wherever he was, a group of people would quickly materialize, as well as a supply of grass, and everybody would get high. Is this an example of a con man? Or is this an example of a person who was offering so much that the givers received somrthing of much more value than the gave up?

I know that myself, I was not conned of anything when Neal came by for a bit of rest, food, and a place to crash. I could say that I wished Neal kept more money for his needs instead of "conning" his friends. But I would be lying.

The story actually of course could get quite a bit longer yet.

"Did he really believe in his religious studies while in prison or was that simply to impress the authorities?"

I don't know too well what he said to the authorities. My relationship with Neal, even though it was not a professional one, was confidential, without consequences with the authorities. I can't recall Neal ever asking me to intervene or make recommendations to the authorities. In our conversations he did not indicate any interest in any organized religion activities. He was talking a lot in our conversations about his dreams from childhood on to be able to live the contemplative life of a monk. It may be that I forgot, but if he really didn't talk to me about it, I would entertain a guess that it was more for the benefit of the authorities.

"Did your relationship w/ Neal span? How did you meet him originally?"

I had arrived at the Bay area a year after finishing my student days at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where in the last year I finally found a teacher who impressed me greatly. Carl Rogers was a pioneer who changed the approach to therapy from an authoritarian relationship, where the therapist knows best and gives some of his knowledge to his patien, to a "Client Centered" approach where what the therapist value is from listening to the patient. He did not have an easy time popularizing his ideas, but he worked very well and successfuly within the system to become extremely influential. Carl had impressed upon me how little was done in Corrections, and I took the job at San Quentin, fired up with idealism and taking the rhetoric of the "Progressive" leaders of the Department seriously. There are some extremely intereting sories there too, but that would not only take many more key strokes, when, hard to believe, I am actually aware of going on too long, and trying to stop..

My job was to be the psychologist on a research program in which twelve Psychiatric Social Workers (Hello, Marie!) were seeing a randomly selected group of approximately 150 ( This is just a guess. I don't remember the number) prisoners at San Quentin once a week for a year in the hopes that fewer of them would violate parole in their first year. Well, after three years, at $300,000 a year (if memory serves correctly) the first results were beginning to come in and the tratment was not making any difference. The program was called "Intensive Treatment Program". My job there was to find out why. I was to have a free hand to do what I could to find some answers, and make suggestions for needed changes. It didn't take long to see what a phony operation it all was and I was struggling to do what I could while I was there.

I found my way to the North Beach where I immediately found kinship and relief from the hardships of my job. I can' resist telling you that at a party at my home in Tiburon, one of the guests was a married FBI agent from San Diego who wold come to Tiburon to radezvous with his mistress. My North Beach friends knew about it, and the agent started to get nervous when his lady spent all the time with Bob Kaufman. One of my North Beach friends, a bartender at the Coffee Gallery told me about Neal and asked if I could look him up. Just what I needed, someone in prison to become aquainted with who could relate to me about how he felt about the situation.

My relationship to Neal extended from early 1958 to when he was on his way to return to Mexico for the last time.

previous page
Back to the Archives
next page