Love, Reign o’er Me
The relentless rain in Yalova crashed down in deafening sheets. Inside Rico’s tiny Turkish apartment, we passed a fat joint around the room taking turns
inhaling the sweet acrid cannabis smoke. Everyone was looking down depressed in silence. No one spoke. A heavy mood weighed down on us like the dark deluge pouring outdoors.
One of our crew was on his way to a dismal Turkish jail facing a life sentence, and it could include any or all of us if he cracked under police interrogation.
Ferd finally looked up, his voice choking, “What the fuck is goin’ on here?” he cried. “How the hell could this happen? How did they know that Shawn stashed a kilo of hash hidden inside his goddamn golf clubs?”
We shot glances at each other around the room like the game of Killer¹. Only no one was laughing or having a good time. Was there one of us who betrayed Shawn? Why would the Turkish cops randomly pull over Shawn’s taxi on his way to the airport and search his gear? Did this have anything to do with our black market and hashish activities? Or was it maybe an op’s connection? Russian agents? Blackmail?
“What the fuck do you know about this?” Ferd hissed angrily as he stared over at Jonesie.
Ferd and Jonesie always took the most risks. If anyone would have gotten busted, it would have been one of those two. They were both heavy players in the black market and had no problem buying a kilo of hashish every payday.
Jonesie stood up. “I’m out,” he said, as he headed for the door.
“Wait a minute man,” Ferd shouted at Jonesie. “Why you in such a goddamn hurry? “
“Jonesie,” spoke up Dean, “We need to stick together so we can keep our story straight. We’re too easy to pick off if we go it alone.”
“That’s fine for you white boys,” replied Jonesie, “but what do you think they’ll do with a brother?”
For about thirty seconds the room was quiet. Everyone knew what Jonesie was talking about. It was another elephant in the room: racism. This was 1974,
and the Civil Rights Movement hadn’t caught on yet in Turkey. Hell, the Civil Rights Act in the U.S. was barely ten years old. The Turks weren’t particularly fond of Africans, even African Americans. It wasn’t unusual to hear the word
“Marsik” muttered by the local Turks on the street when Jonesie or any other brother ventured off base. Marsik literally means “charcoal” in Turkish, a slur
used to define a person of African descent. And in Turkey, law was totally fucked up. It was applied differently according to race, gender, and all kinds of other bullshit. The darker your skin, the heavier your sentence. Hell, even a woman can do the time for her husband’s crime in this backward country.
I tried to break the tension. “C’mon man, you’re still an American!”
“You think they give a shit?” replied Jonesie. “All us bloods come from
Africa as far as the Turks are concerned. They don’t give a fuck about America.”
“Wait a minute,” Ferd interrupted. “Just because Shawn got busted doesn’t mean we freak out. Shawn isn’t going to rat on us. Besides, we don’t even know how the fuck it happened. Let’s all chill out till we have the facts straight.”
Dean looked over at Amir, a local Turk stoner who worked as a translator on base and said what we all were thinking. “What’s your take on this shit? How the fuck do you think this happened? Could someone have tipped off the cops?”
“I am just as fucking surprised as you are,” Amir nervously countered, trying to copy our American slang.
“Yeah, I bet you are,” Dean whispered under his breath but loud enough for him to hear.
“It’s true,” Amir exclaimed. “I like Shawn very much. I would not wish such a bad thing to happen to him. I was the one who warned everyone that the cops were out doing roadblock checkpoints. Don’t you remember?”
“That was months ago,” Dean countered. “Besides, if it was a routine checkpoint, they wouldn’t have searched his gear.”
Mikey sat slouched down on the couch just staring out into space. You could see the solemn look of fear on his face. He had less than thirty days left on his tour. A wife and two kids waited for him back in the world. If the Turks also found out about his black-market deals, he’d be up shit creek.
As the guys argued in their panic, my eyes flashed on the front page of a six-month-old newspaper from the world that laid out across Rico’s table.
“NIXON RESIGNS OVER WATERGATE!” - WATERGATE 7 FACE PRISON.
“Great,” I thought, “our commander in chief was a crook who bailed out, and seven of his crew are taking the axe for his crimes.” John Mitchell, a former U.S. Attorney General, was facing a thirty-year jail term; White House Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, was facing at least twenty-five; and John Erlichman was looking at twenty-five years. All seven defendants were attorneys, men who knew the law but broke it anyway.
In a strange way, we were no different. We were all American soldiers who knew the severity of Turkey’s drug laws and the U.S. policy² that created them. We, too, broke the law anyway and now one of our crew was facing a life sentence. And, if Shawn broke down and talked, we all faced the same shit. Nobody wants to spend their next twenty years in a Turkish prison. It would only take one of us to panic and surrender to the mercy of the U.S. military justice system begging for protection. We could all end up in the U.S. military prison at Leavenworth and face dishonorable discharges. Or maybe they’d just simply toss us over to the Turks anyway!
“Shit,” I thought, “And I’ve only got nine more days before my tour was over in this godforsaken backward country. Would I make it out of here?”
Six months ago, my wife had left me after I infected her with a lingering venereal disease and she flew back to California, breaking my heart. Now she says she wants me back. Tonight, one of my best buddies who, only hours away from going back to the world, is now sitting in a cold, dank Turkish jail cell, pondering the rest of his life in prison. Our house of cards was about to collapse.
The Who played loudly through the Bose 901s.
God, I need a drink of cool, cool rain.
We rode the bus back to the base in silence, totally baked and too bummed to talk. The pounding Turkish rain kept hammering down. Ferd and Dean got off at the main gate at the base. I stayed on the bus for the two-click ride down to the town of Karamursel and my cold empty apartment. My new wife, Natalie, has gone back to the world and left me with a hole in my gut. Can’t say I blame her. How many husbands gave their wife the clap in their first year of marriage? How was I to know that I was infected before we even got engaged? Damn, that stripper in San Angelo!
1 The game of Killer – A favorite pothead party pastime. Playing cards are dealt to each stoner after smoking prodigious amounts of weed while Pink Floyd loudly rocks on. The anonymous person who gets the Ace of Spades is the Killer and tries to selectively assassinate each victim in the room from a single wink of the eye without a witness. The departed signal their death with a flip of their card. Any witness who suspects the Killer’s identity can make the accusation; however, the penalty for the false accuser is also death. The objective is for the Killer to execute everyone in the room without a witness to their crime.
2 After he took office in 1969, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies and pushed through stronger laws, such as mandatory sentencing in the States. Nixon was elected president in part because of his vow to wage war on drugs. Nixon believed that drugs were the root cause of the youth rebellion and social upheaval at home and, therefore, public enemy number one. Simple answer, get rid of the drugs and our kids will behave again. Internationally, Nixon wanted to stop the drugs from entering the U.S. in the first place. According to satellite intelligence, the White House believed that Turkey was the source of eighty per cent of the illegal narcotics flooding into the U.S.
Opium poppies and cannabis flowers have been grown in Turkey since the Stone Age, and the Turks have been cultivating them for thousands of years. It is believed that the original home of the opium poppy was Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey. As a result, this crop is so ingrained in their cultures that even the Prophet Mohammed, who prohibited the use of alcohol, did not prohibit the use of hashish or opiates due to their healing abilities. Before the Nixon Administration, poppy and cannabis flowers were farmed in thirty-two of Turkey’s fifty-six provinces. Income from these crops was crucial for stability of the country’s economy, and any attempt to eradicate their farming could bring down the government. After threats to halt American aid and to implement economic and military sanctions in June 1971, the prior military-backed Turkish government of Premier Naim Talu gave into Nixon’s relentless pressure and agreed to ban all poppy and cannabis cultivation as of June 1972, a year later, and implemented lengthy and harsh criminal sentences for possession or sale of even small amounts of cannabis. As part of the deal, the White House promised to help compensate the Turkish government and farmers for their losses with a reward of $35 million.The money never materialized. According to sources, most of the money went to U.S. drug treatment and prison construction. The 100,000 plus Turkish peasantfarmers who gave up their livelihoods were never compensated as promised. The ban in Turkey was hugely unpopular. Although the eradication agreement effectively strengthened US-Turkey relations, the Turkish Prime Minister warned Nixon that the political fallout from criminalizing opium and cannabis cultivation might bring about the fall of his government, which it quickly did. The ban also caused a worldwide shortage of opium for medical purposes. Farmers had been forced to sell their crops in the black market. Early in 1974, while the Nixon administration was focused on Watergate and the military-backed government in Turkey collapsed, Bülent Ecevit, a poet turned politician, was elected Prime Minister and kept his campaign promise to revoke the U.S.-backed ban on producing opium and hashish. Ecevit announced that, subject to United Nations’ approval, licensed growing for medical uses would henceforth be permitted, whether the U.S. liked it or not. However, criminal penalties for mere possession would not be changed.