Charles Rammelkamp

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Sean McClanahan, Ex-Con, Remembers Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger? A real head case.
We were in the Atlanta federal pen together,
but I tried to stay out of his way,
if you catch my drift.

Whitey participated in Carl Pfeiffer’s
CIA-sponsored “behavior experiments,”
tripped on acid at least fifty times,
got kicked out of the program for
“being persistently noisy and boisterous.”

Pfeiffer said most depressed people
were born with a “predisposition” for depression,
and a little biochemical jolt – like a hit of acid –
might be all they need to overcome it.

I overheard Whitey tell stories
about his “nightmarish” experiences that
“brought him to the depths of insanity.”

Once he described the flesh on another inmate’s face
melting and falling away, revealing his skull,
saw the flesh melt from his hands,
turning into the little white sticks of finger bones,
saw blood spewing out of the overhead lightbulbs.

Another time he claimed a cockroach
exploded to the size of an elephant –
his words – while he shrank
to the size of an ant.
“Fear had me screaming and climbing the wall.”

Would Whitey have become the coldblooded murderer
he was sent to prison for, leader of the “Winter Hill Gang,”
had he not taken LSD? Who knows?
Killed by inmates within hours of his arrival
at the U.S. Penitentiary in West Virginia,
found dead in his wheelchair at the age of 89.


“Do you remember the warnings we were given when we were young before we took LSD, that we could have flashbacks and start tripping again without any warning later in life?” – Jo Nesbo, Knife

“There’ve been reports of flashbacks
since at least the 1950’s,
but the term wasn’t used until 1969,”
Litchfield told us, passing the joint,
“but it wasn’t until 1986
the American Psychiatric Association identified symptoms
of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder –
HPPD – like geometric hallucinations,
flashes of color, afterimages reappearing
long after the person stopped dropping acid.”

“There’s that old urban legend
that LSD molecules stay in the body,
hiding in the spine,
like some sort of bogeyman
jumping of a closet, shouting, ‘Boo!’” Hess nodded,
sucking in smoke before
passing the cigarette on to me.
“But I think that’s bullshit, isn’t it?”

I remembered the shower of sparks
falling from the ceiling like stars,
how I’d instinctively flinched, wincing,
as if I might be burned.

My ophthalmologist called it an ocular migraine,
told me I had nothing to worry about
but to let him know if it happened again.


Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is)