By: Daniel Harris, Contributing Writer
If marijuana is a gateway drug, as some suppose, then the laws that make it illegal are the keys to the gate… and it’s a prison gate.
Everyone that smokes a joint, even future presidents, break the law. For some, it’s a first step on a slippery slope. Some of us never get off.
Once you break the law and hang around people that break the law, you see nothing wrong with it. Soon, you’re finding new laws to break.
Having started drinking with parental consent in a family that defined all holidays by their party potential, it was easy to smoke that first joint, firing up with friends to add my own rebellious flare to the drunken debauchery. By the time I was twenty the “Lids’ (about an ounce) that had cost $5.00 when I was a teen were costing about $80.00. And I thought my day couldn’t start without smoking a joint or two.
I’m not a dealer, never was; I’m an addict, but if I bought a quarter pound and sold half, I could smoke the rest for free. Seemed like a damn good deal. Once you break the law, and hang around people that break the law, you see nothing wrong with it. Soon you are finding new laws to break. The same guys I bought pot from turned me on to new and stronger drugs; opium, hash, hash oil, qualudes, meth, cocaine.
My addictions escalated with marijuana staying my drug of choice. As long as I stayed away from junkies with needles, I didn’t think I had a problem. My entire life’s foundation was built upon a cornerstone: Never would I shoot up, refusing to associate with anyone that did. I was better than that.
I’ll never forget the day I learned that I wasn’t better than anybody, just another dope fiend junkie with a habit.
It was the age before everyone started carrying a phone in their pocket and I didn’t have one in my apartment. Lots of people lived a phone free life. My apartment manager brought me an emergency message to call my mom. Not hard to do with pay phones on every corner. Mom answered and the message was short. My Uncle Joe had died. It seemed the end of love. The younger of my two sisters had died less than two years before. Now the man that had been a second father, a father that hugged me, was gone. Never again would he wiggle his ears to make me smile. It was as if I had nothing to live for.
My girlfriend, Judy, never one to miss the chance to get high, was quick to offer her version of a cure for heartache, “I know where we can get some pills that’ll make you feel better.”
I had gotten paid that day and drugs sounded like the answer to all of my problems, “Okay, let’s go.”
“You have to melt them in water and shoot up,” Judy explained.
Where once such an offer would have ended any relationship — this day, this moment, I was ready. Needles are a slow death and it was time.
Life had lost it’s savor.
T’s and Blues, “Sets”, a sort of synthetic speedball with the “T” being an opiate pain killer, T-51 Toluen, and the “Blue” being any number of asthma medications (to provide the up affect with a menthol rush). It’s been more than 30 years since I shot my last T’s and Blues — and the scent of menthol can still make my stomach flip over with craving. Judy handled everything and I let her have the honor of sticking the first needle (besides medical staff) in my arm. Hope she’s proud of her part in destroying my life.
After years of breaking minor laws, I didn’t have far to go to become a vicious robber to feed my new habit. At $8-$10.00 per set of two pills, it was considered a cheap high by junkies. Some called it “trash dope” for all the chalky residue you had to filter out with a cigarette filter before you could shoot it. Judy and I could shoot 10 sets in a couple of hours — and still want more. We didn’t need more, just wanted all we had money for and that was more than we could afford. My weekly pay as a Painter’s Apprentice was pretty good for the 1980s, about $250.00 per week. Without dope, I was doing great. With two habits to provide for, I needed more money than I could make legally. Shoplifting cigarettes and small thefts of tools/materials from job sites were the start.
Apprentices were required to attend a weekly class on Monday nights at the Painter’s Union Hall in downtown Mobile, Alabama. Having to walk the 10 miles each way — because drugs hadn’t left enough money to buy the parts to fix our car — had me in a foul mood as I started to walk home. My first robbery victim was a well-dressed man in a green Cadillac that was cruising the streets looking for a sex partner. For his first two times around the block, I was polite in my refusal. He became more persistent and on his third pass he made a lip-licking gesture that was more grotesque than sexy.
I felt something snap inside. Never have I forgotten how the way he looked at me made me feel like a cheap piece of meat.
Being bisexual made it easy to smile and let him think his money and prestige had won me over. As I got in the car, I whispered, “Let’s go somewhere dark,” as I looked deep into his eyes and let him see the lust glistening in mine. Mistakenly, he thought it was sexual when, in fact, it was violent blood lust. When he pulled into a walled parking lot and stopped, I let my voice get soft and breathy, “Sweety, pull down your pants. I want to see it.” When his pants hit his ankles, I began to beat him. Somehow he managed to get his door open and fall out on the pavement. I held his ankles by the waddled-up pants, and emptied his pockets into mine before I let him go. He surprised me by pulling up his pants and opening the back door to grab his briefcase before he ran away. No telling what was in there that he thought was worth risking his life for. I let him keep it since I intended to take the car. When I backed up, I hit a telephone pole, so I jumped out and took off running — with hundreds of dollars in my pockets. At the cab stand, I hired a cab to take me home, after a couple of stops to buy beer and drugs. Judy was thrilled with my haul and didn’t care what I had done to get it, as long as she got her share of the dope.
There is no greater rush than to get in a car with someone you don’t know and drive to a dark alley to park intending to rob him. He might be armed, know martial arts, or[be] a cop. It’s a roll of the dice with everything on the line in hopes of getting enough money to go get high.
It was only a matter of time before I went to prison. What every detective knows, and most criminals don’t, is that your average criminal is actually smarter than the cops and capable of getting away with many crimes, but no matter how many times we beat the system they only have to convict us once to take us off the streets for a very long time, if not forever.
Crime is just another type of addiction. There is no greater rush than to get in a car with someone you don’t know and drive to a dark alley to park intending to rob him. He might be armed, know martial arts, or a cop. It’s a roll of the dice with everything on the line in hopes of enough money to go get high. My victims of choice were married men with their homosexual desires kept secret in their personal closet. Sometimes I would have a knife, but usually I had nothing but my hands, driven by my habits. They would come to the dark and dangerous streets in search of an illicit tryst and leave with nothing to show for the trip but empty pockets and bruises. If they happen to have to report the robbery for insurance purposes, they aren’t likely to admit to being out cruising the downtown whore strolls to pick up a stranger. (That’s probably why so many robberies are reported as occurring at mall parking lots.)
With my tightest jeans hugging my hips to lure my victims to me, I only had to walk the streets in the vicinity of the gay bars and XXX movies, and wait for the right guy to pick me up. Between robberies, I would whore for the sweet and cute guys, to reduce my chance of being picked up for robbery. I like sex in dark places and I like getting paid for it. With a few stops in the gay bars for drinks, it was more fun than work and it paid better.
The truth is that I’m guilty of almost every crime I was ever arrested for. Many more went unreported or uncharged. My oldest sister worked for a great little gnome of an attorney, Johnny Lane, and he had a client that owned a gay bar, David’s, that was outside the downtown strip. I was selling a bunch of jewelry I had collected (out robbing) and traded my sister a beautiful opal ring for a half ounce of pot. That was when she warned me that the owner of David’s had told her there was a contract out on me because I was hurting the downtown gay bar businesses. David’s was doing great. It was a sign of just how insane I had become that I cackled at the thought of some gay hitman trying to collect on that contract. My robberies had done more to clean up downtown than all the raids and arrests by the Mobile Police Department’s vice squad ever had.
The crime that would ultimately take me to prison was the robbery of a man I had no intention of robbing. He had picked me up early one morning, broke and disgusted, and asked me if I’d like to go drink with him. I decided I liked his company and we had a blast drinking in the neighborhood straight bars and shooting pool. When we called it a night, I was to stay with him at his apartment and I decided to call my estranged wife, Diane. She told me that there were warrants out for my arrest and since she knew way too much about my crimes, and had even helped in a few, I thought it best to leave Mobile. I hung up and my drinking buddy picked that moment to start collecting for all the whiskey he had bought — he wanted a kiss. I hit him and, since he was big, I kept hitting him until he was out cold. And then I tied him up with the phone cord, took his money ($35.00), and his car and hauled ass for California. Got busted in Sierra Blanca, TX.
The day I was to be extradited back to Alabama to do a 3rd Degree Robbery charge (Strong Arm/No Weapon) Sheriff Love had me brought to his office. He had a fine collection of Winchesters and Colts in cases and since I love guns, we were soon talking guns and hunting. He told me about himself, he was big and jolly, liked to ranch and was proud as could be to be sheriff of Sierra Blanca. His Grandpa had been sheriff 98 years ago and he had become sheriff because the old sheriff had been accused of mistreating prisoners. Sheriff Love couldn’t stand a crooked cop. You could see he revered his grandfather in the way he remembered the things he had taught him about being sheriff back when the west was still wild.
He had a huge Lincoln Continental Town car repainted in appropriate sheriffing colors because his grandpa had told him to be sheriff you had to have the biggest best horse you could get. They had confiscated the car from a drug dealer. I just plain liked the man.
When it was time to take me out to the car for the trip to El Paso, Sheriff Love had mostly forgotten I was a criminal. He put my hands in front, so I wouldn’t have to sit on the handcuffs and could smoke. He put me up front beside him to ride and talk. First thing I saw was a Colt Combat Commander, cocked and locked, meaning loaded, sticking up between the seats.
Sheriff Love walked around the front of the car and squeezed his bulk behind the wheel. I waited until he got all the wiggling done that truly big guys have to do to get comfortable and then looked him in the eye, “Sir, could you do me a favor?”
“If I can, son.” was the polite reply.
“My daddy always told me not to point a gun at a man less I intended to kill him. Please remove that temptation?” I let my eyes drift down and point the way to the pistol.
Sheriff Love nearly died of apoplexy while he was having a conniption fit as he got his personal weapon and put it in the trunk. He told me he had been out shooting that day and forgotten all about it. If he happened to recognize me on television a few short years later, when they were showing my picture and footage of the high speed chase and shoot out I was in, I wondered what he would have thought. I’m sure he was disappointed .
So much changed in five years. After my prison time was over in Alabama, I was not the same person. It had left me hard, yet brittle. All the heartaches and never quite being able to get on my feet without it all falling apart. I was different. Suddenly my whole world was Us against Them.
Jeanie wanted her Uncle Leroy dead so I killed him in Norfolk, VA. We took his money and guns and headed back west. At the time I killed him all , all I knew was that Jeanie wanted him dead. She had damn good reasons I think, but I killed him because life is cheap and love is never free. I traded a Baretta .380 to a guy at the Waco Flea Market for the M-11 Cobra and $50.00. I thought I was getting over on him by giving him a gun that came out of a crime scene and then the detectives tell me the M-11 had four murders on it and they would put them on me if I didn’t tell them where I got the M-11 from.
Like I would care at that point with 20 counts charged in Texas and a NO BOND Warrant for 1st Degree Murder from Virginia. Wish I knew whether they were telling the truth about the four murders though.
How ironic can you get when a man trades a weapon from a murder scene for a weapon used in four murders?
In the months since we had left Jeanie’s Uncle Leroy dead on the floor of his home in Norfolk, Virginia, a gun had not been far from my hand as I awaited the inevitable moment cf truth. I had slept with a gun in my hand either on my belly or under my pillow. When I saw the Dallas police officer walk into the antique mall, I knew that moment had arrived. With Jeanie on my left arm we calmly walked past him. My right hand was in my pants pocket holding my .22 caliber Raven. I wanted the M-11 and when we got to the car, I opened the athletics bag I kept it in and dropped out the 15 round clip to replace it with a 32 round clip.
Jeanie got the car backed out onto Lower Greenville Avenue and the police car was behind us. “Danny, he’s got the blue light on. What do I do?” I was nice, “Take the next turn to the right. I’ve got something for him.” I hit the electric window button to roll down my window and when Jeanie stopped, I went out the window and shot his radiator from the driver’s to passenger’s side and once he had dove to the floorboard, I came back the other direction, shooting out the windshield and the lights off the top of the car. Later, I would learn that he had reported I had a submachine gun on full auto. Not so, just a fast trigger finger. I didn’t try to kill him, but I didn’t care if he died.
Arrest would mean life in prison if I didn’t get the Death Penalty.
After spending time in Alabama prison the prospect of never getting out was untenable. Jeanie and I had planned to die together if we couldn’t get away. After more than an hour of a high speed chase and 150 rounds fired on my side of the fight, we were running out of gas and bullets and time. “Last chance. You have two choices; die or go to prison?”
If Jeanie had said “die” I had intended to shoot her in the head while we sped down the highway in excess of 120 m.p.h. Jeanie backed out and said she wanted to go to prison. I told her to do what they tell her and sat in the car and bled from the buckshot wound that had opened up the veins in my left wrist with the M-11 in my right hand.
My choice was to die.
After they had Jeanie cuffed and in custody I opened my door and rolled to my feet intending to take one Department cf Public Safety Trooper to hell with me and expecting to die. The troopers only resisted the urge to shoot because a news crew’s helicopter was on the scene and filming.
I remember standing, trying to lift the M-11 and finding it grown too heavy, and falling on my face in the mud. It wasn’t until I sat in the courtroom and watched the film that I realized how long I had stood there trying to lift a gun and die.
Today I’m a different man. After 23 years in prison and with no realistic hope of ever living long enough to get out and be free I made a decision to live the life I have and make the best of it. It took a long time to accept that I am where I deserve to be, accepting the responsibility, and making the changes in my perceptions that allow me to become a better and more mature person.
Everyone ask me two questions: One, do you think you could make it in parole? And two, don’t you want to get out of prison?
Getting out would be a dream come true if I believed I could stay drug free and make it on parole. I doubt my ability to do that, since I don’t stay off drugs here in prison. And if I can’t do that, I’d rather stay in prison. It’s hard to admit that I’d rather stay here and continue to be a man I can be proud of than to take a chance on getting out, doing drugs, and returning to the man I was not so many years ago.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
We send your comments to our writers but if you’d prefer to write Daniel directly, please write to:
Daniel H. Harris #00622851
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886