In Crime’s Way
by Perry B. Warthan
Prison. Not a place you’d expect to feel truly free. Freedom from the pain of my past and from my life of crime did come one day. But it took me awhile to accept it.
My mother was sixteen years old when I was born; my father was in prison for armed robbery. He was released when I was three years old. I was raised by my mom and her mother, but dad’s influence on me was great. He always packed a .45 caliber automatic in his car. He would later do two more prison terms, having graduated from armed robbery to business fraud.
When I was four years old, I was introduced to a leather walking harness with a leash. I remember seeing other children secured to their parents by a warm, loving hand, while dogs were harnessed and leashed as I was. Mom and Grandma also employed a leather belt or willow switch to my body for anything I did out of line, including getting poor grades in school.
I committed my first crime at the age of eight: shoplifting play money from a five and dime. At age eleven, I started setting fires – first vacant grass lots, then school lockers, trash cans, our family garage, and finally a vacant house. I was arrested. Perhaps this was rebellion against things like my dad dropping hot matches down the inside of my shirt or Grandma locking me in closets.
I had been picked up by the police twice before as an overnight runaway; but now, at fourteen, I was committed to Napa State Hospital for ninety days’ observation. After only eighteen days there, two other boys and I strangled a thirteen-year-old male patient to death. We did this out of boredom and for sport. I was transferred to Atascadero State Hospital, California’s maximum security place for the criminally insane.
I conned my way into getting ground privileges after almost two years, then walked off. I was picked up the next morning. Two years later, in 1960, I was part of a mass escape in which we took over four wards and liberated eleven patients, including five from “the hole.” Nearly everyone was picked up again within twenty-four hours. Sixty–six technicians from Atascadero had been specially deputized to search for us, along with all local police authorities and troops from a nearby army base. For my part in the escape, I was transferred to a regular state prison.
At the Deuel Vocational Institution, I burned up my cell in the Adjustment Center. In late 1961, I was transferred back to Atascadero after doing about seven months clean time.
In 1963, I was returned to court in Napa, California, to stand trial for my part in the murder of the thirteen-year-old patient. I was charged with first degree murder, as I had been at age fourteen, and was to stand trial as an adult. I was found “not guilty” of voluntary manslaughter by reason of insanity. I returned to Atascadero for another two years. By now I had been in prison over eight years.
In 1965, I transferred to a minimum security state hospital at Stockton, my home town. Here I met Liz, who was in for attempted suicide.
After quitting or losing several jobs, I decided to take the monthly government checks given to most former mental patients. I was already back into petty crime somewhat, but now with time on my hands, I got into it full swing. I married Liz and was trained as a barber, but my smoking marijuana and Liz’s lust for material things soon brought divorce.
The Cost of Freedom
Freedom was one growing party. I joined an outlaw bike club called the Diablos. I was never really fond of two-wheelers, but agreed to get a three-wheeler “trike.” Then at the club president’s request, I bought a truck. It blew up on me, so another club member and I robbed a bar so I could buy another one and keep my club membership. I partied at the Altamonte Rock Concert in December 1969 with the Hell’s Angels.
On my twenty-ninth birthday, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided my apartment and confiscated a 7.62 mm Russian rifle. They were operating under a new gun law passed after Sirhan Sirhan had killed Senator Robert Kennedy. This angered me so much, I became an anarchist. After my 1966 discharge, I had fought for a year to obtain a rare certificate of competency to own a gun. Now I felt all governments violated people’s rights.
I would remain an anarchist activist for seven years. I joined or formed organizations centering around Socialist-anarchism. In addition, I supported every anti-authority or rebellious cause, from Gay Lib to Communist fronts like the Black Panther Party.
Between 1965 and 1982, I was involved in burglary, shoplifting, kidnapping, drug dealing, pimping, sabotage, devil worship, street fighting, and a host of other things.
I married again in 1970. Beth shared my love of drugs. Besides pot and hash, I was into LSD, PCP, STP, speed, downers, and all the hippie-style dope.
By 1982, Beth was a burned-out boozer and drug user. Partying and a free sex lifestyle had taken its toll on her, as well as on me. We had a boy named Eric in 1972. Staying sober barely enough to care for him kept me somewhat normal.
Leaving the ‘Left’
In 1977, I became disenchanted with the revolutionary left. I thus abandoned it to become a Neo-Nazi. I later held a dual membership in the Ku Klux Klan for a year. The reason for this change was, in part, black racism. I had been attacked by a mob of drunk black kids who were searching for a white man to kill, because they felt all our ancestors had owned slaves. I was lucky that a police car happened by when it did.
After I was arrested for possession of pot for sale, I traveled with the carnival so I could find a new place to organize a Nazi group. The National Socialist White People’s Party had not kicked me out for the pot arrest, largely due to my unit leader covering for me. I had to leave Stockton because I’d turned the “narks” (who had raided my house) into the Internal Affairs Division of the Stockton Police, for stealing everything they wanted from my house that wasn’t case-related.
At the end of summer, I rented a place in Oroville. A Neo-Nazi couple had been killed there in 1976, which led to the group breaking up, but I started it up again. I hooked up a Dial-A-Nazi telephone message. I stamped paper money with that number until the Secret Service told me to “stop advertising on money,” because our U.S. Senator had received complaints.
I handed out leaflets, wrote newspapers, and in a year or so had a small group going. An Ohio-based Nazi-Manson cultist asked me to visit Charles Manson at Vacaville, where he was in prison. I was surprised when they let me in to see him. I visited him four times in 1982, which led to some popularity for me amid local rebellious youth.
I then formed a local Nazi Youth Group. We stuffed leaflets into lockers at two local high schools in September. This time a $1,000 reward was offered for proof of who did these stuffings. One guy in our youth group turned informer, and was found two weeks later on a swamp road with eight shots in his head. He was six days short of eighteen. The news media dubbed it an “execution-style murder” for which I was arrested and convicted.
While in jail, I got a flood of mail, some from Christians, most from white racists. Eric went to a secret foster home. I went on a hunger strike to protest. After seven months in jail, I went to Vacaville, then to San Quentin’s Security Housing Unit. After nine months there, I went to “Celebrity Row,” a lock-up unit in Soledad, where Sirhan Sirhan, Juan Corona, Dan White, and other readily recognized criminals were housed. While still a Neo-Nazi, I had become a member of Identity Christianity, the pseudo Christian cult that has built a racist dogma around a twisted version of British-Israelism.
I decided to read the Bible to check out the cult’s dogma. Before this time, I had read the Bible on the streets – just to find errors in it so I could attack it. Something was different this time, however. I wanted not only to research the cult’s dogma, but also to seek the truth.
As I studied the Bible, with my mind open to God’s Holy Spirit, I discovered the Identity cult’s views were not God’s truth of racial equality. Cult ministers could not explain Moses’ black wife in Numbers 12:1, nor Simon called Niger (as in the African nation of the same name) in Acts 13:1, nor many other things I found. In December 1988, I fully accepted the truth, pulled the Nazi stuff off my cell wall, and asked Christ to be my Savior and Friend.
Since then, my life has changed 180 degrees. I took a prison job as a barber and stopped laying around the cell all day. This returned my blood pressure to normal. I haven’t smoked since 1988. I was transferred to general population. My son started visiting me. My mom, dad, and sister also visited me. I have Christian pen pals, from the Philippines to Africa and Romania, for fellowship. God’s blessings have been countless for one still in prison, though I truly feel freer inside here than I ever did outside.
But greatest of these blessings is my salvation from eternal destruction. I’m now promised eternity with Christ through His graciousness.
If you are tired of crime, racism, death, sexual sin, drugs, booze, violence, or whatever you’re trapped in, pray to God: “Lord, please have mercy on me, a sinner, and save me in Jesus’ name.” I praise God for the day I did! His forgiveness, mercy, and grace will bless you if you only ask Him.